HOW THE CHILDREN HELP

HOW THE CHILDREN HELP

From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

How the Children Help

When I woke up on the morning of September 11, it was to the sound of my mother crying, “My God, we’re being attacked!”

By the time I reached the kitchen, most of my family was in tears, sitting around my sister’s radio as the news interrupted her usual morning music. In the living room, the children who attended our in-home daycare sat huddled around the TV where they usually get to watch educational morning programs. That day, it was different. The cartoons had been interrupted by emergency broadcast news reports and dark images of smoke, rubble and pain. For the first time in my history of working with children, not one of them complained or cried for us to change the channel (news is “boring,” you know). No, this time they all sat, staring intently at the screen. They obviously could feel the seriousness of that particular news broadcast.

When the image of the towers crumbling to the ground glowed from that gruesome screen, all the children turned to check the reaction on my face before looking back at the television. Not one of them made a sound the entire time, and I tried my best to hide any expressions of being upset. For their sakes, I smiled.

After skipping channels for an eternity, all I found were dark images of the many distraught people, smoke and rubble. I turned on a movie instead; I think it was Bambi. As I sat down on the couch, I immediately found myself buried by all seven children, from one to three years old.

That night, after all the children had been picked up, I went down to my local Red Cross to donate blood. I was amazed by the scene. The line was out the door, and the employees and volunteers were turning people away. Unable to donate blood, I returned nightly with a plate of homemade brownies, cookies or cupcakes to hand out to the donors.

The children loved baking “goodies” for the “people helping to save all the people that got hurt from the airplane crashes.” It was not our job to explain what terrorists were, and the children wouldn’t understand anyway, but they did know that planes had crashed and people were hurt, and they wanted to help more than anything. We baked every day, and each night I brought what we made to the people waiting to donate blood.

The children also made thank-you cards for the donors, and I handed them out with brownies one night. One elderly gentleman waiting in the line cried when I gave him his brownie and card. He had lost his daughter and granddaughter on one of the flights. I didn’t know what to do other than to hug him and cry with him. Everyone else in the line began to cry, too. After a few minutes, we all wiped away our tears and started talking, sharing stories and finding common ground. They shared their cards with each other, smiled at the children’s pictures and misspelled thank-yous and condolences. By the time I left, many were gathered around the elderly gentleman, arms around him, pointing out details on his thank-you cards.

On Thursday we received word of an assembly being organized for Friday afternoon. We were invited to gather in a local park to show our patriotism and support for the rescuers back East. We asked permission from the parents to attend. On Friday morning the children were dropped off wearing flag shirts and red, white and blue dresses. They had patriotic ribbons tied in their hair and around their wrists. One parent had even painted a T-shirt for her three-year- old to wear. It had a giant American flag on the front and in huge red, white and blue letters on the back it said, “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN.” The little boy seemed very excited to be wearing it. He was determined to walk backward the whole time in case a camera was there; he wanted the world to read his shirt.

We baked cookies, packed a big picnic lunch, then went outside to decorate the three strollers most of the children would be riding in to the event. We used streamers and flags, cardboard cutouts and ribbon. We even had some beach towels with American flags on them that we used as blankets for the children’s laps. With these strollers, holding two children each, we looked like a regular parade! As we passed houses on the way to the park, people came out to ask where we were headed in such glory, and each person we told grabbed the flag from the front of their house and joined us. It was a regular marathon of people and strollers, all carrying flags. We filled that park and overwhelmed the organizers.

I can’t describe that entire afternoon, other than that we sang “God Bless America” four times, and the kids were more intent on waving their flags than eating their lunches. To top it all off, the elderly man from the Red Cross was there! He came and shared our picnic with us. I had been so worried that seeing the children might upset him, and I nearly clenched my teeth when they all ran up to shake his hand. They took a liking to him immediately, and they were all very excited to have him sit with us. In fact, they all offered their cookies to him.

He spoke to the children about the plane crashes, and told them that his daughter and granddaughter were on one of them. The children listened, and one little girl even asked, “Oh, you’re a grandpa?” Instead of crying, as I thought he might, he smiled and the children hugged him. The three-year-old boy showed him his T-shirt, a little girl told him that it’s happier in heaven than it is here, and a two-year-old offered the man her juice cup. Just as he was leaving, the little girl who spoke so highly of heaven shook his hand and said, “You know, even if they’re both in heaven, you’ll still always be a grandpa and a daddy.” He smiled as he walked away.

Even though children feel the losses, they somehow know what is needed to go on. How lucky I am to work with such healers!

Ann Marguerite Swank
Edited by Joyce Schowalter

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Reprinted with permission of The Journal News. ©2001 The Journal News.

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