Talking about terrorism with kids

Parents prepare for certain questions when their children begin elementary school.

My husband and I were no different, role-playing routines for the inevitable “Where do babies come from?” and “Who is this Santa character?”

But, nothing prepared me for a most serious inquiry.

“Mommy, do you know what happened on September 11th?”

My twin sons were eighteen months old on 09.11.01.

For years, I had no idea how to discuss the particular horrors of 9/11 with them. Many times, I thought to myself, “Not yet.”

Or “When they’re older.”

I waited until they asked me, knowing it would come up eventually. I had newspaper clippings, magazine articles and even a few documentaries that might help explain the events of that day.

They were six years old when Jake’s simple question stumped me. We were driving home from kindergarten and no quick or comforting answers came to mind. We pulled into our driveway and I turned around to face them.

“Yes, sweetie, I know about September 11th,” I finally said. “Do you?”

Jacob and Zachary nodded.

“Bad men flew airplanes into New York City,” Zach said.

That’s certainly part of the story. My eyes filled with tears as I wondered what to add. As always, they were looking to me for more. I looked at my watch. Happy hour wasn’t scheduled to begin for another 82 minutes.

“It was a sad day,” I whispered.

I don’t know anyone who looks forward to the time when we have to explain evil to our children. My boys knew about strangers and bullies. They were frightened enough by imaginary villains like The Green Goblin. I wanted to postpone introducing real-life bad guys who would elicit nightmares not easily forgotten; yet, I didn’t have much of a choice. Friends and teachers were opening up a new and sometimes scary world and I had to be available for comment. So I told my children about the sadness of that September morning.

They wanted to know why bad men hate America and I told them truthfully, “I don’t know.”

I also talked about real heroes, fire fighters and police officers, who rushed to save people. I focused on how we came together as a nation afterward with a renewed love for our country. After our talk, both boys were silent for a while. They looked like little men, contemplating the shock we all felt so many years ago. Then Zachary was ready to go out in the backyard and play.

Jacob hugged me and said, “I bet if the Fantastic Four had been in New York, nothing bad would have happened.”

I returned his hug without saying a word, letting him be a little boy just a little while longer.