Disclaimer: No child or pet were harmed during the making of this photo. All are available on Amazon, well, not the kids or the dog. 🙂
One of “my” kids, who just turned three, had NO desire to be part of my shenanigans (smart fella). So “Cole,” my 13 year-old mini Aussie stepped in on the fly. He might be licking his chops but no, he didn’t eat Ten.
Last night, Thanksgiving evening, I relaxed on the couch with my turkey sandwich and watched the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” Especially in this political climate, the perfect way to end the day of gratitude.
And so, with the new release of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” I believe this writing to be timely.
Little did I know that on a special day in November 1993 (note fanny pack and hairstyle) I would unexpectedly be invited into Mr. Rogers’ world.
I was attending an early childhood conference in Anaheim, CA and decided to bring my mother along for a little getaway. Mr. Rogers would be the keynote speaker that evening.
That morning, Mom and I cruised the giant exhibit/presentation hall. That’s when I heard the familiar voice – not through the television, not through a microphone, but behind me.
Rounding the partition, I found the man himself speaking with David, his assistant. I suppose they were discussing setups for the evening’s presentation.
Thrilled beyond reason to meet a man who cared deeply about the well-being of children, I introduced myself – told him about being a director of a child development center, about being a mom, and thanked him for his continuing service to children. Then, in his gentle way with words, he thanked me.
That’s when my mother said, “I’m just the grandmother.”
Mr. Rogers’ eyes widened. He spoke to Mom for a while about the importance of grandparents in the lives of young children. She stood a little taller. It was as if he knew she needed to hear those words.
“Mr. Rogers,” I said. “I so wish I would have brought my camera along to show the kids at my center.” (This was before iPhone and digital cameras)
“Oh, that’s all right,” he said, and turned to his assistant. “David, can we borrow yours?”
After David took our photo, Mr. Rogers added, “Now a picture with grandmother.” (It is one of my favorite photos of my beaming mother)
After the photo op, Mr. Rogers asked David to please send the pictures to me. I received them within a week.
The speech he gave that night was, no surprises here, about love. It was also about the importance of inspiring children by showing them the things you love to do – reading, playing an instrument, singing, etc. – anything that may encourage their sense of wonder.
On a shuttle from the conference back to the hotel, attendees were buzzing about Mr. Rogers. Here’s an amazing account from another person who had an encounter with Mr. Rogers.
(paraphrasing) “Years ago, my four-year-old daughter and I ran into Mr. Rogers at the airport where he sat eating an ice cream cone. My daughter ran up to him. As he spoke to her, I assumed he felt a bit guilty for eating ice cream in front of her because he asked if she wanted a taste. So,” she told us on the bus, “I ran up to him at the conference and told him how my daughter never forgot that day at the airport. And do you know what he said? He said, ‘And how is Elaine?'”
Mr. Rogers had remembered that little girls name.
Today, I wish the politicians who bully and berate others could have a healthy dose of “Mr. Rogers.” Because, what they don’t understand is this – the children are listening. Are these the behaviors we want engrained in our youth?
When I think back on that special day in 1993, I try harder to focus on kindness. And when I do? I stand a little taller.
“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.” – Fred Rogers
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Carefully manipulating the foreign attachments to his body – one feeding tube and a blood pressure line attached to his ankle, the IV taped and secured to his right arm, I picked him up.
I sat on a small couch, my back to the window, the three month old baby on my lap facing me. Through his gurgled wheezing, he looked at me, this stranger in Child Life volunteer garb.
I told him many things; about how I was glad his surgery was over; how he sounded better than the week before. I perched him on my shoulder so he could look outside and told him the sun was shining but the air had a nip of cold attached to it. He whimpered at the new position.
I settled him back on my lap.
We talked about how it’s not always fun to be alone, how we need to be understood and cuddled sometime. I told him he had a lot of growing to do, a lot of people to meet, about the new adventures yet to come.
I looked into his eyes and saw myself there. I wondered then, if he also saw his reflection in my eyes and if he, too, felt the human connection.
Had I not looked closely in his eyes, I would have missed it.
Thank you, little one, for allowing me to see myself in your eyes.
The wonderful thing about writing down memories is keeping them. Because later, like me, you will find those written words.
I wrote this 26 years ago when my son was two years old:
As grown-ups, we have learned much about life. But we learn much more by watching children experience and discover the world anew. I am about to be the grandmother of my fourth grandchild. I have much yet to learn.
Childhood and it’s atmospheric beauty!
(my daughter’s first child — my second grandchild)