You know you’re in trouble when only one cup of coffee into the morning, your six-year-old kid asks, “Mommy, when the twin towers crumbled in New York City, did babies die?”
I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and wiser or if Dylan is older and wiser, but although I had no idea where the question came from, I felt comfortable – confident, even – answering it.
I’m actually not sure if any babies died on 9-11, but I’d like to believe none did, so I said, “No, sweetie. The buildings that fell were full of grown ups. The twin towers were a place where grown ups went to work. Babies were at home and kids were at school.”
“Were people on fire?” he asked.
“The buildings were on fire,” I said, “so yes, I believe some people were probably on fire.”
Then, “How did the buildings catch fire?”
This is where I lost my footing. Dylan loves super hero movies that are filled with action, destruction, and good guys and bad guys. He understands the concept of good and evil in movies. But in real life, I really, truly, didn’t want to tell him that the reason the twin towers were on fire was because airplanes flew into them. Airplanes flown by bad guys who purposely hit the buildings filled with innocent people to cause fear, harm, death and destruction.
I was afraid if I answered his question, he’d fear tall buildings or airplanes or both or worse. But, if I didn’t answer his question, it would’ve been awkward, like he time he asked me how babies were made and I froze because I had no idea how to answer without lying or explaining sex, neither of which seemed like a good option. In that situation, I was saved by Dylan himself when he interrupted my panicked silence with, “I know, Mommy, babies are made by a baby machine inside women’s bellies.” Who was I to argue with him?
This kid is chock full of curiosity and difficult questions, especially about death. The evening before, while watching “Bedtime Stories” with Adam Sandler, Dylan asked me, “Who are your uncles? Are they dead?” (In the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is an uncle.) And then, “What are your grandparents names? Are they dead?” (Adam Sandler’s character’s father dies in the beginning of the movie.) I answered openly and honestly as I had many times before. “I have an Uncle Richie and an Uncle David. Richie is alive, but David is dead, so he’s in my heart.” And then the grandparents. “Their names are Dorothy and Leo, and Arnold and Ruth. Yes, they are dead. They’ve been gone for a long time, but I carry them with me inside my heart.”
“How did they die?” He asked.
“Dorothy, Leo, and Ruth died because they were old and very sick,” I said.
And then I veered into new territory because I had never before told him how Arnold died. “Arnold died in a car accident. He was old, too, but he was healthy. His car was hit by a truck, and that’s how he died. That’s why it’s so important that we wear seatbelts in the car.”
Dylan asked, “Why didn’t he just stay home?”
I said, “Well, he must’ve had somewhere to go. He didn’t know he was going to get hit by a car.”
He said, “Mommy, I don’t want you to ever die?”
I said, “I don’t ever want to die either. Let’s keep each other in our hearts always. Okay?”
He said, “Okay.”
Then, we finished the movie (while I obsessed about just how freaking much I loved my children).
Back to the next morning. Back to the twin towers. Back to, “How did the buildings catch fire?” Before I had a chance to say anything (or nothing), Riley called from the other room, “Mommy, come quick! I peed in my pants!” This time I was saved by Riley, who did, indeed, pee in his pants. On the floor. In the bathroom. Next to the toilet.
Perhaps I should thank Riley for his perfectly timed accident…but I won’t.