The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is here. For many of us, the anniversary makes us reflect on where we were and what we were doing then. For me, one significant difference is that 10 years ago, I didn't have children. Now, I have children and with children come questions. Mommy, what's 9/11 about?

Share Facts and Feelings

Child psychologist experts sounding off through out the web have weighed in on the issue. Most agree it's best to tell children that you are open to questions like child psychologist Richard Rende advocates at Brown University. He says to balance your kids' intake of media, be open to questions, but not to give too much detail that might disturb them. The Heroes website had some interesting suggestions on starting up conversations and do's and don'ts about talking with children about 9/11 — or any event of a tragic nature. Dr. Jacob Ham offers solid instruction on communicating with children about tragedy as well.

But I also think it's valid to tell the truth to your kids as to how you feel about any given historical event. I'm also always on a quest to be as accurate as possible. Case in point? Today while at the pool with my kids a kid was remarking on the causes of World War II in a very simplistic manner. I launched into a discussion of the set-up and lead-in to World War I and gave background information about the Weimar Republic. Yes, I am that parent.

My kids weren't born when 9/11 happened, but they are seeing signs in store windows and are hearing bits and murmurs of the anniversary of this event. Which is to say, even if their school does not address it, there will still be questions because it's in the news and all around us.

Be Honest About Tragedies

My approach with my kids is both honesty and context. Nothing infuriates me more than a simplistic approach that leaves out evidence and/or complexity. Why must we explain later on that we've not told them the whole story — that essentially, we've lied by omission? This makes telling what truths we know about 9/11 and every event in history all the more important.

But my biggest problem in talking to my kids about 9/11 is that I still don't know what to think. It's hard to give them the black and white answers they are looking for when they aren't there.

This is what I told them:

Some people who were very angry at the United States crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers, which were the tallest buildings in New York and symbols of American commerce. More than likely they did this to demonstrate that though we think we are the most powerful country in the world, we are as vulnerable as any other country to violence and terror.

Lots and lots of people died in New York, some in Pennsylvania, and some around the big military base, the Pentagon. It could happen again. Anything could happen again. In that way they are just like earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes.

I left out reference to religion or nationality except to clarify to the older one that most of the plane hijackers were born in Saudi Arabia and Egypt because I like accuracy.

Put Big Events in the Context of Your Own Life

I also think it's important to tell your kids how you saw it at the time. There's no better way of telling history than that perspective. I'm always grateful to my grandparents for being willing to tell me their World War II stories and Civil Rights era stories. Tell the kids what the world was like 10 years ago. Tell them where you were at the time and what you were doing and how you felt. They'll appreciate the honesty and the sharing. After all, kids can relate all things historical back to themselves or kids like them. Give it some grounding so it sounds like something real and not out of a movie. I polled moms today with older kids and younger kids who said, universally, that they let their kids know that they were shocked when 9/11 occurred and couldn't believe it. That it didn't seem real but it was.

I tell them what I know. That a good friend of mine was on that same flight a week before, and how the randomness scared the heck out of us. I tell them that I had just returned from Japan and that I didn't know any Americans killed, but my three degrees of separation was a good friend's cousin who worked in one of the building.

That's as much as I can tell them without launching into conspiracy theories that they aren't ready for, or a Noam Chomsky lecture on either the Middle East or disenfranchisement.

Dealing With the Effects of Sharing Ugly Truths

The hardest part of telling kids about traumatic man-made events seems to be the dwelling on it afterwards. When my kids learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and saw the movie The Perfect Game (which showed racism on the part of Texans against Mexicans in the 1950s) my kids spent the better part of the month fearful of blonde people. They asked me one day, "Why are blonde people so mean to everyone else?" Anytime they saw a blonde kid being mean, they looked at me. "See, Mom?" I had to explain that for the most part that's not the case and not to fear people before there's a reason to fear. So what they watch and hear really does sink in a little too far sometimes.

If I had one word of advice on the matter, don't leave the kids feeling vulnerable. Remind them that every day we are relatively safe and that sometimes, bad things happen. If your kids have been in the world a few years, they know this to be true. The cat may have died, grandma may have died; earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes have happened. They know that these are things that happen and that, most of the time, we all survive.

But 9/11 wasn't just an event; it has the unfortunate baggage of having changed much in our political history. It led to two wars that are still being fought. It led to the carte blanche federal policies. It became a campaign to silence any and all opposition to the administration at the time. Many facts were twisted and distorted from 9/11 — most notoriously, the lie that Iraqis were the bombers on the planes. I don't want to get into that political murkiness with my kids — yet.

I did tell my kids this story:

It was a week after 9/11. Congress was voting to extend power to the president; talking about America's role in 9/11 was looked at as treasonous and un-American. All of a sudden, signs cropped up in the windows of shops with the American flag as a shopping bag that read "open for business." Mommy was disgusted at that at a time when people's lives were lost, we'd be so crass as to talk about shopping. But criticism made you suspect, so most people didn't say anything.

Then, one morning, Mommy walked by City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where she was living at the time. Draped down the building were banners. On each banner was a person's face with an American flag sticker on their mouths like duct tape. The banners each had a word: "Dissent is NOT un-American." It was that point that Mommy broke down in the middle of the street and cried.

Why did I cry? Because the very thing we stand for — freedom of speech and liberty — was the very thing after 9/11 that was being silenced. The hijackers silenced the victims on the planes and then we silenced ourselves. It was a bad time.

So far, my kids seem fine with that explanation.

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