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James R. Stout

Thank You, Mr. Rogers

In the summer of 1986, my little family began a 4-year journey. I was 30 years old through the summer but would turn 31 in September. My wife was 27, my son was 2 and my daughter was 1. The journey was the journey we went through as I started college and pursued a college diploma. It was a journey with the intentions of making a better life for our family. I’ll tell you all about parts of that journey later. But for now, I want to tell you about a particular period of time. I had a whopping 6 hours of credit from a previous attempt at a college education from the summer of 1978. That’s a whole other story though. My initial goal was to get a degree in Professional Writing from the University of Houston. But there were a whole bunch of core classes that had to be taken first. It had been 14 years since I had been a math class. I had not done well in math in high school, so I had to take a 3-hour basic math class to get up to speed. It had been 12 years since my last English class. The college required me to take a basic English class to make sure I was up to speed. Those six hours would not count towards my degree. I tell you this so that you will understand that starting in the fall of 1986 I took what was considered a “full load” of classes. 12 credit hours, 6 of which would not go towards my degree and I hadn’t been in a classroom for 8 years. It was going to be a challenge.

Now for some craziness for you. My wife took a full-time job in a field that she had previous experience. I took a job working four nights a week at Dominoes Pizza as a pizza delivery driver. I worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. I also worked any extra hours that I could on days that school wasn’t in session such as the Christmas holidays etc. I went to school Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5:30-10:00 p.m. plus I took a 3-hour class on Saturday mornings from 9 till noon. There were some variations to this schedule depending on the semester, but it generally was this way for about 2 years. My time to study and work on research projects was during the kids nap time or after I got home from delivering pizzas. But the most important part of those two years was my being our kid’s primary caregiver Monday through Friday. We couldn’t afford to pay for day-care. We barely made ends meet as it was. It got really tricky the last two years when most of my classes were during the daytime. But that’s for another time.

I loved being with my kids during this time period. While I longed for sleep at times, being with them was so fulfilling and very important to all of our lives. My wife knew the kids were safe and loved during the day, I was able to bond with my kids the way most father’s (at least in those days) didn’t have a chance to do, and the schedule worked out a way for me to go to college.

We developed a routine that worked for us. My wife would leave for work about 7:30 in the morning when I was just finishing giving the kids their breakfast. As tempting as it might have been to sit them down in front of the TV while I did schoolwork or housework, I didn’t do that. I only let them watch TV if we all watched it together and only certain shows were allowed. Most of them were on the PBS channel. Cable was out of the question. As that first year past both of the kids loved the routine and both were talking up a storm. They are only 15 months apart in age, so Matt was not so advanced beyond Hayley that they didn’t like the same stuff.

After breakfast was finished and the kitchen cleaned, I might start a load of clothes, make the beds, and do those normal things. The kids would be following me around the house and asking when it would be time for “rockin”. No, not rocking and rolling, but our time in the rocking chair. At the appropriate time we would go into the den and I would turn on the TV, sit in the rocking recliner, and the kids would take up their spots in my lap. Matt always like to be on the left side and Hayley on my right side. Oddly enough, Hayley turned out to be left-handed and Matt is right-handed. The show that they loved most and the one that I came to love just as much was “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”. They loved the puppets. Especially King Friday, Queen Sarah, X-the owl, Henrietta Pussycat, and Daniel Tiger. The train in “The Make-Believe Neighborhood” was also a favorite. Then there was the mailman Mr. McFeely and often there were guests. We all loved the field trips to see how things were made. I remember how excited both the kids were to learn how Crayons were made. I was fascinated at the underground mushroom facility. After “Mr. Rogers” we would watch their second favorite show. “Sesame Street”. I still remember them both getting out of my lap to do their best imitation of the walking from the song “I’ve Got a New Way To Walk, Walk” When there was an elephant featured on one episode I taught them to walk like elephants with their little arms pointed out in front of their noses. They loved Oscar the Grouch, The Cookie Monster, and Elmo. Big Bird scared them. Me too.

After an hour of TV, we would turn it off and I would read to them from books that they chose. Time zoomed by and it would be time for lunch. After lunch it was time for a nap. Nap time was my time to do schoolwork. Once in a while I would just sit in the quiet and enjoy a period of non-commotion. Life may have been hectic then and to tell the truth I was looking forward to finishing college and having a more “normal” life. But with 20-20 hindsight I realize that we were given a rare gift back then.

Today both of my kids are great parents. Hayley has three girls, ages 11, 7 and 1. Hayley is so good with her kids and it shows in them. They are loving and well-rounded children. In many ways, they each remind me of different aspects of how their mother was when she was a child. Matthew has two girls, ages 10 and 6. When I see pictures of Matt reading to the girls and loving on them, I am reminded of him when he was a little boy. All of the girls, “my wonderful 5 grand-daughters”, are a blessing beyond any wishes that I might have had. I’d like to think that part of the reason they are the way they are is due to that period of time that my kids and I had together back in 1986-1988. Even though their mother and I would end up divorced many years later when the kids were grown, at that time there was a lot of love in our little family. I also give kudos to my ex-wife. She was willing to work full-time so that we could get me through college. I ended up graduating from Houston Baptist University in 1990 cum laude. I couldn’t have done that without my ex-wife’s willingness to go on that journey and help provide for our family while I took a secondary role in our household income due to school. When I see clips from the old “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” show I can’t help but be taken back to that old rocker, a beat-up TV, and two loving and much-loved children sitting in my lap. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, thank you.

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