Last night, after she finished her math, Mazzy took out her social studies homework. It was an article about a firefighter who had died in the Twin Towers. She had to read it and answer a few questions. She looked at me noticing her work.
“Mom. We learned about 9/11 in class today.”
I nodded. We have mentioned general details to her in previous years. Two planes flew into the Twin Towers causing them to fall down. Many people died, including a lot of firemen trying to save the people inside.
Last year, she asked if the people who flew the planes into the buildings had done it on purpose.
“Yes. They were bad people who also died in the crash.”
I asked her what she learned in class today. In her explanation, she used the word “terrorists” for the first time. She said it slowly and a little uncertainly to make sure she had it right. Then she told me that there were actually four planes, not just two.
I said, “That’s right. Two went into the towers, one went into the Pentagon, and one…”
She finished for me, “…crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.”
“Yes. Do you know why it crashed?” I asked her, thinking it was an opportunity to discuss more heroes on this horrible day.
She said “yes,” but then seemed a little unsure, so I explained, “the people figured out what was happening and risked their lives to make sure the plane didn’t hit another target. They became heroes that day.”
She looked at me confused. “The terrorists weren’t heroes.”
“No. Not the terrorists. The passengers.”
Too late, I realized my mistake. Innocent people on the plane was new information to her.
“Wait. Were they people who just got on the plane thinking they were going on a regular trip?”
Uh oh. I had gone too far. My guess is that she was imagining foreign military planes as opposed to regular passenger planes. I searched my brain for what to say next. She saved me…
“Can that happen again?” she asked.
I told Mazzy about all the security measures at the airport that didn’t exist before 9/11. How everything is searched so that no one can carry a weapon on a plane undetected. How we put our bags through metal detectors and have to take out certain items for them to inspect by hand. I reminded her about the body scanners we walk through and how sometimes we are patted down just to be safe.
Then we both stood in silence, looking out my bedroom window at the two blue lights shining up into the sky where the old World Trade Center used to be.
“Where were you on 9/11?” She asked me for the first time.
I told her.
You can read my story, which is not exceptional in any way, here.
I accompanied my then 14year old to the 911 museum last year on a school trip. We were in the room where they play the voicemails from the people on that very flight calling their families, telling them the plan, and how they love them if they did not survive. My son looked at me, completely shocked, and said “mom these were commercial flights?”. He like your daughter had not even imagined that possibility. I watched a bit of his innocence and security fade in front of my own eyes. They too discussed it in his school yesterday, in our suburb of Houston Texas. While we were not right there at any crash sight, our hearts will most certainly Never Forget. And to all of you who were in thick of it and most definitely dealt with the immediate aftermath, thank you for showing all of us how to rise in a time of utter devastation.
As we get farther away from 9/11 and it starts to show up in classrooms, I am finding it surprisingly hard. Last year, my then third-grader had a long-term sub at the start of the year while his teacher was on maternity leave. She was just out of college, so she was a child herself on 9/11.
She told them about it. I was furious. Because it is not a story to our family. We live in New Jersey. My father survived by the skin of his teeth thanks to a NY Waterways boat and some strangers who pulled him over the side as the boat was pulling away from the cloud of the South Tower’s collapse. He has PTSD and 9/11 respiratory syndrome, along with a nameless blood disorder. (I should mention that he was a leader on the rebuilding of the World Financial Center, so he was at Ground Zero daily for the following year. We think that is really how he got sick.)
So it was insane to me that this teacher thought she should talk to the kids about it. It still feels like a family tragedy to me…and to many others in the community who also have personal stories or losses.
I guess this is what it is really like to live through history. You never stop living it.
I’m so sorry for you! I can’t imagine how incredibly hard that is especially since it’s a fact of life for you family. I live in Wisconsin and at points it seemed so far away for us. I was in High School and I still remember watching it on the tv – but really I didn’t realize the implications until much later when I was an adult. I hope to explain this all to my young children someday so we never forget. I want them to know about all the lives lost and the sacrifices many heroes made and those that still live with the memories such as your family. I hope they can learn this history in a caring and understanding way and hopefully it will shape them in positive ways.