At 6 a.m. tomorrow, 17-year-old Elaine Filadelfo of Springfield was supposed to be boarding a bus for a weekend in New York City performing with the Annandale High School chorus and orchestra.
But county school officials canceled the spring trip because of the war in Iraq, leaving Elaine and her fellow students with another sad memory from what are supposed to be some of the best times of their lives.
"Everything was set," the senior viola player said of the trip that included a performance at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. "We really feel cheated. The homecoming dance and game were canceled because of the sniper. We have to start going to school an extra 30 minutes a day because of the snow. And now this. We're all feeling very frustrated."
In the last 18 months, the county's schoolchildren -- along with everyone else -- have been hit with a barrage of traumatic events: the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, war in Afghanistan, terror alerts, the sniper shootings, the space shuttle disaster and now the war in Iraq. Even the weather has been crummy; what began as snow-day reveling ended up a huge pain in days lost at work and school.
"I agree with the war and what we have to do, but it's sad for the little kids," said Doreen Trammell, an Alexandria area mother of two whose 9-year-old daughter Melanie's school trip to the White House has been postponed three times. "We live in a different world now, and it's scary."
The simple daily routine of dropping off a child at a day-care center has changed, especially in the last few weeks of heightened security in the Washington area. Beth W. Gailor, 31, of the Alexandria area said she now has to think about the logistics of picking up her infant son, Seamus, from his Franconia day-care center in the event of an attack.
"I work in the District, so I not only have to think about how am I going to get out of the city, but how am I going to get to my child," she said.
Across Fairfax, neighbors have been asking each other how their kids are reacting to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and what they should say to comfort them.
Trammell's daughter Melanie is typical: The girl is worried she will be stranded at school during a lockdown.
The best advice, according to psychologists: Help children feel safe, even if you are feeling vulnerable yourself.
"I have a first-grader," said T. Dana Kauffman, a county supervisor who represents Lee District. "The biggest thing we're trying to stress with him is that he's safe at home and at school."
Daniel A. Domenech, the county school superintendent, said: "We advise parents to very much talk to their children. Children are normally very inquisitive and are even more so when they are anxious. What we've all gone through in the last 18 months is enough to make all of us anxious. Answer their questions as factually as possible."
Another tip, supplied in capital letters by the Bethesda-based National Association of School Psychologists: "TURN OFF OR MONITOR THE TELEVISION. It is important to stay informed, but watching endless news programs is likely to heighten your anxiety and that of your children. Young children in particular cannot distinguish between images on TV and their personal reality."
Boston pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton, who is scheduled to speak April 10 at the private Langley School in McLean, also advised parents to avoid obsessing about the war. He said families should "preserve times to escape to fun and fantasy if possible. Plan time for the family to be together: at mealtimes, at bedtimes and by sharing family rituals."
Some Fairfax parents are buying their children cell phones to carry in their backpacks -- not to take out, since that's not permitted in elementary school -- but to turn on in case of a lockdown so the parents could reach their child.
Just as during the Vietnam War a generation ago, some households are divided on the war in Iraq, not only pitting family members against each other but also splitting children and their friends.
At Woodson High School, a few students have been wearing peace T-shirts; the day after the first bombs hit Iraq, one student wore a shirt that said, "Bush=Terrorist."
"Saddam is the sicko," scoffed Jenn Vogel-Stewart, 15, a Woodson student whose stepfather is a Marine colonel in Kuwait. "They're protesting without caring."
Lynne Gildon of Fairfax Station said her 13-year-old son, who is being raised to support the American soldiers, exchanged angry words on the school bus with his best friend, who does not support President Bush's decision to invade Iraq.
"I told him he shouldn't attack other people and their opinions," said Gildon, 39. "I said, 'Remain calm but stand up for what you believe in.' "
Gildon, an administrative assistant who has another child, said, "As a family, we pray that any decision made by the U.S. is made with the clearest conscience."