Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Remembering 9/11, The Day That Changed Everything

For me, today is a day of remembering, and of beginning. Of looking back, and looking forward. While remembering the events of September 11, 2001, I said goodbye to my youngest child as she started preschool. In my mind, this is all related.

This morning I sat outside Louisa's classroom. (Louisa has a classroom!) As I waited, I chatted with a mom who has three girls under age four. I told her that I also have three girls, but that my big ones are 10 and almost 9. And this lovely, lovely woman, sure-to-be-my-new-best-friend said to me, "But you look like a kid! How could you possibly have a ten-year-old?"

"You just made my day," I said, and then explained that the reason we started our family when we did had everything to do with 9/11.

Today, we are all remembering. We remember the people we lost. We remember the disbelief. We remember where we were, down to the minute. We remember the phone calls, the ones that went through, and the many that didn't. We remember the feeling that our city was changed, forever. We remember making eye contact with strangers in Union Square, and seeing tears. We remember walking to Chelsea Piers to give blood, and being turned away. We remember the photographs of the lost, on every light post, on every bus stop, and the desperate loved ones diligently posting them, hoping.

The soot and dirt and smoke seeped in through our windows, entering our lungs and our blood. I had to leave. A downtown Manhattan refugee at my parents' house for the chagim, I fell into a silent cloud. Always a verbal person, I had no patience for words, then. What was there to say? Instead, I immersed myself in images. For the first time in my life, I made Rosh Hashanah cards, each one painstakingly cut and pasted from colored construction paper, a child's project.

I had no children, then. Nor was I a child. I was a young-ish adult, living what was, in retrospect, a relatively carefree existence. It didn't feel carefree, though. After leaving grad school, I was struggling to gain a foothold in my career. I was working full-time as an editor, but without title or benefits. I felt mistreated, undervalued, and underpaid. On that fateful day in 2001, I had a meeting about a new and exciting job opportunity. But, like everything else that day, the meeting was cancelled. And never rescheduled. Things like that happened, then. Everything changed, in the matter of an hour.

When I awoke from the stupor (was it weeks later, or was it months?), I had a strange, new compulsion. I wanted to have a child. I still didn't have a proper job, and Josh was still in grad school. We were in no way financially secure; we were just starting out. But none of that mattered. My plan on this earth was to share my life with children.  It was a seize-the-day, the worst-could-always-happen mentality; after all, what if there is no tomorrow?

In the spring of 2002, I became pregnant with Sunshine, as we called our in-utero peanut. I was 26 years old, which made me the youngest in my childbirth education class by roughly ten years.

Someone observed to me recently that growing children can act as markers of passing time. Their ages at different points and places remind you where you once were. That's true of when you first started dreaming about them, too.

This morning, for an hour and a half, my baby played and socialized and simply existed without me there to take stock in her experience. I've never had trouble letting go before; how unexpected to find myself tearing up last night at orientation, when the teacher talked about separation. "They're not babies, anymore," she told the room full of parents, and for many of us, this was news.

Our children will always be our babies, even when they go off to school on their own, even when they leave home. We'll always remember how they came to be.

Time passes, but the memories don't fade. We remember, as we always will, the day(s) that changed everything.

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