I write this on the morning of September 11, 2016, 15 years following the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I was in living in Dallas then, too, in a house exactly three blocks from my current home, and very pregnant with my second son. My first, Kid 1, was 15 months old and we were expecting the arrival of little brother any day.
I was a stay at home mom, full time; surrounded by great neighbors with kids around the same age as mine. And I wasn’t a writer yet, except at heart.
The morning felt like it does today. I remember taking the baby for a walk in the stroller and noticing the first hint of cool air after a hot Texas summer. We strolled around, mostly listening to the quiet of our little neighborhood, and passed the morning time together. Then home for our usual routine… some messy eating in the high chair while watching the Disney Channel.
That’s when Fireman Dave called from work and told me to turn on the news.
And for a while, I guess I was like the rest of the world, watching for what seemed like endless amounts of time, till I just couldn’t anymore. And I think that’s when I first convinced myself to be afraid. I remember talks of locating any remaining planes still flying, keeping watch over where they were headed, in the event they were part of the same attack. And in my own mind, I was afraid Dallas would be a target, that my husband would be called to do something he’s very trained and ready to do, and that I would be left a mom of two baby boys all on my own. At that time I had no idea how many moms were in that exact same situation, just not in their imaginations.
And I guess I saw for the first time that day how fear and danger go hand in hand and walk through open spaces – even spaces filled with cool fall air and sunshine.
This summer we took a little road trip to see the sights on Historic Route 66 through Oklahoma. And we visited the bombing memorial in Oklahoma City where my kids proceeded to annoy me and make me feel like a failure as a mother. Again. Because they didn’t feel what I wanted them to feel. I guess I expected them to see the 168 empty chairs representing the lives lost in that April, 1995, attack, and feel a certain amount of loss – or sadness at the death of 168 people who just went to work that day like any other day. Or even contemplative something or another. Instead they walked around for about 15 minutes and then their inner teenagers came out and got hungry or bored or whatever.
And I wanted to yell at them to be still and feel the sadness of the situation for Pete’s sake… but then I realized that my kids don’t recognize tragedy at the same level that I do. Because they’ve grown up with bad news all around their entire lives. News of terrorist attacks are sadly common, and lock down drills at school are the same as fire drills – simply a chance to get out of school work for a few minutes.
But what I needed to remember was that the boys weren’t alive when these particular tragedies happened. They didn’t know the before and after. They just know the after.
And I think very importantly for me to remember is that though caring can be taught, a person’s response is all his own. Taking a 16, 14 and 13 year old to a historical memorial and expecting them to feel life and death is not a lot different than taking them to an action movie and asking them to separate drama from reality. Life hasn’t taken them there yet.
I hoped our visit would be a lesson of the heart for the boys. Maybe it was and all such cumulative lessons over the years will mature along with them into adulthood. But for now at least, they can learn the history. And I can tell them again and again about these important days and events – not only what happened, but where I was and how it felt.
I think I’ll always walk outside on September 11 mornings and remember the beauty of that day in Dallas. And the details of caring for a toddler and wondering what life was going to be like for him and his brothers from then on.