I sat down in the squeaky movie theater seat and waited for the show to start.
In my lap was not my usual movie watching meal, a tub of popcorn and a Diet Coke, but instead my lap held a wad of tissues that I had brought from home.
I knew these tissues would all be needed, as I was sitting in the theater with my family to watch the documentary about Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
PBS began airing his childrens television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, in the late 1960s. He was heading into the ministry when he shifted gears to start a television program after he realized what was on television for children had no depth.
Man-Farmer and I grew up watching his program. Man-Farmer was raised right outside of Pittsburgh, PA and Pittsburgh is where Fred Rogers lived and began his show at WQED.
We are children of the 70s and 80s. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood played a very large and meaningful role in our young lives. We wanted to share his message with our children. Since this documentary was coming to the masses, PBS has began showing more of his archived show. We have shown a few to our daughters. Gigi always seemed bored watching them. The show is slow. Mr. Rogers speaks slowly. He’s quiet. His show is not at all similar to anything she currently sees on tv.
I knew that this movie may be a bit long and dull for my nine year old daughter, but she was sitting next to me anyway.
I wanted her to hear the message of this film. I wanted both of my daughters to hear the message that is universally Fred Rogers.
Treat everyone with kindness.
The film did show this, sharing first hand accounts of those who knew Fred Rogers, who worked with Fred Rogers, who loved Fred Rogers.
The documentary highlights various shows Fred Rogers did with topics as deep and as scary as war, death, and divorce. He wanted children to realize that they weren’t alone when they encountered scary things. That they are loved. That they are special. That they are valuable.
Many adults forget that they themselves were once children. I have many friends who don’t have children and the dislike for kids that they proclaim often shakes me. They themselves didn’t just appear in the world with the knowledge they now possess. Someone had to shape them into who they are today. Childhood is such a short time in a person’s life…there’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time. Being a kid is hard.
As we were watching the documentary, Gigi was fidgety. Moving around a lot. Chewing loudly on her popcorn. The screen in front of us began to show a clip of an episode about death. Mr. Rogers was at his fish tank and one of his fish had died so he was removing it out with a small net.
Gigi leaned over to me and whispered “we watched this one at home. I remember this.”
She often seems bored, not interested. But I’m always learning as a parent. And in that moment I realized that she had been paying attention. She often is more engaged than I realize. She does see and absorb and she is always learning.
The documentary went on and my tissues were used. Zoe had her own stash. She is a very sensitive and mature 13 year old. She’s already seen a lot in her young life. She was brought to tears at the message that IS Mr. Rogers. I knew she would get it. Man- Farmer even needed to borrow one to wipe his eyes in the last two minutes of the movie.
“That’s the shortest list of credits I’ve ever seen” Zoe said when it was over. “That’s a documentary for ya” her dad said.
The show had ended, but the lights didn’t come on. We found our way to the exit area and a group of older people (older than me) had pulled out their phones. Since it was still dark in the room, I could see that they were scrolling. Through Snapchat and Facebook. I shook my head and then looked at my teen daughter as she smiled at me through her still falling tears. These grownups could learn a thing or two from the teenager walking past them, no phone in sight, wiping the tears from her eyes because of what she had just witnessed. She saw something that touched her deep within her heart. She’s an old soul. A kid who “gets it”.
Get off your phones people.
Kindness is needed in this world.
I feel confident that my children will spread that message as they grow and interact with the world.
A message I learned from a soft-spoken man named Fred and his puppet Daniel Tiger.
His mantra is especially worthy and needed in 2018.
Kindness and Love never go out of style.
If you haven’t seen this documentary yet, I recommend that you get to it soon.
Don’t forget your tissues.