Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
On September 11, 2001, I didn’t learn about the tragic events in New York until slightly past noon. My wife and I had spent the morning hanging out with our daughter – who was 20 months old – and we didn’t have the TV or radio on. It was a perfect September morning, and we had been going about our morning non-routine of playing outside, coming inside, going back outside, having a snack, and just enjoying the day. When her babysitter came, we rushed out for work, and put on the car radio. What we heard was surreal – confused commentary about bombings and buildings collapsing and death tolls and mayhem. I thought at first it was some type of science fiction radio, as this was a rock station (WBRU in Providence) that was popular with college students. After a few minutes the events started to sink in, which I confirmed by listening to the New York AM news radio stations for first-person reports.
It’s true that 9/11 changed everyone’s lives, and children’s lives as well. We felt it especially when we traveled – both in terms of the practical changes that evolved with security and the reverberations you felt taking a child on an airplane. We felt it when we spent time in New York – we had worked in New York/New Jersey and had moved from the area in 2000 and though we went about our city routine 9/11 would still come to mind. We felt it when we all saw “Ground Zero” in 2011 – particularly the view of workers there late at night and early in the morning, viewable from our room at the downtown W Hotel.
But what now stands out is the 9/11 was just the start of a series of reminders that my daughter’s generation is growing up with the reality 0f unimagined violence and risk – often in places that we think are safe. Last December, she watched – with us – as we learned about the Newtown shootings. Again we had some personal and geographical connection. I grew up in Bridgeport, which isn’t far from Newtown. My brother lived nearby the principal who was slain trying to stop the gunman. Compared to Bridgeport, and the schools I went to, Sandy Hook Elementary School was one of those “safe” schools where you imagined nothing bad could happen. Now it’s a reminder that there are no inherently “safe” schools – and it stands now as an extraordinary example of how grief, courage, resilience, and remembrance permeate communities who have experienced horrific violence.
But that wasn’t the end of violence for my daughter’s generation. About four months after the Newtown tragedy, her day off from school – on Patriots Day in Massachusetts – turned into a nearly weeklong mixture of sadness and shock. I was driving home from the gym when I received an email from Michael Kress – my editor here at Parents.com – asking if I might write about the Boston Marathon explosions. It was almost routine when I got home, flipped on the TV, and sat with my family staring at an evolving story of violence and death – and pulled myself away long enough to write about how parents will need to control the amount of information their kids would be exposed to on TV and the internet given the reality of graphic footage. But there was more. We learned on the following Friday morning that one of the suspects had attended college in our town (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth), that UMass Dartmouth was in lockdown, and that our daughter’s school was also in lockdown. When we picked her up at school, we went home, and watched a massive manhunt unfold – one which finally resulted in the capture of the suspect.
Her generation is growing up with a kind of maturity and awareness that is beyond their years. They don’t live in fear but are prepared to respond to unimaginable acts. Looking back, 9/11 was a defining moment for them, one that resonates today. For kids like my daughter, who were too young to understand what was happening then but old enough to know they lived through it, it’s more of a historical signal that all kinds of things happen not just in the world, but where they live. And it gives them an interesting lens on other historical events. This summer, we drove cross country, and we spent a few days in Oklahoma City. While there were lots of fun things to do there – all of which we enjoyed – if you ask her what she remembers most about that visit, she will say going to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. There is a visceral understanding of that historical event for her that blends all the tragedies she has witnessed – a bombing, a building being destroyed, adults and children killed. She’s aware and pensive and integrates that imagery with the good times of hanging out in the Bricktown Oklahoma City district.
That’s her life. The events of September 11, 2001 intruded on a “normal” day in the life of a 20-month old. Now that she’s going on 14, they stand as a benchmark that connects her to what came before, what has happened recently, and what may lay ahead. Wisdom and empathy mix together underneath the typical enthusiasm for daily life. This year, my daughter – now in 8th grade – will undoubtedly have lockdown drills at her school. She’ll know why they have them and why it’s important to know what to do when they have them. She’ll know that sometimes they are real. And when they are over, she’ll go back to class with her friends and resume her day.Add a Comment