Remembering September 11

The farther September 11th recedes into the past the better. I’m glad it is vague history to my new 4th graders.

Ten days earlier had been our first day of school. At 8am I had opened my classroom door to a bunch of energetic nine-year-olds who quickly discovered the chocolate ladybugs I’d placed on each of their desks for good luck. By mid-morning, I’d led a discussion on classroom rules, helped them stow away school supplies, and taken them on a tour to see where the all-important bathrooms and water fountains were.

That is from Normal Service Will be Resumed, an article I wrote for the Times Educational Supplement. Those ladybugs struck a particular chord as I wrote about them elsewhere too. That year they were sent to us from all over the world. Ever since those goodluck bugs have been a theme for my classroom. How nice that my current students have no idea why.

And here is what I wrote on the childlit list serve prior to the first anniversary:

Saturday, September 7, 2002 1:30:47 PM

Classes start next Tuesday for my 4th graders. Yesterday, as we

bustled about getting ready, one of my colleagues apologized for

being a bit off-kilter. He was edgy, he explained, because of the

session of Congress being held downtown. He’d just seen another

army helicopter fly overhead. “Why did they have to come here?”

I know what he means. A few weeks ago I couldn’t leave my

apartment building for hours while the police checked out a possible

bomb in a trash can on Riverside Drive, half a block away. When we

peered outside the door we could see the yellow police tape and a

crowd gawking beyond it. I called my dad who lives nearby. He went

out and called back to tell me that everything was closed off for blocks

around. Afterwards I walked to the corner, found the fake bomb which

had been a Fedex envelope with wood inside, and watched the police

put the bomb robot back in a van. My doorman said it was the second

time in a week. Someone somewhere last year wrote about the new

normal. I’m afraid it has yet to feel normal to me.

At one of our planning meetings this week I asked the other teachers

about our fall field trips to Ellis Island and the Lower East Side

Tenement Museum, both of which were cancelled last year.

We agreed that we were ready for the Lower East Side, but not for Ellis

Island. One teacher said she was feeling jittery about next week. She

didn’t have to say anything more; we all remembered those long hours

waiting to hear about her brother who worked in the towers; to hear

he’d escaped. I thought about the photos each of us has of previous

classes at Ellis Island. The ones with lower Manhattan behind right

behind them. They haunt us. We aren’t ready yet.

But most of the time my colleagues and I stick with the easy stuff.

Worrying about our new cohort, for example. The ones with learning

issues. Those with self-control issues. It is so much easier to focus

on them, on trying to find a room for a math class in our overcrowded

building, or creating a fresh new writing activity. So much easier than

thinking about the new normal.

The evening before I had been at our school’s opening party at the

Museum of the City of New York. I spent a long time with one of my

colleagues’ husband; someone who carried a woman on crutches

down 50 flights last year. He talked about that day, about the last year

and how his department was doing, about the bomb in ’93, about

whether or not the videos of the planes should be aired on

Wednesday, about how he’d first seen them in a television studio that

day, where he had gone, still covered in dust to be interviewed, after

making it to the school.

Last year my class made posters for his department, to cheer them up

in their new location, across the river, looking at what is no more. The

posters are still up he told me. Everyone in his department plans to

go to work on Wednesday he told me; they want to be together.

Whether they can do it when the time comes he isn’t so sure.   They

are now in a seven story building; that is high enough he said smiling.

We talked about those who feel the towers should be rebuilt. Who, we

wondered, would want to work in those upper floors? Would his

coworkers like more posters? I asked. His face brightened — yes,

yes, that was a great idea.

Next Wednesday an exhibit is to open at the museum called The Day

Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11. It is a juried exhibition of

children’s art and several of our students’ work was selected including

that of a child whose father ran Windows on the World. “My father

worked on the 106th and 107th floors of the WTC Building One. Luckily

he wasn’t there.”   Andrew’s piece is on the cover of the exhibit’s book

which is published by Abrams. Another image from the book is on the

cover of this week’s New York Times Book Review and more can be

seen at the website: http://www.TheDayOurWorldChanged.org.

I was in the school office yesterday when one of our 8th graders came in.

Her father wasn’t as lucky as Andrew’s. She’d been to camp, she

told us. She looked tan, I remarked. When she left no one said

anything. Our new normal.

So far the September 11 book that works best for me is With Their

Eyes: The View of a High School at Ground Zero. I know that school.

Some of our students go there for high school. My father is a graduate

as is my godchild. The voices in the book sound honest to me. I’m

surrounded every day by teens (as my building is for grades 4 -12)

and this book feels utterly and completely authentic.   Some of it even,

remarkably, is comforting. It is a school too you see and a number of

the people interviewed described feelings and experiences similar to

ours. For we too were worrying about family members that day, were

trying to understand what was going on, and soldiering on those next

weeks and months. Yes, some of that was familiar. Not normal

though.

Last year I went to Switzerland over the summer. I brought back

several bags of chocolate ladybugs. Ladybugs are good luck symbols

and I thought they would be fun for my students. And so on the

morning of September 11, as some of you may recall , I put one on

each student’s desk. Days later I gave each another to celebrate our

first complete week of school. In June, when the children were

cleaning out their desks the majority still had their ladybugs, carefully

saved. Their new normal.

This year, I’ve got ladybugs everywhere. On the children’s coathooks,

on the wall, and on the door. I couldn’t find any chocolate ladybugs,

but I found some bookmarks instead. They’ll be on their desks when

they come upstairs after the memorial assembly on Wednesday. My

new normal.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Remembering September 11

  1. The ladybugs are a very sweet sentiment. I hope your 4th graders will never have to witness another September 11th.

    Like

  2. Pingback: A Tough Anniversary: 15 Years Since The Towers Fell | educating alice

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