Monday, September 23, 2013

A Weekend of Remembrance

As parents, it's important to teach our children about the past -- whether that be news events of wide importance or their families' histories. This past weekend I took my sons to Connecticut and New York on just such an educational trip.

Christopher was invited to sing in a concert benefiting the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims. The concert took place at a festival called "Light the Sky with Light and Love for Sandy Hook Elementary Angels" in Portland, Connecticut, outside Hartford. Since the event had been postponed twice due to flooding of the field where it was to be held and continued wet conditions, we were beyond excited to finally be able to attend and give something back toward the worthy cause.

My older son sang a song called 26 Angels with four other kids, one guitarist, and one adult singer. Recorded last year over our holiday break, 26 Angels has been viewed 23,408 times on YouTube. The original group was comprised of twenty boys and girls, five adult musicians, and singer/songwriter Justin Cohen representing the twenty first graders and six school employees killed in the attack. (See "26 Angels," 12/26/12.) But everyone is very busy this time of year, so just six of the original twenty-six made it down to Portland.

My son understood why he was singing. I explained the December 14 tragedy to him. He is very mature for his age, so I felt he could handle the news with just the right amount of anger and compassion. And he did.

I did not tell my younger son who was the same age as the child victims, however. (See "Psychologically Protecting Kids: One Size Does Not Fit All," 12/16/12.) To this day, I have still not told him. It's just too darn god-awful for a child of seven to learn of a rampage on children of six and seven.

So the question became: How could I, a full-time single mother without readily available weekend child care, bring Charlie along to the audio recording and video recording sessions and Saturday's concert? Fortunately, I figured it out. I dropped off Chris at the first two then whisked Charlie off to Starbucks to play Hangman and Market Basket to pick up chicken wings. He entertained himself in a bounce house this past weekend.

Charlie whirls around in his own world. He seeks out gratification through physical means. Thus, he kept himself busy jumping; climbing an inflatable slide; riding the carnival swings, kiddie roller coaster, spinning metal tubs, and race cars; and eating snacks. He did not ask questions. The event was just a country fair to him. Still, I was relieved for his sake that more blatant reminders of the tragedy were not thrust in front of him.

Though Charlie is not as inquisitive as Christopher -- of course, he is almost two and a half years younger -- he did recently pose a question that startled me. "What is 9/11?" he asked as I watched Today before school on September 11. Thinking a moment, I decided to give him the news.

Fast forward to this past weekend: Following the Sandy Hook concert, we continued on to Stamford to spend the night. The next morning, yesterday, we parked in the Darien train station lot and rode Metro-North into New York City because Charlie was auditioning for Benetton in the back of a downtown wine shop.

Indeed, it's a long haul to journey to the Big Apple for a five-minute photo shoot! On the other hand, a one-day trip to the city and back home to northeastern Massachusetts does not allow for much sightseeing. So I have resolved to hit up just one tourist attraction when we go.

As we had back in March, the first time my younger son tried out to model for the global fashion brand along with DKNY Kids, we strolled up to the nearby South Street Seaport to have lunch. But this time we were disappointed to find the Pier 17 pavilion all but closed save for one cafe. The mall building, depressingly empty as a ghost town, is slated to be torn down and rebuilt.

Argh. Onto Plan B. We ate barbecued chicken on skewers from a street vendor. Thinking fast on my feet, I decided on Ground Zero. The former site of the Twin Towers was just across town, and both of my sons now knew about the events of 9/11. The time was right, and the weather was perfect.

The 9/11 Memorial was incredibly moving, highly secure -- though I read today that a Milwaukee woman attempted to bring a loaded gun inside yesterday, the day we were there! -- and very busy on a sunny and warm Sunday in September. Passing through airport-like security, I pointed out to Charlie three large photographs on the wall. The top one showed the World Trade Center before the terrorist attack. The middle one showed an aerial view right after; the bottom image, as it looks today in the process of reconstruction. Overhearing my explanation to my young son, a woman in front of me turned around and praised my parenting skills. (Let me tell you: it never gets old to be lauded doing the hardest job in the world, especially after a very rough week as mine had been.)

Mid-afternoon we caught a train back to Darien, my hometown, and picked up the car. I had thought about trying to meet up with a relative living in Fairfield County, yet I hadn't made advance plans. Plus, we really didn't have time. I considered taking the boys to the cemetery where my parents are interred in the urn garden, but that would have been just too Claire Dunphy-morbid following the Sandy Hook concert and 9/11 Memorial! So I drove them to Tokeneke, the beautiful club on Long Island Sound that my parents belonged to during my growing-up years.

I half-expected to be stopped at the entrance for trespassing by the Tokeneke area police force. (Yes, you read that right. The neighborhood has its own very small force!) Thankfully, I was not.

Charlie ran to the water's edge to look for crabs. Meanwhile, I took Christopher to the pool where I swam on the team, the locker area where my mother and I changed our clothes, the tennis courts where I played in tournaments, the sailing area where I taught myself how to windsurf, and the dining room where my parents and I occasionally ate. I showed Chris old club photos dating back about a century, including one from 1972 featuring a girl I knew.

We left Darien around 5 p.m. It was a long, slow drive back to our home on Cape Ann. I missed half the Emmy Awards on TV, but that was pretty unimportant. We'd had a great time and a very smooth trip for once. It was really wonderful to spend the weekend away having fun with my sons -- each getting his own special activity -- and teaching Christopher and Charlie about momentous current events and my childhood all at the same time.

When you take the time to share the world -- the one you grew up in and the one they may not understand -- your children will be better off for it. They will feel more connected to the universe and their own family, and they will gain a keener understanding of who they are as individuals.

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