31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Learning To Live In A New World

Single with Children: Tragic reality slowly sinking in

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 09/26/01

We've all heard that "seeing is believing.'' I must tell you that I had real issues with my eyes last week as they relayed the video broadcast on all the networks of an airplane flying purposefully into a building filled with unwitting people guilty of nothing more than appearing for work. I saw it, indeed, how could I miss it? It was replayed over and over and over. But even with the passage of time, I still find it so impossible to believe.

The morning of Sept. 11, I had arranged to go into work a little later in the day so that I could go with my daughter to complete the proper paperwork that would reflect her new status as an 18-year-old adult. A milestone. We were even going to celebrate with lunch before she returned to school and I returned to my office. I was sitting in my kitchen, mindlessly sipping my second cup of coffee when the cable station interrupted its scheduled programming to transmit the horrible images my mind still cannot believe. It was one of those "where were you?'' moments destined to define the life of every American.

When Katie arrived home about an hour after the horror began, she was already aware that life was changing in ways none of us could ever have imagined. The ebullient smile that she had left the house wearing that morning was gone when she joined me in the kitchen. We sat there and stared, transfixed by the images unfolding in another part of our country. Katie had been working hard on overcoming her fear of flying, and I saw all of that hard work and determination dissolved by a handful of people with a bone to pick with America. It's a strange condition to feel shocked, sad, and angry all at the same time but my emotions were all over the map. They haven't quite calmed down yet, but the reality is slowly sinking in.

In the days that have passed since my generation's "Day of Infamy,'' I have been equally surprised, in a much more positive way, at some of the aftereffects I have witnessed in my own neighborhood. Flags have sprung up everywhere. My kids, who had never before lobbied me to fly Old Glory, were intent on displaying the colors that represent the country of our birth. As I drove by the high school my son and daughter attend, I was touched to see so many T-shirts and backpacks adorned with images of patriotism. Prayer services and flickering candles have sprung up everywhere. Suddenly, there is a desire to show our collective display of support for America, even among the most trendy of adolescents and teen-agers. It's touching.

Which brings me to the question of "what do we tell the children?'' I'm still rolling this one around in my mind because each new day of revelations and talk of military retribution brings fresh queries. I have noticed a renewed interest in my kids' need to keep in closer contact with their father, who lives on the other side of the United States. Though communication before Sept. 11 was casual and uneventful, I've noticed that my son in particular has a need to talk with his Dad. I believe this isn't simply natural, but absolutely necessary.

We learned, in a matter of a few hours last week, that nothing ever can be taken for granted again. As the three of us watch the news in the evening, my kids are not only watching the network anchors, they also are watching me. How I react affects how they feel. It's natural for our kids to mirror their parents' behavior, and I'm trying to ensure that I give them something worth emulating. It's difficult and there are no real ground rules for this situation the terrorists have handed us. Dr. Spock never covered the subject of "parenting your kids following an unspeakable act of violence.'' I miss the fact that I don't have an "in house'' adult to consult on these matters, but that doesn't relieve me of the fact that I must handle it to the very best of my ability.

In recent days, my kids and I find ourselves in each other's company much more than we did at the beginning of the month. We talk more. I listen as they express their outrage, their compassion, and I swallow hard as I listen to their fears. We are finding strength in simply being near each other. The concept of family will no doubt continue to take on a much more powerful and essential meaning in the weeks, months and probably years to come. And just as we've been astonished and appalled at the unspeakable acts of violence visited upon our nation, we have been even more heartened and touched by the outpouring of love, support and generosity of our fellow citizens in rising to the occasion. There is much comfort in reading and focusing on the good.

As a parent of teen-agers who, by virtue of their age, are more knowledgeable and "news'' savvy, courtesy of the television and Internet, I can't tuck them in at night and promise that everything is going to be all right. They know my power isn't nearly as formidable as they believed it to be when they were 6 or even 12. What I can do, however, is give them reasons to remain strong, optimistic and focused on the things that we can control in our everyday life.

As human beings we had become a little complacent about God and country and things like flying the flag. With the wake-up call we experienced a few days ago, we've taken a more focused approach to the power of prayer and the great fortune of living in a country where we can practice our beliefs. The only thing I can promise my kids, at the end of the day, is that the God who's been with us from the beginning, when things rocked along so well we didn't even notice, will serve us well in these days when things aren't going along so well. Just as we've unfurled the flag and other symbols of belief in our country, we've decided the Bible is much more valuable open, rather than gathering dust on the shelf.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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