I don’t have a lot of heroes, but Mr. Rogers is one of them. I watched him when I was a kid, and I watched him again decades later with my children. He’s been criticized over the years by people who didn’t understand him, who thought that his talk about feelings and being special gave several generations of children an inflated sense of self-worth. In truth, he was trying to teach children how to understand themselves, to take responsibility for their actions and treat others with respect. In honor what would have been Fred Rogers’ 85th birthday, here’s something I posted on Oct. 11, 2010:
Channeling my inner Mr. Rogers
Sunday was Mama’s night off. She went to a movie (“Easy A”), and I took Thing 1 and Thing 2 to Moe’s.
While I was paying, Thing 2 (the 4-year-old) ran to get a drink and find a table. I sent Thing 1 (the 10-year-old) to keep an eye on Thing 2.
Soon as I caught up with them, Thing 1 tattled on her brother. “Thing 2 found a Lego man,” she said, trying to sound helpful.
I turned to Thing 2. “You found a Lego man?”
He had a bad feeling about this. “Uh-huh.” He wasn’t making eye contact. He knew where this was heading.
“Where’d you find him?”
“Over there,” he said, pointing to the pop machine.
“Well,” I said, “I think we need to find out if he belongs to somebody.”
Thing 2 nearly burst into tears (he’s learned that being cute and pathetic and really loud helps him get his way, especially in public).
“I want to keep him,” he whined.
“But he’s not yours,” I said, trying my best to channel my inner Mr. Rogers.
Because of his sweaters and puppets and slow way of speaking, a lot of people made fun of Mr. Rogers, but Mr. Rogers had it figured out.
He understood that kids are just trying to make sense of their feelings and what’s happening in the world around them. He treated them with kindness and love and respect.
Plenty of times over the past 10 years, when Thing 1 and Thing 2 have tried my patience and I haven’t been sure what to do, I’ve asked myself, “What would Mr. Rogers do?”
“Imagine if you lost a Hot Wheel,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic yet authoritative. “Wouldn’t you want someone to give him back?”
“No,” he lied.
“No. I’d want him to keep it.”
“Yes,” he said. “I’d want him to keep it. It would be like he found a present!”
I have no idea how Mr. Rogers would have responded to that.
I responded by taking Thing 2 around the restaurant to the three tables with children. The first two said it wasn’t theirs. Thing 2 perked up. Doing the right thing might not be so bad after all!
A boy at the last table, though, said it the Lego man was his.
Thing 2 was crushed. He shuffled back to our table, his head hung low, your basic Charlie Brown walk of depression.
When we sat down, I said, “I’m proud of you. That boy was really glad to get his Lego man back. Aren’t you glad we helped him find it?”
He put his head down on the table and stared out the window. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he sighed.