"God Bless Mr. Rogers!"
Joe exclaims this as he sits down to dinner. Kiddo has a cold and reminds one of those velcro monkey babies that are permanently attached to their mother; he constantly wants to be held. Except, that is, when Mr.Rogers Neighborhood is on. We rented a DVD on Friday and miracle of miracles, TV has saved our tired butts. Kiddo started Saturday morning out easily, then turned into a human faucet of snot. Seriously. He won't sleep unless he's completely tired; he'll just nurse into a light slumber and god forbid I try to detach myself unless he's out cold. I'm crossing my fingers for an early bedtime tonight.
There isn't a lot that I'm excited about the Kiddo watching, but next to live music, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood is pretty darn great. The man knows kids. Some people say he's a little creepy, but the fact of the matter is, most of us didn't grow up knowing very many people like Mr. Rogers. He was unconditional in his friendship with us, his "Television Friends". He knew what concerned children, what really made them think, and his show proves it time and again; not only with his intelligent, compassionate conversation directed toward viewers, but with the way he provides adults with a gentle nudge of insight. If you really watch this show with a critical eye, you can see that he is talking just as much to the parents, telling them things they might not know about their child. Remarks like: "It's okay to take a break at the circus. You don't have to stay for all of it." or "This sign says 'restroom'; that really means bathrooms. Most restaurants have bathrooms, just in case you need to go." These are things that kids don't always know how to say or ask but can worry about nonetheless.
The dialogue that runs between the characters is also very respectful, and when it isn't, it's usually part of a story that includes problem solving regarding social and emotional issues. While the human adults are very appropriate and safe, Rogers lets his puppets act out; in one scene, Henrietta Kitty's angry retort to X the Owl is conveyed mostly in peevish "Meow Meow"'s and, if I can say it with a straight face, puppet body language. The gist of it is clear: Henrietta is very unhappy with X and as she leaves, taking her cookies with her, the drama of it is safe enough for even very tenderhearted children to understand without becoming upset.
Fred Rogers had a gift. He had no reservations about really getting on a child's level and explaining complex ideas with empathy and understanding. You weren't stupid if you didn't get it right away--asking questions is an important part of the process of learning about ourselves and our world. Rogers and his work respected the questions of children, their worries and concerns, and most evidently, the child's need to know that despite whatever happens, things will end up alright. Mr. Roger's Neighborhood is, at it's core, reassuring.
So, may the heavens smile on Fred Rogers, the mild man who spoke to Congress in defense of public television, the man who took time to really learn about kids (something that seems to be remarkably absent from many kids shows) and who wasn't afraid of what people thought of him. He's one of my influences: I always learn something from him in every episode, in how to teach, how to relate, and most importantly, what I can be to the children in my world.
Up next in my series of influences: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I'll bet you just can't wait.