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The World My Son Knows

My son Jack, 15, seems somewhat unfazed as we watch the news together about the recent shooting in San Bernardino. My sensitive, empathetic, big-hearted son, seems calm and relaxed while I sit tense with anxiety. "Mom, this is the world."
12/04/2015 03:00pm ET | Updated December 4, 2016
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Teenage boy lies at pillows and drreaming on the background of evening home interior

My son Jack, 15, seems somewhat unfazed as we watch the news together about the recent shooting in San Bernardino. My sensitive, empathetic, big-hearted son, seems calm and relaxed while I sit tense with anxiety.

"Jack, can you believe this? So sad. Again!"

"Mom, this is the world," and he casually leaves the room checking his iPhone as he goes.

He's right. This is the only world he knows. What is shocking to most adults is commonplace to a 15-year-old. How sad but true. Born in April 2000, Jack has grown up knowing of big evil in the world. Just 18 months old on September 11, I wonder if he had sensed a change in his surroundings. Truthfully, life has never been the same. I think I sat and cried every night for a month after the 9/11 attacks, got nervous with him at classes at the JCC, and we barely saw my husband who was commuting to a satellite office in NJ and definitely had PTSD; he worked across the street from the Towers. I remember a trip to the MOMA with Jack's 4th grade class, the students did an exercise where they drew a picture of something that felt important to them. All these kids were under two in 2001, yet at least a third of them drew pictures relating to 9/11 -- images that in no way they could have seen, yet they were embedded in their consciousness. I remember the teacher saying every time she does this project a bunch of kids draw 9/11 pictures.

Over the past 15 years, dinner conversations in our house have included the following: a local nanny who killed two children in her care (one who attended our school), a taxi running over our 9-year-old neighbor crossing the street (while holding his dad's hand), school shootings in a town not that far away, and most recently, we needed to discuss our long awaited Christmas trip to Paris and how we feel about visiting after the terror attacks. Not even touching on natural disasters and illnesses that are completely unavoidable and scary!

Watching a bit of my children's security slip away by merely discussing current events is heart wrenching, but I'm a believer in conversation; we talk a ton in our house. Last night I realized that Jack's skin has become thicker as he's lived in this world with unavoidable fear. He's actually adapted to terrorism and tragedy. How crazy! Part of me actually feels comforted that he doesn't seem anxious by the fear. He rides the subway to school and visits Times Square, but there is another part of me that worries... Will he someday want different for his children, or just feel "this is just how the world is"? Maybe I'm being dramatic, and he's just being a typical apathetic teenager -- I don't know.

The world he needs to fight for would be a world that he hasn't ever known. I guess it's like fighting for a world without cancer or hunger. There will always be evil -- has been since the beginning of time -- but there has to be a energy behind goodness that fuels a better life. I want my kids to fight with that energy, and for that energy, knowing they deserve good. Knowing they deserve to feel safe.

Even as I write this, I question, "how?" Leading by example, trying to be active in political doings and finding representatives we can trust in government to fight on our behalf. When Jack votes in the 2020 Presidential election, I hope he votes for the politicians who support gun safety/control and that he never feels, as an American, like he actually needs to be armed for his own protection. Please, no!

As a part of the only world he's known since September 11 2001, here's what I know I will continue doing: I'm going to love Jack bigger, hold him closer, laugh with him as much as possible and value every single second of our lives together. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the fragility he has grown up with has made his 15 years even more precious.