I Talked To My Kid About September 11

Posted on September 7, 2011 by


What photo do you add? What image should go along with this post? Of a plane crashing through the crystal clear blue New York City sky? Black smoke cascading across the city? No. Here's a tribute in light from last year.

(Image: Joe Woolhead)

UPDATE: Ian Frazier wrote a column about Sal the bus driver in the New Yorker. Read it here. He describes my exact experience, that Sal flipped the bus around like a Superhero. Were you on my bus Ian Frazier? xoxo to Sal and cha-cha-cha.

My bus was waiting to get into the Lincoln Tunnel that day. Smoke seared from the sky just above the helix. What could it have been? A woman had an appointment with her dressmaker in SoHo. She was getting married that weekend. She was very concerned about not getting into the city on time. Sal, the bus driver who had driven that route since I was 16 was behind the wheel. What happened in the city? A fire somewhere? We couldn’t see the skyline. Yet.

Phone calls seeped in. A Cessna hit one of the Towers. On this day? It was the kind of day that was so blue that when I left my house I thought–I’ll never see a blue sky like this again. How could a sky look so blue. More cell phones ringing. Something was wrong. Get off the bus, people from the phone calls said. They’re attacking us. They hit the Pentagon too.

Sal, God bless him, fired the bus in reverse. He headed up a ramp backwards and spun us around on the highway in the opposite direction until he could turn the bus around to get to the other side. Mad man he was. His bus. He was getting us home safe. Fleeing. That was that. I was locked out of my house. I forgot my key. I scaled the 8 foot tall fence near my two-family rented house to get to the back door which I knew was open. I panicked, like the sky was falling. Looking up, my head crouching, expecting bombs to fall. Really. I lived only 12 miles from the city. I really thought bombs might fall.

It’s been 10 years.

My son is 7. I used the killing of Osama Bin Laden to explain to Jake about the bad guy who blew up the towers. He’s driven by Ground Zero many times because my brother lived in Battery Park which is a block west of there. He said people had been talking about it in school. He was glad the bad guy was gone. If it was only that easy, right? Yes, the bad guy is gone, I told him.

About a week ago, Jake and I were walking together with Elke in her stroller along Fifth Avenue. We were meeting my mother at the Central Park Zoo. Something came up about September 11. A poster. A newspaper headline. I can’t remember. But since I believe it’s easier to talk about serious topics in transit–much better than face to face–I decided to bring it up. I told him that the anniversary of September 11. That a lot of people would be sad. We spoke again about the buildings. About how I was on the bus that day. How scared I was.

“Did the buildings fall all the way down mom?” Yes, they did, I told him. A lot of people got hurt. A lot of people died. Firefighters went up there trying to save people because that’s their job–to walk into a building when everyone else is walking out.

“They’re really brave,” he said.

“You know all the lines we have to stand in on airplanes?” I said. “All the metal detectors. All the check points and how we have to take our shoes off?”


“We do that because of September 11. We do that so no bad guys can get on the plane and hurt anyone. That’s never going to happen again.” Who knows if it will or won’t – but for me, I have to give my chidren safe feelings. I don’t think it’s necessary to give kids an open possibiity that something might happen to them. Kids do not have to wallow in fear.

“What happened to the people in the planes, Mom?”

Oh, I didn’t want to answer this question. When I think about the men and women who stormed that cockpit that day. But I told him what happened. About the plane that we think could have gone into the White House. The Pentagon. The heroic passengers.

And then our short conversation came to an end. There was my mother. Standing at the entrance to the zoo. Waving at us from the sidewalk. The trees of the park making a canopy over her. Elke squealed from her stroller. It was a glorious day in New York City. Blue skies. Seal feedings at 11 o’clock.

We had a lot to look forward to.