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
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