“Hey buddy, we’re not going to the playground. Today we’re doing something special.” I said to my 4 1/2-year-old son at school pick-up a few weeks ago. My 13-year-old daughter accompanied me.
“What are we gonna do then?” he asked.
“We are going to Dunkin’ Donuts and getting a big, big box of Munchkins,” I said. My son’s eyes lit up. Previous years with my daughter, we’ve purchased flowers, cards, and one year we made chocolate chip cookies.
“Can we get chocolate ones?” he asked.
“I think we should get assorted ones because they’re not actually for us.” His face fell.
“Then why are we getting them?” he whined.
It was 9/11. If you were to ask me what was the most historic day of my lifetime, I’d say 9/11. It changed the world as I knew it. It was a day when people came together in unexpected ways. It was a day when firefighters and police, who were always heroic to me, became real Superheroes. Batman and Superman have nothing on the NYPD or the FDNY.
I continued, “It’s the day that we honor our firefighters and police. We say thank you and give them hugs, and tell them what a great job they do to protect and help us every day.” Can compassion for, and understanding of, that day ever be taught? I wondered.
“Oh no… no one’s here,” my son said. The fire station was closed up without so much as a Dalmatian in sight. Bouquets of flowers stood in buckets of water arranged outside the station door… dozens of them. We weren’t the only ones who thought to pay our respects to the firefighters today.
“Here they come,“ my son shouted when the hook and ladder truck pulled down the street and maneuvered into the station. As the fire fighters disembarked, my son scampered behind me, suddenly wowed by their greatness. Handing him the donut box, I nudged him towards an approaching uniformed man.
The fireman crouched in front of my son with a knowing smile. “Do you have something for me?” My son nodded and silently handed over the box. “Hey, thanks; I love Munchkins.” The man reached out and shook my awestruck son’s hand.
“Thank you,” my daughter and I said to the man.
As we arrived at home, my son said, “Mommy, I think those firefighters are really gonna like the Munchkins. But next time, I wanna draw on paper and make a heart and color it in because that will really show how much I love them. Because a heart really means love. All of New York should do something like that to show that we love them. And because I like firemen even better than Batman.”
Yesterday, two weeks later, my son presented me with a drawing— a heart. “Can we bring this to the fire station?” he asked. “Oh, and can we bring Munchkins again too? I think they’d like all chocolate this time, and maybe I can have some too.”
I laughed. I’m going to assume the lesson was learned.