Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hmmm.  No longer available. I wonder why...


I Feel Better Now.

Finding Peace on 9/11

I awoke in a foul mood. I was mad about my backache, my kid’s lost homework, and the dog. Everything costs money. There is so much work to do. I would never catch up. 

When I dropped my son off at school,  he said, “ I love you, Mom."

I went home, did the dishes, lit a candle, said a prayer.

What the heck, Jesus? Help me. Help me. Help me.
That was my prayer.

I was crying pretty hard, when I heard: “It’s 9/11.”

Oh. I stopped crying.

It is 9/11.

I bet a lot of people are feeling angry right now. And sad.  And overwhelmed. I stopped crying. Why did that bring me comfort? I'm not sure.

I remembered a dream I had several years ago:

I was going through a lunch line in the basement of some building where my husband was working as a cook. 

He plated up a runny dish of spaghetti and red sauce and handed it to me. 

I looked at the plate.

 “Jeez. Can’t you do better than that? Look at this, it’s a mess!” 

The juices were running all over the plate. It didn’t look very appetizing.

My husband plated up another dish of spaghetti for me and before he handed it to me, his supervisor came over and stood next to us and said, “This time, why don’t you tell him WHAT HE DID RIGHT.”

My husband handed me the plate. This one was a little less runny. I was not pleased, but looked over at the imperious supervisor who peered at me over horn-rimmed glasses.

“Um. Thanks for cooking this for me?” I managed to say. 

The spaghetti lacked the cohesion I expected from a plate of normal spaghetti. I tried to appear grateful.

As I took my plate, I turned to to the right and found myself looking up an imposing flight of stairs (lower level of the Bryan Center at Duke). At the top of the stair, I saw the twin towers looming.

This shocked me.  9/11 had well passed.

Then I heard the message in my head, “If you don’t change your attitude, it will happen again.”

What? Me??? Complaining about a plate of spaghetti? To my husband? C’mon.

But the image was startling. Ominous. Perhaps small, day-to-day interactions had more power and resonance and importance than I realized. Maybe it was time to cut everyone (myself included) some slack.

Just a dream.

I did not tell my child about 9/11 for six years.

He was 2 years old when it occurred. It was never spoken of in my home. I turned off the news when it was mentioned.

When we flew again six months after the attack, my husband who has a beard and swarthy looks and my son, who was wearing white Stride Rite shoes, were pulled out of the boarding lineup to be frisked and asked to remove their shoes, after all passengers with small children were invited to come to the front of the line. As my husband removed my son’s tiny shoes at the request of the ticket agent, I cried knowing that life on this planet and in this country would be different for him – in a way that I did not wish for and could not control.

My father saw the attacks occur on the top of a Manhattan skyscraper, while eating breakfast at the company café. He and thousands of others walked silently from their office buildings out of the city. All heading in the same direction – over the 3rd Avenue Bridge, into Harlem, where the news had not yet traveled and where children were still out on the sidewalks playing in the sun; children who watched hordes of men and women in business suits, wing-tipped shoes, and sneakers walking in silence away from their city. When I asked my dad if he felt it wise to return to the city, after the buildings were reopened a week or two after the attacks, he said, “We can’t let the bastards win.” I wasn’t sure who the bastards were. Still not sure.

When my son was finally old enough, in my mind, for me to go on a Girl’s Night Out, with the other mother’s in my son’s playgroup, we went to a big fancy sports bar and grill in the new mall. As we sat and our drinks were ordered, a news flash came on the screen. Night vision images of “Shock and Awe” – the American invasion– came on the screen. Soon the restaurant went quiet as everyone watched this sneak attack invasion. Our boys were less than three years old. Now we were at war. I could not order from the menu. I'd lost my appetite. 

My son learned about 9/11 when he was being tutored for reading afterschool. It was the beginning of third grade. He wasn’t a super terrific reader yet; his fluency as a reader was patchy. Our tutor was a Mets fan, an expert at teaching reading, and had the best reward stickers collection. “Oh, by the way, I mentioned 9/11 to Nick and he didn’t know what I was talking about. So I explained and quickly realized that you hadn’t told him yet. I’m sorry.” I was sorry, too.

Was denying 9/11’s existence the best way for me to keep it from existing in my child’s world? Probably not. But I soft-pedaled the story when I got home. Some bad men from far away flew a plane into the towers and it fell down and a lot of people died. The bad men died also. It was very sad. End of story.

It is still sad. It will always be sad. I feel angry about how sad it will be and for how long.
My pre-9/11 world is gone. Thousands of people have died around the world because of that one event. Fear descended upon the land. But so did sympathy and compassion.

Rather than march, wave a flag, or raise an angry fist, get out the Kleenex box. It’s ok to cry.

Today I am celebrating the strength of the human heart. How easily a heart can be broken. How it keeps on breaking. How much courage it takes to get up in the morning and say, “This is some soggy spaghetti. Thank you. Let’s eat.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Confucius for the New Millennium

Confucius (BC 551 - BC 479) was a Chinese politician, teacher, editor, and social philosopher. While his words ring true today, I have modernized his teachings for parents of the new millennium:
 If one cannot resist a marshmallow at three, the trust fund will be spent by 30.

Child who embraces invented spelling is a genius; parent who embraces invented
spelling is an idiot.

Child who does not answer cellphone will soon lose cellphone.

Aspirations: Thank you notes to elders, modest texts to friends, eye contact with parents.

Harboring no displeasure at being FaceBook unfriended, is it not gentlemanly?

Meeting a second cousin at sleep away camp ‐‐ is it not delightful?

Table manners and etiquette classes may impart mobility but seldom nobility.

My student is filial and deferential at home, fraternal with others, and seeking service
for his college applications; energy permitted, he will learn piano.

Rare is the child who keeps a neat room and forgets his lunch money.

A fool studies for the pop quiz but not for EOGs* (End‐of‐Grade Exams).

Child who Skypes with grandparents on Saturday, empties dishwasher on Sunday, and
fails exam on Monday – he is still a wise a child, even if his GPA does not reflect it.

Child who gets what he wants is good‐natured, respectful and discreet; he is not like his

A gentleman who does not present himself with dignity will not be given the keys to the

Be unafraid to use an eraser.

Be unafraid to show your work.

Realize that none of your friends are inferior to you; it just looks that way.

For a yet‐to‐be‐thrown keg party, think carefully to its end, and think long about its
consequences. Upon these practices the neighborhood association’s virtues are built.

Son has the right to offer his opinion; parent has the right to ignore it.

All are welcome to be taught, as long as they have internet access.

When Mother and Father answer differently, it is wise to stop asking.

Write with simplicity, directness, and economy of words. This does not mean dropping
your vowels.

Truth may hurt, but a lie will hurt more if you are grounded.

A gentleman is without worry or fear; he is on medication.

Be without criticism until you have cleaned your room and taken out the garbage.

Worry not that you have only 350 Facebook friends; worry that you haven’t written
your book report.

The quarterback is praised not for his vigor, but for winning the science fair.

At play, match your peers; at church, you have to wear a shirt with a collar.

Shortcut to wisdom is long; read the book.

Rules of love are many, but above all, do not hit on your sister’s friends.

It is one thing to feed the dogs and another to get the kibble in the bowl.

To raise your hand in Algebra when you are lost and to admit it – this is knowledge.

To see that the toilet paper roll should be changed and not to do it is to want of courage.

Express your joy in moderation; express your grief without totally freaking out.

The bus has passed without you on it; it is needless to blame; go out and find your own

How to play the violin may be known; at the commencement of the piece all parts
should sound together; but this is often not the case, not even at a Suzuki recital.

Head cheerleader might be perfectly beautiful and perfectly nice; on the other hand, she
may not.

The man who does not parkour, seldoms breaks his wrist.

If a man in selecting a locker location does not fix upon whether the owners of the
lockers beside him have PMS, how can he be wise?

If the will be set on virtue, there will be no practice of lacrosse inside the house.

He who acts with much view to his own advantage will be much discussed at Parent‐
Teacher conference.

It is better to miss the yearbook picture for “Smartest” while in library studying, rather
than to not know where the library is.

When the classroom has a teacher, talent will not be wasted; when the class has a
substitute, there will be many candidates for penalty and punishment.

One appears more noble if one keeps one’s trap shut.

He on the longboard is more courageous than I. But he lacks judgment.

Do good deeds; but what good are they if you do not post them on Twitter so that you
may be praised?

Your friends may not Like your status post, but take no heed; your great uncle in Des
Moines will.

 --- Amy C. Spaulding is the publisher of Sleepy Hollow Books, an educational publishing
company for the middle grades based in Durham, North Carolina. You can reach her at: