Friday, September 10, 2010

Dealing with 9/11 with Middle Schoolers

As American, dealing with 9/11 each year is hard enough.  But as parents, dealing with 9/11 with our children adds another layer of complexity.

The typical range of middle school children, say 10-14 years old, means than those children were between 1 and 5, maybe 6, when the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked.  So the older ones probably have some memories of the event, or at least of how the adults in their lives reacted to it.  I was 7 when President Kennedy was assassinated.  My father was stationed in London, so we were living in a different country and so didn't experience the tragedy to the extent that children probably did in the US.  But I can remember not really understanding things, but knowing that something really bad, really significant had happened.  I can imagine that might be what some of our older middle school children might be experiencing around 9/11.

My son, however, was only 2 when the planes hit the buildings we had visited only a few months before.  Our family had averted personal tragedy, if only by chance.  My father, who lived in New York City at the time, was on the board of Fuji Bank, whose headquarters were located in the Twin Towers.  Had the terrorists chosen to attack on the third Monday in September, instead of the second, he would have been there for the monthly board meeting when the planes struck the buildings.  Instead, he was at home, able to watch the burning from downtown and knowing that many of his respected friends and colleagues had probably just perished.

But my son doesn't remember anything of all this.  And he is still of the age where 9/11 is kind of like a story, like the Iliad, the Odyssey, and all the other stories I tell him that are some mixed of myth and history and interpretation, but unenlightened by personal experience.

So the way we dealt with 9/11 this year was by pulling up stilt grass.

Lost among this year's controversies about burning Korans and building or banning mosques is the fact that last year, the Congress established 9/11 as a national day of remembrance through service.  So today our homeschool support group had a service project to pull stilt grass from a bird garden at one of the parks at which we have a monthly play date.  The ranger/educational director of the park explained how stilt grass was an invasive species used for packing purposes in Japan that was washed up onto American soil during Hurricane Fran, and was quickly taking over much open land.  In this case, it had overrun a bird garden the park had planted to provide food for the native birds that need to survive here over the winter.  Our job was to pull out the stilt grass as a first step in reclaiming and redesigning the bird garden.

We had 8 families and a total of 21 people who threw themselves into the task.  The most wonderful thing about the project was how much the children really got into the weeding.  They pulled, they piled, they jumped into the piles, they pulled again.  We were only supposed to weed for an hour, but most stayed for another half hour or so because they were having so much fun

So here is a picture of what it looked like when we started:
And this is what it looked like when we were done:

My son and I had talked about the whole 9/11 business on the way to the park, and also about some of the news items that are currently simmering around that issue.  But my son wasn't very connected to all that talk.  When I asked him after our weeding what he thought of the activity, he simply said, "Very satisfying."

I couldn't have summed it up better myself.

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