The ride to bring my older daughter to school each morning is approximately 50 minutes long (without traffic). That offers us a lot of time to chat. Usually she is teaching me songs she either learned at school (…and the green grass grew all around and around!) or made up (…we just passed seven mailboxes and never did I ever see a purple one oh myyyyyy!). Sometimes we just listen to the radio and sometimes we have actual conversations. Yes, this still blows my mind. She’s four and a real person with opinions and feelings and hopes and aversions to things like getting up early in the morning.
This morning I heard her little voice pipe up from the back seat, “Hm. That’s strange.” Curious, I took the bait. “What’s strange, Liv?”
I wasn’t expecting the following response. “We’ve passed many flags already and none of them are smiling. I think it’s because they are only half to the top of the flagpole. They are all half to the top.”
Then, the dreaded, “Why?”
I didn’t really have time to contemplate how I could or should attempt to explain the reason behind all of our American flags being flown at half-mast. I didn’t think I’d be spending this morning giving my preschooler a lesson on terror, fear, hatred, anguish, pain, patriotism, heroism and loss. I didn’t think we’d yet be discussing 9/11.
I hadn’t even had coffee yet. I didn’t want to get this wrong (though, I’m not sure there is a right way?), but I didn’t want to avoid answering her because she deserved an explanation.
“Well,” I started. “You’re right. The flags are sad.”
“I could tell,” she said, knowingly. “But, why are they sad?”
“There is a day each year when we come together as one big family to remember something very sad that happened to people we loved not so long ago.”
She was silent for a moment, considering this. “So people use our flag to show it? Like when I’m sad, I show it with tears?”
“Kind of, yes,” I replied, deciding that the sex talk will be CAKE after this. Good grief. She asked me if we used the American flag because America was sad. I told her that, yes, America and many other people around the whole world were sad, but also full of love. So full of love.
I never really explained what actually happened on that day 12 years ago that leaves so many of us with missing pieces of our hearts, but I know I will. What I most wanted her to know at age four is how much love surrounds us.
She hummed quietly to herself for about fifteen minutes more before she said, “Whenever I am sad, a hug helps.”
Me, too, baby girl. As you all go about your lives, when things are difficult, know that we are here, wishing you love and so many hugs.