Cassie McClure

I sat in on the Zoom call because it was my son’s birthday. He refused to allow his sister’s obligations to stop him from building his new Lego set exactly in the doorway of the playroom she sits in for class. I needed to make sure that his squeals of enthusiasm wouldn’t drown out the teacher, so I slid carefully into one of their kiddo chairs and aimed to keep out of the camera angle for the hour.

Today’s lesson: 9/11 for second-graders.

Neither of my kids has asked about the significance of my son’s birthday being Sept. 11.

On the morning of his birth, I asked the nurse, who asked to step out to call and wish her son a happy 12th birthday, what it was like for him to have a birthday on a day scarred with history. She said she asked him that once and he said, “There’s always a parade on my birthday, and no one ever forgets it.”

It made me feel a little better.

However, this Sept. 11 was on the day my daughter has a weekly group meeting with all 20-odd students in squares on a computer screen.

Reading and math groups are built into smaller, more manageable groups of four during the week, but these end-of-week meetings are a bit more chaotic. The students whom the teacher wants to speak can’t unmute, and the students who are unmuted take their time to shine.

For my daughter, this class adds insult to injury of her COVID-19 experience. She has switched schools during the pandemic and now only knows this new group as a Brady Bunch collage of faces. She remains optimistic, pointing out one girl in a lower corner of the screen before class started.

“I have a feeling her and me are going to be good friends someday,” she said.

My daughter’s teacher asked the students what they know about the day. My daughter said she didn’t know anything about it. I grimaced. Oof, is that a parent fail? Maybe.

The other young voices had a couple of similar thoughts: There were bad people. It was sad. There were buildings. Now there aren’t. It was all very sad indeed, everyone agreed.

The teacher absentmindedly kept saying, “2011.” But then he corrected himself after he realized that people who are 19 likely weren’t born when this happened.

Homework — optional, of course — was to ask a trusted adult where they were on 9/11.

“High school,” I quipped to my daughter. “Everything changed after that.”

“Everything?” she asked.

“Everything,” I echoed.

The teacher was going to show a short video. He said he had spent a long time trying to find a video that wouldn’t be too scary. I wasn’t too sure how that was going to happen. Turns out, he did. It was sanitized. There were still frame shots of the building decaying against a bright-blue sky. Then there was a transition to what was maybe an eagle and how firefighters were the real heroes without capes.

The people who did this? Well, they didn’t like our way of being happy. The end.

I readjusted in the too-small chair out of frenetic indignancy.

“I mean, yeah, but that’s a really simple way of summing that all up,” I blurted out, suddenly hoping we were on mute. My daughter looked at me quizzically.

“There’s just a lot more to that,” I said.

During the video, a classmate joined in, having missed the discussion with others sharing what they knew and the broad, broad strokes of something that changed everything.

“Teacher,” he said, “what you just showed when I came in — what movie was that from?”

Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.