For his sixth birthday, Dennis asked for a trip to see the Statue of Liberty.
He'd studied the statue in school and become fascinated with its purpose, which as he understood it, was "to welcome people."
But when one of our best friends had a baby recently, he asked why Lady Liberty did not appear at the hospital to herald the arrival of baby Jack.
So to clear up the issue, and because when your sweet little boy -- who mostly traffics in fart jokes and computer games -- asks to do something so darned patriotic and wholesome it brings tears to your jaded eyes, you kinda have to do it.
Last Saturday, he and I went to New York City, as enrollees in Keefe Tech's daylong Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island bus trip. (I highly recommend this trip for anyone who'd like to avoid the driving and much of the line-standing with the huddled masses yearning to get tickets.)
Dennis loved the statue, the pretzels, and the buzz of being in the city. Even at age 6, he was reveling in that amazing feeling of New Yorkness, which I hope he enjoys for the rest of his life.
He didn't like the lengthy security stops necessary to get onto the ferry and Liberty Island. He was afraid of the guards, the X-ray machines, and the constant buzzing and stopping and searching.
"They just want to keep everyone safe," I told him. "You don't need to be scared." He looked unconvinced.
Back at Battery Park we had time to kill, but I decided against taking the walk up the street to Ground Zero. He's just too young, I thought.
So we bought hot chocolate, napped on a bench, and chased pigeons for awhile.
But on our way out of the city, the bus driver announced we would make a special trip past the WTC Memorial site.
Dennis was deep into his Nintendo by the time we turned up Church Street, but I made him shut it off.
"Look, I need to tell you something," I said. "The security stuff at the Statue of Liberty is because something bad happened here a long time ago."
I looked at me with big eyes. "Have you heard of September 11th?" I asked.
He nodded. "That was the day that two big buildings over there exploded," I said, tapping the bus window.
He stared out the window, past the signs and anti-mosque demonstrators. "Were people in the buildings?" he asked.
"Yes, a lot of people were."
"Did they get out?"
"Some people got out. Some people couldn't get out," I told him.
The bus pulled away, heading for the highway and home. Dennis drifted off to sleep.
I felt equal parts relieved and unsettled. He'd gotten more of an education than I'd planned.
How do you explain weapons checks and security stops to your kids? Are they scared of them? How should we explain September 11th to young children?
about the author
Erica Noonan is chief of the Globe West bureau. Before joining the Globe in 2000, she worked for the Associated Press in Boston. Raised in Wellesley, she has a master's degree in political communication from Emerson College and a BA in political science from Trinity University in San Antonio. She lives in Natick with two energetic children: Dennis, 6, and Lila, 4.
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