I was in the sixth grade on September 11, 2001. I was in woodshop class – a class we had to take, and I hated it. It was a normal day, and while the teachers were huddled around a small television in the back of the classroom, I was working at my desk – clueless to the fact that my father’s airplane was the last to land at KCI before they shut it down.
“Michelle to the office please,” the intercom blared. I stood up to walk to the front of the school and my classmates whispered as I walked by, wondering what I could have done to be called to the principal’s office.
I reached the office, and my father stood there, sunglasses still on. He hugged me, told me he loved me and I felt his chest heave. My dad was crying. It was the first time in my whole life I had witnessed him drop his armor of strength and pride and show his raw emotions. He held my hand as we walked outside. We sat on bench, underneath the flag pole, of all places. He pulled me into his lap.
“I just needed to come see you today,” he said as he hugged me. “You having a good day?”
“Yep.” We sat in silence for a while. I still didn’t know, and probably couldn’t understand, at that moment that life had forever changed. I was too in shock of seeing my father break down to comprehend that something tragic had occurred in our world. After a while, my dad sent me back to class and said he would be there to pick me up in a few hours. It isn’t until that evening that my parents sat me down and told me the day’s events.
I will never remember life before having to remove my shoes at the airport or without regular discussions of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. I grew up in a time where the terror alert level was a common nightly news story and where Sunni and Shiite became vocabulary words. I grew up with the boys I was sitting next to in class on that faithful day and watched them become men that fought in those wars.
September 11, 2001, defined my generation and now I’m raising a child who will only know 9/11 as just another chapter in his history book. It’s made me think, how will I teach him about something so important when he gets old enough?
Answer honestly and present the facts. When my son comes to me with questions about 9/11, I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. I’ll tell him what I know and for the questions I don’t know the answer to, I’ll tell him just that — I don’t know. I’ll present the facts, tailored to his understanding and age at the time. It’s history and while it may not be his history, it’s shaped the world he lives in.
Monitor the news and internet. The anniversary of Sept. 11th always comes with its share of video loops and news stories. I think it’s important that one day my son sees those, but I think it’s equally important to monitor what and how much he sees. The images can be graphic and scary and I want to determine the fine line of what is informative and what is frightening.
Go through the emotions. It’s only natural to go through the emotions that come with an event such as 9/11 — being scared, sad, angry and confused. I want my son to go through those emotions, not only to teach him to cope, but to also help him understand empathy and grief.
We don’t live in fear. Yes, the world is a scary place and scary things can happen, but we do not live in fear. We go about our days, not worried if daddy’s plane will make to its destination. Not worried about the “what ifs.” We always say “I love you” and give hugs and kisses before we part. We aren’t scared of the bad guys.
Respect. My dear son, as long as you are living under my roof, you will always stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Baseballs hats will not be allowed during the pledge or National Anthem and “Home of the Brave” will be sang as it was written. Veteran’s Day will be recognized and thanks will be given to those we know who have served and are serving.
We are Americans, and we are proud.