Can you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this world who can’t tell you where on dial (okay, even if there are no dials anymore) to find that famous neighborhood where sunny days sweep the clouds away.
I personally have a hard time thinking of any other children’s television program that has consistency come into the homes of families as long as Sesame Street has, talking directly to their audience and guiding them through the essentials of childhood learning, from ABCs and 123s, colors and patterns, and just plain being good people.
The show has left five decades worth of legacy behind as of this writing. Five decades. It is incredible to stop and think about how many childhoods that encompasses, that have been touched and impacted by this product of the Children’s Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop.
So it was with great joy that our family gathered around the television a few weeks back to watch Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special on PBS Kids. For us, it was a family event. I even made popcorn.
The look-back celebration didn’t disappoint. With songs and clips from throughout the shows storied history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane with Muppets last seen long ago reappearing in various cameos (looking at you, Amazing Mumford, Roosevelt Franklin, Sherlock Hemlock, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Guy Smiley, among so many others).
Even the Baker who famously dropped his plate of whatever it would be at the time, re-emerged, most of his face cleverly hidden by pies, but his voice still provided thanks to a recording from the late, great Jim Henson. “Ten…banana cream…pies!!!!” **tumble** **crash**
And much to my delight, even Kermit the Frog re-emerged for a visit back to Sesame Street, as let’s not forget Kermit was once a regular on the Street back in the day.
And the humans. Sigh. It just wouldn’t have been a Sesame Street anniversary without a check-in of the human cast members from days gone by. Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, Bob, even Linda were all back to join in the fun with a few lines and songs that would make even the most curmudgeonly viewers feel like a kid again. I beamed.
All that in itself would have been enough, but they did even better by having a few performers on the special’s back end to talk about what the show meant to them personally. I was especially touched by the words of Jason Schwartzman, who talked about what the introduction of the character Julia meant to his family.
I can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the episode that stayed with me my entire life. Sure, there were songs, and characters and skits that were memorable. And yes, long before I had been working in the world of journalism as a reporter, toddler-aged me used to sit in our apartment using a paper lunch bag to make a trench coat for my stuffed Kermit the Frog so he could be “Kermit the Frog, reporting live from Sesame Street.”
But what struck me the most throughout the years, no matter how old I got, was the episode that dealt with the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper. The episode first aired in 1982, and my memory can’t distinguish if I had seen it then (I would have been 2 at the time) or as a rerun a year or so after that. But it’s the one that I’ll never forget. It was my first understanding of death, just like Big Bird, and an emotional impact that stays with me to this day.
Five decades of teaching. Five decades of helping. Five decades of giving kids from all backgrounds and all walks of life a chance to say “hey, that’s like me.” It’s what makes Sesame Street so darn special to so many people and has for so many years.
It’s part of why we all wish we could live on a street like Sesame.
I lost my temper this weekend.
Our kids were being especially challenging. Refusing to eat any food option for dinner, nearly hitting the baby with their feet/legs from constant rolling around/gymnastics across the living room, and an answer for absolutely everything to counter any suggestion mom and dad may have.
At one point, a small glimmer of hope as we tried to get dinner ready. One of our daughters took it upon herself to play waitress, going around and asking everyone, pen in hand, what everyone wanted. It kept her busy, she was enjoying it and it gave us the time Meg and I needed to try and just get something done in the kitchen.
Until she asked her big brother what he would like to eat.
She tried again to take his ‘order.’
One more time to nothing and I finally shouted from the kitchen, “Can you please answer her?!”
“I don’t want anything to eat!” he angrily shouted back.
“It’s just pretend!” I retorted. “Just pretend what you want to eat!”
Upside down in a half somersault, half cartwheel, he angrily yelled “I don’t know how to pretend.”
Sidenote: this is a blatant lie, as he’s constantly creating stories on paper, making creations from the great beyond with LEGOs and often overheard with elaborate action figure set ups and scenarios from his bedroom.
So the angry response of “I don’t know how to pretend” set me off. I yelled. I told him if he didn’t know how to pretend that maybe he didn’t need his art supplies, maybe he didn’t need his action figures, or his LEGOs, or any of the other countless things for pretend that he says he doesn’t know how to do.
I was frustrated. I was angry. Then Meg intervened telling not just he, but I too, that a time out was needed. So we went to our respective rooms to cool off. Which was needed. By both of us – the seven year old AND the 39 year old.
The kids aren’t the only ones who can head down that slippery slope of things that can’t be taken back. It’s incredibly easy for all of us, adults included, to fall down that incline and be forced to live with what comes out on the way down. I’m very appreciative for the foresight my wife had to know he and I were both heading down that slope and needed to it pause and clear our heads. Incredibly grateful.
A few minutes later, as I sat in a room reflecting on my reaction, there was a knock at the door. In he came, giving me a big hug and telling me he was sorry. We both sat down on the bed and I told him I was sorry too. I shouldn’t have gotten as angry as I did. I shouldn’t have said the things I did. It wasn’t right. I was frustrated, but it didn’t make it right. He tried to take the blame “It’s my fault, Daddy.” and I was quick to correct him that it wasn’t. It was mine.
No matter how frustrated he or I may get it, it doesn’t give us the right to become that angry and talk the way we did to each other. The only one who can control what I say, how angry I get, and the words I use to react with, is me. The same goes for him. I made sure to tell him that. I was frustrated, because he was being a bit of a jerk to his sister, but that still didn’t warrant my reaction. Again, I apologized, and we tried to start anew, a lesson hopefully learned.
In both my younger days, as well as my younger parent days (wide-eyed, idealistic, and looking at what parenthood would be like very differently than how parenthood truly is) I just pictured a sit down, talk ala any 50s-80s family sitcom (or 30s-40s Andy Hardy movie) where parent knows exactly what to say to quell the problem, teach the lesson, and save the day.
Life isn’t like that. I rarely know what to say in the moment and find myself in a state of improvisation, trying to piece together the balance of rationale and words to try and explain what went wrong and how we can make make it better. It’s never the perfect on-screen moment I picture in my naive youth.
But honestly, it’s something. Even if we parents are just making it up as we go each day, running from one fire to the next, if we’re trying, if we’re doing our best, letting ourselves learn from our mistakes, and admitting that we too are capable of mistakes, then maybe we might just succeed in raising these little folks to become good people.
We’re not perfect. Maybe we don’t need to be. We’re just flawed humans like everybody else, trying to evolve, to grow, to become better people. And maybe being willing to admit that to our kids can help them grow too.
If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.
Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.
There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?
You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.
As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.
So I started thinking local.
I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.
They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.
It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.
So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.
Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.
There’s really something to be said for customer service.
Everything’s not awesome.
It was a lyric that turned the catchy earworm of a song, “Everything is Awesome,” from the first installment of The Lego Movie on its ear in a dramatic turn in philosophy.
Everything’s not awesome
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try
To make everything awesome
In a less likely, unrealistic kind of way
We should maybe aim for not bad
‘Cause not bad, well that would be real great
Like many movies out there, we’re late to the game in catching up. We don’t watch a lot of new movies and tend to stick to whatever might be family-friendly and streaming on Netflix at the time, or something out of our DVD collection. But we rented both of the Lego Movies lately (The kids liked them both while I enjoyed the first more than the second) and though I wasn’t as fond of the sequel, I walked away from it taken by this musical flip in attitude.
Because everything is not awesome. It does not always have to be. Sometimes things just being mundane, just being “not bad” IS okay. If every moment is special and spectacular, then nothing is. If we’re always feeling euphoria, then we’re never really experiencing it because we have nothing to compare it to.
And if we can have an awareness of this in our adult lives, or at least have it as an awareness to strive for, then why is it so much more difficult to have it for our children? Why do we have such high expectations of them, expecting them to behave with the life experience and perspective of an adult when they haven’t even gotten close to there yet?
I am by no means perfect and I often have to remind myself that I can have too high of expectations for our children. Sometimes the noise they’re making, the mess they’re creating, the just plain bouncing off the walls, is part of being a child. I can not, realistically, expect them to behave like little adults, with the outlook and perspective on their choices and behavior that I do, because they have not lived my life. They’ve got more than 30 years of living and experiences to go through before then.
We get upset when they’re not behaving well all the time. We don’t look at it that way, of course. They could behave all day and then, when they finally slip, we get upset that they’re not acting the right way. We focus on that negative moment and boil over instead of having some perspective that the rest of the day went pretty darn well. How can we expect them to be good all day long when it sure isn’t possible for many of us adults to do? Appreciate the good moments, verbalize appreciation for it. The bad moments are going to come, but it becomes all too easy to let them overshadow everything else. Pick your battles. I’m trying to teach myself this currently.
They’ve got energy they need to get out. Sometimes it IS accomplished just by being over the top silly, wacky, rolling around on the living room floor, standing on their head, etc. Again, a battle I’m fighting with myself to let go of some of the times and not get bothered by.
Yes, we love them. Yes, they can still drive us nuts. Because yes, they’re children – children exploring their world, themselves, and everything under the sun as they gain experiences and perspectives that it has taken us parents a lifetime in which to achieve…and for many of us, we’re still working on ourselves.
So cut them some slack and ourselves too. Set the boundaries, but let them be kids. Pick your battles.
Because everything’s not awesome.
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation.
Make the most of your time. Enjoy what we have. It all goes by fast.
We hear this stuff a lot. All the time. Yet, it often seems to fall on deaf ears, even for the most well-intended of us. I mean, it’s hard not to get distracted in today’s world isn’t it? With a keyboard in front of us or a smartphone in the palm of our hands, we can easily check out what the rest of our friends, strangers, or the world is up to with a quick scroll that easily becomes a long scroll, a response to tap out, and a photo to capture this moment on a Tuesday afternoon we’d otherwise let pass by as we eat lunch.
Our followers need to see this funny meme. This photo of me will get enough likes to make me feel better about myself for another day or so.
Perhaps it’s that album we need to record, that book we need to finish writing, that piece of art that’s just not perfect but should be. Whatever it is, it hangs there, gnawing at us to come back to it, to finish it, to shut out the rest of the world and see this through so the rest of the world can share in our vision – our place in the fabric of culture sewn and secured for the rest of eternity.
Or we so often tell ourselves.
I certainly am not immune. Every time I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or hold a finished book or creative product in my hands, I get caught up in a euphoria that this thing, right here, might outlast me. But time passes, swiftly, as we’re often reminded, and even those products we create, those stories we tell, that branding we curate, it all fades in time.
This winter, I was struck by an interview with Conan O’Brien that ran in the New York Times, with discussions of when his then-latest running late night series might come to a close.
Is this how you want to go out, with a show that gets smaller and smaller until it’s gone?
Maybe that’s O.K. I think you have more of a problem with that than I do. [Laughs.] At this point in my career, I could go out with a grand, 21-gun salute, and climb into a rocket and the entire Supreme Court walks out and they jointly press a button, I’m shot up into the air and there’s an explosion and it’s orange and it spells, “Good night and God love.” In this culture? Two years later, it’s going to be, who’s Conan? This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.
You’re right, that does sound grim.
Sorry. Calvin Coolidge was a pretty popular president. I’ve been to his grave in Vermont. It has the presidential seal on it. Nobody was there. And by the way, I’m the only late-night host that has been to Calvin Coolidge’s grave. I think that’s what separates me from the other hosts.
I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.
I remember reading initial reactions to this article online as people wondered if Conan was all right, if he was in a state of depression or deep sadness. When I read it, I saw a man with an incredibly healthy perspective that I felt I could learn something from.
That’s not me being against putting forth your creative energies. Please, by all means, do! I encourage everyone to find a creative outlet, whether you are a New York Times Best-Selling author, a professional Hollywood director/actor, or you’re working a steel mill and acting on the community theatre stage or sketching in a sketchbook by night. Find what brings you joy. Relish the happiness that being creative brings you.
What I’m saying, what it took me a long time to really, truly understand myself, is to not let it consume you. You can spend your entire life with that one focus, shutting out the rest of the world and people around you. You may hold it in your hands (and enjoy that moment, you should, you’ve earned it), but keep in mind, those hands will one day be gone.
By my very nature, I’m the type of person to constantly have juggling pins in the air, plates spinning, a multitude of projects that I’ve lined up, either professionally or just for myself that I want to get done, I want to cross off that list. So much so, that it can very easily slip from ‘i want to get this done’ to ‘I NEED to get this done,’ at the expense of the one thing none of us get extra of – our time. Time that can be spent with a loving partner, sharing laughs with friends, getting down on the floor or the grass and playing with children, looking to the world around you and savoring it for a few moments longer than you did the day before. The other stuff will get done. It will. But before you know it, so will each of us, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
I’m going to try making a better effort at it myself. Putting down the phone (where I’ve been keeping electronic lists as of late), fighting back the nagging urge to drop other things around me in order to just do something I can cross off. I need to get outside more, I need to get down on the floor more and actually play with the kids instead of watching them play while I work on other things. Things that can often wait.
Don’t become all-obsessive, I beg you. Look around you, to the world, to the people, and enjoy every moment with them, on this earthly plane.
So, this is a pretty important week for me.
Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.
This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.
Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.
It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.
And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.
It really means so very much.
It seemed like an era came to a close on PBS Kids recently, and if you’ve been watching Odd Squad with your kids (or maybe on your own, I do it. It’s okay. It’s a great show no matter how old you are), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
PBS Kids recently aired the Odd Squad special, Odds & Ends, which set out to answer questions that have been looming throughout the show’s entire season of odd-busting, and at the same time, brought one era of the show to a close while leaving the door open for a fresh new start.
Avast, matey! Scroll at your own peril! There be spoilers ahead!!
When the original Odd Squad duo, straight-laced Olive and goofball Otto (Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo), left the show at the end of the first season, audiences were introduced to a brand new dynamic with uber-optimist Olympia and the by-the-book Otis (Anna Cathcart and Isaac Kragten, respectively). From the start of the second season, audiences were told that unlike other Odd Squad cadets, Otis didn’t attend the Odd Squad Academy, leaving the door open to all sorts of questions as to where he came from.
Series mainstay Millie Davis continued to guide agents on their missions and paths as the big boss, Ms O, with Sean Michael Kyer also staying on for several episodes as scientist and resident gadget-maker Oscar, eventually exiting to pass the torch along to his protege, Oona (Olivia Presi).
Over the course of 35 episodes in its second season, Olympia and Otis used math skills to solve a myriad of wacky cases that ranged from houses being covered in jam to a man turned into a spaghetti monster, and continued to rack up Daytime Emmy wins for its cast and crew in the process. And all along the way, they and the roster of changing agents, scientists and others around them, the duo had series mainstay Ms O to guide them.
With this special, the show’s second season came to a close as Otis is put on trial for suspected treason against Odd Squad and on the stand tells the story we’ve been waiting for – just where he came from and how he came to Odd Squad. And in typical Odd Squad fashion, it turns out he was raised by ducks. Villainous ducks that in his heart he knew he had to stop, which brought him to Ms O, and eventually, to joining Odd Squad. Of course, Otis committed no treason and we learn that it’s really been the work of a mastermind under our noses the entire time – Agent Ohm!
Yes, Agent Ohm. The goofy, hapless, mucking up every case he touches Ohm, has really been a genius working from the inside to destroy Odd Squad this whole time. And what a delightfully fun turn of character for the young actor who plays Ohm, (Jaiden Cannatelli) to take on, cackling all the way. When all is revealed (and after some wonderful cameo appearances by regular Odd Squad rogues Mr Lightning, Jamie Jam and of course, Joshua Kilimnik’s Odd Todd along with a wham-bang, over the top opening with David Tompa’s delightful villain, Noisemaker) the dust settles, the end of the world is stopped and Otis (along with Ms O) are cleared. With the mystery solved, Ms O moves up the ranks from running one Odd Squad to all of them, and we get a nice farewell hug among the regulars before duty (and battle against giant Laser Chickens) calls.
Our son got a little misty as the special came to a close and I can’t say I blame him. He’s been watching Odd Squad since shortly after it debuted. More than four years later, he’s grown up alongside the characters he’s watched regularly on TV. He wondered what’s going to happen next, but I told him we’ll all have to find out together. I’m sure only show creators Timothy McKeon and Adam Peltzman truly know what oddness the future holds.
I’ve read online that a Season 3 is already in the works.. What that will look like, I have no clue, but it certainly will be a challenge to carry on in a post Ms O world. Young Mille Davis has been with the show since the very beginning and has been nothing short of a delight to watch in every scene she’s in. But then, I wondered how the show would carry on with the loss of Bela and Geljo as Olive and Otto, and went on to find Cathcart and Kragten incredibly charming as successors Olympia and Otis. Hopefully they’ll stick around, regardless of who’s in the boss’ chair, along with Presti, who has found all the comedic quirks over the course of Season 2 that developed her character, Oona, into a wonderful source of awkward comedy moments. So whatever the show’s creators choose to do, it’ll no doubt be fun. And odd.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Odd Squad is the best family show for all ages on TV. Whether it’s our three year old, our six year old, or me, every episode is cleverly written, delightfully acted, and brilliantly put together in a way that delivers action, humor, and some great math lessons along the way. Did I mention that time that ⅗ of the Kids in the Hall appeared in a first season episode spoof of Clue?
So, seriously, tune in to your local PBS or PBS Kids station, download the free PBS Kids app to your television or electronic device and delight in all the oddness and fun. I promise, it’s hard to resist and you might just find yourself watching well after the kids have left the room.
What are you waiting for? Go!