“Mommy? What’s a shooting mean?”
Pam looked up from her tablet at the question. Cece and Phillip were sitting on the floor in front of her watching TV. Pam was sitting on the couch behind them doing research for her latest mural commission. She looked at the TV and saw that Cece had scrolled to a news channel. Images of people running in terror filled the screen while pundits yelled at each other in the background. Quickly, Pam kneeled down next to her children and grabbed the remote.
“Let’s watch something else, okay?” She tried to keep her voice calm.
“But what’s a shooting?” Cece repeated.
Phillip was looking at Pam now with a wide-eyed expression. He’d been playing with blocks and now took a long triangular block and pointed it at his sister. “Bam! Bam! Bam!”
“No!” Pam snatched the toy away from his small hands. “We don’t play like that!”
Instantly Phillip’s face screwed up and he started wailing. His crying caused Cece to cry.
“Hey!” Pam’s voice softened. “It’s okay. Here you can play with this.” She held up one of Phil’s favorite toy trucks. The young boy swatted it away. Pam tried a different tactic and reached for some crayons and a coloring book. “Do you want to color?”
“No!” Phillip batted the crayons out of Pam’s hand.
Getting desperate Pam looked around the toys scattered around the floor. An orange stiped tiger caught her eye. Reaching over she brought the toy over to her son and wiggled it back and forth.
“Dan-Dan,” Phillip reached for the tiger and hugged it close.
Now that Phillip was calm, Pam turned her attention to Cece. “What’s wrong sweetie?”
“You’re mad at me!” Cece said with tears running down her cheeks.
“Oh, baby,” Pam gathered her daughter in her arms and started rocking her. “Mommy’s not mad at you.”
Cece wasn’t convinced and buried her face in her mother’s shoulder while still crying. Pam looked around for other ways to distract Cece. The clock on the wall told her Jim would be home soon. The last thing she wanted was for Jim to come home to two screaming children. Pam tried everything she could think of, but nothing worked. Toys, games, movies, a snack; Cece rejected them all and stayed upset. Pam was on the verge of pulling out her hair in frustration. Then she saw the logo on Phillip’s tiger toy.
Her mind cast back to her own childhood and something her mother would do when she was upset. Leaving Cece on the floor for a moment, Pam sat back up on the couch, grabbed the tablet, and pulled up YouTube. A quick search later and she found what she was looking for.
“Cece, would you please come sit by Mommy?” She patted the cushion next to her. “I have something to show you.” As Cece climbed up on the couch Pam looked over at her son. “Phillip, do you want to see too?”
Phillip nodded and settled himself on the other side of his mother. Once her children were sitting next to her, Pam pressed play on the video. A gentle xylophone melody started playing as the camera swept over a small model town. At the end of a block, the camera zoomed in on a simple yellow house. The scene shifted to an interior shot of a blinking yellow traffic light. A piano took up the melody. The camera panned past a picture frame set within a larger picture, a trolley track, a closed wooden door, and finally stopped at another wooden door. The music built to a crescendo as the door opened and a kind man with a warm smile entered the room and started singing.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood, with you.
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be my, could you be my,
Won’t you be my neighbor.
Won’t you please? Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be, my neighbor?”
Pam felt her throat tighten as Mr. Rogers sang his trademark song. She watched fondly as he took off his suit coat and zipped up one of his sweaters. Memories from childhood came back to her as the song came to an end and Mr. Rogers laced up his sneakers. Calm silence filled the family room once the video came to an end. On the side of the screen, Pam saw where she could download full episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. A few minutes later the three of them were sitting entranced.
Mr. Rogers brought his television neighbors with him as he visited a factory that made crayons. The Neighborhood Trolley escorted them to the Neighborhood of Make Believe. King Friday XIII and Queen Sarah Saturday presided over the kingdom from the turrets of their castle. Lady Aberlin visited Daniel Striped Tiger in his clock home.
“Dan-Dan!” Phillip pointed excitedly at the screen. Pam smiled at her son who was holding his own toy version of the tiger in question.
They were onto their second episode when Pam felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at Jim who was smiling down at his family. “A trip down memory lane?”
“Kind of,” Pam answered. She stood up but left the tablet on the couch for her children. Standing off to the side she told Jim about the meltdown earlier.
“So, what did you tell Cece about shootings?” Jim nodded in the direction of the couch.
“Nothing,” she replied. “I don’t want her thinking about that kind of thing.”
Jim nodded. “I know, neither do I. But we can’t protect her forever. Mr. Rogers wasn’t afraid to talk about serious things with children. I don’t think we should be either.”
Pam nodded. The lump in her throat was back. She turned back to the couch and sat down to watch the rest of the episode with Cece and Phillip. The two children were so wrapped up in the show they didn’t realize Jim had also sat down next to them.
When the episode ended, Pam handed the tablet to Jim and took a deep breath. “Cece, earlier you asked me what a shooting was. I’m sorry, I didn’t answer you.”
Cece looked up at her mother with a curious expression and moved to sit in Pam’s lap. Pam went on. “A shooting is when someone uses a gun to hurt someone else.”
“Why would they do that Mommy?”
Pam wrapped her arms around her daughter. “I don’t know baby. Sometimes people are mean. Other times they’re very angry and they lash out like that.”
“That’s sad,” Cece looked down at Pam’s lap for a moment before looking back up. “Why don’t they just be friends?”
“It is sad,” Pam agreed. “I don’t know why they don’t want to be friends. It would be a lot better if they did.”
“Now I’m sad,” Cece hung her head again.
“Oh, baby,” Pam held Cece’s head to her chest. Pam was about to tell Cece to not be sad. But after watching Mr. Rogers she was reminded of how he used to talk to children through the television. She wiped a few tears from her own cheeks as she responded to her daughter. “You know what Cece? That’s okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be mad sometimes. It’s okay to be happy too.”
Jim reached over and brushed Cece’s hair back. “Are you sad right now?” Cece nodded. “Do you remember Mr. Ethan from Scranton?” Cece nodded again. “Can I show you something he shared with me a long-time ago?”
When Cece nodded for a third time, Jim picked up the tablet from where he’d set it on the armrest of the couch. Rather than another episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, this video was a clip of an interview Mr. Rogers had done. Jim started talking as he loaded the video.
“Mr. Ethan told me once that he sees a lot of very sad things so he’s always looking for things to stay positive. This was something Mr. Ethan said was very special to him.”
Jim hit play on the video and turned the tablet around for his family to watch. Once more, Mr. Rogers’ caring words filled their hearts.
“You know, my mother used to say, a long time ago, whenever there would be any really-” Mr. Rogers seemed to stumble over his words for a moment before he continued. “Catastrophe that was on, on the movies or on the air. She would say; ‘Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers. You know, just on the sidelines.’
“That’s why I think if news programs could make a conscience effort of showing rescue teams. Of, of showing medical people, anybody who is coming into a place where there’s a tragedy. To be sure that they include that.
“Because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there is hope.”
“That’s nice Daddy,” Cece had a smile on her face now.
“Yes, it is,” he said and leaned down to kiss her head. “Now go wash your hands and put on your shoes.”
“Are we going out?” Cece’s face lit up in with excitement.
“Yup!” Jim beamed back.
“Yay!” Cece jumped down off the couch. “Come on Phillip! I’ll help you put your shoes on.” Together the two children headed off to a bathroom to wash their hands.
Pam looked up at Jim. “Going out just like that?” she smirked.
Jim shrugged. “It seems like you had an emotional afternoon, so let’s let someone else worry about the cooking and doing the dishes tonight.”
“It was, thanks for your help. Where did you have in mind for dinner?” Pam asked as she stood up to wrap her arms around Jim’s neck.
The corner of Jim’s mouth peaked up in a cock-eyed smirk. “A place we haven’t been to in a long time.”
A half hour later the Halperts were pulling up in front their local Chili’s.