Today I was standing in the kitchen re-heating yesterday’s taco meat for Boo and Critter’s after-school-snack-turned-dinner. They were chatting away in the background, and I was just so happy. Life with a six- and eight-year-old has its own set of challenges, but nothing like those baby years when all I wished they would do is talk to me. Now they almost talk too much, but I promised myself when they were babies that if God would PLEASE ever let them stop screaming and use WORDS I would never tell them to shut up. And I stick to that 99% of the time. Except when the potty talk goes over the top. Then I just tell them to get out of my hearing range before I wash their mouths out with soap.
So there I was, re-heating dinner and just feeling so content with my life that I told the kids, “Do you know that I am so grateful for you?”
“We know, mom. We’re grateful for you too,” said Boo. “I wouldn’t want any other mom ever,” said Critter.
I wondered what it was, today, that made me say that. I mean, I say it a lot, but today it seemed IMPORTANT that I say it. So I thought, and realized that tomorrow is September 11th, a very significant anniversary for most of us, but super-significant for those of us who lived for any length of time in New York City.
I grew up in NYC. I went to school there, I worked there. I saw the towers in the distance for all nine years I went to New York University. They were kind of like guardians, in a way. Big, tall, towering guardians.
I was in Florida when they were destroyed, safely away from all the turmoil and terror and smoke and fear, and yet it immediately occurred to me that–just like most New Yorkers–I had been in those buildings. I could have, had I made different choices, been in those buildings. Not likely, but possible. Always possible.
I remember after that day I sat thinking, realizing that there was a 1 in a million chance my life could have evolved in such a way as to put me there that morning. And, like most people when they’re faced with a “There but for the grace of God go I” moment, I did some evaluating of my life. If I had been in those towers that day, I thought, would I have had any regrets? I really sat and thought. I had a fabulous husband. A nice home. A great job. I was almost done with my Ph.D. I was safe, and comfortable, and I had friends. My mother and grandmother were healthy and happy and close by. My friends liked visiting Florida. I was very mobile–I could do anything I wanted, any time I wanted, at the drop of a hat. My life was ideal. Except for one thing.
The one thing I would have regretted had I been in the wrong place at the wrong time, I thought, was that I didn’t have children. In 2001 I had been married for about six years and was actively NOT pursuing having children. 9/11 changed that. I remember walking up to my husband one evening, sitting down and saying, “I’m ready. I want kids.”
My husband and I had been doing a little yes-no-maybe so to kids dance for about two years by then. We kind of knew we wanted them, we kind of thought we’d be good parents, we kind of thought we were almost ready to support a family . . . but we were terrified of the changes it would make to our lives. So one week he would be all, “Yeah, I can see us having some kids around here,” and I would be all, “AHHHH!!! NOOOOO!!!!! I JUST LOST FIVE POUNDS! I’M THE THINNEST I’VE EVER BEEN! NOOOOO! I’M NOT READY!!!!” and a couple of weeks later I’d be all, “Hey, kids. That’d be kind of cool, right?” and he’d be all, “WE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE TO CLEAN THE CAT BOX!!! NOOOOOOO! THE CATS DIDN’T EVEN HAVE FOOD IN THEIR BOWLS THIS MORNING!! NOOOOO!!!” A couple of weeks later he’d be all pro-kid, and I’d freak out, then I’d be all pro-kid, and he’d freak out. It was like a contraceptive cha-cha.
But after 9/11, I was THERE. I was NOT GOING TO HAVE REGRETS. So I walked right up to him and put my cards on the table. “If I’d died last month, I would have regretted not having kids.” He just looked at me. “But you didn’t die last month,” he said. “You have your whole life ahead of you.”
“Yes.” I said. “And I want kids in it. Now.”
“Ohhhhhh-kay,” he said. “Let’s revisit this in a month and see how we all feel.”
That was an interesting month. It was a month in which I’d pretty much walk around and say, “Baby. Baby. Baby. Baby. Baby?” And he’d laugh. And then I’d say, “Baby. Baby. Baby. Baby. Baby. BABY!” and he’d laugh again.
By the February after 9/11, I was pregnant. By March, I’d miscarried.
This baby thing was not as easy as I thought. But that’s another story.
I picked myself up, I finished my dissertation, got my Ph.D., took a trip to Paris, and turned 30. I got a tenure track job, and faced the possibility of not being able to have kids with every month’s blood.
Then . . . in February of 2003 I saw Boo on the monitor for the first time. She was the size of a pea. I carried her to term. Two years later, in 2005, I saw Critter on the monitor for the first time. She was also the size of a pea. They were the most beautiful peas I’d ever seen. And now they are some of the most beautiful souls I know. And I have to say, in some ways, they are my own personal response to 9/11.
So yeah. I’m grateful for them every day, but today I’m grateful because they represent a time in my life when I was sad, and angry, and terrified, and said “No. You will not win. I will not despair. I will fight.”
And though every day I love my kids, thank God for my kids, and tell my kids how grateful I am that they are in my life, on THIS eve of 9/11, when I say it, I’m also saying, in my own New York way: Hey Terrorists. You don’t get to win. Life goes on. America goes on. And how absolutely beautiful we are.