Last Saturday. 8:30am. The morning sky was absolutely blue, a few scattered clouds hung as low as telephone wire. I opened the refrigerator to grab the milk for my son Jackson's bowl of cereal. That’s when I saw the milk’s expiration date.
It stopped me in my tracks. It was so strange to see: a monumental moment embedded in the mundane. All the memories of that day a decade ago, and the sadness and paranoia that followed, next to the Tropicana and leftover meatloaf. I didn’t mention this to Jackson. I stayed quiet.
Brandy and I were living in New York City in September 2001, in a sunny one-bedroom apartment on the corner of 88th and Amsterdam. An independent video store and the best margaritas we’ve ever had were within 50 feet on our building’s front door. We had been planning to move to Florida for months. We were ring-less, childless, and house-less, but excited to start the journey toward all three. Then the planes hit. The throngs of people. The tears. The remembrances of friends and family no longer with us.
That stretch of time between September 12 and Thanksgiving, the day we moved south, was like a very long wake. We sat in restaurants and living rooms, sharing one “where were you that morning” story after the other. One friend recalled running away from a massive wave of smoke and soot. In his mouth the taste of iron, from the blood, and of aluminum, from the adrenaline. When it was my turn, I shared the story of walking with my friend Dan Sachar to a blood bank near Columbia University. They didn’t need us; too many had already volunteered. Every bar on the way there was packed. I mean packed. But silent.
Now here I was ten years later—the ring, the children, the three-bedroom home—when that day found me on a sunny Saturday morning. I really hadn’t been thinking about 9-11. Sure, like everyone else I had been living with it—the lines of black socks and bare feet at airport security and all that—but not thinking about it. Now it’s in my fridge.
That’s the problem with being a grown up. The big bad world can find you anywhere. But that’s also the great part of being a child. Everything is new. Everything is a possibility. Everything is a blank canvas. For me, breakfast was a solemn remembrance. For Jackson, it was a tasty bowl of Cinnamon Life.
As a father, I can’t save my kids from the big bad world. That’s why the first day of kindergarten is such a big deal for moms and dads: your child is Out There. Without You. Oh, the things that can happen! The feelings to be hurt! The stitches to be stitched! But that’s how it’s supposed to be. "Your children come through you, but not from you," writes poet Khalil Gibran. "And though they are with you yet they belong not to you." They will experience pain in their life, no doubt. All you can do is offer comfort, guidance and perspective. A parent is not the umbrella in the storm. A parent is the blanket and hot chocolate after they come inside.
This morning, I made breakfast for the boys. I grabbed the milk, adding a splash to the scrambled eggs I was whipping up. I caught the expiration date. 9-21-11. Our wedding anniversary. I remember that day too. The throngs of people. The tears. The remembrances of friends and family no longer with us. As I whisked the eggs, I told my boys about our wedding. How beautiful Mommy was in her vintage white dress; how it poured rain just after the ceremony. I can’t save them from the world, but at least I can share the best parts of it.