Sunday, March 02, 2008

going forward to go backward

oh techhology

When I was pregnant with my boy, something really terrible happened. Something that made me wonder about the world in which my children were living, something that made me worry about their respective futures, something that made me so sad and wistful for times past: Our local PBS affiliate stopped airing Mister Rogers.

By this time, my daughter was rapidly approaching seven, and would still, if we found ourselves at home mid-day, prefer a visit to the Neighborhood of Make Believe more than doing just about anything else. In her early years, from two-ish onward, we made deliberate attempts to be crosslegged on the floor in front of the television each weekday at 11:30 sharp. She was five when we moved to Arizona and it was such a relief and a comfort to discover that Mister Rogers aired daily at the same late morning slot to which we were accustomed. Moving with children across states can be a challenging transition; any little familiar thing helps. And so she'd turn it on, company while she drew or played with stuffed animals, and I'd fix lunch and in that moment, it didn't matter that we were in a new place, that she didn't have any friends, that everything felt upside down and out of sorts. Lady Aberlin would float through Make Believe and Lady Elaine would get into scrapes and the trolley would ding and the fish would be fed. Ah.

Once we were well outfitted in our new Arizona life, once routines and regularities were carved into place (at first I typed 'fell into place' but building something from nothing and feeling okay about it is rarely something to which happenstance is responsible, more likely it's chipped into place tediously with dull tools and no water breaks) our schedules and her shrinking interest meant we caught the program less frequently. I looked forward to sharing that gentle half hour of children's programming with the next child.

I was bummed for days and days when the Phoenix station yanked Mister Rogers. I can't even recall what they put in his place, probably some obnoxious program which died shortly thereafter, replaced by some other new obnoxious program, and so on and so on. It is not some arbitrary "for the good of the children" ideal that compels my passion for this show, no. It is that I don't think, in all the years of early childhood programming, anyone else has ever made a show any better. You could say that I think it's The Best. I don't care that it's been decades since new shows were made. I don't care that, by today's standards, it's slow and simple and, okay, maybe a little hokey. And I don't believe that children care either. I'll be so bold as to say that I'm suspicious of anyone who doesn't like Mister Rogers (which means that if you fall into that category, don't tell me), children included. I've had conversations with other parents before in which I was told that their children find the show "too boring." I admit it: this baffles me, confuses me, breaks my heart a little. I don't know that I want a generation of children who find Mister Rogers "too boring" to be the key to our futures. This is when I start to sound like a gray-haired curmudgeon. . .

Mister Rogers isn't a tub of candy, he's a homebaked oatmeal cookie with whole grains and maybe pure maple syrup. Which isn't to say that a little candy isn't okay sometimes, just, well, I wouldn't want it to be the mainstay in my kid's diet.

We'd already checked the Oregon Public Broadcasting television lineup weeks in advance of moving back to this state last Spring. Hurrah! Mister Rogers every day at eleven thirty again. Just in time for my boy making a decided leap from Baby to Toddler. A perfect little rest in the middle of our day, during a hard scrabble few months I refer to as "the darkest times." My girl would watch, her little brother often between her legs and leaning against her, for old time's sake. Like visiting a dear old relative.

And then, what do you know? OPB did another schedule switcheroo and the show was shoved into the 6:30 am slot. I'm convinced that this is the slot where they send old kids programs to die. The inconvenient time will allow us to forget about it, before it disappears all together. And I'll tell you, they're on to something, because despite my fondness for Fred, for the cozy memories he's created for my family (and, yes, for me firsthand too, as a child who also watched the show every evening), for the value I believe this program has for any child, it fell off my radar. We are rarely, if ever, awake in the six hour.

It hit me a few weeks ago what a tragedy this is. Now that Fred Rogers has died, I keep hoping that dvd sets of his shows will be released. But until then, I keep waiting for the classic programs to get the axe, to no longer be a common cultural reference. A world without Mister Rogers? Can you imagine?

So we've started hooking our laptop up to the cable cord at night, set to record the show in the morning, while we sleep. We're filing episodes away on an external hard drive, to be watched later or again. As soon as I get the software, I'll start burning dvds myself. And I don't know what pbs would think of that, but I know Fred would be okay with it, and so that's good enough for me. Fred Rogers fact: did you know that he nearly saved the vcr by convincing congress that it was okay for parents to record his program to watch it later, that he thought the vcr was a wonderful tool for busy parents to use so that a child could watch his show, even if they were at daycare during the day, that if a parent needed to make dinner, they could turn on the vcr and play his show? And that's why we can record television programs today! Without some piracy laws or what have you. Or, at least, that's the gist of my understanding of his influence in the birth of the vcr. whew.

So, we think he's swell. I think it's funny that we have a complicated system of external drives and usb ports to record a program made twenty years ago. I think it's a shame that he isn't aired in the middle of the day anymore. But in our house, I hope it's always a neighborly day in this beautywood. Would you be mine, could you be mine? Won't you be. . . my neighbor.


sj said...

oh, we love mister rogers. i will often borrow a dvd from netflix for my girls. ocean and elli feel the same way as you describe freya. sitting with phoenix watching, it's like visiting an old friend. i don't know when or if it even airs in our area, though, if it did and we had tv stations, i would record it as well.

Lisa said...

I have to admit something that may change your opinion of me, even though not having read The Grapes of Wrath didn't. As a child, I didn't like Mister Rogers. I didn't start watching him until I was older and it was by default because my younger sister did and I thought it was slow and dull and dorky.

I have reformed. Becoming a mother and trying to have a more gentle life for us has made me appreciate Fred's patience, routine, and compassion. We are huge Mister Rogers fans around here. When the time slot changed, I thought it had been canceled because I saw a post on Orsig or somewhere else that it was likely to be canceled. Then I found it at 6:30. Luckily I have always Tivo'd it so that we don't have to watch it live and just pull it up on the Tivo memory whenever the girls want to watch. They just finished one a few minutes ago, in fact.

Here are some more facts:

My cousin and his wife dressed up as Mister Rogers and Lady Aberlin for Halloween and many people didn't know who they were. Is that a sad reflection of us Gen X'ers? (Here's a link to pics if you want to see them!

March 20 is Wear a Sweater day in honor or Mister Rogers.

Anonymous said...

I heard on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! that someone stole Mr. Rogers' car and then, when they realized that it was his, returned it! With a sorry note!