Why I Brought My Three-year-old to Ground Zero

10 Sep

On September 13, 2001, I stood among the thousands gathered on the Rhode Island State House lawn for a vigil in honor of the 9/11 dead and missing. My 20-month old was on my back in a carrier, flags stuck in its straps.

Standing beside me, my three-year-old son, Samuel, was tugging at my shirt with his free hand (his other hand was clasped around a thin, white candle).

“Look,” he said, pointing skyward. I looked up to see a plane passing overhead, a foreign sight in the days immediately after the attacks.

“Is that plane going to crash into a building, too?” Sam asked.

“No,” I told him, my heart breaking. “That’s never going to happen again.” Of course, it was a promise I couldn’t keep, but I made it nonetheless.

In the hours after the planes hit the Twin Towers, Samuel watched the video of the crash over and over again.

The collapse, the devastation, the people crying and holding missing persons flyers—his bright, quick little three-year-old mind took it all in.

We should have turned it off, but we were scared, confused, and hungry for news and information. In the end, my husband and I knew he saw too much.

It’s strange, then, that I wanted him to see more.

St. Paul's Church near Ground Zero.

Three months later, I visited Ground Zero for work. I stood on the viewing platform next to a grieving widow who had lost her husband, a firefighter, in the towers’ collapse.  I returned home convinced that my husband, Scott, needed to go, and we decided Sam would join us.

At the site of the towers, we saw the striking sculptural wreckage . We went to St. Paul’s church, which had become a makeshift memorial to the victims. Baseball caps, photos, favorite sneakers, letters, poems, and flowers covered the iron gates around the church.

Sam asked questions. We answered them, warmly and honestly. To this day I don’t know if bringing him was the right thing to do.

Samuel is 13 years old now. Mostly, he doesn’t remember the trip except for one small detail: “Remember when I asked the cabbie if he wanted my candy?”

I do remember. We were in a taxi headed back to midtown when Sam pushed his paper bag of gummies through the open hole in the divider. “Do you want to share,” he’d said, “They’re really good.”

Maybe this is why I needed him there. Even in the face of a generation-defining tragedy, it’s the small acts of kindness that help us to believe in humanity.

2 Responses to “Why I Brought My Three-year-old to Ground Zero”

  1. David Mazzola September 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Very good writing that shares a beautiful slice of life of one family’s struggles with the pain, shock and feeling of despair that an entire nation shared that day. It reminds us that even though we often feel lost and adrift in a world seemingly cold and filled with tragic events, little things such as a touch or a thoughtful gesture really can connect us all.

  2. Beth September 12, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Gave me goosebumps on so many levels. Love how you wrapped it all up together. My nephew Hayden was born less than a week before 9/11, and I remember how comforting and grounding it felt to focus on that little miracle amidst the inexplicable horror. Excellent, honest writing. Thank you!

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