“Aileen, wake up. There was a bomb in NY. “
“What? Tracy, why are you calling me this early?”
“Get up and turn on the TV. Someone is attacking NY”.
“T, go back to bed.”
It was an “early” morning for my 22-year-old self. My boyfriend didn’t even own a TV. I assumed that this was my roommate’s usual flair for drama. I didn’t rush to get up until my phone rang again and my mother’s phone number scrolled across my cell phone.
“Aileen, turn on the TV. Something’s going on in the city and I can’t get a hold of your brother”.
“Vivian, wake up. Time to get ready for school.”
Life looks very different on this September 11th nineteen years after THE September 11th. The boyfriend without a TV is now my husband and we have four children who have never known what life was life before 9/11. They have grown up in a world where “terrorist, terrorism, terror attack” are part of our country’s vernacular.
The morning is a rush of breakfast and lunch packing and being sure all the things are signed and the homework is checked. But as she’s getting ready to leave I ask Vivian, “What do you think you are going to do today to honor September 11th?”
In her sweet sing-songy voice she yells “I’m not sure that’s on our calendar for today.”
September 11th wasn’t on any of our calendars. As a country, we woke up that morning with plans for work and lunch dates and concerts. It was just another Tuesday. Until it wasn’t.
I remember driving in my car and listening to the newscasters recount the horror that was taking place in my hometown, I remember at my doctor’s appointment that morning the receptionist wheeled a TV into the waiting room and we all huddled around watching the Towers fall. I remember talking to my mom hourly, “Have you heard from Mark?” “No, have you?” My brother lived 4 blocks from the World Trade Center.
As a country, we promise that we will never forget but I wonder what does that look like now? As a mom, how do I help my kids learn that September 11th was a day that altered the fabric of our country?
I will tell my kids my story of that day. How communities gathered all around the country that night. Democrat and Republican, young and old, black and white, Colts fans and Bears fans. There wasn’t anything for us to do but gather and pray and find comfort in the community. Together, we will seek out opportunities to gather in community not just in times of sadness but in joy.
I will tell kids that was a time when we didn’t have smartphones with the world at our fingertips so we had to read the newspaper and watch TV and learn the stories of those who lost their lives in the attacks. Together, we will put down our phones and I’ll have my kids pick up a newspaper.
I will tell them how the culture of America changed when our alarms went off on September 12th. We were kinder and gentler and flags waved proudly from porches. We were proud Americans and we were banding together to show our solidarity and support. Together, the kids and I will put up our flag and talk about what this symbol means to us.
I will recall for them the relief of hearing my brother’s voice four days after the attack. “I’m okay.” Together, we will call the people we love and I will instill in them that hearing someone’s voice is more precious than reading their text.
When my kids are older, I will show them the graphic images of that day. Of the first responders who raced into the rubble as thousands of others rushed away. We will honor the 412 helpers who lost their lives rescuing strangers. The weight of that is heavy if you sit with it for a while. Kids can handle hard things if we allow them. Together we will do something tangible to thank the first responders who are ready and willing to do the same in our community.
I took my kids to New York in October and we visited the memorial. I told them stories of my childhood and visits to the Trade Center. I will describe to them how, during my flights back and forth from Indiana, seeing those towers were a sign I was home and the tears I shed on my first flight back in where all that remained was rubble.
September 11, 2001. That day. That day changed everything for so many. It was a dividing line in the history of our country. There was “before” and “after”. Raising children in the “after” means we need to seek out opportunities to ensure we can keep our promise to never forget.