It began as any other fall day; that gorgeous blue sky and beautiful temperatures. In Montgomery County, MD, just outside the nation’s capital, we were already into our third week of school in my 5th grade class. It was my student Shannon’s birthday, so as students filed in right around 9 am, we wished her a happy birthday and got started on our morning routines.
A little after 9 am, while students were still sharpening pencils and turning in homework, my principal came in and whispered in my ear, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center in NY. They believe it was intentional. Don’t say anything to your students.” In my naïveté, I wondered what any of this had to do with us. Then, Kirsten was called down to the office to go home. It was barely 9:15. School had just begun. We had just finished saying the Pledge of Allegience. Still, not making the connection myself, I said to my confused student, “maybe you have a dentist appointment.” She had no idea why her mother was picking her up.
As the morning wore on, more students were picked up to go home. Each student confused as to why they were leaving. Sometime around 9:45 or 10, we had music or art. As we walked down the hall to their special, we noticed a long line of parents coming out of the office, waiting to pick up their child(ren). My students wondered out loud why there were so many parents waiting at the office. I simply told them, “I don’t know.”
I dropped my students at their special and walked straight to the phone. I tried calling my husband, who was working in Baltimore that day. A major city in between Washington D.C. and NYC, I thought. I could not reach him. I consistently got an “all circuits are busy.” How are the circuits busy on a cell phone? I wondered. I called my mother next. Finally, I was able to get in touch with a family member. My mom explained to me that they thought it was a terrorist attack. At that point the Pentagon had been hit and Flight 93 had gone down in Shanksville.
Reeling from this information, I went back to my classroom and turned on my radio. Peter Jennings was broadcasting the news on the radio. Peter Jennings. I grew up watching Peter on TV. I had never heard him on the radio before. Peter didn’t broadcast on the radio. Finally, the enormity of everything sank in. I understood why my students were leaving. All I wanted to do was get home to my husband, whom I couldn’t even get in touch with. But, I had a job to do. I had to take care of my kids. And, I had to do so by acting as if everything were “normal.”
Since so many parents were picking up their children all over the county, and since we were so close to the Pentagon, our Superintendent announced that we would release early. They also decided to let us have September 12 off. When we returned to school on September 13, we were told to have a meeting with our students to discuss the events of the last several days. Lauren told me that she was mad at me. When I asked why, she said, “because you didn’t tell us anything.” I explained that I was told not to, that it was up to their parents to hold them tight and tell them about the events of the day. But, it made me realize that my ten year olds (the age my youngest child is now) lost a piece of their childhood that day. How I wish I could have given it back to them.
I was a young wife in 2001, and did not have children of my own yet. The students in my class that year, they were my children. And the memories of that day will forever be ingrained in my heart.