Looking Back on 9/11: “Mommy, Why Do Those Buildings Keep Falling Down?”

Roy wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye when 9/11 hit. Yet when the folks here at Parents.com asked if I might have any kid-related thoughts or memories to share for the upcoming 10-year anniversary of that terrible day, one immediately sprang to mind.

My dear friend Jodi was among the first in my close-knit group of high school friends to have kids. We all fawned over little Kai, the Buddha-bellied boy with the longest eyelashes and most beautiful mop of curly black hair ever. Kai was four years old on September 11th, 2001.

We live in the Midwest, far from the twin towers that once anchored lower Manhattan. But like the rest of the country—the world?—we were glued to the TV that day in complete shock and awe. Seeing the tragedy unfold was all at once completely and literally unbelievable, yet so sickeningly real. You didn’t want to watch, as if turning off the TV might make it all go away, but you had to bear witness to this attack that was truly meant to affect every single one of us, from those at its horrific epicenter to those of us in the Midwest and beyond.

Kai knew something was up. His dad came home from work early, and the neighbors gathered on the front porch into the evening, instinctively circling the wagons. And then there were those two skyscrapers, the ones that crumbled to the ground seemingly every time he took a play-break to grab a snack or see what the adults were up to. Kai’s innocent question: “Mommy, why do those buildings keep falling down?”

I’ve always admired Jodi’s parenting style, hoping that if I ever had kids, I’d operate similarly. She’s age-appropriate honest with them and trusts them in a way that seems to foster maturity. There was no way she or any parent could have been prepared to explain something like this. Instinctively, she led with the short truth in its most basic form. “Those are the same two buildings, Kai. They only fell down one time. They just keep showing it.”

Kai seemed satisfied, and not at all scared. After all, he was safe at home with mom and dad and half the neighborhood. Jodi followed his lead and left it at that, figuring he’d probably taken in enough through osmosis. No need to expand the image inside his four-year-old head. Maybe for Kai, this day could be out-of-the-ordinary for kid reasons—the unexpected company, extra dad-time—and nothing else.

Ten years later, Kai’s a handsome basketball star a foot taller than me. I recently asked him what he remembered of that day. “Nothing,” he said. Not the perpetually falling buildings. Not even the impromptu neighborhood gathering. Nothing.

Maybe he was too young to remember. Maybe Jodi’s instincts were right. As a relatively new parent, all I know for certain is that heartbreaking urge to keep the world beautiful and pure for your kid. It’s not the complete, inevitable truth—9/11 isn’t the only proof of that. But it’s a good short version; one that I, too, hope to uphold, honestly, for as long as circumstances allow.

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  1. by Heather

    On August 26, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Well said, Berit!

  2. by shelley

    On August 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I remember being at home with 7 children in my family daycare. The phone rang off the hook with their parents calling to ask, “Are you all ok?”

    Guess the real question that day would’ve been, “Is anyone ok?”

    Ten years later, we know that we are all ok. We are strong and resilient.

    Will those young kids remember much from that day? What will the next generation know about that day?

    A friend shared her story with me about her young daughter’s questions.


  3. by Richard from Red-Hot Parenting

    On September 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Berit, this is a terrific post … very honest and moving (and helpful to other parents)