Remembering 9/11: A time to hug our children

It’s hard to believe that 18 years have gone by …

I had to see my son.

As I stood I the middle of the newsroom Tuesday, watching the second hijacked plane slice through the tower of the World Trade Center, I could think of nothing else other than holding close to me that which I love more than anything else in the world.

I wanted to hold my 2-year-old son.

I wanted to kiss his neck and feel his arms close around me; I needed to breathe in the sweetness of his baby shampoo; I had to hug him tight.

He was safe and sound, I knew, and likely smack dab in the middle of morning play time at daycare, unaware of the horror unfolding in New York and Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

As the planes crashed and the towers fell and the people died, as a story more visually horrifying than anything Hollywood could dream up snatched away my usual sense of well-being, as the reality of our national vulnerability sunk in, I needed to be with my child, if only for a moment.

And so I left the newsroom and the television sets and the horror of feeling open and at risk and hurried to my son’s daycare. I knew there was nowhere else I could or should be at that moment when so little else made sense.

When I opened the door to the Yellow Room, I was greeted by a joyous cacophony of boys struggling over race cars and girls pretending to pour tea and one sweet soul dealing with what I suspected to be a potty-training setback.

I stayed just a minute or two. My son spied me and ran to me excitedly, crying, “My mommy, my mommy,” with arms outstretched.

I swooped him up and held him close. I kissed his neck. I told his teacher that I simply had to see him.

I told my son I loved him, and then I let him go.

He returned to his play, waving good-bye as I stepped out of the room and closed the door. I hung back a moment, though, to watch through a pane of glass as the room’s activity absorbed him and he went back to the hustle and bustle of toddler life.

How wonderful to be 2, I thought.

In a world of SpongeBob and Elmo, there aren’t thousands of children learning their moms and dads won’t be coming home — ever. There aren’t mothers and fathers crying for children lost in a terrorist attack. There aren’t adults feeling scared because it finally dawned on them that though they want nothing more than to keep their babies safe forever, they can’t.

We learned a terrible lesson Tuesday.

When my son was born, I was full of the joy of a woman who had waited for her baby for years. And when I finally held him close after his much-anticipated arrival, I promised him I would always be there for him, that I would always take good, good care of him and love him. I promised I would always try to do my best to be a good mother.

I also promised him I would protect him, and on Tuesday I learned that I can’t follow through on that.

As much as I try, as much as I want to keep the evil away, as much as I lie awake at night worrying about things, there’s nothing I can do — absolutely nothing — to save him from the monsters.

And as horrifying as that realization is, it is equally liberating.

The terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., are reminders that we should never, ever leave home without telling those we love more than anything in the world how we feel. We should hug our kids and call our brothers and sisters and let our friends know how lonely we’d be without them. We should thank our moms and dads. We should take the time to leave no words unsaid.

As mundane and safe as we like to think our lives are, in reality we are all out there, dancing on the same tight rope with no net below to catch us; Tuesday taught me that we don’t always treat other like that’s true.

My son taught me that life must go on.

Editor’s note: This post is a column that originally ran in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001.

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