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Barbie, Motherhood, and 9/11

Aidan was four years old when the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 occured.

While I was occupied by one TV and constant phone calls updating wherabouts and theories, she was watching Nick Jr. or the Disney Channel in the next room. To her, it was another day—perhaps a little strange because the TV had never been on for so many hours in a row. She might have liked 9/11/01.

One animated, trite, overstimulating show after another was paraded before her eyes as a distraction. I have no idea what I fed her and my two eldest boys, ages two and one at the time. Did I feed them crackers galore? Did I go through a jug of juice or milk, trying to keep them happy and stuffed? Did I indulge them with chips from the top of the fridge? Did I allow popsicles in the living room that day? I don’t recall changing diapers. I am positive I did. How could I not? What did we have for dinner? Did the kids have baths? Did they get a story about feet, feet, feet and the many, many you meet?

I don’t remember being a mommy that day.

But I have never been more of a mother—ready to defend them to the death. Ready to scoop them up and leave at a moment’s notice. Ready to shield them from the sight of collapsing, screaming, freefalling, vomitting, terror.


Four-year-old girls are fond of Barbies and books read at bedtime. Aidan was no exception. As the weeks and months passed after that horrible Tuesday, I was often asked to read a certain book. It was a disquieting selection from our kids’ bookshelves. It was purposely kitschy, accidently grim, utterly ironic. With the events of 9/11, it became hopelessly outdated, like a map of the Soviet Union from 1974.

The book is called Barbie: What Shall I Be? It is a board book with a plastic handle on the spine and a little pink clasp which keeps the pages closed when rattling around in a toy box. It was a beloved gift for Aidan’s fourth birthday. The book follows Barbie, pictured in photos, as she explores different careers like Astronaut, Ballerina, Pet Doctor (not vetrinarian), and several others. One is Business Executive. This was Aidan’s go-to book. We read it daily for months.

History and my daughter’s preschool aspirations collided on one particular page that dismal autumn. On that page, pink Chanel-suited Vice President Barbie smiles at her jam-packed calendar. Her back is turned on the World Trade Center’s massive towers, intact and brilliantly lit. I’d recognize them anywhere, even over an injected-plastic molded shoulder veiled by a cascade of vinyl blonde hair.


My daughter no longer cares about this book. In fact, when I asked her about it today she was sure it had been thrown away long ago. I can’t get rid of it, though, and was glad when it was easily found in the basement playroom on a shelf. In another universe it would have been garage sale fodder.

In ours? I find it to be a little embarrassing I can’t let it go. It’s a garish pink plastic and cardboard nightmare of a book. Teacher Barbie clearly violates her school district’s dress code policy. She better not drop the encyclopedia she is holding.

The human mind imprints meaning on the undeserving and the trivial—especially when tragedy is involved. I will keep the book. I don’t know if it will be forever, but for now it is an unlikely reminder of my preschool-aged daughter, a terrible day, and the startling contrast.

5 comments to Barbie, Motherhood, and 9/11

  • Mom-of-mopsy

    Everyone knows where they were on the infamous day. Your Grandma and I were with you in Golden and we watch in horror as it all unfolded. Later that day, when we had to return home to Grand Junction, the whole world seemed different. One thing we noticed was that all the rest stops on I-70 were closed.
    Everyonce in a while I have seen an older movie in which the Towers are visible and those sad, horrible images come back. Like you with the Barbie book, I want to remember what was once there and remember to pray for our world that is in such a lost state.

  • It is strange how small things become impregnated with memories of terrible things – a piece of clothing, a smell, even a kind of weather. Or a Barbie book.

  • It’s funny how some things took on a different meaning after 9/11. I had visited in 1999, and had a random photo of me that had the Twin Towers in the background. I never thought anything about it, but after 9/11 I brought it to my classroom to show my students. Somehow it made brought NYC just a little bit closer to a small town in Oregon.

  • Amanda

    This is one of the greatest things I’ve read in a long time (and I read a lot!). Thank you for remembering yesterday, September 11th, in a special and personal way.
    Peace to you and yours.

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