Originally posted Sept. 11, 2008
This morning I turned on the television before I even got out of bed and propped myself up on my squishy pillow, ready for my Waltons fix with the kids before school. Before they ran in to snuggle with me under the covers I channel-surfed to make sure the sky wasn’t planning to fall, like I always do. (‘Cause if it’s gonna fall, see, I figure we’ll just hunker-down under my old quilts for two back-to-back episodes of The Waltons followed by two more of Little House on the Prairie…)
Today, though, on Today, I got to relive the morning of 9/11 all over again. I’d all but forgotten that today was the anniversary, and sat transfixed once again by the annual re-run of the very same newscast Iwatched in horrorseven years ago this morning. Holly was an infant and Noah was just three, and back then our family rented a tiny little ranch in a rural southern town where everyone knew our names. Concerns I’d never before considered pierced my “all-is-right-with-the-world” Mommy bubble. I wrote the following column a couple of weeks later, following the first Anthrax scare:
No longer can I fool around with the expression “germ warfare.” Until recently, I used it to refer to that icky thing that happens when little kids with green boogers deliberately spit into my tea. Instead, no longer innocent in my whimsical use of the vernacular, I hear myself saying new things that before “That Day” (9/11) I wouldn’t have said – Like today, when Noah decided to pitch a fit because I wouldn’t let him drink directly out of the quart-sized milk bottle like Daddy sometimes does. How did I respond? I told him that if he was going to have a temper-tantrum he would have to get out of my “airspace.”
I think too about my rather carefree way of being in the world and wonder if I should make some changes. Should I lock my doors? Should I handle my mail with gloves and a facemask? Should I even bother to open the mailbox anymore? Like other parents, I consider the scary possibilities of war and wonder, for what should we prepare? Should I keep a few essentials and changes of my family’s clothing in the car in case we need to evacuate? Do I need to have my little ones fitted for facemasks to protect them from the evils of bioterrorism? It quickly occurs to me that those masks are probably useless against invisible attacks, lest we wear them ’round the clock, so I decide instead to strive for a healthy balance between prudence and frivolity. On that note I think I’ll store a few extra boxes of Holly’s favorite cereal, rice and bananas, just in case they’re needed – but perhaps I’ll start feeding it to her from those china teacups I’ve been saving for special occasions.
We’re learning that no time is more special than the present.
It seems I’m not alone in my efforts to make sense of recent events. I’ve watched as my little boy works it out in his own mind, too. In spite of my intentions to limit Noah’s television viewing the day of the terrorist attacks, my own need to stay informed and be a voyeur to the destruction won out. I know, I should know better. I hate to admit that he saw the planes crash into the World Trade Center towers more than a few times, resulting in his concern that his stuffed animals might not survive a similar attack on our home (translation: “Would I?”).
I have also been awed by Noah’s natural impulse to help. The day after the attacks, Noah asked if “Bob the Builder,” a character from one of his favorite television shows, might be of assistance now.
“Can Bob the Builder help build it again?” he inquired. “I can use my screwdriver in my toolbox to screw it in and hold it up,” he said, after watching the towers fall down on television. “I can help with Daddy’s tools. I’ll have to ask Daddy if I can hold his drill,” he considered, melting my heart. This little boy with a big heart who still remembers the rules, surprised me with his healthy, productive responses, while I sat immobile on the couch, stunned by the enormous losses he is thankfully too young to understand.
Later that day one of the networks aired a short documentary featuring some of the tragic images from New York City, filmed in black and white by two Columbia University film students. Set to a classic, melancholy melody, it was a very moving piece. Apparently, even Noah was touched, but in that innocent way of one still too young to fully comprehend its grave meaning. As the mournful music played on, accompanied by scenes of smoky gray pain and sorrow, my tiny son took my hands in his and asked, “Dance with me, Mommy?” Mindful of the fact that so many mommies and daddies who lost their lives just the day before would never again know the joy of dancing with their own children, I gratefully and tearfully accepted his invitation.
“Yes, baby, let’s dance.”
(Originally published in our then-hometown newspaper, The Franklin Press (Franklin, North Carolina).