On Sept. 11, 2001 my children were seven, three and two and we were living on East 83rd St. in New York City.
That morning my daughter was still adjusting to second grade. My 3-year-old was on Long Island with his grandparents and scheduled to return with his grandmother by train that afternoon. My husband was at work in midtown and I was home with my 2-year-old son preparing to take him to the park on what was a stunning morning.
It’s funny the details that stand out clear as day even 10 years later.
The thick southern accent of the lady from The Company Store from whom I was placing a phone order for sheets and pillowcases as she inquired when I gave my address, “New York City? Do you know what’s going on up there?”
No, I didn’t.
“A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” she exclaimed.
Ever the jaded New Yorker, I assumed a propeller plane and even marveled that it had taken this long for such an event to occur.
“No, Ma’m, a jet – I think it was a 727.”
That was enough to get me to turn on the TV.
It’s amazing how we try and rationalize things we are unable to fully process. I remember watching live as the second plane approached the towers and thinking it must be coming to help. And still not ready to grasp the truth, assuming when it struck, along with the newscaster on my TV, an air traffic controller malfunction. The newscaster's fellow anchor swiftly and assertively declaring, “No, this is terrorism.”
Although unaware of exactly what was occurring, when the Pentagon was hit, I felt with chilling certainty that the world as I knew it was shifting before my eyes.
Struck by a palatable sensation of vulnerability and cold, hard fear, it felt in hindsight like entering a state of alternate reality.
Phoning and advising my mother-in-law to stay put and my husband to come home, I buckled my 2-year-old into his stroller and hurriedly ran the three blocks to my daughter’s school where a group of other parents had already gathered in the lobby insisting that their children be brought down immediately.
I asked my daughter, now 17, if she recollected anything from that morning.
“I remember being taken out of school early, without explanation, and then seeing a crowd of frantic parents in the school lobby," she said. “It was a hectic scene, and before I knew it I was atop an apartment building seeing the smoke from the towers.”
Although tempted to remain glued to the TV, I made the decision to keep the news away from the kids and took them to our neighborhood playground.
Normally filled with dozens of fellow mothers and nannies, that day despite the glorious sunshine, I found myself alone with merely two other mothers.
The playground is situated off the east river and as regular visitors we had grown accustomed to the daily sights and sounds of The Circle Line, luxury yachts, cargo boats and jet skis.
That day, it was eerie and quiet save for the succession of frighteningly low fighter jets that periodically roared past as the children played unknowingly.
“It seemed like our whole sense of security disappeared that morning,” recalled parent Andrea Glickson, a New York City resident.
“I was a stay-at-home mom at the time,” continued Andrea “and I was so grateful to be close by to both children’s schools, in case of another emergency. I think it was six months before I left the immediate neighborhood during the school day.”
Despite reassurance that my 3-year-old was quite safe and probably even better off with his grandparents on Long Island, the feeling that it was imperative for our whole family to be together during this crises was fierce and unrelenting.
On Sept. 12, his dad made his way onto the Long Island Railroad, and brought him home.
Although the memories from that day remain clear, there is one that to this day remains especially vivid and poignant.
That evening, our family took the half-block stroll back to the playground – a playground we had been frequenting almost every day and evening for over eight years. It was our “back yard.”
In those eight years I had never witnessed (and would not again witness in the two remaining years we spent in the city) such an occurrence.
The park was not only uncharacteristically crowded for that time of evening, it was swarming. Swarming not with the usual mothers and nannies, however, but with families - in fact I did not see one nanny. (Remember, this was the upper-East-Side.)
Even more remarkable, these families were actually playing together - and enjoying it. Having logged countless hours in that playground I can attest that the event we observed that night was not the norm.
Fathers decked in suits shouting whoops of delight as they slid down the slide with their children, mothers and fathers in the sandbox scooping and dumping with their toddlers, grown men and women darting around the park in games of tag and these same parents, many clearly straight from work in their business attire, climbing up jungle gyms as if they were 10-years-old.
It seemed as if these parents were compelled, as I too was compelled, to come together as a family during this time, not just physically but in mind and spirit as well.
For one evening, despite the fear and distress we all felt, parents were reminded of what a privilege it is to be a parent and how delicate and fleeting life can be. Laying aside the fear and distress, at least temporarily, we chose to forgo the grocery shopping, cooking, homework, bedtime routines and yearnings to keep up with the news.
Rather than mourning what we lost, we chose for a few hours in that playground to celebrate what we had and what we cherished most.