Friday, September 11, 2009

hijacked on 9/11: childhood

Peggy Noonan has an interesting piece in the WSJ today on how 9/11 has affected the lives of children.
A young man who was 14 the day of the attacks told me recently that there's an unspoken taboo among the young people of New York: They don't talk about it, ever. They don't want to say, "Oh boo hoo, it was awful." They don't want to dwell. They shrug it off when it comes up. They change the subject.
I've found this to be true among my daughter and her friends who that day were freshmen at Stuyvesant, in the shadow of the Towers. They never talk about it. Though no doubt it has affected them profoundly.

It was their third day of high school. That morning, my daughter emerged from the subway (only the second time I'd let her ride it alone) to see people jumping from flames in the tower. She had headphones on, though I'd warned her about wearing them in transit. She later told me she was glad she did because they drowned out the screams of people standing with her on the sidewalk. She watched for a few minutes. Then walked on to school. She didn't want to be late. Halfway through the first class, an announcement was made instructing teachers on the East facing windows to pull the blinds. An hour later, the school was closed. The city needed a triage center to treat the wounded. (Wounded were still expected at that point.) The kids were released to the streets, told to "Walk north. Don't look back." The subways weren't going. Buses lumbering uptown were so crowded they weren't stopping. I'd been worried about her riding the subway alone. It hadn't occurred to me to teach her to navigate the 130 blocks without transportation. When she finally got home (by then I was frantic) she told me what she had seen and asked, "There were trampolines underneath to catch them, weren't there?" I was tempted to say yes. But I knew the news would make me a liar. When I said no, she looked away. I could almost hear the breaking glass of her childhood.

She and her friends never talk about that day, though it was long a topic of constant obsessive conversation among us parents. We worried about how seeing national landmarks felled affected our kids, both psychologically (is it good they never talk about it? or bad?) and physically (what about air quality? is the school still filled with flying asbestos?) The school was closed for three weeks for cleaning while our kids were switched to a school in Brooklyn. When the school was reopened, many of us sent our kids with potassium iodide pills that are said to help survive a nuclear attack. There was much talk in those days about "the other shoe dropping".

One of the few times my daughter has referred to 9/11 was when we were driving around to see colleges. She was in the passenger seat and reached out to change a song playing on the CD. "I can't listen to that," she said. "It's what was playing that day on my headphones." She skipped the track ahead. Then turned up music so loud it made talking impossible.


J9 said...

I am partly glad that my oldest was less than a year old at the time, and my youngest wasn't yet born. They were asked to wear Red White and Blue to school today, but not told why. We talked about it this morning, but I couldn't get into detail, to tell them the whole story, nor ask them what they thought. So one wore RWB, and the other didn't. The events that day haven't directly affected them, but the aftermath has.

Teenie said...

Thank you for sharing that. It's a very touching story... about the towers and what happened that day, and about mothers and daughters, too.

California Girl said...

That is a painful story and, as a parent, I empathize. I know what my Buddhist therapist would say...she will, some day, need to deal with it in order to set it free. As I learn to deal with pent up emotions, anger and loss, I begin to understand what he means by that. My son doesn't deal with nor wish to speak of things that deeply bother him, yet I know some day he will have to (I hope) if only to understand his own emotional needs.

As a somewhat relatable aside, the morning of 9-11, I received a phone call in N.H. from my father in CA. He was 91 at the time. He was crying. He thought the U.S. had been invaded and attacked. It was Pearl Harbor again. I'd never heard him cry about WWII before but he did that day and many days after. I guess that's what my therapist means.

Good luck with it.

Unknown said...

Powerful stuff, ad broad.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@J9 I'm glad for your kids that they were so young that day, too. But yes, the aftermath. No one's escaped that.

@Teenie Thanks for reading and your generous words. Thinking of you as you near the reality of motherhood. Or have you already crossed that finish line?

@California Girl What a touching story about your Dad. Thanks for sharing that. Yes, I see what your therapist means. Hopefully my daughter will make time for that.

@Jake P. Thanks for the read and for taking the time to comment here.

Teenie said...

Last work day is tomorrow and then I'm on 3-week watch. How time flies! And that's not just a euphemism--it's never felt so true in my life.

bob hoffman said...

I had given up on Ad Broad. Every post seemed to be about either Mad Men or Twitter.

Then I read your 9/11 post. I'm back.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@Teenie I hope you have an easier time than Betty Draper ;)

@Bob Hoffman Thanks and welcome back! Things weren't the same around here without you ;)