Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 Years Later...Some thoughts on what 9/11 can teach us and our children.

I was sitting in a writing class as an undergraduate, when a classmate burst in with the announcement that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  It was so inconceivable that we had a brief discussion and decided it must be a small plane that crash landed at LaGuardia.  As such, class continued and since there were no smartphones to check the news, we were blissfully ignorant of the chaos occurring a mere 200 miles away.  Until class got out at 11.

The student union looked frozen in time.  Everyone was silent as they stared at the televisions.  You know the image.  I looked around for my roommate, one of my best friends (and now Nugster's godmother).  I realized she probably went directly to her next class.  (Again, no smartphone/text messaging.)  I had left my phone at home that day, and so I was unable to contact my roommate, or my parents, who knew that I often took trips to Boston and New York.  Panic.  Our school was located very close to several defense installations. 

What seemed like hours later, I reunited with my roommate and as I recall, neither of us had our phones.  We also didn't have a working television, so we went out to buy "rabbit ears" so we could watch the events unfold.  I'm amazed at the disconnect we had from the world.

Eventually we called our parents.  We called our friends.  We tried to keep the phone lines open.  There was a vigil.

We brought candles and passed them out.  It wasn't much, but it was how we coped.  A beloved professor suffered profound PTSD.  Friends enlisted in the military.  The ROTC kids walked a little taller and no one made fun of them for wearing ACUs to class.  All of us were only a degree or two separated from loss or death or suffering related to the attack on the towers.

A view of Ground Zero taken Thanksgiving 2001.  I made a trip to New York with my parents and brother (who had spent several days in New York immediately following 9/11).

Fast forward 11 years.  For us adults, who lived through it, we are still angry.  We get political.  We get emotional.  Our children can not understand the meaning of the day without our help.  As an educator, I've seen  9/11 observed in many ways.  Not at all seemed to be popular in the years immediately following 2001.  The wounds were still to fresh and even the most professional of us couldn't imagine writing a lesson plan about 9/11.  More recently, September 11th has been proclaimed Patriot Day (not to be confused with Patriot's Day AKA Marathon Monday in Boston), and this verbiage opens many more doors for talking to our children.  As such, these are a few of my thoughts on what 9/11 can teach us and our children.

I used to tell my students that a Patriot is more than a football player. (I'm from New England.)  A patriot is a person who loves, honors and supports their country.  A wise 5th grader once pointed out that being a patriot sounds like being a good parent to America.  I'm inclined to agree.  Show your patriotism in whatever way feels right for you and your family.  It could be as simple as lowering your flag to half-staff.

Our flag symbolizes so much.  Even very young children hold the flag in high regard, and are able, at some level, to communicate what it means to them.  For older children, writing a simple sentence about what the flag means to them, or what they love about our country is an intentional way of acknowledging the day.  

On this day and everyday, our country's military families are sacrificing a great deal to protect and defend our freedoms.  Regardless of your political inclinations, thanking a man or woman in uniform, offering to help (babysit, pick up groceries, mow the lawn, even simply sit and chat with) a family with a deployed family member, or hiring a veteran are all ways to honor their service. 

On the same note, taking time to celebrate your community's first responders sets a great example for your child.  Order a pizza to your local firehouse, thank a police officer (they don't get that nearly enough), buy a cup of coffee for the paramedics/EMTs in line at Dunkin Donuts.  In fact, don't stop there.  Extend your thank you and basic civility to all those folks you encounter in your daily life, particularly those in the business of helping...nurses, social workers, health aides, and yes, teachers.  

If, in fact, you are a teacher, you may be interested in Operation Educate the Educators, which provides training tools and curriculum that is specifically designed to support the success of children with military connections.  There are over 2 million of them.

For those of you looking for a simple answer, I hope I haven't lost you.  My take on 9/11 is that we should hold our children a little tighter, call our mom's more often, exercise patriotism, and demonstrate kindness and understanding towards others.

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