Wednesday, September 11, 2002

CHILDREN AS GOOD MENTAL HYGIENE: Life with toddlers can seem so surreal. They run in circles for no reason at all. They respond to simple questioons with non sequiturs. (Mom: "Would you like some more juice?" Toddler: "Do cars have gas tanks?") Sometimes it seems like small children are only good for driving their mothers insane, giving them grey hair, and making them pull that same hair out in handfuls. And yet sometimes these strange, maddening little creatures who make their parents' worlds so surreal and chaotic are the only ones who can impose reality and order. That's my September 11 story. A year ago today, I woke up in Fairbanks, Alaska to a ringing telephone. It was my husband, calling from his hotel in California. He asked me if I had heard the news. I hadn't. It was only seven in the morning Alaska time, but the towers had fallen hours before I woke up. I turned on the TV and just watched, not quite believing, and feeling several million more miles away than the four thousand or so I was from the attacks. Like many others, all I could do was cry, for the dead, for the living left widowed and orphaned, for my husband who would have to fly home in a few days, and for myself, because I was all alone and nothing seemed real, just a nightmare that wouldn't end. Then my son woke up. It would be touching to say that his good-morning hug and kiss reminded me that there was good in the universe and made me feel at peace. But it wouldn't be true, because I was too busy feeling scared and wanting revenge to pay much attention to goodness in the universe. But what my son did do was demand attention, a diaper change, and breakfast. He had visceral needs that didn't stop for war but reimposed a schedule and priorities on me. I won't say my son made me feel any better that, not at first anyway, but he got me through the day. He anchored the surreal to the real. And so he did again today, when I was listening to NPR's coverage of the memorial services and crying, again, over the senseless loss of life and feeling, again, a strange and powerful urge to kill the people who planned those attacks and the people who celebrated them. For my son, the morning of this September 11, like that a year ago today, was just another morning: he needed to be pottied, fed, and taken out for his daily time on the front porch to blow bubbles and, in his words, "annoy [enjoy?] the day."

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