FRED TALKSep 08, 2022
When I was growing up, Mr. Rogers was one of the few adults who looked me in the eye. To be honest, I found it unnerving. Being truly seen as a kid in the age of “children should be seen and not heard” felt unfamiliar and at times overwhelming. And I never missed an episode.
In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, you were supposed to be “cool,” blend in, try to act older and certainly not express your feelings - doing otherwise would make you a target. At least, that is how my little brain interpreted the world around me. Mr. Rogers was the opposite of cool and there were even times I would feel embarrassed for him - why is he throwing his shoes in the air? But every time I watched, I could feel my own armor melting away. His warmth and attention - lit me up from the inside and gave me permission to be myself - if only for those 30 minutes.
I think I was about 8 when I went with my Mom to get a new pair of sneakers. To my delight, I saw a pair just like Mr. Rogers wore, but they also had red and white checkers and…wait for it… Disney characters. I was over the moon! Later that day when I ventured out in my neighborhood, I looked down... and stopped dead in my tracks. I felt my stomach turn and then came the heat, slowly rising in my face. Oh no, I am wearing Mr. Rogers sneakers! Worlds that I had kept separate were colliding. And there was no going back - my worn out- too small- converse all-stars were already in the trash. My cover was blown - I was not tough or cool. Until I outgrew those sneakers, I would tread carefully- trying to hide that chink in my armor.
Flash to four and change decades later - I catch myself in the mirror between play sessions. I am a drama therapist for kids on the spectrum, holding a cat puppet and yes, I am wearing sneakers that look surprisingly familiar. My days are spent showing children that they matter, teaching them to express their feelings - and most importantly, that they do not have to hide who they are. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for seeing me - and if only in my little corner of the world- letting me follow in your footsteps.