On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in a recovery room in Dalton, Ga., after giving birth to my first child, Harley, by emergency c-section the evening before.
My husband Kevin turned on the television set.
Soon, we saw the image of the first tower. Then, minutes later, we saw the plane crash into the second tower. Soon news came of the Pentagon and to reports of yet another plane crash.
As a first-time mother of a premature son, the events of that day changed our plans. Having a child born on the eve of such disaster awakens you to possibilities and impossibilities. You focus on the gift of life. Birthday parties each year are important, but there is something bigger and parent and child both know it.
Very little is written about these children. There are many articles written, and rightly so, about the children who lost parents in the chaos — whose lives will never be the same.
But what about the kids who were born on that day or that week? Their lives were forever changed. The America they arrived into was one drastically different than the America of just one week earlier.
We were moved by our despair over the events. Although we were joyous taking Harley home, a cloud of the unknown hovered over our heads. I nursed him while watching the events unfold on television. How do you raise a child in such a chaotic world?
We decided to never hide what happened from Harley. I bought every magazine that covered the tragedy — from Newsweek to Time. By the time he was four, he asked questions. Harley wanted to know who died, how it happened and why. Every birthday for Harley is overshadowed by a grieving nation that still has not come to terms with the tragedy.
So at age four, we showed him the magazines I had purchased that sad week. Harley was particularly interested in the photographs at first. This was not how I expected to spend his birthdays. We know some who are mortified at our decision to do this. We do not obsess over it, but to this day, he is curious and wants to know more. Harley today is an advanced reader and he reads those magazines each year himself. We turn off the coverage after so much, but he inevitably turns it back on. He is more interested in American events and politics than he is in cartoons.
When Harley celebrated his first-grade birthday, I arrived at school with a cookie cake for his class. The teacher asked me to tell a few stories about his birth. I was excited to do so, but before I could utter a word, she quickly admonished me not to mention Sept. 11. I almost laughed. I can understand they do not want to frighten children, but how do you leave that out when every single birthday for his entire life will be wrapped up in that single event?
It is American history. Even this year, the country is in turmoil over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. Every year is the same. Next year will be the 10th anniversary; I can only imagine the coverage.
Nonetheless, before I could offer a censored version of Harley’s birth, he jumped in himself. That is just Harley. Harley recited in that first-grade classroom about almost every aspect of that tragic day. The children were not afraid; they were quiet and listened to his every word. He simply has that way about him — his way of telling the story of his birth has no hate and has plenty of compassion. A more patriotic American than Harley does not exist.
He does not have bad dreams. He is not afraid in his environment. An extremely thoughtful child, he takes it to heart that it must never happen again. What I have seen is an incredible sense of justice for one so young. What frightens others, he takes in a natural stride.
On Friday, Sept. 10, 2010, he will turn nine. His scores are off the charts. He skipped a grade. Still ahead of his peers, they often look at him strangely when he begins talking of lofty ideals of citizenship and humanity. He simply assumes everyone ponders as he does. Other children like him deeply, but it is obvious they often do not understand him.
Born on the eve of destruction, Harley asked to be homeschooled this year — not because he was a poor student or felt as if he did not fit in. He wanted to be homeschooled so he could study in more depth such topics as the American Revolution and the Bible. We obliged.
Perhaps the plan was to provide children who would embrace American ideals of liberty and justice for all and understand that history should never repeat itself. There is no escaping Sept. 11 for this child. The plan is bigger than our imagination. I will enjoy watching these children become great Americans. One will only have to ask their birth date to know the chosen.