Cue the sucker punch to the bread basket. We stopped for a quick bite after finishing up some Christmas shopping tonight. So we share about our day. And it was over some fries and burgers that this came out of Cub. “Mom, I know what happened with the Twin Towers.” Oh, are the kids talking about this in school? Keep calm, Mama. But I can’t. The knot in my stomach is creeping by it’s fingernails up my throat. So I do what any logical person would do to push that knot back down: I cram more fries in my face. As fast as I can, really. Gross? I know. But I can’t stop. “No, no one is talking about it, I watched a video about it in the library at computer time.” You did… Were there other videos? The fries are barely keeping the panic at bay. “Oh yeah, there’s ones about the nuclear bomb and Nazi’s. I think the bomb is also called a Nuke.” Okay, okay. Okay. We’ll talk about this later when your brothers aren’t sitting right here. Who wants to tell about their day? “I want to hear more about the nukes!” said my five year old with such enthusiasm that the fries were no longer cutting it. After a few long pulls on the chocolate shake, I successfully change the subject.
So that’s how it went down. I binge-ate and my kid knows about the largest and most horrific act of terrorism our country has seen.
As we drove home, the boys sang along to a Miley Cyrus song and argued over which superheroes are the strongest. You know, normal, annoying shit kids should be talking about. Meanwhile, I tried to process the conversation and my feeling about it. Because I am a social worker and we social workers just love to process. Why am I so upset about this? I knew he was going to find out at some point. He should know. It’s a huge part of our history. And that’s when it hits me. It’s not really part of our history because it’s hasn’t really been long enough to be history.
I remember that Tuesday morning. You remember too, don’t you. A glorious fall morning. I was serving serving coffee at a small cafe. My second year of college had just begun. Pink shirt, black pants- which were probably a bit to tight but really brought in the tips. The radio blares Hotel California. The phones rings and it’s my soon-to-be-husband. Two planes flew into the World Trade Center. My mind sort of stops for a minute. Why? How did the pilots manage to crash their planes into two buildings right next to each other? I hang up the phone. Thinking, thinking. A customer bursts through the door. They bombed the Pentagon too, turn on the radio. My hands leave fog marks on the stainless steel counter. And the rest of the day is a little blurry. Customers come and go. We don’t tell people to have a good day. In fact, we don’t really say much of anything. We just sort of make eye contact. Like the kind of eye contact where you just want to tell someone, I know. I feel the same way. How could this happen?
Then came the death tolls and the shaky video footage. And the screaming people running down stairs. The brave souls who entered to get strangers to safety who never came out again themselves. All the cable channels were shut down. You know it’s bad when Food Network is offline. The only thing we Americans could watch was the news. And holy shit, did we watch the news.
Recounting all of this during my drive home brought me to tears. This is not history. This is now.
And that’s just it.
When my kids ask about slavery or civil rights, colossal mistakes in our nation’s past, I can say things like, We know now. People acted out of stupidity, ignorance and fear. But how do I explain something to them that exists today? Seriously. Someone please tell me how I am supposed to make sense of terrorism to my child? Please. Still to this day, men and women (and in some cases children) strap explosives to their bodies and go to schools, town squares, places of worship and marathons, with the intention of taking their own life and as many other lives as possible. This isn’t history. This is now. Right now.
As we sit on his bedroom floor, I finally muster up my courage. Tell me about the Twin Towers. And he does. And asks if it’s true. Yes, honey. It’s all true. But what I don’t understand, says my gentle, thoughtful eight-year-old baby, Is why would those men do that? Like a dump truck of bricks, this shakes me. To my core. I don’t know. I can’t understand why anyone would hurt another person. I can’t imaging something that would make that okay. Me either. Does it make you feel scared? Yeah. And sad. Those people died. Yes. There were many people in those buildings when they were hit. Oh. I meant the men who took over the planes died. I am sad for them and the other people who died too.
This is the silky, fluid innocence that I can literally feel slipping through my fingers. Sad for the people who died in the buildings but also for the men who died trying to murder others. Why can’t this world be filled with kind souls like this child? Oh wait, it is. We shape them. Society shapes them. We can’t protect our children from the terribleness of the world, the complicated sticky mess of a society in which we live. And that makes me feel powerless but we also need to remember that innocence, kindness and empathy don’t need to be cultivated. Those attributes already exist. I believe to my core that humans are born good. I could have said, those men deserved to die because they killed others. Hate breeds hate. I don’t want to raise him to hate.
So maybe the answer is that I need to be honest: I can’t make sense of this because there is no sense to be made. He seemed to grasp this tonight. This is the first of many, many conversations which will test us as parents. I am not in the business of handing out advice but what I can say is that being honest with my kids seems to work. It feels vulnerable and raw and like I don’t have all the answers but I think it also propels my children to process things that they don’t understand. To mull them over for a while. That it’s okay to not have an answer as long as you continue to devote thought to it and talk it over as you work your way through. I am just a Mama who is terrified of failing at this Mamahood gig. So I process. So I throw my plea out to the universe hoping that I am able to find my way. That I can be the Mama they deserve.