Where was I September 11, 2001? I was setting up a kindergarten classroom for a kindergarten class that would never show up. I was listening to NPR as I was hanging ABC borders and Solar System borders and covering my bulletin boards with paper colored to promote calmness and serenity among the anxious first time schoolers.
On the radio, they announced that a plane flew into one of the towers. I figured it was a Cessna and I had a picture of a tiny little plane sticking ass out from high up in the sky. But then the commentary got more serious and people started coming to my classroom to talk about what was going on. The principal then announced (mistakenly because he caused severe panic amongst the smarter 1st graders and above) that another plane flew into the second tower. We pulled a television into an empty classroom.
Chaos ensued. You know the rest. People I knew who had friends, spouses, lovers and relatives at the towers were understandable upset. I knew my family was safe so that was a relief. We watched on TV as the towers fell. Then the parents started to pick up their children. The whole rest of the day was dedicated to helping keep hordes of parents calm as they were waiting on lines that wrapped around the block, to pick up their angels.
One man, walked from downtown to see his wife who taught with us, and he was covered with soot. Another man that I knew because I'd had his daughter G in class the year before, made eye contact with me and he looked so concerned. I gave him a reassuring look because of course I checked on all my previous kindergarteners and I let him know with a glance that G was okay, and we shared a tear. Nice family...
Side note.....when I went to check on G in her first grade classroom, she was freaking out. Of course, the grownups were so self absorbed they didn't realize how much the children were comprehending, so when I saw her, she looked up at me and hugged my knees so I squatted to be at eye level (you should always be at eyelevel when talking to small children, you should also photograph them that way too) and she asked me in the sweetest little voice, "Are the planes still coming? Are they going to crash into our school?"
So, I told her no, and that our school was safe and that her daddy would be here soon to pick her up and naturally I saw him just an hour or so later. Her mom worked in one of the buildings as a cleaning woman but she was okay, I later found out.
My message for the anniversary of September 11th would be this. Cherish those in your life that are near to your hearts, remember those who aren't with us and with regard to children, they are smarter than most of us think. Actually all children are very smart and they should never me underestimated.
Always be honest with them but also remember to be reassuring. Their little minds can understand the truth but they don't yet have that emotional crusty layer to help them deal with the more difficult truths.