Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finding My Way



I have a friend who is always about six steps ahead of me when it comes to the things that will change your life. Because of a desire for simplicity and a lack of finances I’m usually behind in the ‘next great thing’ game. But she’s on top of it all. She has some kind of psychic ability to know what’s coming up and jump on board at the exact right moment.

I see the stuff, on TV, in the magazines. Smart phones, Blue tooth, High Def, Twitter, Social Networking, on board navigational systems, WiFi…it’s all pretty confusing to me, so I avoid it when I can. For the most part I don’ t mind being out of the game. I appreciate technology but don’t feel a need to keep up with the latest and greatest of anything.

Sure, she’s slowly sucked me into a few things and I humbly admit I’m a better person for it. Six years ago I was sure I would hate having a digital camera. So much to figure out. I’d have to learn more confusing things on the computer to even find my pictures. I had a nice, comfortable relationship with my old 35mm film camera. There was no reason to stray. Then my friend came to stay with me and snapped four trillion pictures of our visit, posting them to the internet before she even got home. I was intrigued.

Long story short, I researched, anguished about it, researched some more, and finally dove in. I’m on my second digital camera now, after completely wearing out the first one. I had to buy an external hard drive just for picture storage. Having digital is like having free, unlimited film. Who knew? (she did…)

The same thing happened with facebook. I saw no need for it, until I tried it and found it was the perfect way to stay in touch with family and friends who are flung across the country. Now I check my facebook page as often as I do email. It has become my easy way of knowing what the people I love are up to on a regular basis.

This is how I happened to stumble on the phenomenon known as the blogosphere. I’d heard the word ‘blog’ but had no use for it. My first impression was that they were for celebrity gossip and political ramblings. I have no use for either of those things. Then I happened to stumble upon one that was about parenting. It was about being a mom. That’s it. No platform, no gossip. Just down and dirty glimpses of life, written by another mom like me.

Again I was intrigued. I clicked around and found more, and more, and more of these other moms out there, sharing their lives on this thing called blogging.

For a few years I’ve had a file in my computer called “my encyclopedia”. I created this file the day I finished reading The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It’s an ingenious book, in which the author has taken the ordinary things that happen in her life, things that make her ponder a bit about life, and organized them like an encyclopedia. It’s a much more entertaining read than I’m making it out to be, but the idea itself is what blew me away.

I was always walking around thinking strange things and remembering specific memories of my growing up years, and wanting to jot them down, but having no good way to organize them. So that day, the day I read the last page of Amy’s book, I sat down at the computer, opened up a blank page, titled it “My Encyclopedia” and began writing. Soon I had dozens of entries. Here’s a sample:

N- Narration
I go through spells of reading. I find a whole stack of great books from the public library and go hog wild, digging through them. I desperately carve out extra moments in the day that I can disappear and read even one more chapter of the current book of interest. Soon the whole stack is read, or returned un-read when I realize it is not the book I thought it was. But after reading so much, in such a short amount of time, I have realized it makes my brain work differently for several days after. I begin to narrate my life, as I walk through it.

“She noticed a stray Cheerio on the carpet as she walked down the hall to check on the current status of the kitchen counter. Tempted to pick it up she stepped over it at the last minute, as a kind of small test for the children, to see if any one of them would think to pick it up themselves, before it got crushed in the carpet. She doubted any of them would…you know children. Within 24 hours she would be vacuuming up the ten thousand crumbs that had magically exploded out of one tiny cereal bit as it met the sole of a child’s shoe.”

It is an odd thing, to be living your life on the outside while narrating it as you go on the inside. It makes me want to sit down and work on some writing project. Then when I find the time to sit down and write, the words seem to stop, paralyzed by the stark white computer screen. Time to go get some more library books.


Or an entry under “R”….

R- Radio
For most of my childhood I believed the music being played on the radio was actually being played at the station, by the musicians. Many times I wished I was old enough to drive so I could rush down to the KCMQ studio and accidentally run into Donny Osmond or Sonny and Cher as they were exiting the building. I was a ridiculously old child before it dawned on me that the station played recordings.


So when I found the world of mommy blogs I could already relate. These were just postings that resembled my own encyclopedia. And it was fun to read about what other people were thinking about. So finally I dove in.

In the beginning I wrote about little things. A short paragraph here. A few pictures there. Then I stumbled upon a great gig, writing a parenting column for the local paper. I began posting the essays from my column on my blog. And life got more and more busy as our two oldest became seniors, a year apart, and the college application process started. Life’s kicked up a notch and now I’m not just the mom to four busy kids, but on a weekly basis I have actual writing deadlines and a job at the library to show up to three days a week. Oh yeah, and a few loads of laundry to do and about four thousand meals to pull off. So now my blog is mostly my essays, things I ‘had’ to write for another venue. But some day I hope to go back to the original template. Just random thoughts, snippets of our life. Because that’s sometimes what I enjoy the most about clicking over to my favorite blogs. Just the everyday stuff that makes us say, “Yeah, I’ve felt/thought/seen that!”

In the meantime I am finding a surprising side effect from reading blogs. I’ve found friends all over the country who I may never meet in person, but understand me like few others do. Their incredible writing keeps me plugging away, making my stuff better and more inspired. I’ve made author friends who I dream of living next door to because they seem to be the perfect mix of professional and friend. And I imagine they’d make incredible over-the-fence editors.

Who knows what the next big thing might be. I’ll let my techy friend figure it out and try it out, and then I’ll decide if it fits into my life. For now I am perfectly content with the low tech version of the life I’ve managed to carve out for myself. I snap my digital pictures, load them up to my facebook page, click over to check a few of my favorite blogs, then send out an email to my sister, just to see how her day is going. It’s enough for now.

It’s more than enough for now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back to School...again







Suddenly the summer months are gone and autumn is coming down the track. There’s no time to think about all of the things I didn’t do with my children when I had them all to myself for those two short months. The back to school schedule does not allow for much sitting around and reflecting. There are emergency contact papers to sign, school sports schedules to keep track of, and of course the yearly back to school nights to attend.

Sam’s back to school night was last week. I had spent the whole morning working on his older brother’s college plans. My oldest son has very specific dreams about where he wants to go to school and it’s proven to practically be a part time job on my end, figuring out what we need to do to get him there. I was totally immersed in college talk, college prep, and college research for a good part of the day.

Soon the clock was reminding me that it was time to put the files away and make dinner. Then, after setting everyone up with homework to keep them busy, I headed off to Sam’s school to see where my youngest son spends his days. The teen issues of the morning were still lingering in my mind as I stepped through those elementary school doors and for just a few minutes I almost felt out of place.

I looked around at the faces of other parents I’ve come to know in the four years we’ve lived here. Meeting them and spending time with them has helped me to slowly feel at home in New York. It’s been nice to live in one state long enough to recognize faces when I walk through the door. And because I know their family situations, I’m aware that many of them are living in younger kid households.

They go home to dining rooms that have high chairs in the corner and living rooms inhabited by Fisher Price people. They don’t have six different guitars for the Rock Band video game leaning against their couch. They don’t have teenager cars filling up their driveways and teenager appetites sweeping their fridges bare. Most of them are figuring out which preschool might fit their other children best, not which college. It sometimes makes me feel like I live on a different planet.

I look around and wonder if there are others in the room who feel the same way. Maybe families I don’t know who also have teens in their house. Or maybe a grandparent who is raising a young grandchild. I wonder if they also have to do mental pep talks to themselves, about being just as important as younger parents to the child who counts on them every day, as we all try to slide into tiny desk chairs on back to school night.

Sam’s at the top end of the elementary school ladder. Two more years in those hallways and we’ll no longer have a child at Genet Elementary. No more back to school nights in those long, artfully tiled hallways. No more parent meetings in the beautifully restored auditorium. And as much as I sometimes have to work at it to feel like I still belong there, I will surely miss those corridors when our time is up.

One of the first places we visited when we moved to New York in the summer of 2006 was the front steps of Genet. Sam was starting kindergarten and we were told that the class lists were posted on the front doors of the school. I drove all four of our children over to check it out. We were inspired by the beauty of the building and just had to take a picture of Sam under the incredible relief sculptures that grace the sides of the front doors, especially the one that reads ‘Kindergarten’. How many schools have such a perfect photo opportunity for the newest in their flock?

Then school started and I found my way into his classroom to volunteer. It was a nice break from unpacking moving boxes and to say the adult interaction was appreciated would be an understatement. Every week I looked forward to my visits, enjoying every aspect, from walking down the long hallways lined with creative revolving art work to sitting one on one with a bunch of five year olds who turned into Sam’s best friends. Eventually I found one of my own best friends in those classrooms and treasure her friendship to this day.

I’ve been seeing a lot in the media about how schools in America are failing. To an outsider who only sees our national news, the picture is pretty bleak. We have many schools and even entire districts that are not providing even close to an adequate education for the youngsters who show up to their classrooms every day. The reality is humbling. As a person with an education degree, and four children in public schools, this topic is close to my heart.

The bleak news reports remind me to be thankful. I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have to beg for a charter school placement to feel like my child is getting a quality education. I just have to get him to the end of the driveway every morning so the bus can take him up the road to a building full of fabulous teachers who love him and care about his education. I’m not na├»ve. I know no school is perfect and there is always room for new ideas and new programs. But for the past four years my son’s been encouraged, challenged, praised and loved by some pretty amazing teachers and staff.

Back to school night is humbling to me as I watch my littlest guy make his way up the ranks. But it’s also a humbling reminder that we have a lot to be thankful for. We’re blessed to live in a school district that’s getting a lot of things right. And with enough parent involvement, things can only get better. So I have to say, bring on the new school year.

I’m ready for nine more months of learning and growing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Magic Middle




One of the things that’s scary about choosing to have four children is the fact that all four of them will eventually become teenagers. Sure, they’ll spend years being the cute little toddlers, and inquisitive little preschoolers. But if the statistics were correct, eventually our house was destined to become invaded by four creatures who, on a good day, we call teens.

I’m knee deep in them at the moment. My baby boy will be 10 soon but all three of his older siblings are ages that include the word teen at the end. So far we’ve survived, but it’s been a bumpy road at times. And it’s not the big stuff that’s tripped me up. I’m honest enough to say up front ‘knock on wood’, because so far we’ve had no teen pregnancies, no arrests and no life altering injuries brought on by bad choices and questionable peer influence. It’s the little stuff that gets to me.

I was having trouble putting my finger on it until I talked to my sister in Dallas this week. She has three teen daughters (and so gets extra points, for all of the estrogen that forms a cloud over her house at certain times of the month). She was puzzled too, by what exactly it is we miss about the younger years.

It’s certainly not the potty training. The only pee pee in my carpets came from misbehaving animals, not bladder shy toddlers. When I talk to my neighbors who have babies, I am reminded that I am way too old to be losing sleep every night, like I did when we had a crib in the house. I definitely don’t miss seeing the clock at 3 a.m. on a regular basis.

It’s no secret that the youngest years are labor intensive. It’s a lot of physical work to haul a little person (or people) around, constantly changing clothes and diapers, wiping faces and bums a thousand times a day. Then when it’s finally time to rest for the night, there are no guarantees. Even if you lay your head on the pillow at ten, there’s a good chance it will not be there all night. Sleep deprivation was one of the hardest parts of parenting the babies.

My sister and I talked forever and we slowly came around to pinpointing our nostalgia. We decided that it’s the middle years we miss. Sure, we ooh and ahh and get all sappy when we see pictures of our children at their youngest, but when it comes down to missing the day to day lifestyle, it’s the elementary school years that really did seem the sweetest. I have one still thick in those years and he is by far the easiest one in my household.

He’s old enough to shower all by himself and pack his own backpack. He can be easily entertained by anything on Nick Jr, but is also old enough to have fairly deep discussions with me. He can carry his own laundry and load his own bowl in the dishwasher. And, the best part of all, he’s young enough to appreciate and give hugs as my reward, when I do any of the above things for him. He’s way past the exhausting phase of raising babies, and not yet venturing into the no man’s land of teen hood.

As much as the under five year olds are physically hard, the teens are mentally challenging. Setting (and enforcing) curfews. Teaching them to drive (and in the process, introducing a new skill called ‘ignoring a vibrating cell phone in your back pocket’). Preaching to them (in a meaningful way, of course) the joys of being responsible with their bodies and their long term life plans.

As much as I was freaked out by being trusted with that first newborn baby almost twenty years ago, I was doubly freaked out when I realized her dad and I were responsible for making sure she went out into the world and not only kept herself alive, but did her part to make it a better place.

And the part that no one talks about, and the part that I’ve been missing the most lately, is the relationships. When the bulk of my kids were elementary school ages, they were generally nicer to each other. We went on a lot of family adventures and although everyone was not happy all the time, in general we had a lot of fun. The big ones looked out for the little ones. It was second nature to hook their own seat belt, then turn to make sure little brother was buckled in too. Every new car trip screamed of potential fun and, if they were really lucky, maybe a piece of candy from the quick stop or a sip of soda in a diner booth.

Now that they are mostly teens, it’s much more about their individuality. They are not (generally) downright mean to each other, but on a day to day basis, it’s more about their own needs and less about the needs of the family as a whole. Time in the car turns into torture if there are no headphones to pop into ears. A trip to the museum is something to be endured, not embraced.

A few weekends ago we had a family day with all four of our kids. This, in itself, is a rarity, since one is graduated and one is a senior and never seems to be home anymore. We pulled out of our driveway mid day and spent the afternoon flitting around town, doing fun stuff to celebrate their dad’s birthday.

For some reason the planets aligned just right and I got a brief glimpse back to a long gone vibe we used to possess when we were just ‘us’, bouncing along in our minivan.

The kids all got along. There was teasing, but all good natured and light hearted. No one complained, smiles were commonplace. We laughed at silly things and discussed some more serious things. And we were a unit again. Our tight little unit that I never recognized fully until kids started splintering off from it when too many birthdays turned them into teens.

It was when I described this scene to my sister that she replied, “Ahh, yes…those magic moments seem farther and farther apart these days. I wish I’d recognized them back when my kids were in grade school and they happened a lot.” I’m totally with her on that thought.

The funny thing is, I know it’s healthy for them to be breaking away from me, from their family. Well, my head knows it. My heart’s still not quite on board.

When my oldest turned 13 I bought six books from Amazon, all on the topic of surviving the teen years. I felt so unprepared, even more so than when I’d been pregnant and facing new motherhood, and just felt a need to be surrounded by some guidance. After skimming through the first few I realized they were all pretty much alike (not unlike the baby books I’d read a decade before).

Be patient. Remember they need to find out who they are. Be patient. Keep communication open. Be patient. Set consistent, safe boundaries. Oh yeah, and be patient.

The introduction to one book helped me as much as any chapter I read. It was written by a woman who led seminars for parents, on how to cope with teens. She described an exercise she did in her seminars. In the front of the meeting room she’d place a big white marker board. Working as a team, the room full of parents were to make a list of all the things a perfect teen would do. Of course before the time was up, the board was filled with things like “keep her room clean”, “do homework every night, on time”, “never talk back”, “never break curfew”, and “dress conservatively”.

Then the leader asked the parents to think of a kid who inhabited all these traits. Imagine if their own child had all of these traits. Then be honest with themselves if they’d be okay with that. Because when it comes down to reality, it would be pretty creepy to have a teen who acted exactly as we wanted them to act. It would make us wonder, in turn, what was wrong with them.

That exercise helped me a lot. My teens are going to act out and do things I’m not crazy about. Their rooms are rarely clean, and almost never to my standards. But neither was mine when I was their age. Sometimes they need to feel their oats, as my dad would say. Back talking is not tolerated in our household but I don’t panic anymore when it rears its ugly head. I know it’s a part of their breaking away from me, and from us, to become their own person.

But I have to be honest and say I sometimes miss those days when they used to be in the magic middle - after their earliest years and before their moving on years. That sweet spot that was really busy, full of spelling tests and science fair projects. Back when it seemed like they’d always be under my roof and never prefer to have dinner anywhere else but around our long dining room table.

For three of mine, those years are gone. Soon they’ll be finding their way into adulthood. It’s a tough time for them and a tough time for their parents.

But I know we’ll all survive. Just like my sleep deprived brain from a dozen years ago finally got caught up on basic rest, life will circle back around before I know it. In the meantime, all I can do is keep loving them, stay patient, and remember that parenting is an ever changing journey.

Block Party



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One of the problems with moving to a new state every few years is that by the time you get to know your neighbors, it’s time to move on. We were in Washington D.C. for just a year. By the time we left we knew the people who lived in the six houses we could see from our front door. But we didn’t know them well, just a quick greeting when we saw them outside, or a ring of their doorbell with little ones dressed in Halloween costumes.

Utah was another story. For three years we slowly came to know the residents of every house on our short street. By the second year we were hosting the yearly block party. We figured it was a good way to get to know the people around us and since our driveway was smack dab in the center of the street, we were the logical ones to sponsor it. The last one we hosted, just weeks before we moved far away to New York, was an all day event.

Barbeque grills lined the driveway. Long tables were placed along our curb and stacked high with every kind of picnic food you can imagine. The kiddy pool in the middle of our yard was constantly full of revolving toddlers and big kids. Kids of all sizes chased each other around the food tables, grabbing bites to eat whenever the mood struck.

Adults lined up their lawn chairs in the middle of the street and caught up on the latest neighborhood gossip (one of our neighbors was a police officer and conveniently arranged to have our street blocked off for the day). It was a great time to see some folks who usually only got a quick wave from the driveway as they hurried into their houses after work each day. It was nice to stop life for a day, and reconnect with the people who shared our corner of the world.

Just when the tradition was getting comfortable, we packed up the moving van and headed East. After months of searching we finally found a house we could call home. Then came a year of renovations and figuring out this other coast lifestyle. My days were full of finding new doctors, figuring out how the whole heating oil thing worked, and tracking down a guy I could trust who could fix our worn out minivan.

When we finally came up for air, about a year after moving in, we realized it was time to get to know new neighbors. We had a great head start. In a nice twist of fate, the families on each side of us joined the neighborhood when we did. All of our houses were on the market at the same time, all of them sold at the same time, and all of us moved in on the same day. We had at least two families down, and it was time to branch out.

It’s hard to get to know neighbors. Each street has its own dynamic - long term residents who can tell stories about each house, retracing the past thirty years, and newer residents who have rarely shown their faces. Some people are very shy about reaching out to new neighbors and some can’t wait to learn new names and recognize new faces.

I bought four new lawn chairs and set them out in front of my house. The goal was to sit outside more often and hopefully catch some neighborly waves and friendly ‘hellos’.

Then we had a new addition to our street. A young couple bought a house very close to ours and I happened to catch the wife out on a walk one afternoon. In our brief talk she mentioned how she’d like to have a little get together, to meet more neighbors. A light bulb went off in my head. Block party. Maybe it was time again. In this new state, on this new street. Time to start the tradition all over again.

I approached two others from our street, who agreed it was a great idea, and we decided if it were to be, it was up to us. The four of us met in the lawn chairs and sorted out the details. It didn’t have to be hard. Everyone had something to offer. Plastic tables, lawn chairs, name tags, paper plates….between the four of us, we could do this thing without a lot of work.

We picked a date and printed out flyers. We assigned each person a list of supplies to bring. And we watched the weather forecast closely. In the end about 30 neighbors showed up, not counting a yard full of kids. Not a bad turn out for a block of people who have not all gotten together in over 20 years. We had people from each corner of our neighborhood and all ages, from retirees to toddlers. Everyone brought food and good conversation and when the sun went down we were hardly ready for it to end. Within minutes all the food was packed away and chairs picked up.

We’d actually pulled it off, and everyone seemed to have a good time. And it was definitely worth it. It can feel like a lot of work to get to know the people who live around you, but it comes with a great benefit.

The next time the snow flies and knocks out the power, I know who lives where, and I’m not afraid to go knocking on doors to see who needs help. Because after this weekend, when we all met in the driveway, I don’t think of these people as strangers any longer. Now that we’ve shared potato salads and brownies, they’re really and truly my neighbors.

Not just people I share a street with, but people I actually know.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September 11th



This is the version of this essay that I used in my parenting column in the paper. Below it is the blog version, which is a bit more personal.


I don’t see a day in my lifetime that I won’t cringe a bit inside when I hear the words “September eleventh”. I’d imagine I’m not the only one. It’s the most memorable day of history to most Americans who are under forty years of age.

We don’t remember Pearl Harbor or Vietnam. The fall of the Berlin Wall was significant, but very far away. Even the bombing in Oklahoma City was startling, but our fear turned to sadness when we found out it was carried out by ‘one of us’.

That day, nine years ago, when we watched the horror of airplanes plunging into our sacred buildings, as it all unfolded on live television, will be seared into our memories for decades to come. It changed our country. It changed how safe we felt in our own land. We’d grown very complacent in our perceived cocoon of safety. We had naively thought we were immune from real attacks by people who hated us halfway around the world. The events of that day changed our politics and it changed our focus.

But more personally, it changed me. It was a catalyst that made me a different wife, and a different mother. Living in Missouri at the time, my greatest fear on September 10th had been a random tornado sucking up my house and my children. Suddenly my worry list became a scroll that never stopped unraveling. I could watch the weather forecast. But I couldn’t predict when a terrorist might bomb my peaceful town.

The possibilities and threats were foreign to me. I didn’t like the feeling of having no control over this danger. I could lecture my children all day about stranger danger and holding my hand at the mall. I could be obsessed when it was time to buckle every car seat correctly. I could buy organic produce and religiously drag them into the doctor’s office every September for a flu shot.

None of it would protect them if a terrorist wanted to do them harm.

I found myself relating more closely to the mothers I saw on the news, the ones who clutched their bloody children in the aftermath of a terrorist bomb that had ripped through their child’s school. In reality my life was a still a thousand times safer than theirs, but I understood the terror of randomness on a much deeper level than ever before.

I had three children home that day. Sam was a baby and both Meredith and Isaac had the flu. Michael was tucked safely in his classroom at school, being shielded from the fact our world had changed in an instant. The one I worried about the most was Jeff. His office building sat in the shadow of the Missouri State Capital building. I wasn’t sure which buildings were going to be targets and I just wanted him home.

As everything shut down, not just his office, but the local mall, gas stations, and grocery stores, an eerie quietness settled over our small town.

We wouldn’t have known except for the fact that Isaac was in a stage of his metabolic disorder where a simple flu required a trip to his specialist at the Children’s Hospital, thirty miles down the road. We were practically alone on the highway, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.

I had to keep reminding myself that we weren’t characters in some bad apocalypse movie. Once we got to the hospital things just got more eerie.

Waiting rooms were empty. No one lingered in the gift shop or cafeteria. The few people we passed were standing in clusters around the few available TVs. We reached the check in desk and I had to force myself to look away from the television that hung in the corner of the room so I could explain our visit to the receptionist. It’s glare seemed to crave my attention. There were no other patients. We were immediately led down the hallway into an examination room. The whole visit felt quiet, hollow, eerie. No one knew what to say or what to feel.

A year later we found ourselves living in Washington D.C.

Every day handfuls of commuters walked past our driveway on the way to the local metro station. My children wanted to do something, anything, to commemorate this sorrowful day in our country’s history, especially since we were living in the heart of it all.

They decided to set up a free lemonade stand. The kind where you give away a cool drink, with no charge attached. It was a simple thing they could do, to mark a day we’d never forget.

So they rigged up a table, mixed up the liquids, counted out cups, and set up shop at the end of the driveway. But then something happened that they couldn’t understand.

No one was willing to take a drink for free. One by one people walked by them, asked how much they were charging, then refused to take a drink without paying something in return. It was hard for my children to comprehend.

But I understood. Those commuters were like me. They were still raw from that day, just twelve months earlier, when their whole sense of reality shifted. We’d all lived through weeks of giving blood, raising flags, crying as we sang the National Anthem. It just didn’t seem right to take something for nothing. They weren’t ready. We were all still in the mode of repair and restore. We’d been kicked in the gut and we hadn’t quite healed yet.

Now it’s nine years later. We’re not quite as raw anymore. The American flag magnets have fallen off of many cars and have not been replaced. But we’re still changed.

All of us who lived through that day are different. We learned life lessons in the aftermath, about what’s important and what really doesn’t matter. It’s easy to get caught up in our everyday stresses but down deep we remember what those first few weeks felt like. September 11th changed us all.

Let’s just hope we never forget how much.

In Honor of the Anniversary



I don’t see a day in my lifetime that I won’t cringe a bit inside when I hear the words “September eleventh”. I’d imagine I’m not the only one. It’s the most memorable day of history to most Americans who are under forty years of age.

We don’t remember Pearl Harbor. The fall of the Berlin Wall was significant, but very far away. Even the bombing in Oklahoma City was startling, but our fear turned to sadness when we found out it was carried out by ‘one of us’.

That day, nine years ago, when we watched the horror of airplanes plunging into our sacred buildings, as it all unfolded on live television, will be seared into our memories for decades to come. It changed our country. It changed how safe we felt in our own land. We’d grown very complacent in our perceived cocoon of safety. We had naively thought we were immune from real attacks from people who hated us halfway around the world. The events of that day changed our politics and it changed our focus.

But more personally, it changed me. It was a catalyst that made me a different wife, and a different mother. Living in Missouri at the time, my greatest fear on September tenth had been a random tornado sucking up my house and my children. Suddenly my worry list became a scroll that never stopped unraveling. I could watch the weather forecast. But I couldn’t predict when a terrorist might bomb my peaceful town.

The possibilities and threats were foreign to me. I didn’t like the feeling of having no control over this danger. I could lecture my children all day about stranger danger and holding my hand at the mall. I could be obsessed when it was time to buckle every car seat correctly. I could buy organic produce and religiously drag them into the doctor’s office every September for a flu shot.

None of it would protect them if a terrorist wanted to do them harm.

I found myself relating more closely to the mothers I saw on the news, the ones who clutched their bloody children in the aftermath of a terrorist bomb that had ripped through their child’s school. In reality my life was a still a thousand times safer than theirs, but I understood the terror of randomness on a much deeper level than ever before.

I had three of my four children home that day. Sam was about to celebrate his first birthday and sat on my lap as we watched the second plane fly into the tower. Meredith and Isaac were home sick and had gathered on the floor next to me as soon as they saw how I was suddenly mesmerized by the news on TV. They quietly asked me to explain what was going on and I could barely find my breath, much less the words I need to break this down for children’s ears. My first thought was their brother, then their daddy.

I called the school and found that Michael was safely tucked into his classroom, unaware that our world had just changed. The teachers decided as a group to let parents break the news to their own children after school. My thoughts then moved to Jeff.

He worked in a building that sat right next to the Missouri capital building. As events unfolded no one could say who might be struck next and my husband’s proximity to one of the most important buildings in our state did not ease my worry. I called him. “How are you?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” he said somberly. “We’re watching on a small TV in the office. A lot of people walked away. They can’t watch.” I could picture all of his co-workers gathered around a single TV, all work projects frozen in time until someone could make some sense of this unfamiliar horror.

Suddenly it felt very real. If an office full of people had come to a complete stop, this thing must really be happening. It must be real. A tear slid down my cheek as I begged him to come home. Just so he could be away from that building that I feared might be a target.

As I turned back to the TV I couldn’t believe my eyes. What had been bad suddenly turned tragic. The first of those two majestic buildings folded in on itself and in what seemed like slow motion, collapsed to the ground. I held my breath, not knowing what to think or what to feel. The announcers on TV choked out commentary.

“What happened, mama?” I heard their little voices but had no idea what to say. My children had never seen me staring at the television, mouth hanging open, tears on my cheeks.

I had to say something.

I wanted to reassure them but I wanted to inform them. I knew it was important for them to realize this was a big deal. For so many people in our country, this was overwhelming. We had just lost a chunk of our population in one fell swoop.

“I’m not a hundred percent sure why, sweetie,” I began, “but two airplanes crashed into two very important buildings in New York City, and those buildings just fell down.”

They were quiet for a minute.

Then one single question.

“But what about the people, mama. Were there people in those buildings?”

I had to look away from the television as I answered them. The reality was too much to process.

“Yes, sweetie, there were people in those planes and in those buildings. Lots of people died just now.”

“Oh.”

It was enough. We turned the sound off of the TV. I desperately needed to keep the news on, in case there were more reports, but the narration was too much to handle.

We sat on the couch, the four of us. Baby Sam snuggled in my lap. Meredith and Isaac leaned toward me on each side. We quietly watched the scene unfolding and wondered, in our own ways, what this meant to us, as we waited for daddy to come home.