For most tourists wandering New York, visiting the 9/11 Memorial is an act of remembrance and respect, a way to understand a foreign place and a shared history by confronting a conspicuous absence. But for the children arriving every day, the memorial is an object unto itself. The columns of air above the fountains have been empty their whole lives.

This is the Memorial's inevitable fate: to be visited by people who can't recall that day, to become an historical monument.

The parents who bring their children to the Memorial are serving as the first guides to the future monument and their reactions to the experience indicate how well-suited the physical and emotional landscape is to learning. That the children who accompany their parents to the 9/11 Memorial cling to legs and arms is a testament to the appropriate pall that hangs over the space even if lines are occasionally crossed. Parents say that their children can tell that this is an adult place and that their nervousness prompts questions. This exactly the point.

"She keeps reminding herself that the daycare children got out," Anissa Davis, who took her 9-year-old daughter on a tour of the site Monday, told HuffPost Travel. "She's asking about how many Mommies and Daddies were in there, but not looking for a number."

Davis acknowledges that the question isn't about facts or figures, but impermanence and thinks the fountains are an ideal centerpiece because they are ever-changing and bottomless. A visual cue can help children struggle to understand loss even if they willfully fail to wrestle with its inevitability.

"My brother served in Iraq and Afghanistan so it is important for her to understand the gravity of what happened here," said Davis.

That gravity and the unanswerable questions that attend it can frighten parents. A Miami man carrying his 4-year-old daughter through the memorial told me that he wouldn't have brought her if he'd thought she'd see it as "more than a pretty thing." He was concerned that the experience might be too powerful.

Acknowledging that facing the the ugliness of destruction can be difficult for children, the 9/11 Memorial has released a guide to "Talking To Your Children About 9/11" that suggests acknowledging that adults don't have all the answers.

"If you can’t answer your child’s question, be honest," the guide advises. "Use the opportunity to model yourself as a learner, and explore the question together.

Ruby Joyner, a 5-year-old from Hoboken, asked her mom two questions when she saw the names circling the South Tower pool. The first question, "Why do some of the names have roses in them?" was answerable. The second, "Why aren't the names of the bad guys here too?" was harder to tackle. Ruby's mother, Wendy, was forced to admit she didn't exactly know.

Despite the fact that visiting the Memorial might raise more questions than it resolves, Wendy says she wanted Ruby to see the place because the hole in the skyline is part of her family's history.

"This is part of my husband and my story because we were in Hoboken and he was working in the City and I work for the airlines," says Wendy. "She doesn't need to know the details, just that something catastrophic happened here."

Though many parents have brought their children to the Memorial so they can better contextualize their own lives, a close connection to the tragedy was hardly a common thread. To the contrary, many if not most of the children at the site when I visited were the sons and daughters of foreign tourists in town to see relatives or take in the sites.

"Unfortunately, tragedy is a part of life," said Johan Sandberg, a Swedish tourist who brought his teenage son and daughter along with their 11-year-old little brother to the site. "We have a week in New York and we'll do the usual things and we wanted to come here. They can think about family and values and life even if we aren't American."

Mr. Sandberg's youngest ran his hand over an inscribed name, part of the tragic roll call that won't change along with its visitors, and reached for his father's hand.

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  • The 9/11 Memorial is viewed during a ceremony for recovery workers and first responders on the10-year anniversary of the formal end of cleanup operations at Ground Zero on May 30, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Marine Cpl. Matt Bowman of Lafayette, Ind., makes a rubbing of a name at the 9/11 Memorial in New York, Wednesday, July 4, 2012. Bowman was visiting the memorial with other wounded veterans as a part of a trip organized by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which is helping to build accessible homes for wounded veterans. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

  • Marine Cpl. Tyler Huffman looks over a waterfall at the 9/11 Memorial in New York, Wednesday, July 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

  • The Fire Department of New York's Ladder Company 3 fire truck is lowered by crane into the National September 11 Museum in New York. This fire truck was used to evacuate people from the World Trade Center towers during the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, file)

  • A visitor at the 9/11 Memorial makes a copy of an engraved name, Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

  • A visitor touches the 9/11 Memorial, Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

  • Two members of the FDNY talk next to the 9/11 Memorial, Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

  • Construction continues on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, bottom, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • This aerial view shows the 9/11 Memorial from the 90th story of One World Trade Center in New York, Monday, April 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lucas Jackson, Pool)

  • Vice President Joe Biden pays a visit to the 9/11 Memorial on Veteran's Day, Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • New York City Police Officer Robert McArdle stands with his rescue dog T.C. during a tribute at the 9/11 Memorial for recovery workers and first responders on the 10-year anniversary of the formal end of cleanup operations at Ground Zero on May 30, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Attendees of the 9/11 Memorial can be seen from the 90th story of One World Trade Center in New York, April 30, 2012. (LUCAS JACKSON/AFP/GettyImages)

  • (LUCAS JACKSON/AFP/GettyImages)

  • A view from the 71st floor of One World Trade Center of one of The National September 11 Memorial twin reflecting pools and visitors in New York April 30, 2012. (STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • A woman makes an impression of one of the names on the wall at the Sept. 11 memorial, during the 10th anniversary observance of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

  • (AP Photo/Mike Segar, Pool)

  • (AP Photo/Mike Segar, Pool)

  • (AP Photo/Mike Segar, Pool)

  • (AP Photo/Mike Segar, Pool)