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My son is lying on the floor on his stomach, resting on his elbows. He can read now and he and his younger brother are looking at a calendar, a free one that my in-laws received from the garden supply shop in their town. He’s writing down the birthdays of each member of our family, his uneven handwriting running over several days at once. He has just finished his brother's in August when he flips the page to enter in his own birthday.
"Mom, what’s Pat Try-Out Day?" he asks. I’m making myself coffee while their scrambled eggs cook and I say the number of scoops out loud as I drop them in -- otherwise I forget how many I’ve already added.
"Hmmm….I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Daddy?" I mumble, watching the coffee drip down into the pot and reaching into the refrigerator for the milk.
"No, it’s here on the calendar," he insists. "It's on my birthday."
Since the moment that I gave birth to my older son six years ago on September 11, I've wondered how this was going to come up. When we’re at the dentist's office or Little League signup or anywhere that I need to give his date of birth, I am forever trying to skirt the issue. I quickly say "9/11" rather than dragging out each syllable of "Sept-em-ber" and try to make it seem like it's just any other birthday. I know that we'll need to explain it to him soon, but he still seems so young.
I live in New York City and on September 11, 2001, I walked home from a work day that ended soon after it started, watching the plume of smoke and listening to the radios that people had turned up in the street. My boyfriend -- now my husband -- had gone to a meeting in the World Trade Center the week before. As I sat in front of the TV that day in a trance, I remembered the summer I worked in the North Tower and how my ears used to pop on the elevator ride.
Four years later, I gave birth to our first child at nearly 11 pm. At the time, I wondered if I could make it another hour so that he'd be born on September 12th and not be saddled with the birth date that nobody wants.
But here's the thing about his birthday: It means that this September 11, my husband and I will be watching our son blow out candles on his cake and then gleefully tear through the wrapping paper of his presents. Whatever memories we have about the despair of that day, we have a living, breathing, baseball-obsessed reminder that there's always new life and joy, even after the darkest times.
I walk over to where our boys are lying on the floor, their legs and arms intertwined and try to come up with a simple answer to his question. The photo on the September page of the calendar is of a large green maple tree in late summer. "A patriot is someone who loves their country," I say. "It's someone who believes in it."
"Oh," he says. "That's kind of cool that it's on my birthday."
Originally posted September 11, 2011.