The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is in two days.  Any adult living in the U.S. knows where they were and what they were doing ten years ago; the fear, shock and sorrow is seared into our collective memory.  Some of us were living in places directly attacked; some of us were watching TV in horror.  Some of us lost people we loved in one swift moment, and we all lost a certain level of innocence and security that day.

And now many of us have children.  Already, and seemingly impossibly, time has moved forward and our children are looking at 9/11 in the rearview window.  It is a chapter in their history books, a moment of silence in schools, and lessons in compassion for Islamic Americans.  It is not real for our children.  My kids have always had terror evacuation plans in school and taken their shoes off to fly.  My kids have always seen bomb-sniffing dogs at the Metro and seen the men with big guns at the Monuments.  It is me who balks at all of this and will always remember the moment it all changed.

How you handle this historical event with your children is very personal.  Some of us are not ready to talk about it, and don’t have the words.  Some of us have children who simply ask and ask and ask questions.  Some of us have kids who happen to see horrible images (buildings falling) and hear sad stories (survivor stories on the news), and force us into awkward conversations.  Some of us want to commemorate this anniversary, but worry about worrying the kids.  When is the right time?  What is the right amount of information?

I have a couple of thoughts.

Little kids have a very small world.  Parents.  Siblings.  Friends.  Teacher.  Pet.  Grandparents.  Islamic fundamentalists are not on their radar, and that cannot be explained.  It is too confusing and too scary.  Like talking about sexuality, information should be given in an age-appropriate manner, leaving room for questions.  If the child keeps asking them, try to find ways to answer them honestly and without too much detail.  What a child’s brain is really asking is “am I safe?  Is mommy safe?  Is my turtle safe?”. The answer is always something like “mommy and daddy will always keep you safe.  We are all here and we are all okay”.  Can you guarantee this forever?  Maybe, maybe not.  But the child’s brain has no place in it to understand this level of horror, therefore detailed stories of the attacks, images, and overly emotional memorials and remembrances will only serve to scare and confuse a them.

Before you know it, your child will be ready for more information.  They will ask about where you were, how you felt, and how America changed.  And you will be able to share your experiences…but until then, keep it low-key.  This is not about hiding or “preserving innocence” (which sounds like double-talk for lying to kids to me); this is about respecting what a young brain can handle.

As adults, we may feel the need to acknowledge this day in another way.  We may need to do something: a walk, attend a special service, a stair climb, a vigil, a gathering.  I strongly encourage you to do what you need to do, while considering leaving the kids at home.  Certainly, you know your children and you know your place of worship, and if you think it will be okay, it will be okay.  But some of these specialized services will be fraught with emotion, and many tears will be shed.  All of that is good.  And if you think it would scare your child, please leave them at home.  These are times for you to reflect and sit with your own experience.

Me?  I am making Sunday a media-free day.  I will go to church to pray for those who have died, to give thanks for the people in my life, and to be quiet and still.  I will spend time with my family and I will not watch the images and listen to the stories.  Those images and stories are all there, like it was yesterday and I can access them whenever I choose…as I am sure you can, too.  However you choose to remember 9/11, the ultimate memorial to those who have died is to live free, be grateful, and show compassion to yourself and others.

Be well.