From Where I Sit

This article was originally published in North County News.

He’d been reporting for hours. Perched behind the news desk, he had patiently described the scenes of destruction that filled our television screens. His words expertly framed the images of devastation that played over and over again as we watched New York’s Twin Towers crumble from the impact of human missiles on a hijacked suicide mission.

His frustration grew.

He began to ask the producers about ground level shots. He wanted to know what was going on in the streets. What it was like to be at the scene. Peter Jennings wanted ground-zero reporting.

Slowly, the reports came in. Unauthorized photographers’ unedited clips rolled, detailing the raw, massive destruction. Volcanic-like ash blanketed pulverized pieces of the tumbled towers. And there was a chilling silence.

The phone rang, interrupting my hypnotic trance.

“Mom, are you all right? Where’s Daddy? Where’s Rachel? Where’s Caryn?” my fourteen-year-old daughter’s voice cried.

We were all fine, I assured her, citing the specific whereabouts of her father who frequented New York, her aunt who traveled often to the west coast, and her favorite sitter who was to pick her up from school.

Ground-zero reporting just got personal.

After confirming the plans for her ride home from school, I told her I loved her and hung up the phone. The tears in her voice triggered my pent-up tears, dammed by the trauma of the incredible tragedy, and I wept.

Soon my eight-year-old son bounded though the back door, slinging his backpack off his shoulder and onto the floor. After a big hug, I asked him if he knew why he came home early from school.

“Yes, two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, Mom,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Did you talk about it at school?” I asked.

“Sort of. They told us it wasn’t safe and that parents may be picking us up early. Then we thought we heard a bomb ticking,” he reported. “When I asked the teacher about the bomb, she then told us about the planes,” he said as he was grabbing a juice box.

He plunked himself down in the chair beside me and pronounced, “Mom, I’m bored.”

The juxtaposition of that conversation stunned me. Reeling, I remembered the advice to “meet children where they are,” and suggested he play with his Legos.

Meanwhile my teen daughter came in and we began watching the news together. Thirty minutes later, son Peter brought his creation to me. He had built a large tower and an airplane. He then crashed one into the other.

His play was not violent or highly energized, but rather a quiet analysis of how a plane could land in the building and what happened afterwards. He then constructed rescue vehicles with lots of people to both rescue and be rescued. The hijackers fell to their death in dramatic fashion.

“Mom, what’s he doing,” my daughter exclaimed. “That’s sick!”

“He’s just making this real, Brittany. It’s his way of making it real,” I replied.

His play offered an opportunity for more conversation about the event and the consequences. Yet, feeling my parenting skills stretching to their limit, I quickly checked with a child psychologist (a family friend) who assured me that Peter’s response was appropriate for his age and his personality. He reminded me that children often seek a solution in fantasy when one does not exist in reality.

It occurred to me that Peter, too, was searching for ground-zero reporting. The abstract notion of airplanes crashing, and towers tumbling, needed to be concrete _ much like Jennings’ need for street-level details, and Brittany’s need for assurance and a plan.

When the unthinkable happens, we must find a way to think about it in terms we understand. As my psychologist friend says, people often adjust to tragedy much as they live their lives.