We’re Not in Kansas Anymore; Remembering 9/11

Posted on September 8, 2011 by


talking to kids about september 11

the art of our children reflected a changed nation

My kids were four and six on 9/11. I can’t remember how I heard. But I can remember wanting my children home immediately. My daughter was at pre-school and my son was at school. He was in first grade. I called my husband and we spoke about whether or not I should get our children. In an instant I’d become a survivalist. When my children were back in the house I asked them, what did they know about what had happened?

Sadie didn’t know anything. She stood the way four-year olds do, with her belly out and her knees locked. She listened to her big brother. Gabe had heard from his teacher and the bus driver that something had happened in New York City.

Gabe had also been told that some very, very, very evil people had taken planes and smashed them into towers. His eyes got big and out of his mouth sounds of planes screaming into skyscrapers rolled. I sat on the floor and listened to him. He still had his backpack on. I waited for him to tell me more. He was done. He turned toward me to see if I had anything to add. I was taken off guard. What would I tell my children? I hadn’t gotten that far. But it was time to come up with something.

I’m not an all or nothing type of person. I believe black and white explanations are too simplistic. I searched for some words to put on top of what he’d shared. I had not told my children about good and evil. I had told them about bad choices and unhappy people being unkind…I had not described another human as bad or evil. Why would I, when that was not how I imagined the world?

So, instead of endorsing the evil explanation, I told my children something like a therapist would. I told them that the men who had flown the planes had mothers and fathers who had loved them. But that the men had done a terrible, horrible thing. Evil wasn’t how I would describe them. My children were confused. I was confused.  My point was obliterated by the turmoil inside a day of such uncertainty.

Gabe had come home and told me what he’d heard. Just like I’d asked him to. He’d heard that evil people had done an evil thing. They were evil. Period.

Children were introduced to good and evil in a polarized way on 9/11.  There is not room for nuance inside crisis and tragedy. Not in the moment. After, with reflection. But not in the moment. My children had been sheltered until 9/11, I had too.

That evening my husband asked why I had confused the kids. Why had I told them that  hijackers had mothers and fathers? Why had I said such a thing? Why hadn’t I just made it clear that the men were evil?  My husband wanted to know.

I told him, because I didn’t want our children to know horror. I argued they were too young to conceive of such an atrocity.  I wanted them to know that everybody has a parent who loves them. My husband pointed out that wasn’t true and that evil did exist.

I was no longer in Kansas.

My husband turned on the television and we stood as a family, transfixed.  The footage of planes and fire and carnage played over and over.

That winter on a flight to Florida, my four-year-old Sadie drew towers and planes and fire and  my six-year-old Gabe drew towers and planes and fire. They passed their pictures to me across the aisle. I asked them what I always had, to tell me about their pictures. In their little people voices they re-told the horror of 9/11, Crayola’s poised over another picture of the event. They kept creating those drawings, one after another until we landed.

Yesterday Gabe reminded me that on 9/11 when he was six, he’d asked me if I would still love him like the mommies of the hijackers still loved them? Even if he took a plane and crashed it into a skyscraper? I had forgotten he’d asked that.

“And what did I tell you?” I asked.

“You told me you would love me no matter what.”

Still true.

Same answer. Ten years later. That part was simple. Why and what drove those young men to commit such heinous acts of violence? That is not so simple.

(google images.com)