Ten years ago, my sons were one and five. The older one had just started kindergarten. That, I figured, put us on the brink of an exciting and ever-expanding new world, one where he would learn - oh, everything! polar explorers and nanotechnology and Shakespeare and Schubert and Spanish, too. And ultimately, he has.
But I didn't think my five year old would learn about terrorism. I didn't think he would jump from secure little trickster to boy who needed to watch me lock each door at night before he could sleep. I never expected that the next time we flew overseas to visit Nana he would even be aware of his fellow passengers, much less worried about them.
I suppose it was some bad parenting, his awareness of the suddenly dangerous would. It was partly that same playground knowledge seep that had him talking about Power Rangers in preschool, even though we'd never seen the show. And there was no way to keep the students unaware. 500 five to twelve year olds in one of the largest cities in the nation? The stories abounded. So his feeling of being on shaky ground wasn't entirely our failure to shield him.
But my sister and brother-in-law lived in Brooklyn, across the street from a fire house where my one year old had been given a tour of the ladder truck just a few months earlier. They worked in Manhattan, my sister just two blocks from the WTC. They were safe. I'd dropped the boy at school and the toddler at daycare that morning, I'd turned on NPR for the brief drive to my office, I'd heard about the first plane crash, I'd walked inside to a message from Sis that they were fine, and then I'd seen the television as the second plane hit. And I'm grateful for that order of events, because if she hadn't gotten through when she did, before the phone lines were useless, if I'd seen the towers fall not knowing if she was commuting under them or in her office or (as she was) safe at home - well, anyway, if my son needed to see me lock the doors at night, needed to hear my reassurances that the windows also locked, and if he got that sense of insecurity from me, it's among the more benign emotions that I could have passed along.
(My brother-in-law wrote a very moving account of that morning in his essay about how publishing has changed post-9/11)
My youngest has essentially always lived in that world. He doesn't remember breezing through airport security without worrying about the amount of toothpaste in the carry on, or when yellow ribbons on trees and bumpers were a rare sight, or a day he'd never heard of Al-Qaeda. At eleven - eleven! - he cheered the night President Obama announced Osama bin Laden's death. That's the world my baby, born the 2nd day of Y2K, lives in.
So while I usually celebrate that both of them have exciting and ever-expanding new worlds opening to them as they grow up, I mourn that those worlds have threat levels. It is what it is, the world today, and there are only so many things a mom can do to keep her sons safe in it. I will always try to do those things, and if that sometimes includes a nightly tour of the deadbolts, so be it.
Oh, to have just tucked him in with a story and a song and a kiss a little longer, though.