When to Explain 9/11 to Your Toddler?

We've been avoiding 9/11 coverage all week. W still talks about "those poor people who lost all their things" in the tsunami. He asked question after question when it happened. We tried to answer them as honestly as possible. I can't imagine doing that with 9/11. There is a very big difference between a natural disaster and terrorism.

A three year old has no ability to understand something this horrific. And a parent of a toddler has no place creating that kind of fear in their children. I believe in being honest with him about everything I can. But all in due time... None of us are ready for this conversation yet.

It was nice to have to avoid it this year, because it meant that we didn't get sucked into the media coverage and could choose to think about it in our own ways. Now that we have kids, it means something entirely different. Now I think of the moms and dads who were killed, the scared children coming home to a frantic parent. And the fear. I can't imagine experiencing that kind of fear myself or seeing it in my child's eyes.

On 9/11 I was in Iowa City visiting my sister. I had just graduated, but went back to see her and some friends. I was supposed to leave on Monday, but stayed longer. I was waiting tables and looking for a job at the time, trying to decide where to go and what to do with my life. Iowa City was still home to me and my sister was living in the house I had lived in for two years.

My mom called and woke us up to tell us that something was happening in New York and we needed to turn on the tv. We turned on The Today Show minutes before the second tower was hit. My plan was to move to New York at the time and most of my resumes had been sent to publishing companies there, yet it seemed so far away that morning.

My sister and I got into an argument about something I can't even remember, as we tend to do under any amount of stress. I packed up my stuff and left her house in a huff. She kept telling me that given the current events, I should stay. But, I just wanted to go. It was such a weird time - Iowa City had been my home for four years and I missed it terribly, but I just wanted to get out of there. In my mind I knew that it was safer than heading back to Chicago. The more rural, the better, but I couldn't sit still. So, I got in my car, turned on NPR, and started the drive home.

Even in the middle of corn fields, the silence was heavy. The normal busy campus was dead, as everyone was either sleeping or glued to their televisions. Driving down the highway was more of the same. There were few cars on the road and those that were drove with a remarkable amount of care, minding the speed limit, hands at ten and two. I remember making eye contact with a guy driving next to me and having this strange connection, knowing we were both flying solo in complete peace while there was so much chaos.

I would listen to the radio for a bit, then drive in silence, then try some music, but always get pulled back to NPR to try to make sense of what was going on. I remember the drive went quickly.

I don't remember much else about the following days, except the night I was laying in bed at my parents house and I heard a plane fly overhead for the first time since 9/11. It woke me up with a panic. All my life I was used to the constant sound of planes overhead, having grown up directly under the flight pattern to O'Hare. It was a sound I had never even paid attention to, but the silence that followed 9/11 gave it an incredible amount of power.

On 9/11 Matt was in grad school in Vancouver. An American in Canada on 9/11. He received apologies from Canadians, went to the ocean and just sat, feeling the same heavy silence. There were others there sitting as well, staring out at the ocean. Possibly Americans, taking a moment to feel closer to home. He saw it as an outsider without the flag waving being shoved down his throat and  I think his version and perspective might be better. So, maybe his tale will be the one we choose to share.

I don't know how to explain 9/11 to a child. But I'm thankful I have at least another year to figure it out. I read somewhere that we are all victims of 9/11. I'm not going to pretend that I am nearly as affected by anyone who was there or lost a loved one. But, I can say that every generation of parents has had their own 9/11 to discuss with their children.

This was just seems beyond what I can comprehend right now.

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