Osama bin Laden is Dead: What Do I Tell My Kids?

My kids' only memories are of a post-9/11 world.

I was at work, in Washington, D.C., on September 11. I remember walking four miles to a friend's apartment since I didn't know when the metro or the buses would be running.

I finally got a cell connection that would hold long enough to call home. My husband had the day off and was there with our two sons (four and almost two years old) and his own mother. "I just want to let you know I'm all right," I panted into the phone.

"Why, has something happened?" asked my husband.

They'd been watching Elmo videos.

"Something bad happened in Washington and New York today," we told our 4-year-old when he later asked what we were talking about. "A lot of people died and now there might be a war. It's very sad."

The fifth anniversary of the attacks found my 9- and 6-year-old sons fascinated by the footage of the Twin Towers collapsing.

Their future uncle was serving in Iraq.

"So they're going to get Osama bin Laden?" the oldest asked me.

My kids—three of them now—do not remember a time when we weren't hunting Osama bin Laden to avenge the 9/11 attacks. They do not remember a world without security checkpoints or terror alerts.

They have learned that Saddam Hussein was not the same person as the man who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. Upon further questioning, the middle one established, when he was 7 or 8, that Osama bin Laden is not the president of Afghanistan.

A couple years later, the boys became interested in their grandfather's military service in Vietnam and learned that their father narrowly escaped service in Afghanistan with the Soviet Army 25 years ago. 

My kids will be home from school any minute now. They probably heard about the capture at school.

The older kids will want to talk about how we caught him. The 13-year-old may even favor me with a discussion of the weapons involved before he checks his Facebook status.

The youngest will probably need a little review of who bin Laden was again in the first place.

I anticipate that the 11-year-old will be interested in what's going to happen to our involvement in Afghanistan now that bin Laden is dead.

I will tell him: "Tens of thousands of people—yes, Americans, but countless more Iraqis and Afghans—have died in a decade of warfare that began with bin Laden's hijackers. Many of their families and friends blame us for what they've lost. It won't be restored now that the man is dead."

I wish Osama bin Laden's death meant their world was about to change.

Sadly, I don't think that's the case.


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