For the first two weeks, after I delivered my daughter by ceasarean section, there was always someone at the house babysitting us both. My husband changed diapers and cradled her wobbly neck in the bath. My mother brought food and held her. Even my father in law appeared, his visits brief but reassuring.
But sometime around her third week of life, the novelty of Watching Baby seemed to wear off to the world at large. She was unimpressive in the variety of shows she offered: cry, eat, sleep, repeat. Who Wants to be a Millionaire mania was sweeping the nation; Regis Philbin and his mono-chromatic ties offered far more interesting viewing pleasure. And my husband had a job to do, one that required him to leave his newborn daughter and emotional basket-case of a wife at home, ALONE.
She looked so impossibly small when my husband laced up his work shoes and even smaller when he kissed her little fuzzy brow before he walked to the front door. “5 pm. I shall return.” He nodded at me reassuringly.
I shook my head. “Don’t go. It’s a bad idea. ” I gestured toward the baby, swaddled like a potato in a blanket beside me on the couch. “I’m going to fuck this up. Obviously.” I lowered my voice dramatically. I looked at the baby’s scrunched up eyes. “She’s judging me.” I whispered.
He furrowed his brows. “Right.” He said and opened the door gently. “Good luck, Nicole.”
And then, like an asshole with a real job and some semblance of a life, he disappeared.
“Well.” I said to the kid. “Now what?”
She didn’t say anything, which I assumed to mean Now? Now we both cry.
And so that’s what we did.
And then I picked up my little potato, cradled her in the crook of my arm facing out and turned on the TV.
Things were off to a shaky start.
Thankfully, this is where we found him.
In the beginning, he was just a comforting distraction. A little background noise, some bright colors for eyes that could only make out large blobs. He sang to me and the baby, calming songs about make-believe. In the days when nothing made sense to me, he reassured me with his constancy. He fed his fish. He talked to puppets. These nothings made sense to us.
He became part of our day. My husband would leave before it was light outside, but inside I sat in the glow of the television for 30 minutes each morning.
And so little bit by little bit, I let Mister Rogers tell me things.
He told me about forgiveness and that being scared was really, truly sometimes okay.
Laugh at me, I don’t care. But he was my neighbor and my friend, at a time when I needed both very badly.
Lest you judge (like the baby), consider the circumstances.
I was 22 years old with a newborn. My old friends were in college, my old friends were building resumes and drinking 6 packs. I was a child with a child, recalibrating a life that had changed suddenly.
So what if my new friends were a three-week old with a penchant for scratching her own face and a man with a cardigan who juggled shoes.
He told me wonderful things.
And the baby and I were more than happy to listen.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to somebody else.”
I looked down at my daughter, who blinked out behind her furry blanket. Do you hear him? EXTRA WORK.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
As I struggled to slip her bird-like legs in her sleeper: I AM struggling, we both know it. But that is love too, accept it, kid. Like I accept that you don’t let me sleep for anything more than 3 hour intervals.
“Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect. ” I didn’t have to explain that one to her. She understood about imperfection. Implicitly.
Late winter became early spring and the mornings were growing brighter when my husband slipped out the door off to work. Sometimes the baby even smiled (a toothless smile) at him as he kissed her goodbye in his shirt and tie and sometimes, even I did too.
Well, at least I didn’t cry everyday.
And then eventually, I didn’t cry most days.
I still turned on PBS after he left our little apartment.
But I was getting the hang of things, slowly. Shakily.
In the beginning of a change, when it’s all so unknown it can seem impossible that you will survive it. It was the end of my childhood and the beginning of hers. I think maybe all motherhood grabs hold of us this way, with a collision of one end and a start of another.
But Mister Rogers taught me that no matter how old you are, change is honestly, truly very very hard. And this okay. You don’t know what you’re doing, in the beginning.
You doubt it all. You want to have the answers, immediately, and there are going to be no answers to be given.
But you can’t overthink it.
You can’t listen to the voices (the voices in you or otherwise) that tell you you can’t.
Maybe they are right. Maybe you can’t. But you won’t know it until you are at the end.
And if you really want to make it to the end, even a little bit, you have to try.
So find just one voice that tells you, with assurance
you’ll be fine
you can make it
And let that be the only voice you hear.
Go on. Call me sentimental, call me anything you like.
I probably won’t listen anyway.
Because there are always voices that whisper hard things, false things, words of judgement everywhere, even where I can’t see them, deep down in myself.
But I heard someone far away singing, you are fine, you can make it.
And I turned my head there. Toward that sound.
Mister Rogers was—IS—that voice for me.