New York City
Just like everyone else in America (and probably the world), I’ll never forget where I was on September 11, 2001. I was living in Hoboken, NJ, across the Hudson from New York City, and working my first job at a small publishing company on the banks of the river just north in Edgewater. I didn’t have to be there until 10 am, so when I woke up the first plane had already hit the World Trade Center. I heard about it when I turned on my radio to listen to Z100’s morning show as usual, but then I swiftly switched on the TV. My first impression was that it looked so small it must have been a tiny plane whose pilot didn’t know what he was doing. I got in the shower. When I emerged there was more news. A second plane had hit.
I didn’t really know how to process what was happening. Should I go to work? Unsure of what action to take, I quickly got dressed and left my apartment. The day was beautiful and brightly sunny, but the streets seemed deserted except for a lone UPS guy. I passed him feeling like I should say something, but what? “Hey, do you know what’s going on across the river?”
I felt like I needed to be with people, so I got in my car and drove up the Hudson to work. I could see the smoke rising from the city. As I listened to the radio I found out that another plane had hit the Pentagon. I started to feel like it might be the end of the world. I drove faster, needing to be reassured by human contact.
When I got to work I found my colleagues sitting on the rocks on the banks of the river, staring at the smoke’s plumes. We could see that the first tower had already collapsed, although I scarcely could believe my own eyes. I went inside to see my boss, and someone yelled that the other had come down as well. When I went back outside there was nothing left, just a huge cloud of smoke.
We stared at each other, dumbfounded. Our company was closing, my boss said, and we could go home. I didn’t want to leave everyone. I felt helpless and alone as I got back in my car. But I couldn’t get home anyway, because the road to Hoboken had been shut down. I called everyone I could think of — my parents, my sister, my friends, to see where they were. I was extremely worried about my friends who worked in the city. Unable to reach anybody or to make any headway in my car, I parked and planned to walk the five or so miles back to Hoboken. Then my phone rang. It was my sister, who told me she thought I should try to get to our parents’ house in the New Jersey suburbs. I got back in my car, only to find the Turnpike and most other major roads closed. I finally ended up on Route 46, which was nearly deserted, and made my way to my childhood home.
Once there, I was alone once again with only the scary news reports on the T.V. to keep me company. Finally my mother came home, and I felt safer. I was not able to reach any of my friends until that evening. One of them, who worked in midtown, had walked home over the George Washington Bridge. One who worked at another of the World Financial Center buildings felt the vibrations from the planes hitting, and luckily was able to leave on a ferry to Hoboken before the towers collapsed. I had a few acquaintances who worked in the towers themselves, but they were all safe: One had been downstairs getting coffee, one had been late to work, another had exited the building when they told him to stay put (if he had followed the rules, he’d probably be dead). My friends all got together for a mournful “glad we’re still alive” night of drinking that I unhappily missed, although I was grateful to be with my family.
When I finally was able to get back to Hoboken the next day the smoke was still rising. Even across the river, you could smell the burning. Little pieces of paper and ash floated in the air. Flyers for the missing were posted all over town. People gathered outside, talking about where they were and what their story of the day was. My roommate and I attended a candlelight vigil at Frank Sinatra Park, which overlooked the former site of the WTC. It all felt a bit surreal to me; I was somewhat removed from it, having not been in the city that day and not having anyone I knew perish. I was lucky.
Everyone says it feels like yesterday. And it does; although at the same time it’s hard to imagine the world before it. I believe our sense of fundamental security about life was shattered that day. Anyone, anywhere, anytime could do something horrific. We realized life was not a given — which it never was anyway, so maybe the sense of security we had was a false one. But now we are watchful, we are on alert, we look for possible suspicious packages and people everywhere. This is the definition of “terror.”
Although I was not a mom before 9/11, I do believe that day changed not only our collective social psyche, but the way we parent. People talk about “the world today” as if it’s a much scarier place than a generation ago, when in reality it’s statistically safer. Maybe part of what’s behind helicopter parenting is a drive to keep our kids safe in a world that we now realize is out of our control.
I’m not sure what the answer to this is. Being a super worrier doesn’t help matters; although I try to remember the feelings of my childhood — of safety and warmth and fun — and impart those to my son instead. No, the world is not “safe.” But it never really was. All we can do is enjoy each day that is given to us, and hope for more to come.
How has September 11 affected you as a person and as a parent?
Before I moved out to suburbia to start a family (which, because we didn’t have a child until eight years later, made me feel like I had been banished to the far reaches of the world) I lived in trendy, urbane Hoboken, NJ, across the Hudson from New York City. OK, so maybe it’s not as trendy as Brooklyn, but it’s still filled with bars, restaurants, and people. I do want my kids to be raised in the suburbs, like I was, but I often feel very isolated out here, especially because I don’t work outside the home. I miss the people, the hustle and the bustle.
I miss not having to get in a car to see my friends. I miss getting together for brunch, for dinner, for drinks. I miss pre-partying in someone’s apartment and then hopping in a cab or on the Path train to go to the city. Which is exactly why I was so excited to be having a real, honest-to-goodness night out for my friend’s birthday last weekend.
My parents came over to watch LM – they were staying over so we didn’t have to rush back – as I carefully decided what to wear. Back when I was a party girl, I wore jeans, or, if I really wanted to get dressed up, black pants. Now it seems like dresses are the way to go. I crafted an outfit very different from my every-day garb, and as I laid it out on the bed I caught a glimpse of my frumpy self in the mirror: yoga pants, oversized sweatshirt, rumpled hair (even though it was five o’clock), glasses. This is going to be a transformation, I gulped. I hope it works.
After showering, shaving, blowing out my hair and applying makeup (which always makes me feel like a clown because I hardly ever wear it; but then when I go out and compare myself to other women, I still look bare-faced), I put on my undergarments: Spanx, black tights and, ditching the nursing bra (hurrah!), one with actual underwire. I chose a black dress, black booties and a chunky necklace I borrowed from my mom (is that sad that she has more appropriate going-out jewelry than me?). I was ready to go.
My husband and I drove to Hoboken, luckily found street parking and went up to my friend’s apartment. Voices wafted down the hall as we approached the door, which opened to reveal old friends I hadn’t seen in years. But while talking to them, it felt like no time had passed – wasn’t it not that long ago that we had all gathered at that very spot before heading out to the bars? A visiting friend said that it felt like everything was no more than two years ago, although in reality it was more like ten.
I noticed that the other women were dressed in much the same outfit as me – mostly dresses, although there were a couple of fancy pants. I was glad I fit in. One of the men remarked that all the girls were wearing black, but then one friend exclaimed, “Not me! I’m wearing navy blue!”
We piled into cars to take us to the city. The squished-in cab ride also felt very familiar, and we joked and took selfies as we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel.
The restaurant we went to was Buddakan, known for appearing in the first Sex and the City movie. My friend informed us that the very table we were sitting at was the one that was featured in the film. This was not the first time I’d been to a spot that had appeared on the iconic show, but somehow it meant more to me now, as if it was a validation that I was still cool.
As we chatted, that sense of belonging you only get with old friends came over me. It’s hard to figure out exactly why we don’t see each other much anymore – some of us got married and (eventually, in my case) had kids, some didn’t; some moved away. But it’s difficult enough to keep up with our day-to-day tasks, let alone keep up with friends whose lives are different either in circumstance or geography.
I miss them all, though. I miss the feeling of being a part of something, of always having them to rely on, to hang out with, to go places with. I have a really great group of mom friends who I do those things with now, but they are still so new that we haven’t quite reached the level of companionship you have with people you’ve known for 20 years. Hopefully as our children grow those ties will be formed and I’ll have yet another gang of girls with a shared history and a deep bond.
We left the restaurant planning to go to a modern-day speakeasy, which my husband (aka Foggy Daddy) thought sounded pretty cool, but we ended up at another bar, which he did not. It was underground but played dance music (not FD’s thing), although it was not too crowded and there were places to sit. We danced and drank some more, but by this time it was after one, and FD said it was time to go. Feeling like a child being told what to do, I pouted, not wanted to leave my friends. But we said our goodbyes and got in a cab back to Hoboken, and from there drove back to the ‘burbs.
We didn’t get home until after three, which must be a record for how late I’ve gone to bed since LM’s been born (not that I haven’t been up at 3 AM; I just haven’t stayed up until that time). I rolled into bed, only to be awakened two hours later by my early riser. As I picked him up and we snuggled, I thought how much I had missed him in the hours we had been away.
Was it worth the tired fog I was in the next day? To return to the way things used to be for a night – yes, it was.
Do you have the same friends as before you had a baby? Do you sometimes miss having a different, pre-baby lifestyle?