Mister Roger and His Helpers

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Did you see the new trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood starring Tom Hanks? I did. I cried.

Did you see, Won’t you be my Neighbour? A documentary about Mister Rogers? I did. I cried.

I am surprised to see so many people happy and excited about this story and talk about Fred Rogers’ legacy. When I was a kid, people (adults and peers) called me a baby for watching it. I didn’t care. I watched it until I was 12. This was the first time I remember doing my own thing and not being influenced by others. I didn’t get influenced by people’s opinions until I was older, then I made the mistake of listening to people. That was stupid. I accepted really bad advice and it destroyed me. I have been working hard every day since to get me back.

When I was little, I mean LITTLE like three or four, my mom dropped me off at the childminders while she worked downstairs. I liked that I could see my mom whenever I wanted. I liked that I was free to go on imaginary adventures or go on errands with the adults looking after me. I liked having access to the red cookie tin in the cupboard. What I didn’t like was the teenager who was also there. He was mean. And by mean, I mean abusive. Verbally and emotionally, never physically. He called me stupid and ugly. He was angry all the time. He was scary. My brother and I were never rescued from him, we were told to ignore him, but what do little kids know about that? We learned to fight back. But those words of self-depreciation linger in the brain for decades. Mister Rogers rescued me.

PBS, channel 9 out of Spokane, played Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Zoom and Mister Rogers. I fell in love with Kermit the Frog and Super Grover, Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno, learned nifty facts and felt peaceful with Mister Rogers.

I cry thinking about how safe I felt with him and he was on TV – not even in the room. But the way he looked into the camera and directly at me, made me feel special. He told me I was special. He was deliberate with kindness and gentle words. I remember him talking about being scared and looking for helpers. When I was five and began kindergarten, I was able to go to my great grandmother’s home after school. She sat with me every day after school to hear about my day. She asked me questions to understand my story better. We had tea and digestive biscuits with cheese and sometimes peanut butter pirate cookies. But every time I was in her presence she would look me in the eye and make me feel special. The same way Mister Rogers did. Now I had two adults who told me I was special and I mattered. I can transport myself back into my ‘Little’ Gram’s kitchen in an instant. She had her spot at the large round table that no one ever sat in and I sat beside her. I can still smell Red Rose Tea steeping in the corning wear teapot. I remember looking out into the back yard and seeing the rusty old swing set. Later on, that window was covered up by a three-season addition and it made the kitchen dark, but it still felt the same.

Maya Angelou said once you forget the things people do but you always remember how they made you feel. Mister Rogers and Little Gram made me feel important and special. I think my Little Gram was one of Mister Rogers’ helpers.

Maya Angelou told Oprah once, “You will never know what your legacy is.” Mister Rogers’ knew he made a difference to children but the vast reach of his influence he never truly knew. If a little girl in a small town in Alberta was affected by him, imagine how far his reach was after decades of being on TV. I am sure it is infinite.

As an adult, I take the time to listen to kids and ask questions to understand the story better. I let people know they are special and they matter, especially to me. Knowing you matter is one thing, but knowing you matter to someone is extra special. I have become one of Mister Rogers’ Helpers. If you need me, I am here. If you are abusive, I wish you well and send you on your way because kindness matters.

Think about your words. You may think they are kind – but would you like them to be spoken to you? Kindness matters, it’s your legacy. You have no idea how many people you will touch that are influenced by your words. Thank you, Mister Rogers.

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