Seeing 9/11 through a child’s eyes

Seeing 9/11 through a child’s eyes
Photo by misschristi1972. Used with permission of a Creative Commons License, found here .

Like most of you, I remember where I was and what I did on 9/11. I was living in Alaska and my brother called at 5 a.m. Alaska time to tell us about the World Trade Center. He told us his building, the Federal Reserve in Boston, was evacuated and he was home. It was hard to process at 5 a.m. It was hard to process all day, for that matter.

We went downstairs to watch the news and began absorbing the facts and the images. I remember the collapse of the first building happening live on television. It was simply impossible to process, like my brain couldn’t understand.

My daughter was three years old. I kept her home from preschool and I stayed home from work. Hunkering down was the only thing that made sense.

I knew I shouldn’t watch the television with her in the room, but she had a play area out of sight line from the television, and she was content to play with her trains and dolls. She was always so good at entertaining herself.

She seemed oblivious to what was happening, uninterested. But she was concerned that my attention was so completely absorbed by the television.

“What’s happening Mama?”

I told her that a plane had flown into a building.

She laughed a little bit and said, “No, Mama. Planes don’t fly into buildings.” And then she went back to playing.

My daughter has always loved planes. She inherited that love from her Uncle, who is a plane spotter. And we lived in Alaska, which has the largest number of planes per capita of any state in the union.

Later that day, all of us were stir crazy, having been shut inside the house all day. I didn’t even get dressed until late afternoon. My daughter was desperate to get outside.

So we drove to a mall to walk around. Nearby was a small airport, normally very busy. There were always planes landing and taking off, and she loved seeing that.

But there were no planes flying on 9/11. The sky was quiet, and Kate didn’t like that one bit.

“Where are the planes, Mama? I want to see the planes.”

Life finally resumed and planes were flying the next day.

Several weeks later I had a friend over to the house for coffee. My daughter had a set of large legos and she was building a tower. It was always, how high can I get these things to go? She learned to build a solid, broad base and then move upward. She was absorbed in her tower making.

And, then, she spread her arms out, pretending to be a plane, and flew into her tower.

I will never forget the horror and guilt and sorrow I felt all at once when I saw her doing that. My daughter’s world had changed. She was now able to understand that planes do, sometimes, fly into buildings.

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