Two Things I Learned From Fred Rogers

Confession: I don’t like going to movie theaters. And by “don’t like” I do mean detest.

I know, I know, some of you are already wondering how we can even be friends anymore. But I just cant stand it, y’all. It’s too dark and too loud, and the screen is too big and it hurts my ever-aging eyes and ears. The floor is sticky and the smell of over-salted, over-buttered popcorn catches in my throat, taunting me to breathe deeply without coughing.

There is not a single movie I wouldn’t wait for to come out on DVD so I could watch it on a moderately-sized screen, on my comfy couch with reasonable lighting and volume choices. Of course, this would all take place whilst wearing stretchy pants, shoeless feet kicked up on a cushion and hair in the messiest of updos. The smell of popcorn would be replaced with the wafting aroma of fantastically-seasoned curry. Away with the sugar-laden soda; in its place would be a stemless oversized glass of smoky, fruity Malbec. Now then. THEN. I will be ready to watch a movie.

Call me boring, old, curmudgeonly. I do not care. I am thirty-seven not twenty-two, and I am here to impress exactly no one. I’m also an introvert, so if you threaten me with such notions as, “fine, you can watch your ‘home movie’ by yourself while I go to the fancy theater” I will secretly be even more delighted. Bye to all the Felicias and hand me my curry on your way out the door.

Enter Ben Pascal, lover of the theater. Bigger + louder + darker = better. Any movie with the slightest amount of action must be seen on the “big screen” or you’ve lost a moment in time, never to return excepting maybe for an anniversary edition in twenty years. Honestly you guys, I’m not sure how we have made 12+ years of marriage work with these kinds of opposing movie-watching philosophies.

So you can imagine how overjoyed I was to receive this text from Ben last week:

As I already mentioned, we weren’t married yesterday. This guy definitely knows my disdain for theaters. So either he doesn’t care anymore or he REALLY wants to see this movie. But, let’s face it. This particular movie looked pretty interesting and I do love a good documentary. So I eventually conceded.

We showed up to the theater on a beautiful sunny afternoon and I gave a silent inward groan as I took one last breath of fresh air before the popcorn haze engulfed my lungs. We rolled into the depths of darkness and found a couple seats in the already too loud theater. I tried not to cringe as I took my seat sight-unseen, shoes sticking to the sugar residue that coated the floor.

But I soon forgot all about those things as I became more enthralled by the minute at the story unfolding on the big screen. For the next hour and forty-five minutes I was suspended somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Remembering the show I knew so well as a young girl, yet viewing it afresh through my now grown-up eyes. Tear-filled eyes.

Fred Rogers, whom we all know and love, was a Presbyterian pastor turned children’s TV show host around 1968. While at first glance the show appears to be a simple children’s program, it is critical to know that he offered so much more than entertainment. He was ready and able to touch on topics pretty radical for that time including challenging current events such as the JFK assassination, relevant issues around race, and especially feelings. But the core of everything he did boiled down to one significant value: LOVE. Specifically, this:

“The greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”

Profoundly simple to say.

At times, inexplicably difficult to execute well.

You see, like many of you, Ben and I are trying to raise a bunch of kids in our house. Not just to get them to adulthood. But to be kind and loving people, the kind of people who are capable of being agents of change toward the best this generation of humanity can offer. The kind of people who, because their parents showed them such a ridiculous amount of times that they are loved and that they matter, that they inherently believe it. Not only that; but that they value it so much that they are compelled to instill that same belief in others. And maybe, just maybe, they will all catch a glimpse of the source of this extravagant and ridiculous love; that is, the love of the One who created us all.

To be perfectly honest…I haven’t done a very good job of this type of parenting lately.

As I reflected on what I can do to love my kids better, I came up with some ideas on my own as to what this might look like. However, this was too important. I didn’t want to miss something. I wanted to get an expert’s opinion.

So…I asked each of my kids the following question:

“When do you feel most loved by Mommy and Daddy?

Their answers were pretty perfect:

  • Just be with me
  • When you give attention to me by myself
  • Hugs
  • Kisses
  • Sit on the couch next to me
  • Color with me

What I found most striking about these responses was how utterly mundane they were. It’s not in the giving of stuff, the spending of money, or the creating of elaborate experiences that makes them feel loved. It’s in the most basic of interactions that come from simply being together, the ones that are most likely to get crunched when we pack our schedule too full. I realized it was time to give these ordinary “tasks” the priority in the day that they deserve. But let’s put a pin in that and go back to the movie for a second.

As we continued to watch the documentary, a producer was interviewed about how the show took everything that made good television and basically did the exact opposite. Specifically he said,

“There was a lot of slow space. There was no wasted space.”

I almost could not breathe as these words left his mouth.

In a fast-paced age where the completion of tasks is highly valued and distractions are rampant, especially those of the technological variety, doing non-tasks can feel very wasteful.

What Mister Rogers tried to teach us all is that this slow space is a key ingredient in loving people and showing them they are capable of love.

I am a task-oriented person (I think most people are but I’m a professionally trained nurse and spent most of my career in a fast-paced inpatient setting, so…Lord help me), so this was a bit painful for me. To be quite honest, I am rather uncomfortable with slow space.

I seem to be perpetually caught in the tangle of tasks. The jam-packed schedule that makes up each day for a busy family of five is enough to send anyone into a tailspin. Heaven help us should anyone get sick or hurt. Or angry or scared. Or want to stop and throw rocks in the creek for an hour. I’m sorry to say that my days often do not have minutes allotted for these types of “inconveniences.”

But, I am realizing something very important. What I have considered to be inconveniences are actually opportunities to show my impressionable people that they are LOVED and that they MATTER.

I am learning that busy-ness does not equal worthiness. Maybe some of you already inherently know this and it’s not hard for you and you are my hero. But I’m still learning that sometimes the most important parts of our days are not measurable. They are not something that can be checked off a list.

And so, here I am. A 37-year-old mom of three, re-prioritizing yet again what I value in myself as a parent.

While the tasks and to-do lists are certainly important (I mean, without them our lives would quite literally implode), they are not the only thing worthy of our time, energy, and attention. So today, for the very first time, instead of making a “To-Do” list, I made a “To-Be” list. And I wrote most of it with a little boy sitting in my lap, insisting I spoon-feed him his lunch from 3 hours ago even though he is almost five. So you know it was not done efficiently. It was SLOOOOWWWWW space. Yet I wouldn’t trade a second of it in favor of efficiency. It was delicious. On my “To-Be” list, there are no checkboxes to mark off and it is not listed in order of priority.

It just is.

To Be

  • Be Present
  • Be Silly
  • Be interested
  • Be compassionate
  • Be a leader
  • Be playful
  • Be helpful
  • Be affirming
  • Be expressive
  • Be safe (as in, a safe person to share with)
  • Be just
  • Be teachable
  • Be a dancer
  • Be a singer
  • Be an artist
  • Be joy-filled
  • Be smiley
  • Be patient
  • Be inclusive
  • Be uninhibited
  • Be imaginative
  • Be creative
  • Be democratic
  • Be brave
  • Be funny
  • Be real
  • Be humble (especially toward my kids)
  • Be grace-filled
  • Be adventurous (like, go to a movie with someone??)
  • Be inquisitive
  • Be extravagant
  • Be kind
  • Be love

Unlike a list of tasks demanding to be checked off, this list is an invitation to create space. Space to slow down and love my people well, both kids and adults.

It’s not perfect and I make a lot of mistakes, but I’m still learning. And I choose to fail forward. Thank the sweet Lord for grace.

How about you? How do you create slow space to love your people?

3 thoughts on “Two Things I Learned From Fred Rogers

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