People used to ask me-hell they still do-how I “do all the things” that I do. How can I remodel stuff and work and make things and write? I don’t know, I just do. But on more reflection, I’m thinking it is a mindset. I choose to make time for those things. What are things that I can eliminate from my day that don’t bring me comfort, joy, success, love? What can I let go of in order to spend more time doing the things I love? How can I make choices that make every moment count?
I have always operated from a baseline of “get things done,” or general activity and accomplishment.
It’s like I go through most days with the mindset of “ACTIVATE!”
I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the biopic of Fred Rogers and about his work in television for children (and adults) and how radical he was. What a lovely movie. What resonated with me the most is that I have this same siren call to work with children. Mr. Rogers wanted to help children understand their feelings. He wanted them to know that they are worthy of love, that they are unique and beautiful just the way they are. That is what I want, too. I have not always been the messenger of hope and love and peace to children that Fred Rogers was. Somedays-many days in this last year specifically-I crashed and burned. I wasn’t able to keep my ego out of my work with children. I got so hung up on details instead of just being human.
When I am at my best with children, it is when I use my heart and my unique memories and stories of childhood to connect with them. When I am able to be as present as possible.
I remember three years ago picking my precious Kinders up from recess. Many in line were weeping. Many were with cross faces, sad hearts, torn feelings, relationships asunder. I promised that I would talk to each and every single one of them individually, but that in order to do that, I had to have them start their classwork, and I would come talk to them ALL.
One little one, sad brown eyes filled with tears, told me how she had an “owie.” This little one always told me she had owies. She was teary and her lip was quivering. I held her hands. And I looked in her big eyes and said, “you don’t have to tell me you’re hurt for me to want to be with you. You can just say you need me, and I’ll be here.”
It was magic. That little one stopped telling me about owies after that and just said, “I need you, teacher.”
It is absolutely necessary that we tell children that we will be there for them. That they are safe. That we are going to take care of them, and that their job is to do their work of play and school. That who they are is the most important thing for them to be. Mr. Rogers took a lot of flack from naysayers over his career that he was “too nice” or making children weak and that his methodology made him evil. They just didn’t get it.
We need this kind of humanity more than ever.
So I feel ACTIVATED by this movie.
I feel like I saw it at the most 100% perfect time. I needed that boost, that reminder that my work with children and my focus on EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT is the most important thing I can do with them. I feel boosted up, like I have a little Mr. Rogers angel guiding me. His show meant so much to me as a child, because he told the truth. Sometimes he made me antsy and nervous, because he was so much more capable of stillness than me. He could do SO MUCH in silence and stillness. That’s so powerful, I just have to pause with that for a moment.
Silence. Stillness. Breath and an “I Love You.”
I believe this every time I say it, and sometimes feel like I’m so touchy feelie when I say it at school. I’m going to stop worrying about what other people think about that, and just answer to the children.
After all, they are the reason I am here. I don’t expect to have glories and awards heaped upon me. I just want to make some changes for children while I’m still here.
I will leave you with this, a story about Rogers accepting his lifetime achievement award on the Emmy’s in 1997, because his impact is so beautiful, I just want to give this some love.
Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award—and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.” There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds—and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly, “May God be with you” to all his vanquished children. -Tom Junod