Missing Mr. Rogers
Witten thoughtfully and with love,
by Ann English
There are three ways to ultimate success.
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.
I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch; perhaps nothing more than a cold that has advanced because I simply tried to out run it. The doctor has thrown a little alarm my way, no doubt because she isn’t clear on what is going on, I am older and well, no doubt, her fear of ligation, if in fact, I am suffering from more than just a cold gone wrong. I’m going with cold gone wrong! Having enjoyed robust health for over a year, even though being subjected to all kinds of germs (trust me, I was aware of and grateful for this time), I find myself being alone for most of my days and a bit reflective. I savor alone time but often am engaged in creative activities. This has zapped my strength so I read, watch an occasional movie. Yesterday, I watched a documentary on Mr. Rogers, a documentary one of my daughter’s highly recommended. It touched me deeply.
Solitude is different than loneliness, and it doesn’t have to be a lonely kind of thing.
Social media has been both a curse and a blessing. Avoiding Facebook was a goal. Posts made me anxious, upset. There is so much rage. When I joined Facebook, I vowed to “do no harm.” My sole purpose there was to connect with far away friends, not to replace face to face contact. But things began to change. People began to express opinions, strong, sometimes cruel opinions out of anger and frustration and sometimes, just because they could.
I once added to a conversation, posting only my personal experience, and the comment that returned was harsh-it took my breath away. I decided then and there not to respond to people’s opinions. In my experience, people post very strong, personally held opinions. They are not looking for a dialogue, only seeking affirmation. And those who respond are often not looking to create understanding; his/her goal seems to be to call out, demean or humiliate the person who wrote the initial post. In short, people do not wish to discuss, to listen, to understand. They want to be heard and understood, but so often aren’t willing to listen and try to understand.
Mr. Rogers developed his children’s programming back in the late 60s because he felt so strongly about the images being seen by children, the demeaning and disrespectful behavior of what was labeled children’s programming. He wished to promote understanding, to let children feel listened to and valued. He wanted children to explore the world of make believe and understand how best to translate that into daily life. He taught them to tap into their inner feelings-those feelings are real. He helped them to learn to control them. He wanted children to think about where others were coming from, why they may behave they way that they do. He had guests of all races, all abilities. I can imagine what he might think of the world as it is evolving, today; cyber bullying by young and old alike, terrible images shown daily on all forms of media, videos teaching young children how and why they should kill themselves?!
I was bullied as a kid; I was a soft target: tall, quiet, bookish, introverted, nerdy, and oh, so NOT athletically inclined... Even my sixth grade teacher jumped on the bully bandwagon. I remember vividly the day she embarrassed and humiliated me in front of the entire class at the end of the school year because I was one of only two children who was NOT assigned a 300 word composition for misbehavior. Those children, she said, have no spunk. Those slings and arrows hurt and live on in my memory all these years later, but they weren’t in print (okay, so now that incident is in print. Sigh.) They were not posted for the world to see.
Mr. Rogers was bullied as a child, too. He was, after all, a soft target. Remarkably, he was chubby in his youth. They called him, “Fat Freddy.” He was bookish and quiet. He played the piano. I’m guessing he was also sweet and kind. Those taunts stuck with him his entire life and helped to create the man he became, the career he sought. He was a musician, a creator of children’s programming, an author, a philosopher, a Pastor, a husband and father and by all reports, an extraordinarily, giving man.
There is no normal life that is free of pain.
It’s the wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for growth.
I am a woman of “a certain age” meaning that I am neither as attractive nor as strong as I once was. Few would describe me as an “old lady”-no, that’s wrong! My six year old granddaughter was incredulous when she heard her parents were born in the eighties and are remarkably, “still alive!” To her little girl eyes, I am oh, so old-she’s not wrong. So, yes, I am old;let’s just say, that there are far more years behind me than in front of me. I have experienced lots of living, lots of changes, lots of joy and lots of heartache. Dear friends have, and continue to depart this realm. My grandparents and parents are gone. I’ve lost a dear son. I cannot bring them back, but they are “in my heart from this day on and now and forever more.” I miss them all.
I miss other things, too. Now, this I know for sure, despite of what reminiscing seniors might engage in, not all was good in the good or’ days but, oh, how I wish we would bring back some of what was best about them. I grew up in a simpler time. The world was fraught with problems back then; it always has been and will be until the end of time. The world is full of people in pain, of suffering, of greed, of violence...but there are kind, caring and compassionate people, too. As Fred would say, “look for the helpers.” There are people who love and care for one another. Never forget that.
A child born in the mid-fifties, I grew up in an era and a place where children were given the opportunity to be children. I had no idea how very lucky I was. Children need time to play. They need time to be alone, too. They need time to create, to nurture their own imaginations. They need silence, a little boredom. They need to learn about personal responsibility, about working hard and working together, about directing and sometimes harnessing their activity. And, of course, they need love, acceptance, understanding guidance-yes, they need a lot! This, my friends, is not just my opinion based on personal experience. There is ever so much research that backs this opinion.
In my earliest years, I was blessed to live in a neighborhood chock full of children, many my own age. I always had a playmate if I wanted one. We’d make dates as we parted ways in the late afternoons. Friday night overnights were a much anticipated event. We’d giggle and talk before falling asleep-no cell phone to distract from this relationship we were creating. Our schedules were not overburdened with activities-most had just one, maybe two. We played for hours on end often leaving our homes in the morning returning only for a sandwich at noon, and our mothers’ signal to come in. My mother’s whistle pierced the dusk of those late afternoons.
We got a tv when I was about four. It was black and white. There were three channels. Though my parents didn’t have too much to fear about content, our time and program choices were limited-no tv on school nights! Going to the movies was a family event and oh, so special. The drive-in was a real treat! We had a single phone in the kitchen and a party line. As time went on, we had two phones, and no more party line, but one phone was in my parents’ room and that was off limits. We grew into three televisions before I left home at 18, a couple of them had color, but I never had a set in my room nor did I ever have a phone. We ate dinner as a family every night. I got a transistor radio when I was nine. Oh, how proud I was of that radio. I sold greeting cards door to door to earn the money. My dad ordered it from Radio Shack. My brother and I shared a recorded player for years. I got my very own from the Singer store for my birthday when in Jr. High and still remember my first two 45 records. I got my first two wheeler for my 7th birthday. It was second hand, and I was so proud. The bike was destroyed when I accidentally left it at school in the sixth grade simply having forgotten I had ridden it that morning. And though my parents sympathized, they did not run out and replace that bike. I babysat that summer as often as time would allow, and when our town had its’ annual sale days, I purchased my own bike-a Raleigh. I was even more proud.
Going out to dinner was a special occasion and involved proper attire. For those of you too young to understand that term (honestly, I’m guessing if you are taking the time to read this, you DO understand), it means quite simply that we “dressed up.” Back then, both children and adults had one or two outfits for special occasions like church, family events, parties and going out to dinner. Different attire really does affect behavior in both adults and children. We tend to carry ourselves differently, speak a little more respectfully, and use better manners.
My parents had plenty of worries back then: polio, childhood diseases (wake up, friends-these are having a resurgence. You don’t know what that world looks like! Oh, dear, a controversial opinion, and I said I wouldn’t...) They worried about politicians, the way the world was going, wars, the economy. They worried about finances, making a dollar stretch and scream, providing for their family. Neighbors were building bomb shelters, and we had drills at school, drills that would save no one should a nuclear bomb hit. They did not burden us with those worries in our earliest youth. Those were adult problems, adult conversations.
As children, we jumped in leaves and played with sticks. We rode bikes. We read and collected comic books. We cut out paper dolls, played with Play Doh, colored in coloring books and kept diaries. The only thing more exciting then pedaling to the library was being presented with your very own book, which we devoured in short order and cared for mightily. My friends and I played with Barbies (Barbie was the mom-we thought nothing of her terribly proportioned figure and never assumed that any adult would ever look like that!) and baby dolls, cars and trucks. My oh, so masculine brother pushed a doll stroller and a carpet sweeper when he was a toddler and rode a tractor, too. He “fixed stuff.” I’m not sure he even realizes how much encouragement and support my parents and grandparents gave him in those early endeavors. By the time he was eleven, friends and neighbors would call my parents to ask if Ricky could come check out their radio or tv. He could and can fix most anything!
We reflected what we heard and saw. We played school, house, and office. We mimicked the world the grown-ups showed us. We learned how to talk, to argue without hurting one another. We were taught to respect our peers, our elders-perhaps a little too much, but it seems the pendulum has swung too far the other way. We learned there were consequences for our actions, and that ultimately, we had to make our own way. We learned how to problem solve. We explored our environment, enjoyed and appreciated the natural world.
Children’s play is not just kids’ stuff.
Children’s play is rather the stuff of most future inventions.
Children are observant little beings. They may not always “mind” you, but they are always listening to you and watching you. They reflect what they see and hear. This has not changed, but certainly what they see and hear and are exposed to on a daily basis has changed. Just let that sink in for a minute. It makes my heart hurt. My grandchildren are young and tender, sweet, loving and kind. I can already observe the impact of the classroom, the peers, and the world on who they are and how they respond.
One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.
I miss adults shielding the youngest among us from foul language and the ugliest parts of the world. I miss positive role models. I miss civility-oh, how I’d love to see a resurgence of that; caring about how other’s feel, being even just a wee bit less self absorbed. I miss good manners, unbiased reporting, being able to offer a child a gentle touch without it being misconstrued. And, lately, Lord, I miss Mr. Rogers. What positive light that man was. There was a time when I laughed at him-he couldn’t possibly be that sweet, that kind. I now am certain he was the real deal ministering to a few generations of children. His quotes crop up everywhere because they are so necessary in today’s world.
Today, as I look back and reflect, look forward and hope, I encourage you to be a little softer, care once, again, about what others feel, if not think. Be a little kinder. Give smiles away to everyone you see. Put down your phone and talk to your companions, feign interest and make moments count. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them. Spend time with those you love. I urge you to pause before sending that email, posting or responding to someone. Reread. Sit on it a minute or two. Regain calm. What is your goal? Would you, could you look that person in the eye and comfortably say that without thought of how it would make him or her feel or react? We tell our kids not to worry about what others think. I fear that message was received a little too loudly, a little too strongly. We need to care.
Imagine what our real neighborhood would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.
Most of this little story is based on my experience and some deeply held opinions,
many backed by some serious research.
Nothing here is meant to offend or hurt another only to promote caring, kindness, love and understanding.
That is all.