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 think about Russi Taylor a lot.
I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.
It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.
In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.
She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.
She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.
With three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.
That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.
And yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.
I spent a lot of time patching up holes at our house this summer. I’m not going to lie. I often spent much of that time simultaneously patching and singing The Beatles 1967 hit of the same name.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go
But why? What holes? Why was this such an ongoing project throughout the summer?
The answer, my friends, is a small one. A chipmunk-sized one. Because it’s a chipmunk.
Early this summer we noticed a hole in our driveway, not far from where the garage door is. We assumed, as it was below the path of gutters above, that excess water had worn it away over time. So, one afternoon I went out, filled it with some rocks, mixed up a little concrete (with plans to cover it with cold patch once it dried) and filled up the hole. Inside the house I went and peeked out the window about an hour later to see if it had dried up yet and ready for the next step.
I did a double take at the window. Wait, what?
The entire hole had been dug up, or rather pushed up from the inside. Before the concrete could dry, it and the rocks below it now sat in the driveway, scattered about. As I inspected closer, I found that it wasn’t just a hole. It was a tunnel! A tunnel that led to the grass just off to the side of our driveway, where a tiny little chipmunk looked at me before running off.
I couldn’t believe it.
So, I patched up the hole again, this time covering it with a bucket and stone on top, while covering the other end of the tunnel with a big brick. This time it worked.
Until another hole popped up a few feet away. And then we discovered multiple holes in the masonry walls of the garage itself where our little friend was coming and going, leaving his droppings and gnawing away at any bags of birdseed. Which I discovered by picking up said bag and having it spill out from the bottom thanks to a chewed hole on the bottom.
Because I apparently live in a reality akin to 1940s Donald Duck cartoons where yes, I’m playing the role of Donald to my tiny co-star of Chip, Dale, whichever one is burrowing holes into our driveway and garage.
As the sun begins to set on summer, so too (at least I think) has the sun set on the cartoonish ongoing battle with our small antagonist (or are they the protagonist and I’m the antagonist?). The holes have been successfully filled in with rocks, concrete and a layer of cold patch on top. The holes in the garage walls have been filled in with steel wool, spray foam insulation, and where possible, a layer of concrete.
All those years of laughing at Donald Duck’s over the top attempts to stop those little chipmunks from causing chaos in his quiet little world have finally come back to bite me, I suppose.
But if you see me in my driveway, doing the Donald Duck angry tantrum bit again next season, you’ll know why.
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.