The Sesame Hegemony, along with the heartbreaking innocence of childhood and all that jazz

Bringing up two-year-old twins, I tell Mrs. Pogoer, is “like entertaining lunatics 12 hours a day.”

“Think about how I feel,” she replies. “I’m raising three of them.”

So, last weekend Elmo was in town (or, as Luka and many of his peers call him, ‘Melmo’; I think the Cajuns know him as Elmeaux). As present and former parents of two-year-olds know all too well, there is no escape from the Elmo pathogen: sooner or later, the bastard’s insipidly grinning furry red face will be staring out at you from all corners, including the ceiling (where the balloons wind up until you bat them down with a broom three days later). My mother-in-law, who is a very nice lady, bought Luka an ‘Elmo Knows Your Name’ doll for his last birthday; Mrs. Pogoer duly attached the Shmelmo totem to her hard drive via a port inserted into the little monster’s rump and programmed the Thing to know my eldest offspring’s name, birthday, favorite foods, and for all I know, his social security and future driver’s license number along with political preference. Elmo knows your name, he knows where you live, and He’s coming for you in the night, there is no escape, for He is Elmo and He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows all and sees all, His eye is on the sparrow

Redrum, redrum. There is no escape from this, except time.

Sorry. But in truth, other bloggin’ dads and moms have noted certain religious overtones in this Elmo thing. Elmo speaks of himself in the third person, like a king or a god. (Like Bill Murray’s weatherman character in Groundhog Day, he’s “a god, not the God. I think.”) For Luka and Leo’s peer group, Elmo truly is Toddler Jesus (remember, he ‘loves’ you). Or he may indeed be Satan, or is it Santa (like those older icons, he wears a red, furry coat and knows everything about you). Sooner or later during the day, Luka will demand to view the DVD he prizes above all others, chanting: “MmmmmmMELmow! MmmmmMELmow!  MmmmmmmmMELmow!” ad infinitum, until gratified.

When my niece and nephew were tiny things, my sister remarked to me that raising your own children makes you relive your own childhood, which is true enough. My childhood ended years ago by any standard (I’m so old there wasn’t even a Sesame Street when I could have appreciated it, and the childhood icon I did appreciate, Captain Kangaroo, is now dead and you can’t even see him in reruns anymore), so I’m glad to be able to live it again. Actually, at this point, I’m happy to relive anything, I suppose.

Whether I like it or not, I’m becoming an expert on Little Einsteins and the Higglytown Heroes and the rest of the current crop of what’s considered the cutting edge in edutainment in the rugrat universe (or as those of you without children call it, “whatever the hell that kids’ crap is”). Of course, the old classics still obtain — Mrs. Pogoer has a fairly complete library of all the great animated classics of Walt “disnae know anything,” and at my advanced age watching Winnie the Pooh still makes me mist up and want to live in the Hundred Acre Wood with Tigger, Eeyore, and Owl (well, maybe not Owl, whom I played in a summer camp theatrical back in ’73, which was possibly an inoculation against the character, who, to tell the truth, was never very likable anyway).

Above all, let us all worship the Great God Melmo, who explains all there is to know about life, all you’ll ever need to know.

So last Sunday, in that great weekend leading up to Mardi Gras, Mommy (or as Luka calls her, “Mimi,”), the twins and I went down to the Holy Temple, a/k/a the Erwin Center in Austin, to see Melmo on Ice — oops, I mean Sesame Street Live — Melmo Makes Music. I’d been mentally preparing for it for weeks — we would march into the maw of the Elmo Empire, confronting the fuzzy red glorp (or as the Sesamstraße folks refer to him, “the cash cow”) on its home turf and emerging battered, but intact.

A couple of days before, Mrs. P. had slipped and fallen on some loose grapes at a local supermarket, severely straining if not spraining her ankle, and lengthy walks, stair climbing, etc., of any kind were best avoided if possible, but she bravely soldiered on, carrying Leo for long stretches while I led Luka along from the parking garage, to a pathway through an urban park, to the cavernous meeting place itself. There were some anxious moments when the guardians of the gate at first insisted we had to discard the tots’ milk and snacks, but Mrs. P.’s persuasive pleading led them to relent, and we found an escalator to our level, and then, oh the hassle, steps and steps down to our seats. Good seats, though Leo promptly spilled much of his milk bottle on one of them and Mommy thereupon held him for nearly the duration.

And then the show started. And…well, it was actually charming. Charming and sweet stuff, eminently suitable for the two-to-five set. Bert and Ernie were there, and Oscar and Cookie Monster, and several muppets I’d never heard of before, and of course, the Great God himself, in his World with Mr. Noodle’s-other-brother-Mr.-Noodle and the goldfish and the whole thing and whaddaya whaddaya. And the making of all kinds of music with all kinds of instruments and stuff. At one point, Bert made a Saturday Night Fever entrance dressed as you-know-who in the white suit, striking that pose, and I wondered how many parents in the audience were old enough to remember the original when it came out. As if that was relevant to anything.

There was a 15-minute intermission which I believe was put in mainly as an excuse to set forth in the crowd hawkers with scores of horribly grinning Elmo-head balloons, going for, wait for it, 10 bucks a pop (the parents knew they were being ripped off, but generally submitted with little grousing except quietly, under their breath). The twins didn’t scream for them, but did object to the show coming to an inexplicable halt (Leo was bouncing and smiling along, and Luka sat rapt and mesmerized by the goings-on). “Let the merchandising begin,” Mrs. P. called to me across the offspring. So, no $10 Elmo-head balloons for us (I’ve taken to using the “Elmo head” as a unit of currency, as in, “today I took my wife out to lunch at a very nice restaurant and it only cost me four Elmo heads and an ear”).

In all, it was a pretty successful afternoon out. (When you have kids, you learn to adjust your standards as to what constitutes a good public outing: “Well, nobody threw up or threw a tantrum, and I didn’t have to change any diapers in the Erwin Center bathroom — I can just imagine what that would’ve been like — so we had, like, a great time!”)

Final word: It’s not for you, it’s for them. And you appreciate it because they do. They sponge it all up and process it and it comes out tomorrow in who knows how many ways. And three days later there are still balloons on the ceiling. And it’s one more notch on the parenting belt, only 10,000 more to go.


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