Thirdeyemom

Explaining the unexplainable to my children

September 11, 2001. A day we will always remember. A day that we will never forget. A day that changed our world as we know it. A day that made our lives never the same.

Copy of “First Pass, Defenders Over Washington” by Rick Herter. The painting depicts Capt. Dean Eckmann in his F-16, as he was the first to arrive at the Pentagon. A copy of this print is hanging in my sister’s Virginia home in honor of her husband who was one of the three pilots.

September 11, 2001.  Eleven years ago today.  How long it seems since that fateful terrifying day.  How short it seems as if it was just yesterday.  The images and feelings of shock, anger, horror, sadness, fear and what ifs will forever be engrained in our minds.  The images and emotions are things that we will never be able to forget and will never stop seeing when we close our eyes.   The fruitless human lives that were lost.  Our freedom imprisoned.  Our hearts never the same.  Our lives forsaken.

But we all know that life goes on.  It must go on.  We can never give up.  We can not live in fear.  We must fight for our country.  We must pull together and be united.  We must raise our children to understand, to learn and to cherish what we have.  We must teach them the injustices in life, the brutality of war, the inequities of people around the world and the importance of freedom.  Freedom of speech.  Freedom of religion.  Freedom of race.  Freedom of gender.  Freedom to be.  Freedom to live.

We must teach our children to respect others.  To understand differences.  To care.  To love and not hate.

So, how on earth do you explain to your children the unexplainable events of September 11th?  How do you explain something so horrible, so bad, so unthinkable that you can’t even explain or understand it yourself?

When do you tell your children about September 11th?  Is there ever an age or time that is appropriate?  How do you tell your five and seven-year-old children what happened without completely terrifying them?  They will need to know.  They will need to understand.  They will eventually find out.  But how do I tell them first?

I don’t want my newly able to read son to someday pick up the newspaper and read it himself.  To see those images from hell, the ones we will never ever forget, of the planes bursting into the World Trade Center.  The images of horror, chaos and confusion of the people covered in soot from falling, burning debris.  The graphical images and replays of 9/11 on TV that never seem to stop playing over and over again across the CNN, Fox News and others.  The unavoidable, unstoppable media that will show these images at the airport, on the magazine covers at the grocery store or wherever else there is a TV (hard to avoid these days) for the rest of our lives and our childrens lives too.

When and how do I explain to my young children the unexplainable day of 9/11?  Will I ever be able to explain it? No.

I still haven’t told my children and don’t know how I will. But the time will come. The paper is sitting here today and soon my son will ask “Mom, Dad, what are they doing there? What is that?”

This post was originally written on my blog “The Diary of a Happy Mom”. I also wrote a more extended piece last 9/11 on thirdeyemom. To read, click here.

7 comments

  1. Cindy L

    I have some of the same feelings. About this event and – because I’m a Christian mother with Jewish children – about the Holocaust. Like anything, you take it one step at a time…giving out small and direct pieces of information as they are ready for it. Having deeper discussions as they ask more questions. Remembering that even though this is hard, you want them to confront it with you…not with a newspaper alone without you. Seriously, it helps me to talk to Jewish parents because they have been wrestling with this issue much longer than we have…the issue of how to talk about horrendous things that they are going to need to know because it’s part of their culture.

    I think starting with the images of the buildings themselves from far away is good because it doesn’t show the horror right up close. In fact, it looks a lot like movie trailer images of films like Transformers and other things they’ve seen. I hate to say it, but they have been desensitized to things like that even though I don’t take them to those movies. Then, we’ll move in for closer looks as they mature. Like the Holocaust issue, I think it will help to explain about it by using examples of heroism…showing them the good and hopeful things that happened in the face of danger…like, speaking of the bravery of the rescue workers. And for my animal lovers, the rescue dogs that helped find survivors in the following days.

    Of course, this is my opinion and we don’t have any direct relatives that were involved, so this could all be not applicable for those who lost loved ones. I’m not an expert. Just another mom.

    I also want to mention that sometimes art is an entry point for us to talk about difficult things. This year I was thinking of talking to the 6 and 8 year old about this picture that was released by DC comics shortly after 9-11. Superman and Krypto looking in awe at a mural of first responders. The nurses, firemen, and police are loom large and heroic over Superman as he is looking up and saying “Wow.”
    http://www.capitalcomics.com/cfml/Comics-for-Sale.cfm?recordID=2235
    I’m planning of asking their reactions to it and why they think Superman would have that reaction to the people in the picture. What does he symbolize and what does that say about them?

    I wonder if this is any help to you? This is just my plan and it’s still evolving. I look forward to seeing comments from your other readers to see if they have other approaches that could work for us.

    • Wow thanks Cindy. This is excellent advice. Now that I think about it I probably already have been talking about a lot of similar issues usually through books I’ve been reading with my kids. For instance, we just read one on the Civil War which is a good starting point on racism and the history of slavery. We also have discussed the different World Wars as well. I’m just concerned my son will get afraid of flying if he knows that airplanes were used to crash into buildings. But starting small is really a great idea and using art as well. Thanks so much! When I close my eyes, I still see the horrible image of the plane crashing into the towers. I don’t think it will ever disappear.

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