A baby changes everything, but not as much as a terrorist attack. My daughter, Madelyn, turned ten a couple of weeks ago. A decade has gone by since we brought her home from the hospital to our dream apartment – a spacious loft in Tribeca, which we purchased four months earlier. The selling point – twelve foot windows with gorgeous views of the World Trade Center. After September 11, 2001, we never went back.
On Maddy’s birthday this year, amidst all the cake, presents and fun, it hit me. I have been a mom for a decade. There is something special about a ten year mark. It is no different, fundamentally, from a nine or eleven year mark, but somehow it means more. It is how we measure time. “My twenties were so much fun.” “The fifties were a great time for rock and roll.” “Let’s celebrate his fortieth birthday in a special way.” We organize and compartmentalize the passage of time into tens. So … wow – a parent for a whole decade – it has a nice, experienced, mature feel to it. I wanted to take the time to write about it. I wanted to reflect on how my life is different, on how I have changed, on what I’ve learned and what I still don’t know. I planned to compose an essay on the beauty, wonder, tribulations and agony of motherhood. Then, back to school came and life got in the way of contemplation and free time.
Two days ago marked the tenth anniversary of the greatest terrorist attack on American soil. I watched very little of the ceremonies and news coverage. The images of the planes flying into the towers are forever burned into my mind. I will never forget the feelings of horror and disbelief as I came to realize that it was people, not debris, falling out of the windows. I had, after all, front row seats. As I clutched my new baby, feeling true maternal instinct for the first time, and fled the city, I knew life would never be the same. Even in that moment of horror and confusion, it was very clear to me that this was life altering in a way that pales even the birth of a child. I looked into my daughter’s helpless, innocent face and wondered, “What have I done?”
We are different as a nation. We are different as a generation. There is pre-9/11 and there is post-9/11. There was the time, before the hijackings, when life was good, when we worried mostly about our careers and where we were going on our honeymoon. And, there is now. We still worry about work and vacations but, there are those nagging feelings. Is it safe to put my children on a plane? Should I have more life insurance? Very bad people do very bad things, after all. We have the memories and the footage to prove it. Before 9/11, I was casually patriotic, knowing I was lucky to be an American. Now, The Star Spangled Banner brings tears to my eyes and pride to my heart. There is no doubt that I am raising my children differently, no doubt that I cherish them and worry about them more. We, as a generation of parents, who witnessed, whether first hand or from a distance, the attack on the World Trade Center, have a responsibility. We grew up ten years ago. We must impart on our children all we learned on that most terrible of days. Life is to be treasured. Freedom is a gift. The human spirit is strong. Appreciate the good. We do not run from our fears.
I didn’t lose anyone close to me on September 11th and still, I am forever altered. I cannot begin to imagine the impact on the lives of the families of the victims. I won’t pretend to understand what it feels like when part of your life is taken away by cruel, deranged criminals. As I do every time I hear a low-flying plane or see a high-flying flag, as a witness to the terror, I will continue to think of the people who were killed on that day. As a post-9/11 parent, I will try to honor my obligation to ensure my children are always tolerant of differences, and never tolerant of hatred. God Bless America.