Won’t you be my Neighbor is a documentary about Fred Rogers and his television show Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood. Instead of writing a typical review, I’m going to describe my history with the show and how I feel about it now. In case you don’t read on, I want to say: if you are at involved in the lives of children–you should make time to watch this documentary. Honestly, I was surprised by the intensity of the feelings I now have in the aftermath of hearing Mr. Rogers’s message as an adult.
Like most of us who were children at any point from the late ’60s through the late ’90s, I was exposed to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. Watching the documentary I was reminded of times when I was in front of the television listening to Mr. Rogers visit make believe places, interact with make believe friends, and sing songs. I wrote it that way, because I didn’t like Mr. Rogers or his neighborhood. While I was prone to making up stories of future success and yes even future love–I couldn’t relate to Mr. Rogers. His fantasies seemed based on things that made sense to him. My fantasies were pure fantasies.
- Instead of feeling special, I felt like nothing was expected of me.
- Instead of feeling liked for me, I felt weird and different.
- Instead of feeling like adults were proud to have me in their lives, I mostly felt like a burden.
- Instead of feeling like making mistakes were normal, I felt like mistakes highlighted for most people how abnormal and lesser I was and would remain.
- Instead of feeling loved, I felt like someone who didn’t really belong.
- Instead of having fantasies designed to make me feel better and teach lessons, I was fantasizing about a life I desperately wanted but didn’t believe would ever be mine.
I remember watching Mr. Rogers and feeling hurt and angry. One afternoon, I turned off his show and started crying. I wanted the kind of life he sang about. It wasn’t my life. Maybe, it would never be my life.
After a few minutes, I forced myself to stop crying. Little boys didn’t cry. I wouldn’t be upset any longer. I would just keep going. At the time, I didn’t know it, but I had already learned to disconnect from my feelings. It was safer to pretend. It was easier to fantasize and hope. Letting myself be hurt and crying didn’t feel good. Besides, there wasn’t anyone I could tell.
Watching the documentary early this morning, I realized how my child’s mind–without the life experience I have now and the adults to share with–totally misunderstood Mr. Rogers and his message.
- Love is the route of everything.
- Feelings do matter.
- Change causes fear in many.
- The most important parts of people are invisible.
- We are all special in our own way.
The last one is, of course, a hot topic of the day. Should we be teaching kids that they are all special and unique?
The idea, made clear in the documentary, isn’t that all kids are special to the point of entitlement. The idea is that all kids are special enough to deserve love and respect. Growing up insecure about your own ability and questioning how loved you are, sucks. Honestly, I can’t be more articulate than that right now. Accepting my feelings is still something I’m facing. At least I’ve gotten here.
What I’m saying is that kids need a solid floor of acceptance, love, and the healthy sharing of emotions to reach their potential. Sure, kids can work on those things as adults. We can find people who help us do the growth we should have begun as children. But there is truly no substitute for the chance to go through life knowing you are accepted and loved. The earlier you gain that knowledge the better.
I can’t wait for the opportunity to share this with children.