Friday, September 12, 2008

Questions about 9/11 (LONG!)

Phew. Parents sure have to do hard stuff. I only hope I am up to the task.

Yesterday morning, I took May and Irene to running club practice at their school at 7:30am (yawn) as Chris had a job interview in Boulder and had left for that quite early. As we approached the school, we noticed that the flag was at half staff. May asked me why. I told her it was Patriot Day. She asked if that was a holiday. I told her it was a day for remembrance, and not a holiday. I told her I thought her teacher would talk about it in school. (I am normally very brave and open, but we needed to be at practice in moments and there was not time to talk about 9/11 and Patriot Day.)

After school, May had some additional questions. I hope I handled these honestly and correctly. She also made some statements that I gently corrected. Here is how it went:

Q: Why do they call it "9/11" instead of "September 11th?"
A: Because September is the 9th month and the attacks happened on the 11th day. So, 9/11. Also, what number do we call when there is an emergency? She said "911." And then, OH!! It made sense to her that the big attack would be an emergency.

Q: Two bad guys attacked two tall buildings in New York City.
A: Actually, 19 identified bad guys (and a whole lot more who helped those whose names we know) did the attacking, and they attacked the buildings in New York with two planes, an important building in Washington DC called The Pentagon with a third plane, and a fourth plane crashed into a field. We aren't sure where that plane was headed.
She was AMAZED. They had only talked about the WTC buildings in school. They had not said how the buildings were attacked. No mention of the planes.

Q: How did the planes hurt the buildings?
A: The bad guys took over the planes from the airplane crew members, and they flew the planes into the buildings and crashed them. It was very horrible and scary. IT WAS AN ACT OF WAR. (This is my opinion.)

Q: Oh, that's right! The attacks were what started the war! And, the war is still going on this much later!
A: (This is my opinion, and it is hard to hold this opinion in a VERY military community, where I definitely DO RESPECT the individuals who serve in the military, including the dad/husband right next-door who served in Iraq for a YEAR, let alone his 20-some years in the Army!)
The war actually started in 2003, and 9/11 was in 2001. The war is in another area of the world than the bad guys who were behind the 9/11 attacks. BUT, those attacks were definitely an Act of War. If someone attacks a place in a country and people die, that is an act of war.

Q: Why is the war still going on if that was 2001?
A: Wow. Very complicated. A war is a huge big deal. It needs LOTS of planning, money, and smart people making decisions about it. Unfortunately, people in powerful positions can make choices that may not be the best choices. And, then it snowballs and is hard to stop. Also, politicians get involved and it becomes very complicated. Once you have a war, you can't just end it and leave the country where the war is. You have to do some "clean-up" and "helping" to make that attacked country better. This is very hard to describe on an 8-year-old's level.

Q: Why did we have to put our heads down on our desks?
A: (I don't think May is noticing the tears that are filling my eyes now and the fact that my hands are shaking.) Because it is respectful. We are spending some quiet time to remember the 3000+ people who died in the attacks of 9/11 and we are being thankful for the people who spend their lives protecting our country and making us strong for the future. Did your teacher tell you why you put your heads down?

She said she did, but that the teacher did not tell her all the things that I am telling her. I told May that I am always happy to talk to her about anything. I will tell her the truth, if I know it, and we can look up answers together when I do not know about something. She was happy. I asked her if she had any other questions about 9/11 and she said she did not. I told her that if she thought of anything else, just tell me. She promised she would.

Phew. Hard stuff.

I mouthed to Chris across the room that I didn't know whether I should tell her about Grace's Daddy being one of the victims who was murdered on that day. He and I agreed that it was not time. There is a fine line between truthfulness and things that will bring on nightmares.

There are enough nightmares surrounding 9/11. There are nightmares in Grace's beloved family. My mind raced to the children in that family and how they handle "Patriot Day" and the fact that their Daddy died in the attacks. Man. My tears flow now. As they do each 9/11 for the last 7 years. Too personal. Too close.

If I were the mom of Grace (and the other children, but I know and remember Grace best) would I be able to send the kids to school on 9/11?? You want to shelter your kids from hurt. But, their hurt and loss and healing is not confined to ONE DATE on the calendar. Their loss is 365 days a year (366 this year) and on-going.

May did not know that the "two big buildings in New York" fell down after the attacks. She did not know HOW the attacks were carried out. She did not know that over 3000 people died that day. She did not know that health issues for survivors continue today. She did not know ...

Downstairs on the bookshelves, I have a special magazine about 9/11. I need to go find it and see if it is appropriate for May to look at.

Life hold so many things. Good things and bad things. Things to celebrate and things to mourn. Beautiful things and ugly things. Hate and kindness. Lack and abundance. I think that an important skill we can teach our children is how to get through tough times. How to face sad things.

How to show respect.


nanchang said...

What a wonderful Mom you are to explain things so carefully leaving room for them to make their own decisions/feelings about such events when they are older. I have learned so much from you. Thankfully on this important topic I was not asked very much.

Julie said...

WOW Holly - I came to your site to see the Ballerina pix (which are super cute by the way...) but was totally moved by this post! I was moved to tears at the thought of your struggle to explain the events of 9/11 (and everything that has happened since) to May. I know someday it will be my turn to explain Patriot Day to my daughter, who will be even younger and more removed from something that to her - will seem so far in the past. A piece of history.

Thanks for sharing your conversation with us!