As we approach the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, there will likely be a lot of talk about what happened on that day, both in the news and among friends and family.
Grade-school age children will no doubt talk about the anniversary at school. Your child may have questions about what happened on that day. My son, who turned 10 just a few months ago, is one of the many young children who were either too young or not yet born when the attacks occurred and want to know more about what happened.
My son was only 5 months old when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked and Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania 10 years ago on September 11, 2001. We lived right across the river from lower Manhattan, and I can still remember vividly the acrid smell from the fires seeping into our apartment as I clutched my baby in my arms, terrified about what was coming next.
I remember the horror of watching people fall to their deaths on television, live, before the cameras began cutting away from the terrible images, and feeling myself go numb as my mind struggled to comprehend what was happening. And I remember hearing the rumble shaking my windows as I watched the buildings crumble on TV, as if the world had been suddenly and terribly pulled into some real-life horror movie that was, alas, not make-believe.
In typical New York fashion, it didn't take long after the attacks for people to stand up and face what was unbearable and incomprehensible. For the shock to be placed aside to do what needed to be done; to try to heal; and, out of defiance against those who tried to destroy us, to keep moving. Those who lost loved ones on 9/11 have scars that are deep and permanent. The many who bravely fought through anguish and horror to dig for survivors -- and then later, devastatingly, the remains of the victims -- are still dealing with illnesses and the psychological effects of what they witnessed. And the world has been irreversibly changed into a place where people remove their shoes and line up for pat-downs before boarding airplanes and soldiers in fatigues and bomb-sniffing dogs patrol our train stations.
I know that September 11 will always be an emotional day for me, and that this 10-year anniversary will be very difficult. I will talk to my son about the resilience of our city and our country. I will talk to him about the incredible bravery of the firemen, police officers, and other rescue workers who ran toward the building as others were running for their lives. But I will not turn on the TV since I don't want my child to see the emotional and upsetting news coverage. (The only program I would suggest for young children is Linda Ellerbee's "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," which is available on Nick.com, and will be on iTunes as a free podcast and on Nick's video-on-demand starting September 6.)
With young children, the best way to handle questions about 9/11 is by keeping it simple and sticking to the facts. Please read my piece on "How to Talk to Your Child About September 11." Comfort your children and hug them, and take this time to give thanks for all the things you have in your life and the people you love.
It is a fact that we live in a very different world since those attacks happened on September 11. But while we grieve and remember, we can be the best people we can be to those around us and try to live our lives being loving and understanding rather than hurtful. No one can take that away from us.
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