A Meaningful Expression of Care

What do you do with the mad that you feel?

This is a line from a song written by Fred Rogers and read by him to a congressional committee in 1969. Mr. Rogers borrowed the line, word for word, from a child who directed the question to him. The song continues with Mr. Rogers’ response to that very important question about feelings.

The committee’s purpose was to decide whether $20 million in federal funding for the Public Broadcasting Corporation should be preserved. In his speech, Mr. Rogers beautifully distilled the message he had delivered and would go on to deliver during each of the 895 episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He told us he liked each and every one of us just the way we were. That feelings mattered. When he said these things I trusted that he was speaking directly to me. He had that magic.

In the clip, Fred Rogers is speaking about and on behalf of children, but his message is applicable to people of all ages. Children and adults, after all, have a lot in common. For one thing, we each benefit from meaningful expressions of care now and again. (I am in the back row and apparently had asked my barber to make me look like Captain Kangaroo.)

I used to think I wasn’t good with children. I decided I couldn’t interact effectively with them because I didn’t understand them. At best they’d look at me dumbly and at worst they’d burst into tears. To feel better I decided I didn’t like them. For a couple of decades I comfortably entered a loop that, because of my lack of skills, I limited my interactions with children and was therefore prevented from developing skills.

Fast forward twenty years. Today I realize there is no “them.” I was making the mistake of generalization. I didn’t and will never understand all children. Some are just wired differently than I am (thank goodness). Coming out of my twenty years of self imposed exile from children, I still have no skills so I just speak to them like adults (omitting most of my more colorful language). Some respond like intelligent adults (my definition of intelligent, anyway) while others run and hide. The ones who speak with me are generally easy to like and the conversations flow naturally. Conversations go somewhere. The others, well, I have decided to treat them like adults with whom I don’t get along.  They can find another person to sneeze on.

For better and worse, I have decided to proceed on the assumption that children are just short adults. Some might be friend material while others can’t appreciate the wonders of lugged steel bicycles. While I care about each child and their feelings, if they can’t appreciate the skill, time and love that goes into the production of, care for and responsible use of bicycles, or something along those lines, I will very likely lose interest in them and move on. Let them find a friend that cares more for bacon than pigs.

That is too mean. Better return to the example of the honorable Fred Rogers. Watching him present his case to Congress and remembering the hours I spent watching his lovely esteem-building episodes, I see I owe him an especially large thank you. It was surely from him that I gained part of the strength necessary to ask the gym teacher for permission to ride my bicycle to a nearby lake during gym class in lieu of running laps. I could have kept my needs to myself, but this time I found my voice. Permission was granted. I felt cared for. Bicycling was my thing and my thing was given the respect it deserved. Pedaling was acknowledged to be good exercise and it didn’t exacerbate the shin splints caused by running cross country. Too much special treatment can be bad, but I suspect many of us, if not all of us, could use a little extra dose of special now and then.

In small and fitful ways, that is what I try to do with this blog. I try to let people know that they are not alone and that someone cares about them. When I write about what I do and what my friends do, I hope you will see someone else cares about what you care about. That, or you will try something new and gain courage, and even new friends, as a result.

I try to write positively and quietly, again following the example of Fred Rogers. I try to be a good neighbor. I learned today that his signature sneaker change was initiated so that he could move more quietly around the set than his dress shoes allowed. A little thing, but for me a symbol of the way he thought, spoke and acted. He didn’t bop you over the head with his message, but if you figuratively leaned into the television you learned so much and were loved even more.

Thanks Mr. Rogers!

By the way, I have a wonderful coincidence to share. Yesterday we received a package from one of the friends about whom I was writing yesterday. The gift giver was the girl pedaling with the video camera through India. She sent tea, cardamom pods and dried red chilies. I used each ingredient in preparing a meal consisting of spiced brown rice (cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, garam masala, peas and salt), a cauliflower curry (asafetida, cumin, onion, ginger, tumeric, corriander, dried red chilies, amchur and salt) and chai (cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black peppers, fennel seeds, almond milk and tea). If you’ve never made your own chai masala (masala means spice mix, right?), I encourage you to try. The flavors are so bright! Each dish was worth well more than the modest effort I put into it, but then I must consider my friend schlepping the spices back with her from India. I am glad the dishes came out so well and did honor to her efforts and thoughtfulness. Thank you for the wonderful gifts!

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6 responses to “A Meaningful Expression of Care

  1. Randy,

    I enjoyed your blog today as I sit at home patiently waiting for an installer to come put up a new garage door opener. As I write this it’s about that time in the afternoon when Mr. Rogers used to be on PBS and I would be transported to the Land of Make Believe on that magical trolley. You point out the thing that Mr. Rogers knew made him special – that he liked each of us just they way we were. And we liked him just the way he was. Each day on his show was much the same, with a ritual of routines (the shoes, the fish aquarium, the mailman), but in the smallest ways, each encounter with life was something in which he helped us find incredible wonder.

    I have to ask about the class picture from Prescott – I don’t know if I knew that you went there. I transferred to Prescott in the middle of first grade and had Ms. Johnson for homeroom, but spent part of my day with Mrs. Dalrymple (somewhat of a female version of Mr. Rogers). How long did you attend Prescott? I see Trevor Bassen in your class picture, too! Do you know the address or street of the house you are standing in front of in the other picture? It sure looks the like the homes in the Prescott neighborhood and I wonder how close we may have lived to each other.

    Continue blogging. I read far more of your writing than you will know based on my very infrequent comments, but I do enjoy it all very much.

    Your friend,
    Troy

    • Thank you for writing! So nice to hear from you in this venue! I haven’t promoted this site to friends (and have given up trying to stop Lacey from promoting it on Facebook), so it is always a delight when an old friend turns up and with nice things to say to boot! Most likely you are on Facebook and are friends with Lacey. I owe her thanks, too, for this nice meeting.

      I went to Prescott for kindergarten only. Transferred to Maude Rousseau for first grade. I don’t remember Ms. Dalrymple, but noticed her wonderful name as I was adding the picture to the post. Sounds like a character from a children’s book. Perfect! She also sounds like a nice person from your description. All I remember about Prescott is that they tried to move me into 1st grade. I lasted not a single day. The lines of desks and other less nurturing aspects caused me to burst into tears almost immediately and I was ushered back to the comfort of grade K.

      The house is at 19th and F. If my memory serves, the address was 1936. I used to sit on the front stone steps and listen to the bells from that beautiful church one block away and look at the mysterious mansion across the street. Give it a try this summer. Pretty nice steps. Take a photo if you do! We were tenants of the first floor, but that included the stairs to the attic off the kitchen and the attic itself. The attic was to be my bedroom. I would sometimes muster the courage to play in the attic, but I don’t think I ever was able to sleep there. Too scary. I also remember melting a plastic Flintstone’s buggy in the backyard. With sufficient application of match flame, it caught fire and dripped plastic onto my hand. The molten plastic formed a scar that looks like a duckling. I ran inside and explained the wound to my mom as the result of a crash on my Big Wheel.

      Hope to correspond with you again soon!

  2. Hey Randy,
    Thank you for defining masala! I’d been wondering since the first day of the trip. Your dishes sound delicious-I will surely have to steal the recipes. It was great to be in a place that was serving up all kinds of conducive-to-the-vegetarian-diet food. The meat eaters were actually quarantined in some of the meat serving restaurants and branded as such(there were also a number of “ladies sections” which is another story, but pleasant and welcome anyway-central america should hear about this practice). We didn’t have to worry about chomping into a muscley mess upon indulgence of fried street delights either, what a place! Anyway, this is all to say you are most welcome for the gifts, I’m so glad you are enjoying them.
    ABbey

    • Glad you liked the post! I’m happy to share recipes, but they all came from one place (The Indian Vegan Kitchen). Its new to me, but I have made four dishes, all of which came out great. It is now my go to cookbook for Indian.

      I’ve read about women only train cars in India. For the benefit of the women as opposed to a means to discriminate against them, right? I’d fully support women only train cars and restaurant sections if I could get a waiver. Where else would I want to be?

      The meat free aspects had to be very enjoyable, too. I’d be in heaven!

      Speak to you soon.

  3. I love you and your blog.

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