Earlier this year, my family went to see the National 9/11 Memorial in New York City. It was a site that my husband Kyle, my in-laws, and I really wanted to visit. So did thousands and thousands of other people that day. While we were waiting in the long line and going through multiple security checkpoints, it struck me that each of us was bringing our own memories of those tragic events to reconcile at the site. We will never forget where we were when the attacks happened (I was on my way to work at the TV station) or how we felt (and grieved) in the days and months that followed. September 11 somehow felt very personal to every single American.
Except…the kids who weren’t born yet.
Our young children, Anna and Kellen, had no point of reference for understanding these beautiful and somewhat haunting memorial pools, which are built where the North and South Towers used to stand.
And unlike most important places that we take them to see, Kyle and I had no idea how to explain the 9/11 Memorial to them. It’s one thing to give your kids a little background history on the Pilgrims when visiting Plimoth Plantation; it’s a completely different thing to introduce them to the topic of terrorism. I almost felt like a bad parent even broaching the subject with them. After all, they are only 7 and 3 years old. Why taint their view of humanity at such an early age?
Then again…on at least some level…I wanted them to know. Especially while we were there. I wanted Anna (our oldest) to be able to look at the gigantic footprint of the pools and see all the names and grasp the enormity of what was lost that day. The way the water just flows down, down, down – seemingly into the eternity of the depths below – is significant.
And the nearby One World Trade Center (formerly known as Freedom Tower), currently being built on the site of the original 8-story 6 World Trade Center, also stands for something. When it is completed, the spire of 1 WTC will reach a symbolic 1,776 feet, in reference to the year of American independence. Can kids understand that kind of symbolism?
I honestly have no idea. But we have to start the conversation somewhere if we want this memorial to really mean something to the next generation. Though it’s hard to believe, in just ten years there will be adults who were not alive to experience what we all felt on 9/11. It’s our job to help them understand.
So for the first time, Kyle and I told our kids about what happened on September 11, 2001. Not all the gory details. Nothing about race or religion. And nothing about hijacking (Lord knows that as much as we fly, we don’t need to put that worry in their heads!) We just told them that some very bad people who had hate in their hearts crashed planes into the World Trade Center because they wanted to hurt Americans. And that many, many innocent people died when the towers fell. But…we also told them that Americans refused to be conquered by hate…and that we still have our freedom. We may have bickering politicians and widespread economic woes, but we are very, very free. Freedom is a concept that I’m pretty sure they comprehend. We talk about it a lot because I'm so grateful that we get to live it.
And 50 years from now, when Anna's and Kellen's grandkids see this picture of them in front of the rebuilt Manhattan skyline of 2012, I hope they will still understand freedom too.
How have you explained September 11 to your kids?
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