• It’s a beautiful day for reassurance

    It was a sunny August morning, and my husband, son and I were standing inside a giant dome-like structure in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. What were we waiting for? Why a giant stuffed tiger dressed in a red zip-up sweater, of course! You may have heard of him. His name is Daniel Tiger, and we watched him and his fellow costumed character Katarina perform an adorable stage show at Storyland.

    After the performance, children could line up to take photos with the characters. As we waited in the line, an older man – looking like he would feel more at home at a biker bar than a children’s theme park – came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, as my husband and son continued getting pictures taken with Daniel and friends.

    “I just wanted to say thank you for being such great parents,” the man said, smiling and then walking away.

    I turned back and looked at JB, who is now playing with and gazing in awe at Daniel Tiger. Tears started flowing down my cheeks, and I smiled. This was just another moment of reassurance made possible by Fred Rogers.

    Like most children in the 80s, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood every day. I learned how people make crayons, music can express feelings, and it’s okay to make mistakes. (I genuinely believe the episode where he shows the book with a typo in it instilled in me my love for proofreading!)

    I moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, and was dreading the transition. Pittsburgh had only four things going for it in my mind: My fiancé, my grad school, the Penguins, and Mister Rogers. (Technically he was from a suburb, Latrobe, but as an adult he relocated to Pittsburgh.)

    Living in Pittsburgh, it seemed everyone had some connection to Mister Rogers. I loved hearing the stories, each reiterating how humble and generous and compassionate he and his wife really were.

    While in grad school, I attended a citywide career fair for students looking at careers in journalism or communications. Imagine my surprise to find one of the speakers was the actor who played Mr. McFeely, David Newell. He was there to discuss careers in public television, obviously, but was also meeting with fans. I told him how I had reservations about moving from New England to Pittsburgh, but knew it couldn’t be that bad if Mister Rogers lived here. He spoke to me for several minutes reassuring me that everyone gets homesick, and I would make this city feel like home soon. I’ll always be grateful for that kindness.

    Mister Rogers’s effect on my parenting life

    The first song I ever sang to JB at the hospital when he was born was “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood”. I still sing him that song, along with “You Are Special”, “It’s You I Like”, and my all-time favorite “When Your Heart Has Butterflies Inside It”. We watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and now Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – as a family, and my husband and I sometimes point out places we’ve visited, or our favorite locations in the city. “There’s the Trader Joe’s Mommy always visited on her way home from work!” “That’s Daddy’s barber!”

    When JB returned to school full time last fall, I was a nervous wreck. Would he catch COVID? Was I protecting him enough? One particularly stressful day, as my head filled with worries on the drive to school, a song started playing from the “JB playlist” we were listening to in the car:

    Be brave and then be strong
    Be brave. You’ll not go wrong if you are right
    Keep your chin up tight
    And be brave and then be strong

    Yup, out of all the songs on my phone, at that moment that specific Mister Rogers song played. Sure, it could be a coincidence. After all, JB’s playlist is mostly Mister Rogers and Raffi songs (with some Taylor Swift for good measure). But coincidence or fate or whatever, all I know is that song was exactly what I wanted to hear in that moment of self-doubt.

    This summer has been extremely difficult for me emotionally. Our family’s bout with COVID, JB starting kindergarten, and some other changes have really taken their toll on my spirits. So last month, when I saw JB happily interact with these characters based on Mister Rogers’s work, and then heard someone telling me I was doing a good job? Well, I really needed that. And I think somehow, somewhere, Mister Rogers knew that, too. All I had to do was look for the helpers.

    Favorite books about Mister Rogers

    I’ve acquired quite the collection of Mister Rogers-related books over the years. Here are some of my favorites:

    (Please note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) 

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  • 10 (well, actually 9) things I hate about now

    I’ve been dealing with a major case of writer’s block lately. Last week, while in a particularly grumpy mood, I compiled a list of “things I hate right now”.

    I think I needed to get all this down on (virtual) paper to clear my brain before moving on and writing my next blog posts. Since putting together this list, I feel creative again for the first time in months.

    Below is a cleaned-up version of the list. (Trust me, the original version was not suitable for online publication of any kind!)

    1. I hate this pandemic.
    2. I hate what this pandemic has taken away from our children, especially those most in need of the stability and socialization of a school setting.
    3. I hate the actions (or inaction) of leaders who got us into this COVID mess, and of those people who knowingly dismiss social distancing or mask guidelines and continue the spread.
    4. I hate when people dismiss others’ talents by assuming something comes easily or painlessly. “Oooh, can you play/write/design something for me right now?” Yes, because that is how the creative process works, you moron. My marketable skill/life’s passion/etc. is totally a mere party trick for your entertainment.
    5. I hate that I miss Pittsburgh sometimes.
    6. I hate that I don’t know if it’s that I miss Pittsburgh, or that I miss being a young twentysomething filled with possibility.
    7. I hate that some days I no longer consider myself filled with possibility.
    8. I hate when people say things like “It must be nice staying home,” or “Well, I could never put my child in daycare,” to mothers. You would NEVER hear someone say this to a man.
    9. I hate that I’ve gained weight and, despite knowing what I should be doing to be healthier, I don’t actually do it.
    10. I hate that I’m counting down till JB goes to bed so I can have a glass of wine and the slice of cake that came with our takeout tonight.

    Author’s Update: Yeah, so I ended up not hating anything about that cake and wine. Also, the above image is a stock photo, not the actual dessert. The real cake did not last long enough for me to photograph it. #sorrynotsorry

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  • It’s okay to consider 2020 the bad guy (or what I learned leaving Pittsburgh)

    Six years ago this month, my husband and I finished loading our U-Haul and hightailed it out of Pittsburgh and back to New England.

    We had lived in Pittsburgh for several years after college. It was where Chris and I had our first home together, where he proposed, and where we adopted our little big-eared wonderdog, Colby.

    We left Pittsburgh on very bad terms. People we had thought of as dear friends screwed us over for their own professional gain, while other friends silently stood by, or shut us out of their lives completely. To this day, there are only a dozen or so people we still keep in contact with from our time in Pittsburgh.

    When we left the city, we had no idea what our future had in store for us. All of our plans were now completely shattered. Neither of us had jobs lined up in New England, and we would be staying with family until we could land on our feet. Those first few weeks in limbo were easily the worst time in my life. I can’t think too much about that period, as it’s still so painful. In fact, it’s taken these past six years to gather the courage to write about it even briefly.

    However, I have been looking back on our time in Pittsburgh before we were dealt that blow.

    It was pretty common knowledge that while living in Pittsburgh, I hated the city. I did not want to be there; it was not New England. I never expected to live there, and before moving there all I knew about it was it was where Topanga’s family moved, ripping her away from her true love, Cory, on Boy Meets World.

    Now, though, with some literal and figurative distance between the city and myself, I can appreciate the good parts of living there. I made incredible friends through my graduate school program at Duquesne University, and with my neighbors at our apartment complex. I became a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fan, and met Sidney Crosby at the Whole Foods deli once – swoon. As an American Studies major and history minor, I loved the historical significance of the city. Most importantly, Pittsburgh was the home of Mister Rogers, a personal hero of mine, and a constant reminder that kindness and decency are still very real. (Get ready for at least one blog post about Mister Rogers in 2021!)

    So why am I sharing all this right now? Well, we are all coming up on the end of what seems like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. It’s easy to blame it all on 2020, that abstract, convenient scapegoat that summarizes everything bad lately.

    I felt the same way about Pittsburgh a few years ago. I thought of the city as a whole, giant, evil entity that was at the root of every hardship we were facing at that moment.

    Did it help in the short term? You bet! I went through a good few years where I wouldn’t mention Pittsburgh without an F-bomb or two before it. It felt almost cathartic to hide all of my frustrations and fears under that general “villain” I created.

    But then, once things started improving here in New England – once I had a new career, and new friends, and had JB – I didn’t need Pittsburgh to be the bad guy anymore. I could admit that I missed certain aspects of life there – restaurants, museums, etc. Sometimes I miss it a lot, and think about going back to visit. Make no mistake, I still hate the decisions certain individuals made to hurt us during the end of our time in the city, but it was the actions of a small group, not the entire city. (Side note: I do, however, still blame the city of Pittsburgh for everything bad the Pearson Family has gone through thus far in the first 3.5 seasons of This is Us. I will not budge on this.)

    Back to 2020: It’s obviously not the entire year’s fault. But right now, I think we need to express our collective grief and fear in a way that’s easy and relatable. And yes, that makes 2020 the scapegoat. When we are in a better place, once the vaccine is more available and we are under more stable political leadership and our daily routines are able to return to normal-ish we will be able to learn from this chaos. We may even find one or two parts of this crazy quarantine life that we miss someday.

    So for now, keep those “F U 2020” Christmas ornaments, or make all the “Thank God it’s 2021” comments you want! There’s a time to be mature, and we will get there. But don’t worry if you aren’t there yet. Heck, maybe you’ll never entirely get to that point of acceptance and understanding. After all, lord knows I’m never going to be a Steelers fan!

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