By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — I always knew we’d hit “the Elmo years.”
Going into parenthood, it seemed like a given. Both my husband and I were “Sesame Street” fans from childhood ourselves, and we were happy enough to pass it on to a new generation. And we knew, having friends with children of the applicable age, that in this day and age “Sesame Street” equalled Elmo, the squeaky-voiced “furry red menace” (thus dubbed by Oscar the Grouch) of parents everywhere.
On the scale of annoying children’s characters, we thought, Elmo wasn’t so bad. (We had banned Barney from our household.) We could deal with Elmo for a few years. Especially when he brought with him the the goofiness of Grover, the fraternal back-and-forth of Bert and Ernie, the approachable grumpiness of Oscar, the sweetness of Big Bird and and the manic, untamed glee of Cookie Monster with baked goods.
After all, they’d grow out of it in a few years. Right?
So, we stocked the DVDs. We had “Sesame Street” books and CDs and stuffed version of multiple characters. We tolerated Mr. Noodle and decided the Dorothy (the goldfish) was the real brains of the operation in “Elmo’s World.” We wondered out loud if the growing presence of Abby Cabaddy meant the show had “jumped the shark.” (My husband stubbornly believes so. Parenthood sometimes means getting FAR too invested in children’s TV.) And early every year, we trooped down to Shea’s Performing Arts Center for “Sesame Street Live.”
We thought that within a few years that the boys would move on — to the days of superheroes and Star Wars and other cartoon characters both classic and new. And with one of our children, we were right. Sam adored “Sesame Street” for a few years, had a Big Bird cake for his first birthday and a beloved stuffed Oscar, but the focus of his attention these days is comic-book characters (he tends toward the DC lineup, to this Marvel girl’s chagrin) and Star Wars. And that’s OK. That’s life.
But no one, apparently, told Jim that things were supposed to change.
Pushing 10, he still loves his “Sesame Street.”
The show’s songs on his MP3 player are still his favorites. He has episodes of “Elmo’s World” memorized. He’ll spend hours at the Museum of Play’s “Sesame Street” section. He still finds Cookie Monster utterly hysterical. And he does a mean Count Von Count impression.
He likes Star Wars and superheroes, too. (Especially Batman and the Green Lantern.) He’s acquired a fondness for Disney Jr.’s “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” But they don’t have the hold on his heart that “Sesame Street” still does.
As a parent, sometimes you wonder about the proper thing to do. Do you encourage him to move on what’s considered more age-appropriate material? Does it make a difference that he has some special needs? What if he’s left behind in the terms of childhood pop culture?
If we were going to err, we wanted to err on the side of making him happy. Hence, yet another recent trip to downtown Buffalo and Shea’s for what was probably our eighth or ninth visit to “Sesame Street Live.”
The audience was packed with eager children, most of them younger than my two. Jim started bouncing the minute the music started playing. Then the characters came out on stage. And then it was time for that rock star of Muppets himself.
His eyes lit, Jim turned to me and he beamed. “Mommy ... it’s ELMO!”
He was rapt from then on, and it would be difficult not to feel his joy. Even his brother, from the lofty height of kindergarten age, deigned to clap and sing along with him.
It was a happy, happy little boy who skipped out of Shea’s that Saturday afternoon. And more than anything else, that’s what matters to me.
Jill Keppeler is the Sunday lifestyle editor for Greater Niagara Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 693-1000, ext. 4116. Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler.