This weekend past was a successful one for our city of New York, inasmuch as we were not victims of a new devastating attack. And my wife and I celebrated our own little triumph. We successfully lied, evaded and obfuscated enough to keep our kids completely ignorant, at least for this weekend, of 9/11, of its anniversary, of al Qaeda, of mass murder, of religious fanatics, of people jumping from buildings, of illegal invasions, of the existence of either John Yoo or Paul Wolfowitz or any other of the many things that go bump in the night.
Not that it was easy to maintain these omissions in Manhattan. Thousands of police reportedly kept an eye out for three middle-eastern men “potentially driving a van” (unnerving the large numbers of middle eastern fruitsellers and furniture movers who actually drive vans in New York), but our kids didn’t notice the checkpoints. On Sunday morning, a three-helicopter convoy that sure looked like it included Marine One and our President flew over our neighborhood, but the children were still asleep. That afternoon, we passed several thousand motorcycles rolling south down the West Side Highway, and we said it was just a parade. On Sunday night, during a commercial break in the Jets’ stirring comeback against the Cowboys, the Budweiser Clydesdales bowed in reverence toward the World Trade Center, but the children were already in bed, and I was left alone in my cups wondering if we can build a Gitmo for ad execs (if so, let’s throw the guys who made this Hooters’ 9/11 tribute in a couple Hooters-orange jumpsuits as well).
Our daughter is five, young enough that we were able avoid having to have The Talk about 9/11, but this will probably be the last year we can get away with it. She was already close to discovery, we think, because she complained Friday how the babysitter doesn’t let her watch grownup television shows like the “movie” she wanted to watch more of “about a city that was being destroyed”. And I’m writing this in the early morning before her third day ever of Kindergarten at the public school down the street where, if I remember my own public schooling correctly, by lunchtime she will have learned all about 9/11, been taught how to cook heroin, and been fully debriefed on that German Craigslist pact where one man volunteered to be eaten by another dude in the ultimate act of erotic BDSM cannibalism.
But today’s parents are on a mission to protect our children from an ever-lengthening list of indecencies, so it seems natural to lie about 9/11. And although a friend reminded me yesterday to reread Po Bronson’s 2008 New York article about the infectious nature of parental lying, I am not ready to convert to radical honesty with my kids. Maybe it’s a selfish reason: any cloud that knits my daughter’s brow troubles me as well. I wake up with her when she has nightmares. Remembering 9/11 can be such a rabbit hole of despair (try not getting enveloped in that gorgeous sorrow looking through Time’s 9/11 portraits and interviews, for example) that I just couldn’t drag my girl down there with me.
Even without her factored in, I haven’t had any stomach for 9/11 remembrances. It’s a half-discussion that doesn’t interest me. We can collectively remember the dead, but can’t really talk about what followed or why we are still entangled in exactly the wars that Bin Laden wanted us to goad us into. Which is to say, 9/11 is depressing because so many people died that day and because I still have friends who are being deployed to these endless wars and there seem to be no winners. I don’t believe, as Tom Segev argued in Haaretz, that the decade since has been one of inexorable decline for the U.S. But this was not a great decade to behold.
With a crucial exception. Midway through that decade, I had one child and then, a couple years later, another. Yes, I know: they will grow up to disappoint me. As adults, I’m sure, they will eventually go on Craigslist looking to be consensually slaughtered or to eat someone whom they themselves will slaughter. The whole thing will be recorded on video. But until that day, and certainly right now, they radiate a kind of goodness and innocence that has been so missed in the last ten years for me.
Let everyone else obsess about 9/11. My kids are still living in September 10th. Who am I to nudge them forward?