Tag Archives: Parenting

9/11 Made Me Become a Parent

I am a New Yorker, born and raised.  I have lived in the South longer than I’ve lived in New York, but when people ask me where I’m from, I still say that “I’m from New York”. Who doesn’t love the hustle and bustle of the city, the busyness, the fact that there is always something to do at any time of the day or night? If it’s you, then phooey!  I like the sights and sounds, most of the time.  There is no pizza or Chinese food quite like what you can find in the NYC area.  Even with the crimes I’ve witnessed and heard about, the city still holds a bit of magic for me.

It’s through this lens that I experienced what we now know as “9/11”.  It was a Tuesday.  I was in my office, just starting to dig into the issues of the day, when one of the sales people walked in and asked if I had a radio.  I did and turned it on, as my office phone started to ring.  The station was playing a commercial so I asked the sales guy what he was listening for on the radio.  He said he heard something on the way into the office about the Twin Towers in New York.  I tried to change stations but all I got was static.  He left and went to my managers office, probably still searching for verification of the news.

When I checked my phone message, my mother had called with this snippet, “Just wanted you to know that a plane has crashed into one of the Twin Towers”.  My mouth dropped open.  Sales guy was right.  I flipped back to the news channel, the only station I could pick up on the radio.  The reports were coming in – hundreds watched live as a plane aimed for and crashed into one of the two buildings at the World Trade Center (aka the Twin Towers).  As the guy was reporting about it, I could hear the commotion as they exclaimed about another plane crashing into the other building.  I stepped outside my office and the entire place was abuzz.  My teams were talking about it, the department was talking about it – every single person in the office was sharing news as they got it.  We all wondered what it meant.  I know I called a couple of family members in New York, only to get a busy signal on the phone.  I didn’t have anyone’s cell phone numbers; I don’t even remember if I had a cell phone at the time for myself,  I recall walking into my director’s office about 30 minutes later, since he had a small TV in his space.  As I walked in, we watched together as both towers fell to the ground.

This was such a surreal scene.  A wave of emotion washed over me.  I was just there about 3 years prior, standing on top of one of those towers like I was on top of the world.  Now I was watching a part of my world crumble before my eyes.  Some of those same workers that we’d encountered in 1998 had to still be there.  The people in the lobby and at the ticket desk, the guy and lady at the pizza place; I couldn’t believe that thousands of people lost their lives in such a brutal manner.  More reports came in about the airplane attack in DC at the Pentagon, and the plane that was purportedly headed for DC but diverted somewhere in Shanksville, PA.   My husband has family in DC, were they ok.  What about my NY family, why couldn’t I get through to them? What madness was this?  Was the US under attack?  What was going on?

When I got home, I spent the rest of the night listening to and watching any and every news report I could – breaking my own rule about watching TV (same news all the time; somebody lied, somebody died, somebody cried).  I couldn’t help it, there was a magnetic force that kept me glued to the set.  At work the next day, the mood was of course somber.  I’d finally heard from my family members and they were all accounted for.  A cousin recounted how she had just gotten off the train and saw black smoke headed her way with people running, so she ran too.  It was the debris from the collapsing towers.  My godmother, who is Muslim, talked about her daughter-in-law dodging a bullet (figuratively) because she worked at the World Trade Center and was supposed to be at work.  She was scheduled to go in late that Tuesday morning, after her doctor’s appointment to check on her unborn baby. We discovered that my husband’s aunt, who did work at the Pentagon, had actually retired just 4 months prior and wasn’t onsite, but several of her friends were.  So the work atmosphere was not only somber but filled with stories that we saw or heard about.  Our department gathered for a moment of silence and I was asked to pray.  All I can remember saying is that for the people who lost their lives, if they even said “I believe” in their last moments then they were with God, for “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”.  I don’t remember what else I said.  I know I cried.  Again.

That night, Wednesday, was midweek worship at our church.  Some call it bible study, our church at the time called it Wonderful Wednesday Worship.  We attended, for surely we would hear some words that would help us to make sense of this mess.  To hear reports on the news that terrorist groups were claiming victory over this attack, that they might try again, that they were proud of their accomplishments – it was too much to bear.  Surely God, or his representative in the form of our pastor, had some semblance of answer which could return us to normalcy?

Sadly that was not exactly the case.  From what I recall, he made it seem as if the attacks were because of the country’s own two-face dealings with leaders and dignitaries around the world.  Whether there is truth in that statement or not, saying it 24 hours after our world was shaken to its core was probably not the best tactic.  We left feeling more lost than when we entered the sanctuary.

The Big Decision

As the days wore on, we talked about life and death and the meaning of both and our place in this world.  During the first couple of years of marriage, I had been insistent that I wanted to finally finish my degree before we started a family.  That didn’t happen, which is another post for another day.  We weren’t ready either, not during those first 1-3 years.  As we got to years 3 and 4, I remember asking hubby if he thought we were ready and he said no each time.  This was fine with me, because I was still holding onto the dream of completing that degree.  When the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 happened, things shifted…for both of us.

We realized that there is never a right time or right place to have a family, only right intentions.  We always knew we would have a family.  We both had decent jobs with opportunities for advancement.  Patrick had a degree.  We had purchased our home just a couple of years before that dreadful day.  We had updated vehicles.  What, exactly, were we waiting for?  Towards the end of September, early October, we talked about whether it was time.  We each took about a month to give it some serious thought.

A child would change things for us.  No more spontaneous outings.  No more extra dollars to frivolously spend.  No more super late night doing nothing, or a whole lot of something (wink wink).  Now we’re thinking about the pitter patter of little feet and what that really means.  A little person, who will someday become a big person. The scariness, concern, and worry of “doing it right” – raising a baby to young adulthood.  Schools, and friends, hobbies and activities – we’re going to mess him/her up.  No wait, this place is already messed up in so many ways.  And we see that and we know that we’re trying to do our part.  We’re continuously changing and evolving.  We’re not as selfish as we once were, maybe we can raise someone who really cares about somebody other that himself and his immediate needs.  We can shape someone who is certain about her purpose and walks in it fully.  Let’s really thing about this thing.  The privilege, honor, and opportunity to raise someone who would contribute to society and not take away from it.

The decision to become parents would have probably happened within the next year or so of our marriage.  The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 jolted us into action.  We have never looked back.

Grandfathering, a dad’s perspective

Today is National Grandparents Day, which I didn’t know until this morning, but it is so timely since I was thinking about my own grandfather the other day.  I was sharing stories with my sons about what a nice old man he was to me and his other grandchildren yet to the grown ups, he was a crotchety and irritable figure.  If you ask my mother and my aunts about it, they’ll mostly laugh at it as they accept it as him being who he was but, to this day, I can’t picture that side of him.  What I can picture, as my mother has also described, is the hardworking, honest, responsible man who, like other blacks of his day, experienced racism and indignity yet never used it as an excuse to abandon his responsibilities and set a good example for every male in his life.  I remember when my family moved in with him when I was two years old, three years after my grandmother passed away, and he kept the house in immaculate shape, the yard tidy and was always a pleasure to be around.  I always go the sense that being an older man who lived on his own, he not only learned to live independently but got a boost from the love he had for his grandchildren.  I remember whenever he would come to visit  he would bring a bag of candy for me and my sister, a bag of peaches for my parents and staying only five minutes but always making sure me and my sister felt the love.

What did I learn from Granddaddy?  I learned to live my life as a good example to my sons and that when the day comes that I have grandchildren that I learn from whatever mistakes I may make with my own so that I can be the kind of grandfather to them that mine was to me.  To have my grandchildren share the kind of memories with their children that I have of mine would be a true honor but I have to earn that honor.

Another man who is truly earning that honor is my other father.  Like the classic rags to riches story he grew up poor in rural South Carolina, graduated from college, served some time in the Air Force, got a good job, earned his masters degree and ran a successful accounting firm for almost 40 years.  He didn’t believe in religion and my mother was an agnostic so my sister and I didn’t grow up in the church but we were brought up with solid values such as telling the truth, respecting other people and their property and always putting out best face forward.  Daddy wasn’t always the perfect or ideal father (Who is?) as he made his share of mistakes but rather than hold those mistakes against him, I’ve tried to do better.  One thing I remember almost vividly is when I got in a fight with a kid across the street, walked away because I didn’t want to continue fighting, and he kept sending me back to fight him since I needed to toughen up and stand up for myself.  Several years later, after the birth of my older son, I remember being stressed out by him and Daddy calling to talk to me.  He told me about that incident and how he regretted it and I let him know that I didn’t hold that against him and how I planned to raise my son.  I have taught him to stand up for himself in situation when he has to but I wouldn’t force him to fight anyone.  In the times we live in now it is hard because it’s not quite as easy to tell your child to hit someone back when people are shooting and killing each other over senseless things.  Thankfully both my sons know Tae Kwon Do so defending themselves in unarmed confrontation isn’t as much of a worry.  When I see my boys interact with their “Gramps”, I see the growth and learning from past mistakes that I felt when he called me that evening.  When Daddy was running his business he didn’t often find time to spend with me and my sister since he was busy but he makes and effort to spend time with his grandsons every chance he gets.  He also gives plenty of compliments and encouraging words that I didn’t always receive.

I feel that the lessons I learned from my father are valuable in how I raise his grandchildren.  Unlike Daddy I accept Christ as my lord and savior and my sons are being raised to be Christian men but like my father, their mother and I try to instill basic values of honesty, respect for others and the value of hard work in them.  Like my father I try to be a good provider and an example of a hard working may who has his family’s back but I try to give positive reinforcement on a more regular basis.  I already see the same relationship with my sons and both their grandfathers, the other nicknamed “Pops” that I had with mine and it makes my heart jump.

My sons are rare in that they have all four grandparents surviving and living in close proximity and their interactions with all four, who have four different personalities and ways of doing things, are amazing.  I have learned so much about the kind of father I want to be and not to be, the kind of grandfather I want to be and not to be, from both but especially my own father and grandfather and I am blessed for that.  My father’s own personal growth and evolution is an influence on me and so are the memories of my grandfather.  I am in no hurry to be anyone’s grandfather right now but when that moment does come, this granddaddy will be totally up for the challenge.