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How Long Is a Moment? What Today’s Kids Think of 9/11

Part of my job at the elementary school where I work is to go from classroom to classroom to teach writing workshop to the children.  Today, on September 11th, when our principal came over the PA system to ask for a moment of silence to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy, I happened to be in kindergarten.

“Why do we have to be silent?”


“How long is a moment?”


“Neveah isn’t wearing red, white, and blue.  Does she have to be silent?”


“I have to go to the bathroom!”

“I got a Slurpee once at 9/11.”


The children in the class are four and five years old, and when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred in this country, many of their parents were still in high school.  Some were even in middle school.  These children were not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place – the most heinous terrorist attack on American soil in the history of our country.

So what does it mean to these kids?

Remember when you were in school, and they talked about Pearl Harbor?  The Kennedy Assassination?  Vietnam?  They were events in your history book, things your parents or grandparents talked about in terms of remembering where they were.  But to you, they were the things you learned to pass the Social Studies test.

My own nine year old asked me today what 9/11 was.  They didn’t discuss it in her school except on the morning announcements, where they told students if they were feeling sad or afraid, they could go to a teacher, a counselor, or a parent to discuss their feelings.  Granuaile didn’t know if there was something she should be sad or worried about.  It’s not that we have never discussed it with our kids, but we’ve never made it so that it seemed like an ongoing, fear inducing concern.  It happened, it was terrible and sad, but you’re safe.  I’m not even sure we gave it the name “9/11”.

Already, with the image of the first plane hitting the first tower still burning and painfully raw in our minds, these kids are too far removed to feel the pain we feel.  Many of us had brothers and sisters, friends and other family members, people we knew and loved lost on September 11th, but for a kid in elementary school today, the sadness they feel is equivalent to the sadness they’d feel over a great-great grandparent’s passing years before they were born.  Which is to say, none.

So what are we supposed to do?  How do we keep the memories honored and alive without imposing our sadness and concern?  We tell the story, we keep the photos and the memories we have of those we loved and lost ready to share, and we tell them they’re safe, whether we believe it or not.

And then we take them to 7-11.  For a Slurpee.



I Hope The Russians Love Their Children, Too

“There is no monopoly of common sense on either side of the political fence.” – Sting


The song “Russians” by Sting, with its haunting music and bone chilling lyrics echoes in my head as I consider the decision today by President Obama to ask Congress for permission to proceed with military strikes against Syria.  I’m not a political person.  I don’t declare affiliation with any particular political party, because I believe if you support an opinion instead of a person, at some point, it might encourage us all to work together for the greater good as opposed to pushing a personal agenda.  So to be honest, I had to ask why we would even want to get involved in Syria.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be exceedingly angry at the leaders of the Syrian government for annihilating the innocent people of Syria.  Part of me thinks the people of Syria need to rise up against their sadistic government.  But mostly I think I was wondering what impact this would have on the people of the United States.

I feel like since 9/11, we have walked around with a target on our backs, daring another country to try to do what Osama bin Laden did to our people.  We swore we would continue to live our lives, defiant in the face of attack.  We were determined not to allow a terrorist attack to influence our daily lives, as it would give the appearance of caving to terrorist threats.

But this scares me.  What if someone has a weapon that hits that target we so truculently parade around wearing?  Have we reached a point where we are walking around in a Teflon bubble, and that makes us a challenge to people like the leaders of Syria, who will retaliate and do to our children what they did to their own?

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There are weapons too horrible to even discuss in the hands of all the wrong people.  I don’t know if it’s a good time to piss those people off.  And my thoughts are, seriously, since it’s been made very obvious that the Syrians don’t, I hope and pray that the Russians love their children enough to not want them hurt.  Like I don’t want mine hurt.

“What might save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children, too.”

One World