TV shows

  • 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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  • Thank you for being a friend

    cheesecake slices

    Like many people, I have been rewatching Golden Girls this past week in remembrance of Betty White. Gosh, that show was delightful. I think my favorite part (other than Sophia’s and Dorothy’s snarky comebacks) is just how ready the characters are to help one another at a moment’s notice, whether it’s with a funny story or a slice of cheesecake. In one episode, Blanche and Rose even filled in for Dorothy in a tap dance performance when she hurt her foot!

    In November, I sprained my ankle. It was not, as most 80s/90s sitcoms would have you believe, a minor inconvenience rendering me a charming damsel in distress. I did not win a dance contest at The Max (like in Saved by the Bell), nor did I trade places with Monica Geller and meet George Clooney (like in Friends). I could not put any weight on my foot for 10 days. The majority of my daily activities – carrying JB, lifting his 50 lb. wheelchair in and out of the car, etc. – were suddenly off limits. We are extremely fortunate that my husband was able to use paid time off, and that we have incredible family and friends nearby. Otherwise, I honestly don’t know what we would have done.

    This experience gave me a lot of time to think about what makes a real friend as the parent of a disabled child. Here’s a list of what has meant the most to me over these past few years:

    True friends are the ones who:

    • Want to learn more about your child’s different tools/equipment, so they can assist you;
    • Offer an extra set of hands, whether it’s to wash dishes or fold laundry or even just hit the pause button on the feeding pump;
    • Talk to, not over, your child, recognizing they are just as present as anyone else in the room;
    • Ask questions about your child’s interests, not their milestones;
    • Understand that you may have to cancel plans at the last minute due to illness or behavioral issues;
    • Distract you with funny texts and gifs while you are anxiously waiting to see a doctor or for test results;
    • Visit you during your child’s hospitalizations, even if it’s just to bring you snacks or play card games;
    • Arrange play dates (in-person or FaceTime) so their kids and yours can play and interact;
    • Realize that language around disability is changing constantly, and do their research because they want their words to convey the most compassion and dignity possible.

    This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it’s a good jumping off point for when you want to help a friend who may be dealing with a child’s diagnosis or illness and you aren’t sure what to do. Sometimes, cheesecake doesn’t solve every problem (though it sure comes close)!

    I’d love to hear what ways your loved ones have helped you during particularly difficult times. Please feel free to share in the comments.

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  • In praise of Bluey

    blue toy dog in front of colorful flowers

    “Mum . . . Dad . . . Bingo . . . Bluey!”

    If you aren’t dancing right now, you probably don’t have a child under the age of 6.

    Bluey is taking over the world, and I for one could not be more excited!

    The cartoon follows the aforementioned Australian canine members of the Heeler family on their everyday adventures. Somehow, each short episode includes as many (if not more) laughs for parents as for kids, and often end with a Pixar-worthy emotional gut punch.

    JB loves this show, but truth be told my husband and I also watch it without him. Many of my friends have admitted the same thing!

    Here is a look at two episodes, and what they’ve taught me about parenting, disability, and confidence.

    Baby Race: There are numerous articles and posts online about why parents love this episode so much, and with good reason. In this episode, Chilli (aka “Mum”) tells her daughters the story of how Bluey learned to crawl. Chilli mentions it was – in her mind at least – like a baby race to see who would crawl or walk first among the other children in the playgroup. When Bluey wasn’t crawling like the others, Chilli worried, taking her to the pediatrician and questioning her own fitness as a mother. Another mom from their playgroup comes to visit with Chilli. This mom mentions she’s still learning as she goes, and this is her ninth kid! No wonder she seems like she has it all figured out. She then assures Chilli, “You’re doing great.”

    Chilli cries, the audience cries, basically everyone cries. And then we learn what finally inspired Bluey to crawl was the desire to be with her mother on the other side of the kitchen. Trust me, just watch this and prepare to sob.

    I love this episode because it addresses how easy it is to fall into the comparison trap when it comes to our children’s milestones. I’ll admit it, even in my childbirth classes, I was scanning the other pregnant ladies in the room and thinking “She’s gained more weight than me!” or “Yeah, sure, have fun with your plans for natural birth, honey!”

    After having JB, I joined an online mommy group. I would frantically worry if someone mentioned their child was sitting up already or if someone put down moms who didn’t breastfeed. When JB didn’t meet milestones, I’d assume it was my fault. Fortunately, my friends, family and coworkers were fantastic and supportive, reminding me “You’re doing great!” when I needed it most.

    Army: This episode focuses on two of Bluey’s classmates – a Jack Russell terrier named (appropriately enough) Jack Russell. It’s Jack’s first day at his new school, where he meets a classmate named Rusty. They spend the afternoon pretending they are on an army mission. (Rusty’s dad is a soldier.)

    At one point, Rusty asks Jack if there was something wrong with his old school that made him switch to the new school. Jack replies, “No, there’s something wrong with me. I’m not good at doing what I’m told, I can’t sit still, and I can’t remember anything, like numbers or letters or my hat.”

    “Oh, well you’re really good at playing army,” Rusty replies.

    I love several things about this episode. First, it reminds us adults that children absorb and internalize everything they hear us say about them. Jack thinks it’s his fault that he had to change schools because of his differences, because of what he “can’t do”. My heart absolutely broke hearing this, because I know I’ve probably given JB the impression that there’s something wrong with him. Obviously this is not the case: JB, like Jack, needs a different educational setting to better suit his unique needs.

    The next thing I love about Army is Rusty’s reply to Jack’s comment. When Jack shares that there’s something “wrong” with him (more than likely ADHD), and lists everything he’s not good at, Rusty isn’t fazed, and mentions a strength he’s already noticed in Jack. I know I’ve said it before on this blog, but kids are so much more accepting of differences than us grown-ups are. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times a child says something like, “Oh, that’s cool,” and changes topic when they first meet JB and learn about his wheelchair or feeding tube. I wish we held onto this acceptance a bit longer, before we learn to fear or judge what is different.

    Does your family watch Bluey? Do you have a Grannies bumper sticker in your Etsy cart as we speak? Do you find yourself saying “dollarbucks” and “for real life?” in everyday conversations now? Who is your Bluey spirit animal? (mine is Muffin aka the Flamingo Queen, thank you very much!) Share in the comments or on Facebook!


    Etsy affiliate links are used in this post.

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  • Months in review: March and April 2020

    It feels weird using the word “awesome” to describe these past two months in the Twilight Zone known as quarantine. It feels so weird, in fact, that I actually started writing this piece for March, and then chickened out, feeling that it would be tone deaf and too frivolous. So, for the time being, let’s just call this “Months in Review”.

    I think we could all use some entertainment suggestions right now. Here is a super-sized list of things that either distracted me or made me feel a little more like “me” over the past two months, even with all of the craziness going on. (You’ll notice there are no books on this list. I’m putting together a special post on favorite reads later this month.)

    What I’ve been watching:

    Some Good News: John Krasinski is a national treasure. The latest proof of this indisputable fact is a gem of a weekly YouTube series entitled Some Good News, in which Jim Halpert himself shares uplifting videos and stories and makes people’s dreams come true through a mix of celebrity appearances, charitable donations, and awesome events like prom and graduation. Keep making your fellow attractive Polish New Englanders proud, JKras!

    Community:  Community is finally on Netflix, folks! This super snarky, bizarre sitcom is perfect for quarantine binge watching, because almost every episode parodies a different pop culture genre. You don’t have to watch every episode, or the episodes in order, either. Note: It is a little strange rewatching it now knowing where several of the actors are now. Donald Glover (Troy) is halfway to an EGOT, and the Simba to Beyonce’s Nala. Meanwhile, Joel McHale hosted the absolutely horrifying Tiger King “bonus” episode. (Do not watch that episode. It is far more disturbing that the rest of the series, through no fault of Joel McHale.)

    What I’ve been listening to:

    Niall Horan, Heartbreak Weather: I don’t know much about the guys from One Direction, but I do know two things: 1) Backstreet Boys are still the greatest boy band of all times; and 2) Niall Horan is my favorite 1D member. I absolutely adore this album. It is the perfect blend of 1980’s pop and 2000’s singer/songwriter guitar ballads.

    Mandy Moore, Silver Landings: I’m kind of glad This Is Us finished for the season early on in this quarantine, because I don’t think I could handle that fictional emotional rollercoaster on top of this real-world craziness. Mandy Moore’s Silver Landings album has been a great soundtrack during this time, though. Listening to these songs feels like wearing a flowy dress and floppy hat, and walking through how I picture southern California.

    What I’m playing:

    The Sims 4: Hi, I’m Megan, and I’ve been obsessed with The Sims on and off again for about 20 years (oddly about the same amount of time I’ve been listening to Mandy Moore’s music). When I saw Sims 4 was on sale for only $4.99 last month, I knew I had to have it. If you are unfamiliar with the franchise, I’ll put it bluntly: This is a computer game where you create and control people and relationships in a borderline-creepy godlike fashion. Some people think it’s funny to make their Sims miserable and suffer. Others (okay, I) always dress their Sims in trendy outfits they themselves would be way too self-conscious to wear, and get a strange sense of satisfaction whenever the characters exercise or do laundry or wash dishes or get a promotion. (See, I’m being indirectly productive!)

    The New York Times Crossword: For my birthday this January, I treated myself to a digital New York Times subscription, complete with the crossword puzzle add-on. Best. Gift. Ever. I love having the puzzles right on my phone to work on if I need a momentary break from the gift/curse of toddler TV programming. And, like the pride I get from my athletic Sims’ achievements, I also feel like I’m getting a bit smarter each time I complete a puzzle!

    What has been giving you a much-needed break during these past few months? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

    And finally, a note to all those who are on the front lines: Thank you. Thank you so much for your bravery, selflessness and resolve. You are the awesome ones right now.

    (Please note: There are affiliate links in the above post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

    Image credit: Pexels 

  • The seaweed is always greener

    We’ve been somewhat strategic about the children’s TV shows JB watches. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with screen time; I just don’t want him knowing who Caillou or Peppa Pig is, out of fear that he’ll start wanting to watch them and I’ll have to listen to them. Better to stick with nostalgic favorites: Muppet Babies, Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. (Some may call this selfish, but I call it self-preservation.) There’s one newer show, however, that JB can’t get enough of – Splash and Bubbles – and as a result, he’s completely, utterly fascinated with ocean life. Latching on to his love of all things underwater, our family recently took a day trip to Boston’s New England Aquarium.

    Before heading to the aquarium, we did a bit of research about what to expect. Is the aquarium handicapped accessible? Could we bring his stroller and feeding pump? Would there be quiet places to take a break if JB was getting overstimulated? The answer to all of these questions, luckily, was a resounding yes! I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was by the New England Aquarium’s attention to detail regarding accessibility and inclusion.

    When we arrived, we were able to borrow a free sensory kit from KultureCity, filled with fidget toys, noise-cancelling headphones, some picture communication cards, and other helpful items. We didn’t end up using the kit, but knowing it was there if we needed it was a huge relief.

    Regarding wheelchair accessibility, I was pleasantly surprised by how much JB could see and experience from his seat. Many parks and museums have guardrails placed right at JB’s eye level, making it hard for him to see or interact with the attraction. The focal point of the New England aquarium, however, is a central tank extending four floors tall, with floor to ceiling viewing windows, and a ramp spiraling around it. As a result, you can see the animals (and occasional scuba divers) from almost any angle. Even better, JB was able to get very close to the glass, immersing him in the experience.

    In one of my favorite moments of the entire visit, a sea turtle swam right up to the glass, and JB started smiling and waving. JB then began making a “muh-muh-muh” sound and signing “more, more, more!” It was an interaction I’ll never forget.

    (I could make some type of joke about how this turtle helped JB come out of his shell, but I’m too mature for that kind of nonsense.)

    JB had another memorable animal encounter at the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank. An aquarium guide, seeing JB in his wheelchair unable to reach the tank, brought a hermit crab in a small container over to him, so JB would be able to see and touch the crab like the other visitors. It was probably just a small moment for the employee, but this inclusion meant the world to us, and to JB.

    Before we left the aquarium, we obviously had to visit the gift shop. (I’m a firm believer that it isn’t an actual museum/zoo/aquarium/theme park visit unless you visit the gift shop.)

    “We are not buying him another toy today, no matter what,” I vowed all morning, citing the mountains of toys already taking over our home.

    My husband and sister both smiled, knowing I would never actually uphold this promise. Sure enough, we ended our visit with a brand-new “wildlife rescue kit,” basically a doctor’s kit and a stuffed animal (JB chose a sea lion) inside a cute little pet carrier. I have to admit, though, it was a smart purchase – he plays with it almost every day. So look out, we may have a future veterinarian on our hands!

    Joyfully recommended…

    One way we’ve been encouraging JB’s “under the sea” interest is through picture books. Here are some of our family’s favorites:

    • An Anthology of Intriguing Animals: This book ticks off boxes for everyone in our home. Gorgeous book design inside and out (for me)? Check! Interesting animal facts (for my science teacher husband)? Check! Cool photos of animals both underwater and on land (for JB)? Check!
    • Manfish: If you had told me pre-parenthood that one day I’d list a biography of Jacques Cousteau as one of my favorite children’s books, I would have called you crazy. But this book is so breathtakingly beautiful, I would willingly hang up the pages as artwork around my home.
    • Three Little Words: Imagine the adorable, uplifting “just keep swimming” spirit of Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, combined with soothing watercolor illustrations of the beloved Pixar fish. Three Little Words will brighten your day no matter how bad the world may seem. 

    (There are Amazon affiliate links in the above post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

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  • Give me a break

    I needed a break.

    The last time I had spent more than a day away from JB was in October 2017, when I went on a 72-hour business trip to Maryland.

    Since then, I’ve been in constant “mom mode”: Troubleshooting middle-of-the-night feeding pump error messages, working with JB on his never-ending list of therapy exercises, shuttling JB from one doctor appointment to another, and walking around with a patent-pending mix of dry shampoo and baby food in my hair. (Sephora, call me if you want to start selling this!)

    Kendra Adachi of The Lazy Genius Collective, one of my favorite bloggers/podcasters, says, “Self-care is anything that makes you feel more like yourself.”

    The truth is, since my shift to staying at home full time with JB, I really haven’t felt much like myself. Don’t get me wrong: I know how important it is for his health and his therapy that I am home with him, and I love spending time with him. But it is exhausting at times.

    I know other people are going through far harder things, and that my husband and I are fortunate to have a fantastically involved family to help us in countless ways. But I also knew that, for me, in my situation at this exact moment, I needed to step away for a few days before I lost myself even more.

    That’s where A Mother’s Rest came in.

    Back in February, someone in a special needs parenting Facebook group I belong to shared a link to A Mother’s Rest. The organization’s mission is “to improve the emotional and physical health of caregivers through proactive, affordable, restorative respite opportunities.” The group works with bed and breakfasts throughout the country to provide low-cost getaways for parents and families who care for loved ones with disabilities or special needs.

    I came across the link at the perfect time. I was upset because we had to leave early from a rare date night out because JB pulled out his feeding tube. I felt like I wasn’t meant to ever have a moment to myself again. I knew I better start planning this trip now. I signed up the next morning, before I could talk myself out of it. I selected a May weekend at a picturesque little inn in Maine. It was far enough away I wouldn’t be tempted to drive back and bail out if feeling guilty about being away, but it wasn’t too far that I couldn’t drive the handful of hours home in case of an emergency.

    Over the next few months, I had this weekend to look forward to. Whenever I was at my wits’ end, I reminded myself “weekend in Maine, weekend in Maine”.

    Honestly, the weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.

    We’ve been eyeballs deep in house hunting, along with working with the school systems and JB’s various therapists to start the preschool enrollment process. We also added several new medical specialists to JB’s team, resulting in additional appointments. Basically, it has been chaos.

    And I was able to step away from it all (okay, most of it) during my weekend away in early May.

    I read. I doodled. I slept. I shopped. I met up with friends. I ate my weight in fried clams. I watched Law & Order: SVU marathons. (If that doesn’t sound relaxing or entertaining to you, I’d argue you aren’t watching the right episodes. May I suggest the greatest SVU episode of ALL TIME?)

    Since it was a B&B, I had someone making me breakfast each morning, and asking me if there was anything I needed. The innkeepers – some of the kindest people I’ve ever met – had even set up complimentary massages for us! (Another special-needs mom was also at the inn that weekend.)

    I’d love to say my weekend away magically solved everything. That I came back refreshed and revived and never worried about anything else again. That would be a lie, though. Remember, this is real life.

    The following week was possibly the most stressed I’ve been in years, thanks to house-related drama. (I’m beginning to wonder if the people on House Hunters aren’t all actually horrible people as I originally thought, but it’s just the process that makes them seem insufferable.) But I genuinely believe the relief from my weekend away made it possible to even attempt putting one foot in front of the other during those emotional few days. I knew there was still a tiny piece of me that was “me” inside, and I needed to remind myself of that as often as necessary.

    Simply put: My time away helped me power through when I felt as trapped as a gibbon in a basketball. And if you had watched that SVU episode I mentioned earlier, you would be laughing right now, nodding in agreement with that profound reference. You are welcome.

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