Thirteen years ago this morning, I was sitting at a low table, in a tiny chair, in a Kindergarten classroom. Tiny, adorable 5-year olds sat around me, "writing" in their journals. I was three weeks into my Student Teaching placement in a quiet town near my University. In the weeks leading up to that day, I felt so Grown Up. I bought "work clothes" and started gathering recipes so I could learn to cook actual meals. I was eight months away from graduating with my Masters degree and beginning my Career.
In that classroom, those brand-new students viewed me as a Grown Up: they called me "Miss" and came to me with questions and observations and peer-disputes needing settling. Although I was far from being an equal to my mentor, a bonafide Master Teacher, the kids just saw us both as adults. And, standing in front of them, I believed them.
On that morning, thirteen years ago today, the principal hand-delivered a typed note to each teacher. I sat at the table with my group of journaling students and watched as the teacher in my room read the note. Calmly, with the strength and emotional restraint of a true Grown Up, who knew the importance of maintaining her composure in front of 20 pairs of watching 5-year old eyes, she crossed the classroom and handed me the note. It read: "Our nation is under attack. Planes have struck the Twin Towers in NYC and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C."
Before I could even comprehend what I was reading, she handed me her cell phone. Knowing that my dad was working in Washington, but also realizing that I was not, truly, the grown up I was pretending to be, she said, "Go call your mom."
I ran out of that classroom. I had no strength or emotional restraint. I lost all composure. I was just a kid, who needed reassurance. I ran out the front door of the school and crouched down to the sidewalk. I called my mom.
My dad was safe, but the world no longer seemed to be.
"How bad is it?" I asked.
"It's bad," my mom said, her voice steady despite the horror she was watching unfold on TV. "It's really bad."
I was 21. I had students who called me "Miss," I wore clothes from Loft and sensible shoes, but I was still a child. I needed my mom to tell me it would be okay, but she couldn't. I needed my mom to give me the answers to my questions: "Why?" "What happens now?" "What does this mean?" She couldn't...because sometimes even the grown ups don't have the answers.
I've grown up a lot in the past 13 years. Three kids will do that to you. But on this day, I still don't feel like a grown up. This day still makes me feel sad and scared. I'm still not ready to address with them...my own babies...what happened on this day thirteen years ago. I tell myself that they're too young: seven, almost five, and two. They're too little, too innocent to know about such sadness.
Someday I'll have to find the words to explain what happened, but today I'll just hug my babies extra tight and they won't need to know why.