Category Archives: Tragedy

September 11, 2001–Explaining Terrorism To A 5 Year Old

In September 2001 our older daughter was 5, a brand-new kindergartener, and her sister was a 3 year old pre-schooler.  For us, like most families, the 11th was a normal Tuesday that became a day we would always remember when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Pittsburgh.

At the time I was an English teacher in a high school.  When I learned during my planning period about the breaking news from the Twin Towers, I called my wife to make sure she knew what was happening and to ask whether a family friend still worked in the WTC.  (He did not.)  We decided our kindergartener was safe and happy in school, so she should stay there–at least for the time being.

At my own school, each teacher’s role became to support teenagers in carrying on with their day until we could get them home safely.  I reminded my students that people often make insensitive remarks and jokes when they are uncomfortable with what is happening, but that I expected them to remember that when (s)he left home that morning EVERY innocent passenger on those airliners had expected to come home to his or her family.  To their credit, every one of those teens handled what was happening that day with exceptional maturity and respect.

Once the high school closed early, I was able to go home to my family.  My wife and I tried to watch TV coverage as we could while shielding the girls from the surreal reports and images.  We decided 3 was too young to face what had happened, but that–unfortunately–5 had no choice.  So after dinner that night, my wife kept our younger daughter inside while I took our 5 year old outside to talk about the terror attacks. We were worried that she would hear other kids talking on the bus or at school the next day and that she would get scared, and we wanted to prepare her so she would feel safe.

Our home is a 45 minute drive from a major international airport, so from early morning through late at night there are always planes in the sky.  As we sat on the front porch, I explained that some bad people who do not like America and the way we live had crashed planes into buildings and hurt a lot of people.  But I asked her to look up, and pointed out that there were not any planes in the sky.  I told her the president had ordered all of the planes to land, but that when she did see a plane in the sky over the next few days it would be one of the president’s planes and that it would be up there making sure we were all safe.  She asked a few questions, accepted my answers, and we went back inside.

Schools were closed the next day.  The kids and I went back to school on Thursday, and our family met with relatives on Saturday night for a candlelight vigil to honor those who had been lost on the 11th.  Eleven years later that week may be a fuzzy memory for our now high school junior; but it is one of my clearest memories out of 16+ years as a dad.



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Filed under Safety, Tragedy

Timing, Tragedy, and Dump Trucks

For reasons that may not seem entirely logical, the murders last week in a Colorado movie theatre took me back to something that happened on a Saturday morning in July a few years ago.

I was driving my then-middle & elementary school daughters to their swim meet when a dump truck pulled out just in front of us onto the winding, semi-rural road we were traveling, and I was less than thrilled; I believe my exact words were, “Aw, come on!”  One of the girls asked, “What’s wrong?” and I said, “Nothing–but if we had been 10 seconds earlier, we wouldn’t be following that dump truck.  It’s fine–we’ll be at the pool in plenty of time for warmups.”  We went from making good time to an absolute crawl, but that was no big deal.

About a mile later, we came upon an accident.  The dump truck stopped and the driver ran over to see if he could help.  My girls were sitting in the back seat and they did not notice anything as we approached, so the dump truck that had seemed like such an inconvenience turned out to be a blessing:  When I pulled up behind the truck it became a wall between my kids and the accident.

I told the girls, “I’ll be right back–Stay in the car,” got out, realized we were all first on the scene of an accident that had happened only a minute or two before, and called 911 on my cell.  In a few minutes, help arrived from the firehouse less than 2 miles further up the road, and after I answered a police officer’s questions we made a u-turn to find an open route to the swim meet and to go on with our day.

The girls never saw the woman who was lying motionless on the ground.  They never saw her shoe in the road about 10 feet away from her.  They never saw the horse that was trotting around loose in the field beside the road.  They never saw the teen driver pacing back and forth, looking at the person on the ground beside his car, then stalking away a few feet, then returning, struggling with the sight of what had happened.  They had no way to know that the victim had been walking her horse across the road when the teen’s car struck and killed her.

Arriving at the same place & time that morning, a woman died and a teenager’s life was scarred–There is no minimizing any of that.  But because of a difference of about 10 seconds on the same morning, I was able to talk to the girls about the accident on my own terms over the next day or two, and they will never have the scene that was happening in front of the dump truck as a sad and frightening memory.

Like most parents, when I heard about the Colorado murders I thought about my kids’ safety.  I also thought about the fact that as they get older they become more and more aware of news from our local community and from the world beyond.  And there are no dump trucks to keep them from seeing dark things when they happen.



Filed under Appreciation, Tragedy