My son looks at fire trucks with curiosity and awe. He likes to push his toy truck around the driveway, pressing the buttons over and over again, listening to the sirens and songs. "Look at the fire truck!" I say when we see one pass. He waves enthusiastically.
Of course he does. He doesn't know terror. He doesn't know heartache.
I was a senior at my upstate New York college, sitting in my Shakespeare class. They let us out early. I left a cocoon of comedy and walked into a campus of confusion. We all stared at the television, our academically saturated brains trying to comprehend what the newscasters were saying. It couldn't be true. Not here. What were they talking about?
At 4 p.m., we found ourselves on the college green, sitting on our sweatshirts in the grass. We cried on each other's shoulders. Some students were still on the phone, finding family members. The chaplains said prayers. The dean tried to comfort us. They didn't want to scare us. We were still kids.
But it was too late. I had classmates who mourned family and friends. Some students went home and didn't come back for months. We couldn't watch anything else on television for days. The sound of sirens scared us. It was hard to focus on what should've been our carefree, senior year. It took awhile to for things to normalize. We'd been changed.
I know someday my son will learn. Heroes don't always make it out of the danger zone; that's why they're called heroes. Fire trucks can't always put out the fire. Someday, when he's much older, he'll learn why people still cringe when they hear the date Sept. 11. He'll see the footage, he'll ask why people jumped out of the buildings; he'll ask why the firefighters couldn't put out the fire. And I'll tell him.
And after he learns, he probably won't look at fire trucks with the same naive admiration. The terrorists will have taken something from him too, even years later. Now he'll know that sometimes, the fire burns until the building falls down, no matter how hard the firemen try to fix it.
I wish that story didn't exist; that it didn't have to be told. It's a piece of American history now, a lesson plan in history class, a day our children will learn that "the world changed forever." They won't really know how it changed; they won't know what they missed. But the day they begin to understand the seriousness of that event, that will be the day a bit of their childhood will chip away. It's not fair.
Of course, childhood innocence can't last forever. But the transition should come when a child learns about Santa Claus, not the details of such horror and tragedy.
It's not fair.
Sarahlynne is a Parenting Guru.