A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

One of the things I most looked forward to when I became a mother was sharing childhood favorites with my daughter. I can’t wait until we can read the Little House series together, watch The Breakfast Club and visit the ballet. Those things will all come with time.

Right now one of my favorite things is sharing with her the magic that is Fred Rogers. I grew up on episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the early 80’s, and my favorite part was always the Land of Make Believe, when the trolley would come and transport me to a whole other world. So sharing the new generation of Mister Rogers’ empire in the form of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with my own child is pretty great.

As much as we parents like to lament over  annoying kid television (looking at you, Caillou!), I can’t hate on Daniel and his friends. Not only is it a great piece of nostalgia, but I’ll be darned if the lessons learned in each half hour episode really resonate, especially when you’re on showing number 20 of the same one.  

You know that ridiculous toddler habit that they almost all possess, where you’re sitting at the dinner table, exhausted after a crazy day and you put dinner in front of them only to hear “No. I don’t like that.” about a food they’ve never actually placed into their mouths? It drives me crazy. But thanks to Daniel Tiger, approximately once a week I can get my kid to actually try something new. It’s nothing short of a miracle. All I have to do is repeat ad nauseum that she should try a new food, because it might taste good, a phrase we are introduced to in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Episode 116, and she’s all too happy to comply. Sometimes.

We are getting ready to transition from daycare to a pre-school which I know is going to be tough for my routine driven kid. Dropping her off and leaving that first day in a new place with new teachers and friends is going to require some adjustment. In preparation, we have been beefing up on Episode 103, which reminds her that grown ups always come back. I know, I know, now you have it in your head. I’m sorry! But the lesson is so simple and yet so hard for little kids to remember in the moment. Because Daniel is much revered in our house my hope is that my three year old takes a “if Daniel says it, I’ll believe it” approach and knows that Mom and Dad will be back at the end of the day.

The threenager behavior is in full force at home, and my particular threenager, despite her blonde locks, seems to have derived from her Mama my fierce redheaded disposition. It will serve her well as an adult, but it provides more than its fair share of frustration that quickly moves to anger now. Never fear! Episode 104 and Daniel and crew have a solution for that. Feeling so mad that you want to roar? Take a deep breath and count to four. Does it work every time? Yeah, no.

Just like anything else in life related to toddlers, the success rate is directly proportional to how tired/hungry/frustrated she is multiplied by how much she cares about the original issue. But oh, the feeling of greatness when it works. When I repeat that mantra and the anger clears out of her eyes and her little chest rises and falls with a deep breath and she counts out one through four I can see the forest through the trees. I know that one day she will be able to remember that calming exercise all by herself and ward off the anger and frustration before it lashes out.

When we recognized that our toddler reacted a little more strongly than most to loud and unfamiliar noises we started talking about noises that can be loud but not scary and that helped a little. But you know what helped more? Episode 220 when Daniel experiences his first fireworks. Mom and Dad Tiger show Daniel and his sister Baby Margaret how to hold hands when the loud noises from the fireworks are scary. When my daughter hears a noise that bothers her, she knows she can always reach for one of our hands to help the situation be less scary. Seeing Daniel and his sister afraid because of a loud noise, and then able to calm that fear really helped her.

Fred Rogers did amazing things for children and for public television through advocacy and education. He was innovative, calming, kind and so incredibly imaginative. It was truly a loss when he passed away from cancer back in 2003. I learned when my daughter started engaging with Daniel and his family and friends that the show is not just based upon his characters from the original show, but that he was also involved in some of the early development of the new generation in the Land of Make Believe. While the episodes may get repetitive, Miss Elaina’s “hiya toots” may be a little bit odd, and the neighbors seem to exist in this strange kind of utopian setting, the escape from reality and return to the Neighborhood is a lesson this Mama needs some days. I’m happy to take it from Daniel Tiger.

Have a little Daniel Tiger fan in your life? You can see him live here in Kansas City at The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with me and my little Daniel Tiger fan in February. Ugga Mugga!

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