No glitter, plastic gems or sparkly rhinestones decorated the valentine I gave my kid Harry this year. I’m usually drawn to cards with the same items Harry uses for the beat face of his alter-ego drag persona, Amber Alert. But a shiny red embossed word “Sassy” on the card rack caught my eye instead. Underneath the adjective, read its definition: lively, bold and full of spirit. Add in self-assured and stylish, and you’ve got quintessential Harry and Amber. Our Valentine dinner convo turned to the Academy Awards’ Mister Rogers opening number by another sassy, queer entertainer, Janelle Monáe. Then I revealed to Harry my love for Mister Rogers.
I didn’t like Mister Rogers.
When Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted in 1968 I was in high school. I had no reason to care about children’s television. Instead, I worried about friends being drafted to fight in Vietnam.
But my gal pal Wendy was born in 1968 and grew up watching Mister Rogers. And it was the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor that she picked for us to see when it premiered in 2018.
“You really want to see a movie about Mr. Rogers?” I asked her.
“He was a big part of my childhood,” she told me. “I used to watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood every day. And at the end of every show, I’d go to the kitchen and tell my mom it was time to say goodbye to Mr. Rogers.”
I’d always thought of Mister Rogers as just an old fuddy-duddy with a scraggly tiger puppet. I confessed I’d never watched a single episode. But I did remember laughing at Eddie Murphy’s parody of Mister Rogers on SNL in the early ‘80s.
A singular vision of love and kindness.
Before I watched the documentary with Wendy, I never imagined the depth of the show. I didn’t realize how many issues he took on or knew of his background in children’s education. I was so moved by Mister Rogers’ connection with kids that I went to see the movie again. I took a notebook with me. And another pack of tissues.
I don’t know if I can convey the monumental impact Mister Rogers had on generations of kids, or why the adults, like Wendy, who grew up with him, revere him so. However, I did learn that on camera, he spoke as if only to an audience of one. And he strongly believed that a child’s feelings were just as powerful as an adult’s feelings.
Here are a few Mister Rogers quotes from the documentary that imprinted on my heart:
“Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”
At a congressional hearing on funding for public television: “One of the first things a child develops in a healthy family is trust. I give an expression of care each day to every child, to help him realize that he is unique, by saying you’ve made this day a special day by just you being you. There’s no person in the whole world just like you and I like you just the way you are.”
“I don’t think anybody can grow unless he really is accepted exactly as he is.”
Making a difference.
At dinner that night, I told Harry he’s my forever valentine. And while revealing my love for Mr. Rogers, I explained why the person I’d never met will always hold valuable real estate in my heart. I may very well be watching the Mister Rogers documentary again, only with Harry next time. And I’ll probably apologize for not encouraging him to watch the show when he was a child.
We’re all capable of love. We all long for it and are worthy of it. Regardless of how we identify or what backgrounds or abilities we have. The list of our differences is endless. But we all want the same thing. Please remember love and kindness for family, friends, co-workers, in whatever neighborhood you live, work or play. As Mister Rogers would say, it’s such a good feeling.
Photo of Amber Alert by Ben Boyles
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, YOU’LL PROBABLY ALSO LIKE THESE: