The Tough Questions

I try to keep this blog focused, as best I can, on writing and related topics. Today I need to go off-topic because, well, I have kids. Specifically I have a smart, curious, seven-year-old boy who’s probably too bright for his own good. He certainly seems too smart for mine or my husband’s.

So I’m at the food court with the 7yo and his 3yo sister, and we’re about to enjoy some milkshakes (and in his case, chicken strips). And what does he ask me? I wish I could quote, but it was roughly: Can you tell me about the Twin Towers? My immediate response was the favorite of parents everywhere, the stalling question. “Who told you about that, kiddo?”

But I knew I’d have to answer, and I’ve known I would since he was born, pretty much. I worried about that a little more this year, with the tenth anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks, yet that date came and went with no questions on his part. Now, Sept 11 was of course a Saturday this year; I’m sure if he’d been in school, it would have come up and he would have asked sooner.

And there I am with a strawberry milkshake trying to pick out the simple, salient facts about that day. A day I well remember, as I was working in Arlington, VA, at the time and saw the debris from the Pentagon crash float down past the windows of my fourteenth story office. I tried. I told him that bad men had taken over the airplanes and crashed them into the Towers, and then more questions led to me explaining the Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.

It was weird, as he kept asking me questions that made me kind of back up. Why did they do it? What happened? Did people die? Did the hijackers die?

One thing you tend to forget is that kids can take a lot and they don’t internalize it or dwell on it the way adults do. Thank God, because otherwise we’d never read them fairy tales (seriously, if you’re an adult, go read a fairy tale — they’re freaking scary!). So I was as honest as I could be with a 7yo — I said yes, 3000 people died in NYC, and the hijackers did it because they were mad at the US, and they thought this would get them into heaven. I told him that yes, a plane crashed into the Pentagon, but killed fewer people for different reasons, including the construction of the building.

Ultimately, he seemed to take this more as a sort of adventure story, and I’m happy to leave it that way until he’s older and can take more information. There’s no need for him to know all the geo-political and foreign policy reasons and implications with all this. Hell, most adults still don’t understand all of that.

He followed this up today with questions about the French Revolution. And that was because we were playing a card game called “Guillotine.” I admit the game is a little morbid, but the drawings on the cards look very Disney, and damn if the 7yo doesn’t beat me more than half the time. Now the problem here is I don’t know much about the French Revolution, and so my answer was suitably vague but I hope not too wrong. “King Louis XVI kept taxing the people and spent too much money, and they got tired of it.” Something lke that.

And then, because he’s a kid, I guess, tonight I’m helping him floss his teeth. Let’s talk about something, he says. So I say okay, once there was this bakery and some of the bread got burned. No, he says, tell me something non-fiction. Like, about cancer (his grandfather was recently diagnosed with lung cancer).

No, no, I said, and told him about the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice.” I also told him about the movie, “Miracle.”

Now, I think this is a great movie, so I figure I’d watch it and vet it to see if it’s appropriate for him. And you know, it probably is. There’s minimal profanity (a hell, a damn), no sex, and hey, it’s about hockey. So I set it going and watch the opening credits over a time line montage.

If he watches this, I may be on the hook to explain: Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon, Carter, the oil crisis, the Soviet Union and the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

As I sit here writing, the credits roll on “Miracle,” and I think I have the answer: Ask your dad. 😉


4 responses to this post.

  1. Powerful post. Out of the mouths of babes.


  2. Posted by Lady Falcon on October 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    I don’t know why I didn’t think to look you up on here before now…silly me. Wonderful post and I think you handled the questions well. I have a 9 yr old and I lead the JrMYF at my church (1st – 7th graders). We meet on Sunday afternoons every other Sunday – our first meeting of the new church year fell on 9-11. We live in a very small southern town…everybody knows everybody kind of place. I arranged to have my group of kids put out American flags on the graves of heros in our town cemetary. Then I asked one of the town police officers, an Army Veteran I work with, and a fireman to come speak to the children. The fireman couldn’t make it because they were all asked to do another presentation, so the wife of my Veteran who is a school teacher stepped and read a really good book to the kids about 9/11 “The Little Chapel That Stood” it might help too with your 7 yr old. I found it on Amazon…
    Take Care,


  3. Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll keep it in mind. For now, I’m just going to let it be. I think that’s best; he hasn’t brought it up and so I don’t see any reason to. It’s so much for adults to absorb that I think when it comes to kids, you just give them bits and pieces and let them take in as much as they can at their own pace.


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