Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

I’ll never forget how I felt this day 14 years ago as an American, a firefighter and as a father — and how each held its own kind of hurt that has never completely healed. But of the three, being a father watching the sparkle in my then six-year-old daughter’s eyes noticeably fade just a bit continues to be the memory that lingers most…

image My alarm clock went off the same as it always did back then, coming to life with the morning news — my preference over the annoying, high-pitched alternative of chatter. Instinctively, I swatted the snooze button and bought myself another seven minutes of sleep.

In the years since, I’ve thought a lot about those seven minutes, and how the simple push of a button postponed a bitter reality for just a little longer. When the news came on again, word of the first airliner crashing into the World Trade Center stopped my hand just short of another seven minutes of blissful ignorance — a time span that now seems like an eternity.

Lying there, listening to the details, I regretted not pushing the button one more time.

A hundred more times.

A thousand.

In that same moment, I also understood that the impassive gaze of terrorism could only be averted for so long, and that, eventually, I’d have to meet it — along with the questioning gaze of my daughter.

As a parent, I debated whether I should shield her from these events, essentially pushing the snooze button to allow her at least a few more minutes of childhood before waking her to this new, colder world. But how long, I wondered, would it be before she discovered reality on her own?

There are at least six news stands near our home, all with their front pages displayed at eye level for a child her age. I thought about the images that would be appearing in those small plexi-glass windows in the coming days and weeks. I thought about what she might overhear during playground conversations as children put their own interpretive spin on the language of adults heard from the radio, television and from discussions between parents after they thought their children were asleep.

My daughter suddenly appeared in the doorway, and I realized that I was still poised — frozen really — with my hand over the snooze button, still listening to the account of terrorism on the radio.

It was at this point that fragmented accounts of an attack on the Pentagon began, along with word of a downed jetliner somewhere in Pennsylvania. And maybe a car bomb near the capitol — a story that was interrupted by word of a second airliner crashing into the trade center towers.

“Dad, what’s happening?” my daughter asked.

She remained in the doorway, a departure from her normal routine of diving onto the bed. I noticed this instinctively, in much the same way she must’ve noticed my hand still hovering above the snooze button.

Neither of us moved; neither of us wanted to. At different levels, we both understood that moving meant setting things into motion that could somehow never be turned back.

Slowly, I drew my hand away from the alarm clock and gestured for her to join me on the bed. There was no running, no broad-smiled dive over the footboard. She approached with obvious hesitation, her eyes moving between the radio and me.

“What’s going on, Dad?” she asked again.

Pulling her close, we listened to the radio as I struggled to find the words to answer her question. After a series of false starts, I decided there was really only one place to begin.
As the events of that morning continued to unfold from the radio, we allowed our voices to carry over the reports of terrorism — and spoke, instead, of what it means to be an American.

Today marks 13 years since I’ve stop setting my alarm to go off with the morning news.

____________________________________________________________________

This column was first published Sept. 13, 2001, in Siuslaw News.

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(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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35 thoughts on “Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

    • Each year, I think I won’t wake up thinking about that morning.Yet each year, I do — like it was yesterday. Posting this is my way of meeting it head-on so that I can move forward through the day. Maybe next year, I won’t need to 😉

      • By the way, your post was absolutely wonderful. I read it twice and shared the heck out of it. Thoughtful, insightful, warm and hopeful, it was said as only you could say it, Michelle.

        Thank you for that.

  1. The snooze button image captures it perfectly. Something that used to be quotidian acquires huge significance when it marks the moment innocence was stolen. Wonderfully written.

  2. Dear Ned…… what a tragic day that was. I can only imagine, as a first responder, how much more devastating it had to have been for you. It is difficult for parents when we have to finally let the cruel world invade our children’s lives, but so much harder when it is something like the events of 9-11. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • There is definitely no way to ease your child into that kind of new reality, which is one of your greatest nightmares as a parent. That, coupled with the memories of covering the news that day as a reporter and seeing the devistation from the eyes of a firefighter is like The Perfect Storm for me — it makes it a little overwhelming.

      Thank you for sharing part of that weight by reading 😉

  3. A few years after 9/11, I wrote a paper on the effects of terrorism on children. No one could avoid the horror of that day as the images bombarded television sets for months. Even children not directly impacted by the events of 9/11 experienced symptoms of trauma. You handled the tragedy with your daughter as thoughtfully and with as much compassion and hope as any parent could. Well done, Ned. A sad and wonderful post.

    • Thanks, D. And you’re so right about the emotional aftermath, even for kids who were “too little” to understand. They pick upon more than we realize — or are willing to admit to ourselves.

      We all do our best as parents to protect our children as best we can, but sometimes all you can do is comfort them.

      Thanks so much for reading, D.

  4. I was doing the housework. Flicked on the TV and stood watching… around the same time as your news bulletin, it seems, and half a world away. That day we we neighbours, a human family, sharing a common fear for our children. My sons grown to the age of potential soldiers if the madness could not be stopped, your daughter facing a changed reality and a shadowed childhood.

  5. Thankfully, my daughter was far too young to grasp the enormity of what we were watching on the news that day. Her childhood remained intact for a while longer.

    You’re a good man, Ned – and an even better father.

  6. Awesome post Ned – a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives for our innocence. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. My kids were teens at that time and it is easier to explain to a mind that has become used to reason and knowledgeable that all are not our friends in this world. Still painful and fearful but braced.

    Please be assured that Canadians stand with you in our fight against terrorism. Thank you

  7. Days pass and I go through them. Then 9/11 comes and the world just seems to stand still again, exactly as it did fourteen years ago. My youngest children weren’t born yet and this year my daughter asked me about that day. I got lost in the telling and got lost in the emotions-relieved she didn’t have to witness the fear and sadness we all felt that day and a worry that one day she and her brother, and all the children born into a post 9/11 world, might. I hate the thought of them losing even a moment of their childhood to that type of horror.

    • I agree completely, Sandy. I’m just thankful I had my daughter home with me rather than have her at school when it all happened. Just so I could help buffer the reality the world was being dealt.

      Thank you for sharing, Sandy.

  8. We were living on a military base on 9/11, which was immediately locked down, but by that time, school had started. My children both attended elementary school on the base, so they went to school as normal that day. I found out later that the teachers simply turned on the televisions in the classrooms and watched as the horror unfolded – which meant the children also watched, not fully understanding what was happening. I understand why – the teachers were trying to make sense of things and also could not believe what was happening. But one teacher kept telling the kids, “People are dying there — we’re watching people dying!” Had I known I would have picked up my children and brought them home, where I could at least shield them a bit or answer their questions in a way that wouldn’t traumatize them more.

  9. Just read this, this morning. What happened that day changed us all, in both good and bad ways. But the remembering, that’s what serves as a reminder that the world is sometimes not so pretty, and that we cannot take anything for granted. That even the big, bad United States can be vulnerable. And that’s unsettling, isn’t it? It definitely was for me that evening, as I held my sleeping 11-month-old son and stared at the unnervingly silent night sky, wondering when or if more was coming, and how.

    • All so very true, Tara. I like to think that, in spite of the mind-numbing evil of those events, in the end it was the good of people around the world — their hopes, support and outrage — that lingers more than the hatred.

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