It’s been 17 years since 9/11. I know this not just because of the simple math of subtracting 2001 from the current year. I know this because my daughter is 17 years old. She was born in 2001. She is a perfume-scented, long-legged, moody, walking reminder of how long it has been since that fateful day.
Everyone has a story about where they were when our lives and our country were changed forever. This is mine.
I was a mother with a newborn. As most of you can relate, that meant I was tired, hormonal, unsure, elated, enchanted, but most of all frightened out of my mind. How was I going to take care of this helpless little girl? I was in that “survival” mode, where you are so incredibly focused on one person, that any information or observation of what is happening in the outside world, simply does not have room in your brain or your heart.
I had recently gone back to my full-time job and was dealing with dropping my newborn off at daycare each morning. I had just gotten comfortable with leaving my daughter with a group of strangers for 9 hours a day. I was inching into a sense of security that she would indeed be just fine while I resumed my life of working outside the home. Things were going to be ok. The world wasn’t going to end because she was out of my sight. I could breathe a sigh of relief.
Then the world as we knew it did end.
You must remember that 2001 was before everyone had instant access to smartphones and 24-hour instant social media newsfeeds. It was before we could text loved ones right away or track them on a GPS.
We had to rely on landlines, breaking news on cable, and word of mouth. There was speculation, uncertainty, panic, denial, and shock going on all around us.
My husband and I sat on our couch for days watching endless coverage of the horrors. We held our baby the whole time. I now can look back on that time with a certain clarity of how that day impacted my teenager and all the other children born after.
She would never understand that an entire world had a shared moment of grief and the subsequent collective fear of not knowing when, or if, another attack was coming. The climate of our country in relation to war, threat of security, and increased divisiveness would change that day and it would be our “new normal.” However, for my daughter, and those children born after 9/11, it would simply be…“normal.”
It is something she will understand only through footage and stories that have been reiterated so many times, it risks being desensitized. The trauma we all experienced from seeing those images of the towers falling for the first time is imprinted on our psyches in ways we probably don’t even understand yet.
My daughter will never know anything other than a world where fear divided a nation in many ways. She won’t understand that we haven’t always been at war or that uncertainty and fear weren’t as prevalent before she was born. She won’t understand that for 3 months of her life I expected that she would inherit a different type of world and that those expectations literally changed in one day.
I guess that could be said of every generation, though, to some extent. I’m sure I have a tiny bit of flat affect when it comes to the Vietnam War or the horrors of World War II, for instance, because I wasn’t alive during that time.
Despite all of this, I believe my daughter’s generation, as a direct result of 9/11, has a greater instinct to be called to action and to help others in a time of crisis. In addition to the shared trauma, our country also came together in amazing ways to help each other. This has to have impacted the millennials. Younger people are more engaged in social issues, more fearless, and more altruistic, in my opinion, than my generation.
All of us as parents will continue to see the world through the lens of how it will affect our children. School shootings, opioid addictions, human trafficking, racism, sexual assault, and 100 other horrible things that take place every day will likely continue to increase our anxiety and keep us awake at night. That’s the downside of parenting and it is not exclusive to those of us who were new or subsequent parents after 9/11.
There were moms watching coverage of Sandy Hook and Las Vegas Shootings, or the Hurricanes of 2017, holding their baby a little bit closer. The world is a dangerous place that has the ability to continuously shock us out of our sense of security over and over.
This year is the 17th anniversary of 9/11. Nothing reminds me of this more than my beautiful 17-year-old daughter. She slept through that night feeling secure in my arms while I watched the horrors and the uncertainty of that day unfold. She awoke the next day in those same arms feeling the same sense of security, no doubt. However, what she couldn’t have known, and still doesn’t know, was that the arms that held her may have been the same that next day, but the world around her, had been changed forever.