It’s hard raising a daughter. Somehow, in 2016, I feel like the world has gotten tougher for girls. Maybe it’s because social media amplifies everything to a ridiculous volume, but it seems that times are getting…well…worse. The Tea Party movement created a backwards thinking environment that’s juxtaposed against a post-1960/70s Women’s Lib movement that has gotten people crazy. My 18-year-old is on a fine track. She’s political, aware, and verbal. I may not agree with everything she proclaims because life and experience has taught me it’s not always that simple, but I’m proud of her.
My 3-year-old though, G…I’m worried. She loves Doc McStuffins, Sheriff Callie, and Sofia the First, and Disney Princesses, but she also loves Star Wars and superheroes. I recently got her the Star Wars: Galactic Heroes Millennium Falcon playset, along with some figures. The ship came with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and R2-D2, and I got her Luke Skywalker/Yoda, C-3PO/R2-D2, and Darth Vader/Stormtrooper. She wanted Princess Leia. The store had none. Amazon has none. From what I can tell, except for older versions of the Galactic Heroes line on the second hand market (eBay, etc), they don’t make Princess Leia. Sure, Rey and Captain Phasma were just released and will soon make their way home (along with Finn), but where’s Princess Leia?
We were at Target and she saw the Fisher-Price Imaginext DC Super Friends Batcave (one of several, this one is huge and comes with Batman and the Joker). She loves to mess around with it. Underneath it was the Hall of Justice, with Superman and Batman. She flipped. She’d asked for Princess Tiana before that. The Hall of Justice came home with us. Soon she had Lex Luthor, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter, the Batmobile (one of about 75 from what I can tell) that comes with Batman and Red Robin (and his winged jetpack), Commissioner Gordon (I never owned a Commissioner Gordon action figure! Which I desperately wanted…because they didn’t make them in the 1980s!) and a GCPD police cruiser. Today, Wonder Woman and her invisible jet, which was bought on Amazon on the collector’s market, arrived. She was thrilled. In my research, Fisher-Price Imaginext released a Batgirl and her motorcycle figure recently. It’s very hard to find. Those are the female superheroes. Mind you, this toy line has Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Cheetah. I may have missed someone. No Supergirl. No Hawkgirl.
G loved the DC Super Hero Girls shorts on YouTube. We couldn’t watch the one hour special on Boomerang because we don’t get that channel from our cable provider. They don’t carry it. I got her the Wonder Woman costume, and she’s getting a Batgirl costume from her grandmother. I intend to get her the Supergirl and Bumble Bee ones, too. The action figures, though, are recommended 6 and up. She’s three. I think they’re more than she can handle. Same with the dolls.
I’ve been following the strange way these toys are marketed. The Hasbro Rey fiasco, and the Hasbro Black Widow fiasco. Here are characters that creators are including to try to break the mold, to open the world to more than just white males. But the toy lines are behind. It bums me out. When she asks me, “Daddy, can we get Supergirl or Hawkgirl?” I have to say no.
“Because they don’t make them.”
“I don’t know, honey.”
She’s okay with it. She has her imagination. One of the Batman figures will become Batgirl, no doubt, just as Superman will sometimes have to be Supergirl. Guaranteed if I get her Hawkman, he’ll be used as Hawkgirl. But I’m not okay with it. Because she can’t be the only girl who loves her new Imaginext DC Super Friend toys.
On April 20th, my mother sent me and my sister, Tracy, the following message on Facebook:
Got some bad news a little while ago. Uncle Pete found out last week that he has lung cancer. He’ll be getting more tests and chemo starting this week. Auntie Pat said he’s having a hard time breathing. Dad’s going to visit them this week & if I feel up to it, I’ll go too. We’ll keep you guys posted, if you want us to.
I didn’t respond to it because I didn’t feel it was proper to do so in a message to both me and my sister. The reason why I didn’t feel it proper was because my reaction was, That’s sad, but I have no relationship with the man, so….
I know that’s cold. I know that’s probably not the appropriate response, but it was the honest response. I am not close to my family. My mother and father, yes. My sister, somewhat. Everyone else? Not really. Especially on my father’s side.
My father is nine years older than my mother. Born in 1941, he’s the youngest of three children. Growing up, Sundays were the day we went to his parents’ house. We called them Mémé and Pépé; my mother’s parents (long divorced before I was born) were Grandma and Grandpa (or, truth be told, Gramma and Grampa). Sundays at Mémé and Pépé’s meant playing in their spacious yard on a nice suburban street, and then having supper and dessert. Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat were often there. The whole place felt old. There were no other kids. My mother is my father’s second wife and my sister and I were the babies of the family. The house was decorated in a 1950s/1960s hybrid. They didn’t have cable TV. When music was played, it was always old, boring music. Uncle Pete liked us, and I faintly remember playing with him when I was very small. My sister was his and my aunt’s goddaughter, and I guess they kinda took it seriously…?
Auntie Pat pretty much hated me. At least it seemed that way. She’d often walk in on me when I was in the bathroom when I was little. After this happened a few times, I locked the door and was promptly yelled at. I was a kid who yelled back, which made me even more popular. She’d bestow gifts (mostly lame ones) on my sister and ignore me, except to yell. We have it on videotape. Uncle Pete was meek, quiet. He’d ask me general questions but didn’t seem very interested. A nice man, yes, but….
I remember when I was around 12 or 13, we went to Mémé and Pépé’s (which was really just Mémé’s now, because Pépé died when I was 11), and Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat had moved in (Uncle Pete actually owned the house). They’d bought a riding lawnmower. He let my sister, who’s four-and-a-half years younger than I am, ride the mower in his lap. I wanted to ride the mower. I wanted to so bad.
“Uncle Pete!” I called. “Can I ride the mower? Uncle Pete!”
This went on as my sister got her ride. I never got an answer. I was never even looked at.
It’s amazing the shit that stays with you, huh?
Anyway, contact between me and my uncle and aunt grew far less. When Mémé died (I was 16), I saw them. When my father’s sister, the eldest child, Auntie Juliet, died of breast cancer (I was 17), I saw them. I think they were at my first wedding in 2000. I saw them at least one time after that, Courtney was pretty small. Other than that, I didn’t see them. I didn’t care to.
I didn’t know my father’s side of the family well. The old school Canadian-French, Catholic family just didn’t talk. They didn’t tell stories. Even my father didn’t say much in terms of his family or growing up. Really, most of the stories I heard from my father when I was growing up had to do with the prices of things then versus now. My Auntie Juliet and I never really had a relationship. My Pépé adored me but he had his first stroke when I was 8 and died when I was 11. I don’t really remember him well. Mémé loved me but she didn’t tell much in terms of stories. And considering Auntie Pat, who is a loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed woman, from the bad side of town (my mother’s side of town, truth be told), hated me, Uncle Pete and I really had no relationship.
So why respond with negative feelings?
About a month later, my mother told me that the cancer was bad and Uncle Pete might not have long to live. He asked my father to see “the kids and grandkids.” My first reaction was, Fuck that shit.
But I thought about my father. The only family he has left that’s not my mother, me, or my sister is Uncle Pete. And I knew that Dad, meek, mild, devoted Dad, would like me to go. I couldn’t bring Courtney, she didn’t remember Uncle Pete and I wouldn’t want to bring her into that—to me—unknown situation. I wouldn’t bring Genevieve. At 19-months-old, she would be a handful. It so happens that my sister and her fiancée and her fiancée’s daughters were coming up from Florida this week and so plans were made to pay Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat a visit. What will most likely be our last visit.
I wasn’t looking forward to it. To face a dying man I hadn’t seen in, possibly, ten years, who I wasn’t close to; to face a woman I pretty much despised (have I told you she gave me a free sample of Avon’s Musk for Men deodorant as a Christmas present when I was 12?); sounded like a nightmare. But I love my father. I knew it would mean a lot to him.
To solidify plans, I called Wednesday night to confirm that Thursday we would go. As I spoke to my mother, Dad was in the background saying something.
“Daddy says you don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Mom said. “He doesn’t want you to feel like you have to go and he knows you’re not good in these kinds of situations.”
My social anxiety is well-known in my family. I stopped having birthday parties when I was six.
I told her I would go. I’d go for him. I’d go so my sister wasn’t the only one going. I’d go because I’m an adult and should go.
So yesterday morning, my sister and I climbed into Dad’s minivan and he drove us to Mémé and Pépé’s—er…Uncle Pete’s and Auntie Pat’s—house.
Auntie Pat greeted us. She’s old now. Shorter than I remember. Still big, though. She hugged Tracy and then hugged me. Uncle Pete sat at the kitchen table, in the kitchen I ate in so many times as a boy. The house looked different, of course. But the layout hadn’t changed. He didn’t get up, but hugged Tracy and shook my hand. Old school.
He asked how I liked teaching. I said I loved it. It allowed me to be creative and to play, and I left a mark. Nothing was mentioned about writing. That was fine.
Soon, I sat at the table with him, brought out the iPad, and showed him pictures and videos of Courtney and Genevieve. He hasn’t met Pamela. He saw her now, too. Uncle Pete is still quiet. Auntie Pat still loud. My Dad actually began reminiscing with him, and Tracy and I heard stories we’d never heard before. One story made me laugh so hard I almost cried. We talked.
We didn’t visit long, only about an hour. But something happened in that time. I saw the love and happiness in Uncle Pete’s eyes. Auntie Pat wasn’t a bitch anymore, she was an eccentric old lady, and I am fascinated by eccentric old people. The discomfort I felt at first went away and I was happy to be there. Not just for Dad, anymore, but for Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat.
It was a good visit. Uncle Pete didn’t look or seem sick until the very end, when we were about to leave. He stood up for the first time and he had trouble, obvious pain. He hugged my sister, held out his hand to me to be shaken, and I shook, and then I hugged him. It surprised him but he hugged me back, hard.
Soon were in the minivan and drove away, goodbyes said.
Uncle Pete might have another year or two, apparently this round of chemo seems to be doing something. But he may have another month or so. Or less.
I can’t say that I am now going to go around and visit other family members, because that’s not true. I’ve never really fit in, and I really don’t have much to say to anyone. But I’m glad I went. I’m glad to hear the stories that the Gauthier brothers told.
And I’m happy that my father and my uncle were able to be together with me and Tracy one last time, laughing, happy.
This will be my second time writing about Fred Rogers, the first was back in September 2011 when I was still attempting to write my ill-fated MediaBio blog. The reason I’m returning to the man the world knew as Mr. Rogers is because of his importance.
My wife and I have introduced Genevieve to TV. More precisely, our TV. I mean, the shows we watched as children. She’s been on a Muppet Show kick (which kind of sucks because the 3rd and, so far, last DVD set came in yesterday, and while the show had five seasons, only three have been released) and via Amazon Prime my wife introduced her to classic Sesame Street (being my daughter, she prefers The Muppet Show). Prime also has Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Now, I’ve known the power Fred Rogers had for a long time, but especially since the incident I related the last time I wrote about him:
It was 2005, somewhere between May and July, and things had been a little bleak. I’d been separated from my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we finalized our divorce in September 2005) and was working at a local bookstore, which I would’ve loved had they paid me what I deserved, treated me the way I deserved, and otherwise didn’t have their heads up their asses (not all of them, just those who were in charge). I sat down to eat my lunch around 11:30/noon, and I only had twenty cable channels. My choices were game shows, talk shows, or PBS. One PBS channel was running Sesame Street. Blech. Another was running Teletubbies. Barf! The last had on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to leave it on. I quickly realized that I remembered the episode from my childhood. I sat watching this show that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, mesmerized. At the end, Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and said in that way he had, “Just remember that you are special. That there’s no one else in this world like you, and that you are important.”
I can’t explain it. I began weeping.
I remember that day nine years ago like it happened yesterday. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.
So now Genevieve will ask to watch it and she was sick for the last few days so we put it on. She’ll end up playing, but Pamela and I are good with that, because we’re really the ones watching. I’ve seen episodes from before I was born. I’ve seen episodes from long after I stopped watching. I don’t understand why I never had Courtney watch it. I’m ashamed of myself.
The thing I keep noticing is how actually good and kindhearted Fred Rogers was. His meticulousness is evident in the show and the fact that he kept it pretty much the same from 1968 through 2001 is astounding. While Sesame Street changes with the times, Mr. Rogers’s set didn’t change in all that time. Picture Picture didn’t suddenly become a flat screen TV. The Neighborhood of Make Believe never got more complicated puppets or 3D characters. Hell, the same actors worked with him throughout!
I’ve cried several times recently watching episodes. Here’s a for instance for you:
So today, we were working our way through his 5-episode arc about work called “Mister Rogers Talks About Work.” The next-to-last episode featured him going to Wagner’s Market to buy some groceries. We get to meet some neighbors and see how a grocery store worked in 1984. While walking down the cereal aisle, he comments on how when he was a little boy, he’d want to get one of everything in the aisle, and the rest of the store, but how his parents wouldn’t let him get one of everything and he learned that people couldn’t get everything they wanted.
After getting his items, which shows him being friendly to everyone, he returns “home” and puts everything away, explaining how as a parent, there were reasons he had to say no to his children and that children can’t get everything they want. Then he announced it was time for make-believe.
So Mr. Rogers goes over to the bench where he operates Trolley and there’s a top hat there, closed. He pops it open to show his Television Neighbor, and as he takes it off and sits down says, off-hand, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world.” And then he sits down and gets Trolley.
The main theme of this episode is that not everybody can have everything. That choices have to be made and it’s the grown-ups in a child’s life who makes the choice. Once the child grows up, s/he can make the choice. This isn’t said with a snarl, or a wagging finger, but with love and respect. And even though that should be enough, it was the off-hand comment made as he was sitting down, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world,” that got me.
And there are! You and I, as adults, don’t need Fred Rogers to tell us this…but we do! How often in the busy grind of our lives do we stop and really pay attention? How often do we let life beat us down? The human mind is nearly limitless with imagination yet we begin to kill it the moment a child goes to school and is told to stand in line. Lines are important, so is order, but, as Mr. Rogers states at the end of the episode, so is play.
Fred Rogers ended his show in 2001. In December 2002, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On February 27th, 2003, he died.
There has been no one before his death or since that has been able to sit down and speak to a child through the television without talking down to him/her but still being the adult. Some critics say his message to children, that they special, is the wrong message to send. I disagree. We are all individuals, there is no one else like the person we know ourselves to be, yet Mr. Rogers also gave us a message of love, of helping one another, of tolerance. Of peace.
I feel, in this time when 24/7 news talking heads, Twitter and Facebook hate and shaming, and mass-violence and teenage suicide rates are through the roof, Mr. Rogers’s message is needed more than it ever has been before.
Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for the love you showed me. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for what you taught me when I was five, 28, and now 36. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for being you. There is no one like you.
I have a cold. I’d somehow managed to mostly avoid one this year but, alas, I was found. There were a couple of close calls, but they were averted by Airborne, the magic bubbly stuff that keeps my nose clear and my head clearer. This time, maybe it was too little too late. And now….
Yeah, yeah, I know. Waaah! Widdoo baby has a cowd! Waaaahh!
Well, that’s the problem. I think the baby gave it to me. Her and I are going to have to have a talk. Or maybe it was the teenager, who may have given the baby a cold. If I were smarter, I’d try to trace it back. Or if I cared more.
Anyway, this is what happens when I’m sick. I sit around and kvetch. Still, I worked on the latest Nightmare In Gautham installment (look for it Thursday!). And I may even do some line-editing for the next chapter of the novel. We’re nearly at the halfway point of the story and there’s still plenty of rewriting/revising left. I’m hoping to have this draft done by summer. I think this is realistic and not just me trying to trick myself as has happened in the past. The main reason is that I’ve finally been able to keep a regular schedule. This has gone on for about a month-and-a-half.
That’s really the secret, I think. Which I’d learned many, many years ago, but going back to school, a marriage dissolving, a new job, dating, taking care of a child whom your super worried about because of separation and divorce, meeting someone, falling in love, getting your heart broken, meeting someone else, getting your heart broken again, meeting someone, snap goes the heart times three or four, breaking other people’s hearts, starting a new career, and meeting someone, falling in love, moving in, and getting married all sort of made me lose track.
That’s all right now, because just like what happened in 1998, when my teenager was born, the new baby has afforded me the opportunity to get back on schedule. I’m not sure why. So I try to get in here at 9 PM, though some nights I’m in here at 10, and I work until around 11 (unless the baby wakes up…). And so far, so good.
But tonight…ugh…sinus headache and some weird sludge dripping from my nose.
So maybe the novel will wait until tomorrow. Maybe tonight I’ll read until I give the baby her 11 o’clock feeding.
Or maybe not…