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That Day With Kids
On September 11, 2001 my children were seven, three and two and we lived on East 83rd St. in New York.
That morning my daughter was still adjusting to second grade. My 3 year old was on Long Island with his grandparents and planned to return with his grandmother on the train that afternoon. My husband was working downtown and I was at home with my 2 year old son getting ready to take him to the park on what was a wonderful morning.
It’s funny the details that stand out as clear as day even 10 years later.
The thick southern accent of the lady at The Company Store from whom I placed a phone order of sheets and pillowcases when she asked, when I gave my address, “New York? Do you know what’s going on up there?”
No, I didn’t.
“A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” she exclaimed.
Ever the jaded New Yorker, I assumed a helicopter and was even surprised it took so long for such an event to happen.
“No ma’am, a jet – I think it was a 727.”
That was enough for me to turn on the TV.
It’s amazing how we try to rationalize things that we can’t fully process. I remember watching live as the second plane approached the towers and thinking it had to come to help. And still not ready to grasp the truth, assuming when it hit, along with the news anchor on my TV, an air traffic controller malfunction. The newscaster’s co-anchor quickly and assertively declares, “No, this is terrorism.”
Although not aware of exactly what was happening when the Pentagon was hit, I felt with chilling certainty that the world as I knew it was moving before my eyes.
Struck with a delicious sense of vulnerability and cold, hard fear, it felt in hindsight like entering a state of alternate reality.
Calling and advising my mother-in-law to stay put and my husband to come home, I stuffed my 2-year-old into his stroller and hurriedly ran the three blocks to my daughter’s school, where a group of other parents had already gathered. the lobby insisting that their children be brought down immediately.
I asked my daughter, now 17, if she remembered anything from that morning.
“I remember being taken out of school early, without explanation, and then I saw a bunch of crazy parents in the lobby of the school,” she said. “It was a hectic scene, and before I knew it I was on top of an apartment building seeing the smoke from the towers.”
Although tempted to stay glued to the TV, I made the decision to keep the news away from the kids and took them to our neighborhood playground.
Normally filled with dozens of fellow mothers and nannies, that day despite the glorious sunshine, I found myself alone with only two other mothers.
The playground is located on the east river and as regular visitors we have become accustomed to the daily sights and sounds of The Circle Line, luxury yachts, cargo boats and jet skis.
That day, it was eerie and quiet except for the succession of eerily low fighter jets that periodically roared past as the children played unknowingly.
“It felt like all our sense of security was gone that morning,” recalled parent Andrea Glickson, a New York resident.
“I was a stay-at-home mom at the time,” Andrea continued “and I was so grateful to be close to both kids’ schools, in case of another emergency. I think it was six months before I left the immediate neighborhood. during the school day.”
Despite reassurance that my 3-year-old was quite safe and probably even better with his grandparents on Long Island, the feeling that it was imperative for our entire family to be together during this crisis was fierce and unrelenting.
On September 12, his dad went to the Long Island Railroad, and brought him home.
Although the memories of that day remain clear, there is one that remains particularly vivid and poignant to this day.
That evening, our family made the half-block walk back to the playground – a playground we frequented almost every day and evening for over eight years. It was our “back yard”.
In those eight years I never witnessed (and would not witness again in the two remaining years we spent in the city) such an occasion.
The park was not only uncharacteristically full for that time of the evening, it was swarming. Swarming, however, not with the usual mothers and nannies, but with families – in fact, I didn’t see a single nannies. (Remember, this was the upper East Side.)
Even more remarkably, these families actually played together – and enjoyed it. Having logged countless hours in that playground I can attest that the event we witnessed that night was not the norm.
Fathers decked out in costumes screaming with joy as they slid down the slide with their children, mothers and fathers in the sandbox, picking up and dumping with their toddlers, adults and women throwing around the park in games of tag and these same parents, many clearly straight from work in their business attire, climbing up jungle gyms as if they were 10 years old.
It seemed that these parents were forced, as I was also forced, to come together as a family during this time, not only physically but also in mind and spirit.
For one evening, despite the fear and distress we all felt, parents were reminded of what a privilege it is to be a parent and how fragile and fleeting life can be. Letting go of the fear and distress, at least temporarily, we chose to give up the grocery shopping, cooking, homework, bedtime routines and longings to keep up with the news.
Rather than mourn what we lost, we chose for a few hours in that playground to celebrate what we had and what we loved most.
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