Talking about 9/11

Ten years ago a few days from now, I seriously wondered if we'd even be here now, and what we'd be thinking. It felt like the attacks changed everything–everything!–and that surely the whole world would be different.

Maybe it is, and I just don't realize it.

From my view, it pretty much looks the same, except that I now can't bring liquids from home on a plane and I have to take my shoes off at the airport. But the rest of it, well, really really horrible things are still happening, and really really good things are still happening, and we're participating in them all, sometimes willingly and sometimes without even realizing it.

But this weekend is special, because people are going to be remembering the attacks more than we all usually do. Living in NYC until two months ago was enough, especially since the church I went to ten years ago was always under threat of attack, and the church I went to my last few years in NYC was right next to where the towers used to be.

The upside of being reminded of it on a weekly basis is that I do know what to say to my kids about 9/11. I've seen a few people wondering and talking about not knowing how to talk to their kids about it, because their kids are going to be hearing all about the anniversary.

There are two things I've come to that are important to say:

1. Some people are bad, and they hurt people. I think it's really important for kids to know that this wasn't an accident, that bad people deliberately wanted to and did hurt people. This isn't going to scare your kids, really–think about how much time they already spend working out the idea of "bad guys" and scary monsters, etc. Kids get the concept of bad vs. good.  But that leads us into

2. Look for the helpers. The day it happened, we were already thinking about Mister Rogers, and his saying that "when bad things happen, look for the helpers." Good people will always help. Think about how many people rushed in to help, gave blood, looked for people, put up fliers, volunteered in zillions of ways, prayed, cried, listened. Think about how many of us are still helping now. Yes, bad people do bad things, but good people pick up the pieces and help.

Those two things have come together, for me, in the following language about 9/11:

"Some bad people who wanted to hurt people crashed planes into some tall buildings. Some people died, but a lot of people helped."

More detail for bigger kids. But that's still it.

The two things I'm going to do this weekend to remember 9/11 are reread Ellis Avery's amazing book The Smoke Week: Sept. 11-20, 2001, and give a donation to Partners in Health to help the people of Haiti (who are still in major trouble). If you have contact info to give to help the victims of the fires in Texas, could you post in the comments?

What are you telling your kids? What are you telling YOURSELF? (I still haven't put all the pieces together in my head.) What are you going to do, if anything, to remember this day and this decade?

40 thoughts on “Talking about 9/11”

  1. Well, apparently I’m going to cry a lot. ;-)Thank you for those words and ideas to use with my children. That helps a lot.
    As for me, I realized the other morning how I am STILL affected on a daily basis by 9/11: As soon as the kids are dropped off, I turn on news radio. I NEED to know that something catastrophic didn’t happen while I was getting ready for work. This is because of 9/11 (I found out about the first plan crash when I turned on the radio on my way to work and my music station wasn’t playing music). I don’t always think that something catastrophic might have happened, but I ALWAYS need to check news radio in the morning.
    Unfortunately, I think the way I’m going to be commemorate the anniversary is by staying home with the kids due to the raised threat level in my area (DC). Also, I’ll be watching some of the specials. And crying.

  2. My almost four year-old son saw the cover of this week’s Newsweek and asked, “Mama, what kind of plane is that?” I just didn’t know what to say. He’s still young enough that I could give the briefest of answers and redirect him but someday I know I must tell him about that day.Thank you for the Mister Rogers quote. It helps.

  3. I haven’t had this come up yet with my 3.5 year old. I’ll be sad when I do, and I’m filing this away so I have *something* to say. I was in NYC at the time (I’m now waaaaay on the West Coast) but this anniversary is always tough for me because it brings back bad memories.Thanks, btw, for all the reccs for “your x-year-old” series. I just ordered a set for my current one year old and my current three year old (through 4 years old) used on amazon– really affordable. Here’s hoping they have some good info.

  4. talked this am to the girls about it but didn’t get to the “helpers” yet. I explained that some people didn’t like the way we live and our freedoms, how we can work and go to school etc. They really got that part. And then were amazed anyone could fly a plane into a building. Will incorporate the helpers this weekend, grat point.

  5. I’ve been struggling with it too. My son is 3 and honestly can’t even watch a movie with implied danger and is way too young and sensitive to handle even the barest mention of it. So I’m crying alone with hubby. A lot.The thing is it’s going to come up. My brother, SIL, and their two kids (one same age as my own, the other 5) are in Shanksville this weekend to attend the memorial dedication as SIL’s uncle was the pilot of the plane. It took a huge toll (duh) on the family, and I asked her what her kid’s knew the other day. It has never come up while I was there but I realized they MUST have talked about it and told them something and I wanted to know what it was so I could avoid being a dumbass about it and would know if my kid mentioned it after hanging out with them. She is a genius. She said the kids know that gramma’s brother died. That it makes them all sad. That cousin X, whose wedding they attended, misses his daddy. The end. Nothing about why he died or how (OMG can’t stop crying!) or bad guys and helpers.
    So I’m following her lead when the time is right.

  6. I hadn’t given it a lot of thought until the other day when my oldest, 5 years old, looked at a picture that was up when I was checking my webmail and asked me what the “white stuff” coming out of the buildings was. I said, “smoke”, only answering the exact question she had because I really, really, am not ready for that conversation. But I think I may have to have it soon, and so I appreciate this a great deal, Moxie.

  7. Yesterday, I was watching a NOVA special on Engineering Ground Zero. Some of my (indirect) work is featured in the special, but I hadn’t seen it yet. My 6-yo wanted to know about everything (both engineering aspects and terrorism). I answered the direct questions about good people and bad people (and we always describe the bad people in the most bizarre way….people who don’t think mommies should have jobs or drive cars).I was doing alright until I got to the part about the plane in Pennsylvania (the plane that sarah’s extended family member was piloting). It’s then that I sort of lost my focus. I told him that people had heard on their phones that those other 3 planes had crashed in New York and DC and that those crashing planes killed a lot of innocent people on the ground. The people on the plane decided that they didn’t want their plane to kill other people so they were the good people who fought the bad people (he wanted to know whether they were actually fighting over the controls of the plane…because he’s a 6-yo boy with a very curious mind). And then I started crying. And he wanted to know if the people on the plane wanted to die. I said no, but they would rather die just them than let the bad people kill even more people. Then I flipped off the TV, wiped away my tears, directed them to a bucket of Duplos, and went into my pantry and ate brownies in secret.
    Every year, I’ve done something a little different. Last year on 9/11, I ran a 5k with a moment of silence. This year, all over town, the church bells and tornado sirens are going to be going off at noon.

  8. Right now I am super glad that my 4-year-old is clueless about it. We don’t watch the evening news, or any morning shows, so he hasn’t seen footage by accident. Of course, we’ve heard stories on the radio (that make me cry). These talking points will help when the time DOES come to talk about it.

  9. I am *so* glad we don’t have a TV because the image of those planes is seared into my brain and there’s NO WAY I want my daughter to see that.Since she’s just under 2, we’re not going to talk about it.
    But I also won’t forget the dirty looks and whispering I got immediately afterwards in Arizona (I’m brown). To me, there was a definite racist undercurrent to all the patriotism that came afterwards, and it made me pretty uncomfortable for a while.

  10. Thanks for the link to the Fred Rogers company Moxie. Such great advice for talking to kids about tragedy.Like @ARC said, the image of those planes is seared into my brain too. I hadn’t seen the footage in a long, long time and then I was watching a documentary on CBC last night that followed up with some of the people in NYC that were affected directly.
    Fascinating documentary, but I definitely could not watch it with my 3yo around. Still so much emotion and sadness and tears. I think it would scare him to see me so affected. And like @Sarah’s son, he is greatly affected by sadness and the implication of violence or scariness. And at this point (his young age, and the fact that we’re in Canada – it’s very likely he will have no inkling this year about any of it) I don’t feel it’s likely we’ll need to address the issue…yet. But when we do, I’ll totally be following Mr. Rogers’ advice on how to handle it.
    I only caught about a 1/2 hour of the documentary but what I did see gave me much food for thought and perhaps a bit more insight about my feelings surrounding 9/11. Of the people they interviewed in the documentary, 2 were boys (now 16 and 22, so 6 and 16 in 2001) that went to school / lived near ground zero. They talked about how 9/11 affected the course of their lives. It was very inspiring to see how they both went from a very black and white and vengeful view to embracing tolerance and seeking out harmony and peace, and addressing/moving through the fear they felt on that day. Granted some of this change in their outlooks was due to becoming more mature, but I also got the feeling that they took it upon themselves to find other answers and to regain their personal power.
    Anyhow, after the doc, my main thought was this:
    In a way, 9/11 was the end of innocence for (North) America. Up until then, we had not had to face large scale terrorist attacks on our own ground. I was really scared when it all happened. And even after time had passed, and beyond the sadness of the very personal and individual losses, I felt a sadness about this loss of collective innocence and the fact that we will never get it back. Life has returned to a new ‘normal’, but we don’t have the luxury anymore of looking through innocent eyes (in that regard anyhow). The comparison I’m trying to (badly) make is that between how a parent sees the world and how a child sees the world. You get over the fact that you see the bad as well as the good, but it still doesn’t change the fact that you can’t reclaim that ability to see only the good.
    But, like the 2 boys in the doc, there is a way to move past the anger and sadness to find new hope.

  11. @the milliner, that is a wonderful point about us as a society moving from a naive childlike perspective to a more jaded view.A few days after 9/11 I helped present a public event where we tried to help parents help their kids with it. We leaned heavily on Fred Rogers’ “look for the helpers” message (I *love* Mr. Rogers!). The other, related, message we tried to convey is: The grownups are handling it.
    Kids take on so much worry and responsibility, and can easily feel as though it’s their job to fix things. We told them Your job is to be kids, go to school, do your chores, play with your friends. Of course you will have questions and feelings, and lots of people are sad and angry, but managing this is a grownup job and you can know that lots and lots of grownups are working on it.
    At that time the cleanup was still in its early stages, so the work was very tangible. We were only a couple of hours away from New York so there were lots of people from our area going to help in various ways – kids’ family members, local fire departments, etc. Now the work is perhaps harder to conceptualize for kids, but the message is still important, especially when we have things like terror threats, and wars. Sometimes we don’t realize how much of a sense of responsibility kids are taking on, so even if they’re not expressing those feelings, it’s never a bad thing to reassure them: The only thing you have to do about this is be a kid. Grownups are helping and taking care of it.
    I don’t anticipate that my daughter will know anything about the anniversary as we don’t have a tv and I don’t listen to the news in her presence. I have given some thought to how to handle it if she does pick something up about it however – she’s almost 8 and I can’t shelter her as much as when she was littler.
    I was a regular tv watcher and npr listener before 9/11, and afterward I began having panic attacks when I listened to the news. 10 years later, I have no tv and I still don’t listen to the news shows. Part of it is that 10 years ago I didn’t have a child, but even when she’s not around it is too distressing for me. I read my news online and don’t feel so barraged. Everything seems worse now – the bad news is more scary, dangers are more imminent, I don’t feel that we are in a protected “it can’t happen to us” bubble the way I used to.

  12. Sarah, I’m so sorry for your family’s loss and your ongoing pain. Same to everybody else who’s still suffering. Which means all of us, I guess.

  13. I had the thought this morning, and wanted to share: For me the best thing about this being the tenth anniversary is that for my sons, this is history, like the Kennedy assassination was for me. It changed things; it removed innocence.But it was always, for my generation, history. No so for my parents.
    Peace to everyone.

  14. I definitely suggest Nick News special on 9/11 for kids to watch. I blogged a bit today about a 6 year old I know who was basically playing at blowing up the Pentagon (we’re in DC) and it’s fascinating to watch kids try to understand and absorb this stuff. Linda Ellerby is just amazing, though.

  15. I was prepared for yesterday as much as one can be. We watched the Rolling Thunder Ride to Remember come through our town, we watched the recitation of the names on TV, we marked moments of silence, we talked about it all.Then, as day turned into evening and it became Football Night in America, I let my guard down. And then all those commercials paying tribute to sacrifice. I just wasn’t ready for the schoolchildren singing about the glories of New York to the firefighters and for Southwest Airlines to thank the pilots and flight attendants who fought terrorists. Never forgotten, always grateful indeed.

  16. Great thoughts. I asked my 18-yr-old yesterday what she remembered about that day and it was not much. She remembers talking about it at school and how her teachers were solemn and people were sad. But her world went on pretty much unchanged. I guess parents were changed forever though, because as parents we now have to fear for our kids as well as ourselves. I am so grateful for the bravery of those who died that day.

  17. Sorta off-topic but Partners in Health is an incredible organization. Thank you for that Moxie (and all that you do!) I have recommended your site to my friends who have children, as it has been such a huge help to my family.

  18. My daughter is almost 11 and we decided it was a good opportunity to let her know more about what really happened. We told her about where we were that day, and how we felt. I think we felt a sense of urgency to let her know that it was a bad attack on America. We also talked about how the country came together, etc., etc., On Sunday night we watched most of the totally incredible documentary that is based on the two French filmmakers who were shooting footage that day with a FDNY unit they were filming for a documentary about new firefighters or something like that. Their raw footage was utterly amazing. You HEARD the first jet shrieking across the sky and then saw the impact. Anyway, she was riveted. After a while she said she’d had enough, and we were ready to turn the TV off, but then she wanted to watch more so we ended up Tivo’ing it. Everyone has to make their own judgments about their own kids, but I just wanted to put out there that we felt our sixth grader was old enough to be exposed in this way.

  19. It’s ok to give up a night of watching the news, cleaning the house, or an hour of websurfing social media sites, to give yourself back the time we all complain we don’t have enough of. Time to write a page of that novel, time to cook a gourmet meal, time to garden, time to make art. The things that inspire us, are the things we will remember 20 years from now, they are the true riches that we are all sitting on.

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