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.
In recent years, I had felt very proud that I had sort of, gotten myself to a point where my emotions don’t get the better of me. Where I can take a step back, take in what’s happening, and not react with emotions outweighing logic and thought. It felt like a huge step forward from the very emotionally-driven actions and reactions of much of my youth, teen years and young adulthood.
So, it was absolutely devastating for all involved when last weekend I flat out lost it, disappointing myself and my family.
I won’t lie. It has been rough in this transition from parents of one to parents of two. There is an incredible amount of sleep deprivation, lack of energy, and very thin patience in ways I never thought imaginable, for things that don’t really mean anything in the scheme of things, yet seem so incredibly irritating.
And it seems as though all our tempers have been bubbling.
The weekend had, for the most part, started off so well. We went out together as a family and got a Christmas tree. The little guy had even decided an impromptu round of Jingle Bells was in order in the car.
Then came lunch, and he knew what always follows lunch – a nap. No one had mentioned it, we just talked about eating, but he knew. And without discussion, without a word, we asked what he wanted for lunch and he completely and utterly broke down into a crying, yelling fit about not eating anything and not napping.
After the eventual nap, which my wife, literally, had to carry him upstairs for, things seemed to calm down.
Note in the midst of this is a crying, fussy newborn. So compounded together, every little thing that our little guy was saying, doing in his obstinance was suddenly becoming the most irritating thing ever.
It was a fight to go upstairs, a fight to sit on the potty. Even putting on pajamas was a fight because he wanted one specific pair of pajamas, but those monkey pajamas that he had worn to death that week, were currently in the wash. And instead of talking about it, the instant reaction was to throw himself on the ground, crying at the top of his lungs, with no words used at all, despite any attempts by us to do so.
There I was, with the dresser drawer open to his PJ drawer and as all this chaos is unfolding, one of our beloved cats (meant seriously, never snarky. I never snark when it comes to cats) jumped in the drawer. I pulled him out and set him down. He jumped in again. I picked him up and set him down. He jumped in again (all amid the crying, screaming and sheer insanity around us).
I pulled him out one more time, set him down on the ground and stood up, with more rage in my being than I can remember feeling in a very long time. It was palpable. It was visible. So visible in fact that my wife yelled at me to get out of the room and away from everyone in the family immediately.
I did. I went directly into our former office (now turned quasi-nursery) across the hall and sat on a floor with my head down, because I couldn’t believe that I had let things bubble up so incredibly that it was terrifying to my family that I was losing my sh*t. From the other room I heard the little guy screaming at my wife, “Don’t you yell at my daddy! Don’t yell at my daddy!”
And I sat, head down in the other room, wondering how it all got to this.
A few minutes passed and in came the little guy, tears wiped from his eyes, giving me a hug and all of us saying we were sorry to each other.
It doesn’t change what happened. I still allowed myself to move to the farthest brink of anger, allowing all the pressures of this new household dynamic of parents, toddler, cats, and baby to come undone, falling out of the air like juggling balls I’ve lost all control over.
In that moment, I felt like I had my biggest failure as a father so far. For those of you who’ve been through it longer, grown-up kids, I’m sure you’re chuckling “just you wait. You haven’t seen anything yet,” and I’m sure you’re right.
But there have certainly been lessons to be learned here. Without a doubt, there are takeaways that, while not always easy to implement, or even remember in the midst of such chaotic, emotional moments, they are there to help prevent the situations from escalating to that point again, or worse, even further.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t pretend to. My journey into and through parenthood, like so much else of life, is just a work in progress. And everyone’s case is different.
What I can tell you is that I have learned with our little guy that meeting anger with anger does not beget peace. Quite the contrary. A three year old yelling at you and being met with an adult yelling back does not diffuse the situation. If anything, it only makes matters worse. There are definitely times for discipline, times for time-out, but there’s also times where it’s a matter of finding other words.
After reading this article from Positive Parenting Connection, I have realized just how much I say “don’t” to my son in the course of the day. I can’t imagine what that’s like for a child to constantly be hearing that what he’s doing is always wrong.
And it’s not always wrong. We just, as adults, have the way we want things to be, ways that a three year old just has no grasp of. They haven’t lived the lives we lived or worry about the things we do. Nor should they.
So, I’m trying my damndest to replace the don’ts with other words. For example, when he didn’t want to use the bathroom to go potty after waking up (instead wanting to use the portable training potty in the living room) I told him “we’re going to use this one and then go downstairs.” He still didn’t want to. He lazily placed himself on the floor, going limp. I told him I needed the help of a superhero who could stand up, that we’d never be able to stop the bad guys if we couldn’t stand. And slowly, he did.
I don’t always have it well in hand. I’ve already noticed ‘don’ts’ that still come out or times I stop and realize I’m saying it and have to attempt to try and find new words.
This is not a cure-all, this is not groundbreaking research. What it is, is a start. A start of a new attempt on my part to change the outcomes of so many situations as of late. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result, then maybe it’s time I try a different approach.
But that’s just it. I’m trying.