Thursday, September 11, 2014
It was on September 11, 2001 that I realized that giving birth to my then 16-month old daughter had been a huge mistake.
I breastfed Sicily exclusively until she was six months, and then continued until very nearly her 2nd birthday. Her baby food was organic and handmade. Baby products and clothes were all organic and made only of natural fibers. Her entire environment was non-toxic and safe. I read baby books on attachment parenting. I did everything right.
But I realized on that sunny, beautiful September morning as I sat with my hand over my mouth and tears in my eyes that I would never be able to protect her from the reality of a world where people would destroy strangers’ lives on principle. Where a beautiful sunny day could be shattered in an instant by four planes: two in New York, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Washington, D.C.
As parents rushed all over the city to scoop their children up from school and daycare and squeeze them tight, I let her stay where she was. I sat frozen on the couch in an empty house, watching the endless tragic loop, listening to the broadcasters’ voices crack when they realized people in the towers were leaping to their death rather than burning alive or waiting for the inevitable. I couldn't bring myself to go pick my sweet baby up from daycare. That would mean that even before she realized it, the end of my ability to protect her had come. The day when she would see fear and pain and sadness on my face, far beyond what I had ever experienced up to that point, had arrived.
I did pick her up. I did squeeze her. I turned off the news and we played games that I don’t remember. I made a big pan of lasagna and drove to a friend’s house so we wouldn't have to be alone. After Sicily went to sleep in their spare room, my friend and I sat and drank wine, quietly. Being with people helped. Earlier in the day I tried to call her dad where he was captaining a supply boat in the Gulf of Mexico and couldn't get in touch with him; later that night, we cried on the phone together and told each other how much we loved each other.
I think we all lost our feeling of normalcy and safety in the world on September 11, 2001. I think everyone, for at least a little while, stopped taking things for granted. People were kinder and, for just a few weeks, more tolerant. It didn't last long; on the surface at least, the snappish impatience returned like the planes when the airspace above the United States was opened again. I remember driving to my parent’s house past Hartsfield-Jackson airport and hearing the first plane in days and how alien and welcome that sound was. I remember thinking that people would go back to their small lives again, and that the lessons of the past few days would be quickly shoved aside.
But then I realized that even if people returned to their distracted, unkind, and dismissive ways, we would never be the same, and that every child of the millennium would be raised in a world much different from their parents’. Something had shifted. As I snuggled with my sleepy baby in bed the night of September 11, 2001, I knew things had irrevocably changed. People had irrevocably changed, even if they didn't know it yet.
Sicily started her freshman year at City College in Baltimore this fall, and whether she and the class of 2018 know it or not, they are now coming into control of a world that is vastly different than it was when they were just turning two. I hope I have given her the kindness and strength to make a difference. We talk about September 11th every year so that even if she doesn't remember, she will never forget.