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This morning my husband woke me up on his way out the door. “I told Big Girl that she might hear some kids on the bus or at school talking about what happened with Bin Laden. I told her he was a very bad man that did very bad things and that he was dead now because our soldiers killed him. Please leave it at that,” he said. Barely awake, I told him not to worry. I wasn’t getting into that discussion with her. She’s only seven, after all. How much does she really need to know about terrorism? How much do I need — or want — to know about it? I don’t. At least I wish I didn’t — know about it, that is.

And yet every so often I find myself thinking about it. What happened nearly ten years ago in downtown New York City. Oh, it might only be once a month when I realize where my husband works (it was an especially tough day when he and my girls were downtown last week), or when I am contemplating getting on a plane, but then I remember and my blood turns cold. How can a seven-year-old process that? Should she have to? I didn’t think so, and my husband didn’t, either, which is why I drove her to school today and picked her up. I wanted to minimize bus time. She still found out, though.

She was only home a few minutes when she was standing right next to me as I wiped the counter. “Mommy,” she said, “people at school told me that bad man blew up some buildings with a plane. Did he really do that.” Crap. I was trapped. Yes, I told her. Yes, he did. And then I started babbling. About how safe it is to fly these days. And did she remember how, when we went to Disney, we all had to go through x-ray machines and take off our shoes? Oh, and remember how you, Big Girl, got pulled aside for a special search because the TSA guy didn’t like what he saw on the machine? (It was a paint-your-own-t-shirt kit, BTW.) And how they took away our water bottles and the bins and bins of suntan lotion and cosmetics and tiny bottles we saw under the x-ray conveyor belt? And how, when the pilots had to go to the bathroom, they blocked the aisle with a really big cart. (Digression: Really, pilot? Really? You can’t hold your bladder for the two hour and 35 minute flight from Orlando to JFK???) All that careful attention, I told her, all that security keeps us safe and makes it really, really, REALLY hard for anything like that to ever happen again. She seemed satisfied with my answer, I think. I hope, anyway.

When my husband came home I told him what Big Girl said when she got home. “I knew it,” he said. “I knew someone was going to say something to her. That’s why I prepped her.” That’s why he prepped her. I hope and pray that my girls never have to “prep” their kids about another incidence of terrorism. That September 11, 2001 becomes a single, terrible moment in our history. Something that never repeats. In the meantime, though, I hope my daughter isn’t going to have trouble sleeping tonight. After all, what she learned about today is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Do you have kids? If so, did you explain September 11th to them? How did they react? If not, how old will they be when you tell them? I’d like to know.

2 Responses to “September 11: When to Tell Kids”

  1. Raisa Berriz says:

    Your child got off easy. If this is the worst at 7 years old, count yourself blessed. I remember my 5 year old alone in the living room as I walked in, singing a song she had made up. The lyrics…”Osama, Osama….why did you have to kill so many people, Osama Osama, why did you blow up airplanes.” The date was September 12th, 2001. It broke my heart. What’s was probably even more terrifying to her was that her mommy worked one of those flights which was terrorized regularly (flight attendant). Needless to say she has survived it, but no child should have to even think about these things. This is one reason I took her to the White House celebration this past Sunday night. It was closure for both of us. We were not celebrating OBL’s killing, but celebrating justice and victory over evil. I know she will remember her night at the White House much more than the pitiful song and the fright of 9/11/01.

  2. Rachel P. says:

    My first son is seven years old. I prepped him because I know he has a fascination with soldiers and if he heard some one say something about it he would want to know more. I basically told him he would hear the name of our president, a man named Osama, and about that man being killed by our soldiers. I explained that Osama influenced people to hate our country and kill people by crashing airplanes into buildings. He wasn’t worried about safety when flying or even why they killed him. He asked some good questions which I answered as succinctly as possible and he seemed very satisfied that all was right.

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