You know it’s an unusual day when your middle schoolers come
home early and build a cardboard bomb shelter on your front
lawn. That’s what happened at my house when Mark and Benji
arrived home on that awful September day, 10 years ago. Like
many children, they saw the disaster at school.
Like every other American, my husband and I watched in horror
as we experienced the full hatred of terrorists for our country.
On that morning, we’d sent our kids off to school in one world
and welcomed them home to an entirely different one.
As much as we attempt to protect our children from disasters
like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, tornados, hurricanes, flooding,
raging fires or earthquakes, we discover that we are pretty
I have a personal theory that the helicopter parenting
phenomenon was born on 9/11. We hover over our children
attempting to make their lives smooth because we failed so
miserably to protect them from disasters such as the Twin Towers
disintegrating into dust.
Since my Mark and Benji have been born, they’ve seen:
January 28, 1986 – the Challenger Shuttle explode, with
vivacious Christy McAuliffe on board.
April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City attacked, leaving 168 dead.
September 11, 2001 – Terrorists hijack airliners
crashing them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and rural
Pennsylvania, killing over 3,000.
August 23, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina takes 1,836 lives
and leaves 135 missing.
April-May 2011 – A relentless succession of tornadoes
ravage the Southeast.
2008 – 2011 – The Great Recession, which opens the
possibility of another Great Depression.
And these are only a few events that occurred in the nation
during their lives. This is a scary world we’re living in.
Childhood is always a fearful time. Oftentimes children cannot
even verbalize what’s making them afraid, whether it’s a monster
in the closet, under the bed or a boogey man who might enter at
any moment. I’ve held many a boy in the middle of the night
shaking from imagined night terrors. But today’s terrors can
originate from real events.
Our boys have also experienced loss firsthand. My four
stepsons lost their mommy after a heroic fight against breast
cancer. The twins were three, Benji was eight and Andrew, 12. No
one can prepare children for such grief to enter their lives.
Most children don’t even understand the word cancer and its
ramifications, but ours saw the outcome on an intimate basis.
And, truthfully, they’ve struggled mightily to understand things
and grasp concepts that even mature people find difficult.
The, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” questions are
hard for philosophers and theologians to explain. In the book,
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl attempted to
answer the hard questions of life. As a Holocaust survivor, he’d
experienced firsthand one of the greatest tragedies of all
time. He wrote:
“It did not really matter what we expected
from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to
stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of
ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and
hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but
in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means
taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its
problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for
As parents we’ve tried to answer those tough questions of
life, even when we don’t have the answers. It’s a human reaction
to search for the meaning behind every life circumstance. We’ve
had to tell our children that sometimes there are no easy
answers. There are things, both good and bad, that they’ll
experience as they grow and mature. We’ve taught them that life
makes more sense if you approach it from a faith-based
orientation. We’ve taught them that circumstances don’t define a
life; it’s the attitude of the receiver that defines the life.
We’ve taught them that life is tissue-paper thin and we often
remind them to value family and friends because we know that
there are no guarantees and that life can change radically from
one moment to the next. We tell them regularly that we love
them, just so they know, know, know – deep down in their souls —
that we treasure having each of them in our lives.
So as we taught our children to tie their shoes, to clean up
their rooms, to play nice with their brothers and friends in the
neighborhood, we’ve also had to teach them the meaning of life.
Frankl said it so well in his book when he concludes, “The
meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never
ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.”
Yet, we miss the mom who died too young and others we’ve lost
along the way of life. To quote President Ronald Reagan — who
borrowed from John Gillespie Magee, the American poet and
aviator of the Second World War — as he spoke to the nation on
the night of the shuttle disaster, “We will never forget them,
nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared
for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds
of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”