Life for us will never be the same, the experts say. But we didn't need the experts to tell us. As far away as California, we felt the sting of the gritty fallout, tasted the ash in our mouths, choked in terror as the scary scenes unfolded.
Parents felt a double burden as they tried to deal with everyday demands like fixing sandwiches, shuttling kids to school or teaching them at the dining room table, matching socks and kissing owies – even as we sought some familiar emotional territory, struggling to keep just ahead of the questions roaring down on us like waves of deadly ash: How now do we live? Where are we headed? What do we tell our children?
Let's start by telling them that yes, life will never be the same. And then let's do our best to make it different.
Let's start by realizing that challenging, difficult times demand the best in us – that we must become wiser, less selfish, more intentional parents. Let's start by acknowledging that raising the next generation is not about preschool waiting lists, soccer teams, SAT scores or years of "doing your own thing."
For 48 hours, our children have been besieged by overwhelming images: planes turned into loaded weapons, symbols of our security crumbling to the ground, people leaping from burning buildings. The newest pages in the same personal-horror archives our kids have been collecting all their lives: a mother drowning her children in the bathtub, teens in black trench coats killing schoolmates, a fireman with a bloody baby in his arms, starving children in Africa too weak to brush the flies from their eyes.
How do we help our children cope? How do we help them live in hope instead of fear?
Let's start by taking the words good and evil out of the closet. Let's put the brakes on the tolerance/diversity steamroller which has decimated our analytical heritage and produced a realm of moral relativists so confused they want to protect the private lives of philandering politicians and exploiters of women while laying waste to Promise Keepers and Boy Scouts.
Or as extremely confused as the analyst who stated Wednesday that while Americans think they're right, so does the enemy – so who's to say?
Enough, already. It's one thing to keep an open mind – quite another to let your brains fall out.
Let's teach our kids unabashedly about right and wrong. Let's give them a framework for understanding the otherwise incomprehensible events and bizarre political melodramas swirling through the background of their lives. This will save them a lot of confusion.
Let's pull the plug on books and music and movies and clothing that are making our kids less than they can be – cultural claptrap which is feeding their moral confusion, hedonism, selfishness and foolishness.
How, for instance, have we allowed the world to so over-stimulate, over-sexualize, and trivialize our children? Now as we face an uncertain national future, will parents realize how ill-prepared our children are for hardship, self-denial and self-sacrifice?
Let's start now, this minute, to give back to our kids what – in the name of multiculturalism – government schools have denied them: pride in their country, devotion to their language and loyalty to their flag. Teach them now, teach them well, and teach them never to forget just how blessed they are to have been born Americans.
But first, many parents will have to "get it" themselves. Will those so far stymied by their obsession with eternal youth, being buddies to their children, lack of impulse control and moral ambivalence finally grow up to be real parents?
If so, then no matter what uncertain future we face as a nation, we will face it with certainty in our homes. And life will not be the same – but in the ways that matter most, it will be better.