Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A letter to the Fred Rogers Company

I just sent this letter to the Fred Rogers Company through the Contact Us form on their website. I hope they write back!

Last night, my 2-year-old son, Walter, was melting down as bedtime approached (in Peg + Cat terms, TOTALLY freaking out.) He's started growling like Daniel Tiger when he's mad and not able to find words to talk to us about it, yet. We counted backward from 5, we gave a squeeze, nice and slow, took a deep breath and let it go.  I could tell something was still bothering him, but he calmed down enough to have a pretty good bedtime ritual and go to sleep.
This morning he came out of his room and met me with a serious, determined look on his face. "Good morning!" I said. "Baby Sally can't read my book," he said. "No?" "No. Baby Sally can read Baby Sally's book. Not my book. Because it is mine." Sometimes Walter sits in bed for awhile in the morning just quietly thinking--this speech sounded like it was planned during that time.
Sally with Walter's book, Walter with Sally's rattle
"The animal book is mine," he clarified. "Oh ... the book I was reading to Sally in your room last night.  You're right, that is yours." It's a very simple board book with pictures and some textures for babies to feel--he's into Maurice Sendak and the longer Dr. Seuss books, so we figured Baby Touch and Feel Animals could be safely given to his 6-month-old sister. Daddy chimed in, "Can Baby Sally look at the book when you're not using it?" "No," he said. "She can look at her book." Daddy suggested Walter head to his room to get dressed for the day; Walter agreed, but only because he wanted to find the book in question. He'd hidden it in his hamper. He ran back out to the living room, where I was sitting with Sally, to show us the book. "This is where my book is," he said, and then furrowed his brow. "But ... but I don't know where Baby Sally's book is." By a stroke of extreme luck, this book is one we have two of, and my husband knew where the other copy was.  He ran upstairs, retrieved the book, and brought it down to us.
Walter's eyebrows hit the ceiling with surprise and relief. "Oh! There it is, Baby Sally! And it's the same book! Here you go, Baby Sally!" I opened it up to the page with the baby monkey and she scratched her fingers over the soft furry part of the page. "What does the monkey say, Walter?" "Ooooh oooh, ah ah!" "Can you find this page in your book, too!" "I can. I can try!"
We went back and forth a couple of times, picking out pages to look at and talking about them. At one point he looked at his sister and his face went soft and thoughtful.  "You can look at the pictures in my book, Baby Sally," he said.  It's difficult to keep a hard line with her for very long.
Our family loves your shows, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood especially, because we need strategies to get through the day without totally, totally freaking out. Walter encounters so many difficult situations--sharing, having strong feelings he's not sure how to name, frustrations with his environment and the people around him--and you can just see the wheels turn as he tries to figure out what to do.  He sings constantly, and Daniel Tiger songs clearly help him through his days.  My husband and I watch with just as much interest as Walter does, and we all learn and practice the songs together.  I feel like Mister Rogers is teaching me how to be a better parent, and at least once a day I thank God for him and for you guys for keeping his ideas, methods, and general gentleness alive.
There's only one problem. Sometimes I watch my son watching Daniel, and I can see the wheels turning, and it's not about water safety or saying thank you. He's watching Daniel interact with his parents, and it makes him sad. I'm not sure if Walter really remembers what his life was like before Sally was born, but I know that, as much as he loves his sister, he feels sad when he sees that family of three holding hands and being so ... complete.  He looks at that loving family and he tries to make it match with his loving family and it just doesn't.
For awhile he thought about whether Tigey might be a suitable equivalent to Sally.  One day at dinner he told his dad, "When Baby Sally grows up, she's going to sit right here, and I'm going to sit right here, and we're going to sing like Daniel and little Tigey on the farm." But a little sister, as you know, is not the same as a beloved stuffed animal.  She loves being with him, sure, but she also loves chewing on his blocks.
I think it's awesome that there are so many different family configurations on Daniel Tiger--a single mom, an uncle as main guardian, etc.--and I'm not saying the main character's family has to look like my family.  Daniel's family is actually quite a lot like mine growing up--one child, two very loving, involved parents.  But I do wish one of the main kids--if not Daniel then maybe another kid in his preschool class--could go through the experience of having a younger sibling born.  So many new strategies needed! So many emotions. So much love combined with the irresistible urge to throw things. Maybe you're working up to it for an upcoming season?  It would definitely complicate things, and one of the good things about the show is that it focuses in and makes big, complicated things like feelings and social interactions concrete and clear enough for preschoolers (and their tired parents) to think through.
You've obviously thought through everything in the show with extreme care and considerable early childhood expertise. I'm hoping your plans for the show include a Baby Sally-type character--and for the sake of Walter and his tired parents, maybe sometime soon? Our family would be happy to provide sample scenarios for episodes if needed. =)
Thank you for reading this long letter, and even more, thank you for Daniel Tiger and Peg + Cat.  The shows are so smart, so loving, so fun ... and so singable! Thank you for teaching us and helping us teach our kids.
With thanks (and hope ... Baby Sally Tiger?)
Annie, Sean, Walter and Sally Edison-Albright

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