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Kids find some light despite coming of age in a dark hour. THE AMERICAN landscape has changed for a new generation of kids, with games of cops-and-robbers replaced by playground terrorists tangling with anti-terrorists. With terms like "9/11" and "homeland security" now part of the national lexicon, the country, too, has experienced a coming of age in the year since Sept. 11. Our children canít help but sense it.

Nathan Wheeler started the morning happy and excited last Sept. 11 — it was supposed to be his day to celebrate.

The story of Nathan Wheeler
A boy's insights
gradually emerge
from a birthday
turned 'doomsday'

By Marc Ramirez
Seattle Times staff reporter

Kids with Christmas birthdays, especially, know better, but when you're 12, your birthday is supposed to be all yours. Last year, Nathan Wheeler learned what it was like to share his day with an entire country.

In the space of a few hours, Nathan saw Sept. 11 turn into something he never expected. "Doomsday, it's doomsday!" the kids told him. "You were born on doomsday! You were cursed!"

In the weeks that followed the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., he was like a lot of other kids. A villainous figure had emerged — Osama bin Laden — and Nathan wondered: What if he bombs all the big places? Like Chicago, or the Columbia Tower? Who are they going to bomb next?

This year, Nathan, a seventh-grader at Seattle's McClure Middle School, will turn 13. Maybe some people won't come to his birthday party, he worries, because it's ... that day. That would suck.


Last spring, 350 teenagers from around the world shared their thoughts and feelings about the attacks and their aftermath in an online discussion group, "Everything After: A 9/11 Youth Circle." The two-month project was launched by Global Kids, a New York City-based agency that seeks to inspire urban kids to become active, educated citizens.
According to the Urban Reporter, a study by the New York City Board of Education estimated in May that 75,000 public-school students — more than one-fourth of the school population — suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after the terrorist attacks. Most students surveyed had yet to receive any mental-health counseling services.
But he also realizes now that while his birthday has changed, it hasn't really been taken from him. Instead, it's a chance to remember what happened and pray for the people who died that day.

Unhappy birthday

Sept. 11, 2001: It was early in the school year, and as a brand-new student at McClure, all Nathan hoped was that the other kids would be nice and maybe wish him a happy birthday.

If nothing else, he knew there would be presents and a party at his grandparents' house later. That alone gave Nathan, a typical sixth-grader with Nickelodeon tastes and Eminem-blond hair, reason to be excited about his 12th birthday as he left for school that morning.

Then, a friend's father told him what happened. Nathan listened. He had visited New York when he was 9, but this didn't seem real or make sense. He didn't think anyone would really attack the United States. He didn't know anyone could. "And I was kind of mad because it was on my birthday," he says.

In drama class, he remembers, "we just sat there. We talked about what was happening in the world." By the time he got to third period, class discussions were consumed by it. Some parents were even taking their kids out of school.

"We didn't really learn anything that day," he says, at least not in the normal sense.

And that night, his family huddled around the TV, watching the president.

A year for reflection

This year, Nathan and his friend Nick, who has the same birthday, will celebrate in their own way. They foresee a "double-nighter," with consecutive nights of Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation2. There will be friends, family and a Costco-size box of Otter Pops.

But he also knows everyone will be sad about what happened a year ago. It will be all over the news. But that will be OK, because as it turns out, he did learn something that day. "I feel sorry for all those innocent people who died," he says. "We still don't really know why."

Even for adults, it was a tragedy hard to comprehend. But the last year has been a coming of age for this soon-to-be-teenager, who has made peace with having to share a day that will no longer be the same.

"It made me think about life more," he says, "how much I appreciate it."

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or

SEPT. 11 WAS the end of the innocence and security my daughter felt in her life. We still turn on the "star-light" night light so she can sleep. She asked if she could see a counselor two days after the attack — she was not sleeping or eating well. She did see one for three sessions and learned ways to feel safe.

She also learned later in her fifth-grade year that not only can our country be attacked at any time, close friends can die when crossing a crosswalk on the way to school, great-grandpas die, and that yet, in spite of all the pain, life is good, you can make a difference when you believe in changes that need to happen.

Our family is OK now. We will never forget Sept. 11, 2001. Never.

Andrea Hagood, Lake Forest Park


AS I PREPARE to navigate my second year as a public school teacher, I am thinking about more than bulletin boards and seating arrangements. I am preparing for my second Sept. 11.

As the day draws nearer, I only hope that I can convey to my students that this day means more than longer lines at the airport, an all-American blend of commercialism and patriotism, and TV specials hosted by the first lady. And maybe, just maybe, they will understand what to do during a "moment of silence."

Ryan Henderson, Seattle


Seattle mom Molly Curran did some soul-searching after the birth of her son, Linus, last Sept. 11. Her husband, Bob, holds daughter Stella, 4.

The story of Baby Linus
Joy mixed with tears
9/11 mom;
now she sees son
as a source of hope

By Catherine Tarpley
Seattle Times staff reporter

When Molly Curran tells people that her baby was born on Sept. 11, they shake their heads in sympathy. She hopes they won't react that way forever.

Baby Linus turns 1 on Sept. 11, and Curran is planning a birthday party for him. It will include a prayer for those who died as he was being born, a prayer he won't understand just yet.

Linus, a mellow and cheerful kid, was one of 17 babies born at Swedish Medical Center's First Hill Campus on what seemed to be a perfect day to bring a new life into the world.

This was Curran's second C-section, so she knew the ropes. While nurses stuck IV needles in her arm, she turned the TV on, expecting to see the same old morning programming. Instead, she saw a live picture of smoke pouring out of a gash several stories tall in the World Trade Center.

Then she saw the plane fly into the South Tower. "At that point it was hard to worry about having a baby," she said. "I remember wanting to get it over with."

Curran cried throughout her three-day hospital stay. "It was hard to be happy in the midst of what had occurred," she said. "It was strange to have this joy and this disappointment on the same day."

Sept. 11, 2001

Resources are available to help children understand the attacks. One such effort, spearheaded by the Families and Work Institute of New York and 22 nonprofit organizations, resulted in an extensive Web site called "9/11 as History,"
It has tools and ideas for teachers and parents.
Curran knew it was unhealthy to think about a baby's birth that way, so she's done some soul searching. She has found peace in the notion that birth and death are part of an inevitable cycle, a belief that she attributes to her Catholic faith.

Curran's husband, Bob Phillips, said that when Linus gets older he will tell him that the day was filled with emotional extremes, from the joy of seeing him born to the horror of watching the attacks on TV.

Curran said they'll also make sure that he understands that he and every baby born on Sept. 11 brought light to an otherwise dark day.

"This is part of the balancing act," she said. "Some people die and some people are born. Linus was tipping the scales."

Many women who gave birth on that day say the same thing: A year later, they take comfort in their realization that there is always good to counterbalance evil.

"It's impossible not to feel blessed when you hold a new life and new hope in your arms," said Christine Pisera Naman, a Pennsylvania woman who has just published a book called "Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11." Naman's own son Trevor was born that afternoon. Her book contains a photograph of a 9/11 baby from each state.

"I began to realize my baby — and all of the ones who joined him being born that day — had a very special purpose," she says in her book. "They were born to provide life, hope and goodness to a world on a day when it needed it most."

Catherine Tarpley: 206-464-8255 or

Sept. 11, 2001

The Phoenix Project is a $700 million effort to rebuild the Pentagon

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