It was eerie getting off the train at this particular subway stop. I hadn’t been to the World Trade Center location since right after the towers went down. There was still debris and a huge hole in the ground at the time. Now a beautiful tribute to those we had lost was in the two places the towers had stood in the form of the World Trade Center Memorial, officially named the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
My boys, like every other child born after 2001, are part of the post- 9/11 generation. They don’t remember the day foreign terrorists took over our country and had our nation gripped in fear. Kids in grade school and high school are seeing these events in history books. Events that I never would have dreamed about when I was sitting in the same seats they sit in right now.
As my boys and I stepped out of the subway station and gazed up at Freedom Tower, I knew it was time. My boys had no idea what this site meant. It was just another place in New York City that mom had dragged them too on our New England road trip. Actually, I didn’t even realize we would be going to the World Trade Center Memorial that day. We were meeting up with a friend for breakfast, and this just happened to be the closest subway stop.
We weren’t going into the museum, despite the fact that we had tickets in our New York CityPASS booklets. Today wasn’t the day for that.
As we walked up, I was in awe once again of the sheer size of the footprint that the towers had taken up. In some ways they were so small, but in other ways, as I look across at the tiny tourists also looking down at the water as it cascaded into the deep abyss below, it was inescapably large.
I’ve avoided telling my boys about the events of September 11, 2001 for as long as they have been alive. Plenty of friends have said they don’t want to “shield” their children from the harsh realities of this world. Well, I do. My boys are innocent, precious young beings. They know there are bad people in this world. They know there are bullies and hatred, crooked politicians and horrible events happening across the globe. We talk about it. We watch the news, but we also travel a lot. I didn’t want to scare my sensitive kids, especially my oldest, with the fact that harm can come to them when they travel.
Yes, they know that terror attacks happen across the globe. What they haven’t known until now, is that an airplane can take down a building. Somehow, taking away that safety net that a plane just transports then to magical lands, was a very hard step for me.
I looked on as my boys stepped up to the lip of the memorial. My youngest couldn’t even see over the wall. His big brother had to pick him up.
Knowing my boys and how they can be crazy outside, I took them aside. It was time to burst that magical bubble I had held intact for so long.
I quickly explained what had happened on 9/11. I didn’t want to frighten them, but I needed them to know that theNational September 11 Memorial & Museum was a sad place for people and that we had to be respectful.
This is what I told them:
On 9/11, many years ago when mommy was in college, there were two towers that stood where these waterfalls are right now. Some very bad men blew up the buildings, making them fall down and that killed a lot of people. Everyone across the country was very, very sad and scared. People are at the memorials today to remember everyone that died and what happened on that day.
When my oldest commented on the number of explosives it must have taken to bring down the towers I cringed. Here was the hardest part. How do you tell your two boys who love to fly that an airplane was turned into a weapon to take down a building? Even worse, how do you then tell them that the same thing happened to another building much closer to home—the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.? I told them not to be scared, but bad men had taken two planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center buildings.
My youngest had the answer only a child can give– “I bet those bad men are now on Santa’s naughty list mommy.” I swallowed hard. “They are dead honey.” His reply, “Oh. Well, they would be on the naughty list anyway.”
My explanation wasn’t perfect, but it satisfied my boys for now. They are still young. I don’t need them to know the greater conflict that arose from that day, how friends in dorms had to relocate for the rest of their school year. How even more friends were sent into battle, many never to return. We did talk about how other buildings weren’t structurally sound anymore and had to come down. I didn’t tell them about the number of people who jumped out of the buildings, an image that still haunts me to this day, as flamed burst from the upper levels of Towers One and Two.
Some things my boys just don’t need to know right now. If this means I’m sheltering my kids, so be it. That is my choice as their mother. I wish the world was a better place. If I can protect them a little more from the reality we adults have to face every day, I will.
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2 thoughts on “Explaining the NYC World Trade Center Memorial to a Post 9/11 Generation”
You did an excellent job. This was one talk I could not prepare you for and I got a little teary knowing you needed to do it with my grandkids. The world is a scarier place for we Americans than it was when we were both growing up, and I’m glad you had the words to talk to them about it.
Oh Keryn, this is so powerful (as I sit here in tears)! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and for writing this post. Your boys are so blessed and lucky to have you as their mom. It’s a devastating day that we’ll never forget, but so important to tell our children about (in our own, appropriate ways).