Ok, the Firing Big Bird jokes stopped being funny sometime Saturday afternoon, hours before SNL bombed with their Big Bird sketch. The Obama ad's amusing, mildly, once, but I wish they hadn’t bothered. It’s kind of silly, really, and I’d rather see the Democrats running ads about Mitt’s more serious gaffe in the debate---and, yes, he did make a few, which Democrats and liberals should have pointed out right away, instead of collapsing into despair. Mitt admitted he plans to voucherize Medicare, for crying out loud! That should be an ad, if it’s not already. And a more straight-forward ad defending Sesame Street and with it PBS might have been all right. But I have to confess something.
I don’t like Big Bird.
I was fine with Ernie, fine with Bert, fine with Grover, fine with Cookie Monster. Oscar still cracks me up, and I love the Count and love doing the Batty Bat. And I was more than fine with Kermit. I was down with Kermit. He was and still is the Frog!
But I’ve never been fine with Big Bird.
He’s annoying because he’s cloying.
I don’t much care for Elmo either. He’s even more annoying. And cloying.
Not that I want to see either Elmo or Big Bird fired. For the record, Mitt doesn't really want to fire them either. He wants to put them to work in the private sector making money for millionaires, which Mitt believes in the whole purpose of life for people and muppets.
I'm just saying that I'm not the target for those ads. watching them i feel a liitle---just a little---like Scrooge perusing the Toys R Us catalog.
But then I didn't grow up with Sesame Street. I'm a Captain Kangaroo kid. By the time Sesame Street premiered I was off to school. Oh, I saw it enough times. On days off and when I was home sick I'd watch with my little brothers and sisters. But I was a Muppet fan and I watched for the Muppets and I didn't consider Big Bird and Elmo true Muppets.
So of course the ads don't touch any deep chords in me. The nostalgia that I do feel isn't for my own kidhood but for my kids' kidhoods. They did grow up with Big Bird.
But here's the thing.
They did not grow up with Sesame Street.
Not in the usual way, that is.
They knew about Sesame Street. They knew all the characters. Young Ken doesn't remember how he felt about Big Bird or Elmo except that they didn't annoy him. His favorites were Bert and Ernie and Cookie Monster. Oliver was a fan of both. He loved Elmo. (To his parents' great relief, he outgrew this before any Tickle Me Elmos cloyed their way into our house.) But they knew the Sesame Street Muppets as the stars of videos and the travelling live shows that came to town every year. They didn’t watch Sesame Street itself regularly. Hardly ever in fact. There are reasons for this that were mainly accidental. One was that without thinking about it the blonde and I discouraged them from building their days around watching TV. Another, related to the first, is that thanks to our schedules when they were very little both the blonde and I were home during the mornings. When Sesame Street was on, they were often doing things with one or the other or both of us.
Not always fun stuff. We dragged them about on errands. But mostly we were able to spend what was known then as quality time. (Has that cliche died the death it deserved?) We had a nice backyard with a swingset and a sandbox where they could play on sunny days, chasing the clouds away. There was a branch library within easy strollering distance. Our house was full of books and they did not lack for toys.
But it's not as if they never watched TV.
What they mostly watched, however, was videos, and the Sesame Street videos were not among their very favorites. They preferred videos with big trucks and toy trains and, oh , how I still miss Thomas and his friends. The sight of that little blue tank engine can make me tear up way faster and easier than yellow feathers or red fur.
(Warning to young parents. There are things you'll be happy to see your kids outgrow. But there are other things that will break your heart all the rest of your life.)
Then something happened. First to Ken, then to Oliver.
They turned three.
And they started pre-school.
You see where I'm going here, right?
No, not into my rendition of Sunrise, Sunset.
This: They were very lucky little boys.
How many kids don't grow up with the company of both parents for large portions of their days or even with one around? How many don't have nice backyards to play in? How many don't live in neighborhoods where it's a pleasant walk to the library? How many don't get to attend schools with good early education programs and all-day kindergartens? How many kids grow up with Big Bird whose parents can't afford to take them to Sesame Street Live or can't get a weeknight off to take them?
I'm not surprised that Right Wingers sneer and snark at the Firing Big Bird thing. But it bothers me that many liberals are so dismissive too.
It doesn't surprise me, though, that by far the majority of liberals I've seen being dismissive are men.
Sesame Street is the first introduction to learning English for many immigrant families. For many inner city families it is one of the few shows on television that reflect their lives and neighborhoods and cultures and heritage and selves in a positive light.
And let’s not forget that along with everything else they want to take away from working families, the Republicans have it in for Head Start and before and after school programs too.
What's more, people of all sorts and conditions grew up with Sesame Street, loving Big Bird and Elmo and the rest. Their kids are growing up with it now. It means something to them, and not just in a trivial or sentimental way. It is an important part of childhood because it helps teach children not just to read and to count but to be as decent and kind and loving as Big Bird and Elmo.
For countless families, Sesame Street plays a key part in raising children.
And, guys? Guess who do the lioness' share of that job?
Like I said, when I was growing up I watched Sesame Street mostly in passing. It was a show for little kids. But I’ll tell you what I did watch attentively, even though I might have been embarrassed to let my friends know, if I didn’t know some of them were watching it too.
Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
It was on late in the afternoons so I could catch it after school. I never turned it on for myself, of course. But I would remind my brothers and sisters that it was time. Then I’d sit down and watch with them, just to be a good and obliging big brother.
It wasn’t that Mr Rogers was a hero to me, but he was something…special. A saint, maybe? I could write a whole post trying to explain it, I suppose, but it wouldn’t be as good as this essay by Tom Junod, to whom Fred Rogers was a hero.
It’s long. You might want to book mark and save it for when you can give it your full attention. It’s that good.
In the meantime:
And, of course:
Breaks your heart, right? Just be glad I didn’t post It’s Not Easy Being Green too.
Top photo courtesy of NBC.