Sunday, September 11, 2011

Column from 2008

This column ran in Briefing on Sept. 11, 2008. Later this week I'll update how our family has since dealt with 9/11. 

Does your child know about the events of Sept. 11, 2001?

Ours don't yet. Katie is just 3. Cooper, our first child, was barely two months old the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The sense of responsibility and fear that comes with being a new parent was magnified that morning and in the weeks that followed. What kind of world would he grow up in?

That October, we flew to Baltimore for a previously scheduled vacation. We took a commuter train into Washington, D.C., and proudly showed baby Cooper his nation's capital - still standing, still strong, just weeks after an attack on U.S. soil against American civilians.

As he grew, we purposefully avoided discussing Sept. 11. A family vacation to New York City in 2003 did not include a stop at Ground Zero. Steve and I weren't ready to see the emptiness, and there were many other favorite sites to share with our son.

When he was 3 and attended a suburban day-care center, I had a small battle with one of the directors. She was insistent on remembering Sept. 11 at the school, with children no older than 5. She was passionate that toddlers and preschoolers learn about the day's events and recognize our nation's heroes. I was equally passionate that they didn't need to have discussions about planes flying into buildings with their day-care teachers.

But why now, at age 7, does he still not know about a huge event that redefined and continues to shape our country? He's not completely sheltered from current events, though we do limit his exposure to violence. He knows about wars and is thoughtful about why countries disagree and even battle.

I polled some fellow mom and dad friends to find out if they've told their children about Sept. 11. Their answers and reasons why reflect distinct details about their backgrounds and parenting styles.

One family was living in Pennsylvania seven years ago today. The dad of another family was on the last Port Authority train into the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning. For these friends, 9/ 11 is a part of their family histories.

Another family discussed the recent history with their son after he found information on the Internet. His 5-year-old sister doesn't yet know.

Some families haven't broached the subject at all. The mom of a second-grade girl wants to wait until her daughter is more mature and less likely to stress over unnecessary fears. Another friend with three daughters in kindergarten through third grade wants to address the subject individually, when each child is able to understand the complexities of the event and aftermath.

As with most important topics, Steve and I prefer to talk with our kids first, before peers, before school, before other influences. We don't expect the topic to be officially addressed in his second-grade classroom.

There is no statewide curriculum mandate on 9/11, as the history curriculum in place now was written before the attacks. The Texas Education Agency allows local schools to decide how and when to address the events. (American history textbooks approved for Texas students in fifth grade and up published in 2002 and later include references.)

Our son's peer group and increasing awareness of the media are harder to predict. Playground and cafeteria talk veers into uncharted, unsupervised territory. And while the comics section is his first destination in the newspaper each morning, he also takes note of images and headlines on the front page.

So Steve and I are confronting our fears about discussing Sept. 11. How to explain evil. How to explain the senseless deaths of people riding on planes and working in offices and desperately trying to save lives. How New York City, a city he loves for what it is now, was altogether different on Sept. 10, 2001.

How there are questions that don't always have answers and stories that don't yet have endings.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at 

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