The phone rang a little before six am.
It was the first full week of school, and I hadn’t gotten used to waking up early again yet, so I was still in bed, enjoying the last few minutes of sleep before my alarm went off. My husband I had been trying to get pregnant for the first time, and that morning was the first day that I would be able to take an “early” pregnancy test. I had the test and the directions all laid out on the bathroom counter, and I’d gone to bed feeling excited and anxious.
But my sister-in-law’s call woke me up with a sense of dread: a plane bound for LA had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. I turned on the TV to see a gaping hole in the side of the north tower, smoke filling the sky. We didn’t know yet that it was a terrorist attack. At that point, everyone still thought it was just a horrific accident. I immediately called my good friend, who I knew was on a flight home from the east coast that day, to make sure he was okay. To my relief, he had taken a flight out the night before and was already back. As we were talking, another plane crashed into the south tower. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t any accident. The pregnancy test went untouched.
I drove to work in a fog. My brother lived in New York. The New York branch of my husband’s trading firm was based in the south tower. We’d gone to college with half the guys who worked there. The phone lines were all jammed, and we hadn’t been able to get in touch with anybody. At school, I couldn’t concentrate. I was the Director of College Counseling, and that morning I had my first meeting with the forty-two seniors I’d be working with that year. I was supposed to be explaining the concept of rolling applications to them, but as I looked at their faces, I knew that their futures had just been changed, forever. I started to cry.
My brother was okay. The guys in the south tower had gotten out. After the crash into the north tower, the PA announcer in their building had told everyone to remain calm and go back to their offices. Instead, they ran down sixty flights of stairs and made it out just before their tower was hit.
The next morning, September 12th, I took the pregnancy test. When the blue plus sign came up, it was hard to know how to feel. What kind of a world was I bringing my baby into? In LA, they were saying that our city was vulnerable to an attack. On the news, they were advising people not to go to crowded areas. Would they hit Dodger Stadium? Would they target Disneyland? I kept wondering how you explain to a child that he can’t go to Disneyland because you’re too afraid he might be killed there. I was happy to be pregnant, but it felt wrong to be happy when so many were grieving, when the country had just suffered such a collective tragedy. I was hopeful about my baby, but it felt strange to be hopeful when it seemed that the world had suddenly been split into before and after, with everything good and safe having come before, and God knows what that might come after.
There’s an administrator at my kids’ school who has a theory. She thinks that the first time parents in my daughter’s class are more worried, more neurotic, and more overprotective than any other class of parents she’s seen. The theory goes that we all either gave birth to, or got pregnant with our first children in those first months before and after 9/11, and that the stress and uncertainty of that time colored our approach to parenting forever.
I’m not sure she’s wrong.
The world really did change forever ten years ago. We’ve gotten used to it, yes, but there’s a certain carefree-ness to parenting that no longer exists in America, a certain innocence that our children will never have. Every time we take a family vacation on an airplane, we’re forced to have conversations about the bad men who want to hurt people by hiding bombs in their shoes. Every time we ride on a subway, we’re suspicious and hyper-aware, and we train our kids to be, too. When we go to concerts or to baseball games or to Disneyland, there’s always a moment – ever so slight – when we hesitate. It’s not a huge thing, and we try not to make a big deal about it, but there’s no denying that it’s there. Sometimes I wonder, if my daughter had been born five or three or even two years before she was, would I be a different kind of parent than I am now? I think the answer is obvious: how could I not be? How could anyone not be?