September 24, 2001

Badge of Courage

Earlier today Rachel and I took her nieces, ages two and a half and nearly five, to the Children’s Museum in Manhattan. The girls have been staying with their parents and infant brother in a midtown hotel while waiting to return to their Battery Park apartment, which was evacuated on the day of the attack and remains off-limits. The whole family has been stressed – shuttling from one place to another, scrambling to buy replacement clothes, dealing with the emotional fall-out – so Rachel and I offered to entertain the girls for a few hours and give their parents a breather.

The museum was fun. We sat in a room packed with kids and listened to a hyper-enthusiastic three-person group perform upbeat songs about spaghetti and dinosaurs. Then we indulged in a succession of arts & crafts projects, all of which involved glue and brightly-colored bits of paper and fabric and plastic. I can’t complain, really, and the girls were precious.

Well, I can complain, because one of the projects involved the production of a “badge of courage” for a local police officer or firefighter.

A thirtyish father sat at the same table as us, making the nicest badge you can imagine, with evenly drawn red and white stripes and lots of silver stars. It even had the words THANK YOU written across the top with what I took to be his own personal blue marker. Many similar badges were prominently displayed in the middle of room, hanging on a string strung in front of a sign that said THANK YOU in big letters.

The girls sat glueing things to other things. The oldest, Sydney, announced that her badge was for her mother, whereupon her sister, Hannah, announced that hers was for her father. Then each requested another piece of paper so they could make one for the other parent. When the badges were done, Rachel and I punched holes in each and tied blue or red string through the holes. The girls had us attach them to their wrists so they could wear them as bracelets. As we were leaving, one of the museum people noticed the bracelets and asked Sydney if she wanted her badges hung up with the others. She declined, saying that this one was for her mother and that one for her father. Hannah followed suit.

In the cab back to the hotel Sydney correctly identified various New York landmarks on a map affixed to the back of the driver’s seat – the Statue of Liberty, LaGuardia Airport, the Empire State Building. Then she put her finger on the World Trade Center and said, “These are the buildings that crashed.”

Sydney was at kindergarden when the planes hit, just two blocks from the towers. When she pointed at them on the map, I thought of something she told Rachel about that day: “That was my worst day of kindergarden ever” (it was her fourth). I wanted to ask what happened to make it so bad, only I wasn’t sure this was something you talk about with other people’s kids. Probably it wasn’t, I decided, so I didn’t.