Meeting Mr. McFeely
Last week while C was watching PBS Kids, one of the commercials* mentioned that there was going to be a character meet-and-greet about an hour from our home. Now, I wrote a lot during my pregnancy that I was very wary of what I like to call “kid culture.” I refuse to eat at any restaurant featuring a ball pit, and the idea of listening to The Wiggles in place of The Beatles or even Passion Pit just because it’s “kid-friendly” tears at my soul a little. We are a one-dinner family; if I can help it, I don’t make one meal for the grownups and another for the kid. Child cannot subsist on graham crackers alone.
*If you even want to call them that. One of the reasons that I love PBS so much is that the messages that they squeeze in-between programs only publicize PBS-related shows or activities. I haven’t seen a real-live commercial for close to three years because we don’t really watch any other channel. We’re those people.
At first glance, driving 65 miles to see an adult dressed up as Super Why might seem like the kind of thing only the most whipped of parents would do. I own that. However, in my nearly two years as a parent, I have learned that sometimes you do the things you said you’d never do simply because you like your kid and you want to see them happy. Some people may call this spoiling them, but I see it as meeting them where they are. Sometimes you even learn that there’s a part of you – completely independent of them – that can get down with Ella Jenkins and Laurie Berkner.
That’s where we found ourselves last week. Since all the characters from Super Why – one of C’s favorite shows – were going to be there, we were in. Our cousin Wes also lives in the city where the event was to be held, so the promise of seeing him sealed the deal. It was going to be a fun day.
We made the drive and had a great brunch with my cousin. I was even able to convince C that juevos rancheros were actually just egg tacos. Yep, she deserved to see her characters for that alone!
We arrived at the character event a little early, but it was at a children’s museum so there was plenty to distract C with before the big show. Once she caught a glimpse of a cutout of Sid the Science Kid, though, she wasn’t interested in any of the more involved exhibits the museum had to offer.
One of the UNC-TV organizers of the event came out and said that the characters – Super Why, Read-A-Roo, Betsy from Betsy’s Kindergarten Adventures, and Mr. McFeely – would be coming out soon. When I heard Mr. McFeely’s name, I just assumed that it would be someone dressed up in a Speedy Delivery costume, not the actual man himself who was such a big part of one of my favorite shows growing up, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
We all know what happens when you assume, right?
I was thrilled when the man himself came out from a side door with his Speedy Delivery bag. In case you missed it, I am kind of obsessed with anything related to Mr. Rogers. C didn’t get the full weight of what was happening, since she’s still at an age where the puppets of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe are more interesting to her than the actual humans on the show. But I could hardly contain my own excitement and giddiness for what was going on.
David Newell, the original Mr. McFeely, was in the room with us.
If this is what happens when you finally lower your standards and partake in a little kid culture, then I had been missing out.
The only thing was, we had to wait in line to meet all the characters, and lines and toddlers mix about as well as orange juice and toothpaste. C was already totally out of her routine and reaching the end of her rope, so as we stood in line to meet Mr. McFeely, she started getting upset and B suggested that we skip Mr. McFeely and move onto Alpha Pig.
I pretended not to hear him. Obviously.
I held our place in line while B tried to diffuse the situation, and once it was finally our turn, I completely geeked out. You’d think I was meeting Paul McCartney.
It was pretty obvious Mr. Newell was well-acquainted with the situation our family found itself in: kid wants to see a mute Super Why and couldn’t care less about a strange man in blue delivery uniform, mom wants to be a little girl for a second and tell Mr. McFeely all he represents to her. While C looked on, Mr. Newell asked me where I grew up, and he immediately identified WKNO as the PBS station in Memphis. He was friendly and kind, and he seemed to understand that the grown adult who stood before him was once a little girl who trusted him and the company he kept as much as she trusted her parents and teachers. I think he knew that we were there just as much for me as we were for our daughter.
I asked him to sign an autograph for C. He did, but in one motion he pulled out another headshot and asked me what my name was so he could make one out for me too. That gesture spoke volumes to me. The legacy of Fred Rogers was to care for children by preserving their innocence and respecting the seemingly small things that are important to them. It turns out, those children grow up, and they are still just as important.
Needless to say, it was a wonderful day and one we will remember for a long time. It was the day that Mommy was a kid again and learned that magic happens outside the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
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