I was having coffee with a friend recently, when the topic of 9-11 came up. We have kids the same age, both eleven years old. I mentioned what it felt like on that awful day in 2001, when I held my infant to my heart and watched the second Twin Tower fall on live television. The friend commiserated, saying he had felt the same way while cradling his newborn.
“What have I done, bringing a baby into a world like this?” was the thought we both had had in 2001. It was one of my most haunting moments as a parent.
Eleven years later, my older son has started middle school, and is growing into a confident young man. I can still see the baby face in his cheeks and eyes, but it’s probably just the nostalgic perception of mother-brain. My family and my country have moved past 9-11, though things have never been quite the same.
The first year of my son’s life was marked by a darkness and uncertainty that dogs our nation still. In a knee-jerk reaction, our country went into two wars immediately following 9-11. First into Afghanistan and then several months later into Iraq our troops marched. Never mind that the small terrorist organization responsible for the attacks couldn’t be defeated in a large scale conflict, our government and my countrymen pounded the war drum. My baby, conceived in peacetime, became a child of wartime.
While our baby slept in our arms, my ex and I used to compulsively watch the news in horror. The mood of the country was that of an angry mob: unconscious and primitive. Stupidity and hypocrisy become patriotic, and healthy discourse was cast by the Bush Administration as treasonous. Our progressive leanings made my family seem beyond the pale, and out of synch. But we knew bullshit when we saw it, and there wasn’t a spin doctor alive who could sell us on the Bush Administration’s antics.
What to do? My family moved forward: we bought a house and had another baby. A wise crone once told me we have to live in the times we’re born into, and so that is what we did. Safe away from the conflicts, my ex and I watched bloody, pointless wars from our TV. With disgust, we witnessed our nation become what extremists had accused it of being: international bullies.
In 2004, when Bush was reelected though it was clear he was a poor leader, my ex and I wanted to move to Canada. We simply didn’t relate to America as it was. With the increasing ferocity of the Far Right Movement, it felt like it never would be a place we liked again. But we were invested here, and frankly, I doubt Canada wanted us.
Hope was kindled for my family while we watched Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Maybe, just maybe, common sense and responsible leadership could be realized again, if a guy like that was allowed on television. The Progressive movement started to re-assert itself with Air America and The Nation magazine picking up more followers. The national conversation deepened, expanded, and became more critical.
Then something sort of magical happened: Rep. Pelosi took the gavel as the first woman Speaker of the House in 2007. I wept and was heartened. This was movement forward, no matter how incremental. I believed and hoped good things could happen again.
In 2008, everything changed when Pres. Obama was elected. A true moderate with socially progressive leanings, he is the dream of leadership my ex and I had pined for. What we didn’t understand then was that to keep the momentum going we would have to get involved. Real change to the economy, environment, health care, and foreign relations would take time and commitment.
In 2010, following a car accident, I hobbled up and down the streets of my hometown with my kids in tow, canvassing for Sen. Patty Murray, who was up for reelection. In a moment of insight, I realized voting wasn’t enough for me. If I want a better country, I have to show up to the political process, and as a mother, I must teach my children to do the same. This shift in consciousness has changed my life.
As my 9-11 baby grows into a pre-teen, I want him to understand the lessons of that horrible day in 2001. The first is that there are bad guys abroad and within our country; use your own discernment to figure out who they are. The second lesson I want him to understand is when our country is in trouble, we have the talent to turn it around. In the face of adversity, our country can think outside the box to find solutions. And the third lesson I want this child to understand is to get involved. Don’t sit at home watching TV and expect things to change. Put your feet to the pavement and make the change you want to see in the world.
My sons’ generation has challenges of unparalleled complexity to overcome. Climate change, a globalized economy, and armed radicals of every ilk threaten safety and prosperity for these kids. I know their generation can face the challenges. They are smart, tech savvy, and creative. They’ve known hardships, experienced loss, and don’t expect a free ride. They’ll have to be scrappy, but I believe they can do it.
Out of necessity, the 9-11 Generation will have to be the greatest generation ever. As a parent, it’s my job to help my kids know they can be. As a mother, I choose to continue to improve myself, and to model empowered behavior. These children will have to figure out the answers for themselves, but we, the parents of this generation, must point them in the right direction. I know we can take the leap.