On family structure and Sesame Street


Something hit me the other day as my son watched his Elmo toilet training video for the three thousandth time. We don’t see a lot of the Muppets’ home lives, but what we do see is generally pretty traditional.  Baby Bear lives with his parents.  Abby Cadabby talks about her mom all the time.  Prairie Dawn tells a story about underwear shopping (no, really) with her mommy on the DVD.  Cookie Monster has referenced both his mommy and his daddy, Grover has a mommy and a daddy too.  Elmo definitely lives with his mommy and his daddy, although I suspect the Muppet he calls mommy is secretly daddy’s second wife.

Basically all the Muppets have at least one parent around who they refer to every now and again.  Generally it’s a mommy, but there’s always at least one.

Except for Big Bird.

I have seen four thousand episodes of Sesame Street in the last two years.  I cannot recall a single time where Big Bird referred to either of his parents or they appeared on screen.  Who does Big Bird talk about?  Granny Bird.  His parents are nowhere to be seen.

And who does Big Bird actually live with?  Gordon and Susan.  Or, at least, he lives in his nest– which is directly outside their window.  When Big Bird needs something at night– and this has been the focus of multiple episodes– it’s Gordon and Susan who take care of him.  Gordon and Susan, by the way, who already have an adopted son, and whose nephew  Chris lives with them for some reason now.

Guys, Big Bird is a foster kid.  Am I the only one who never realized this?  Without visiting a wikipedia page, I mean?  Which I only just did?

Don’t misunderstand me: Sesame Street has always sort of put themselves at the forefront of social tolerance and showing the world as being a diverse place, and they’ve never been shy about showing different kinds of people and different kinds of kids and different kinds of families.  I’m just surprised that they’ve been stealthing this for effectively the entire lifespan of one of America’s favorite children’s characters.  That Wiki entry is hella more detailed than my sudden realization; Big Bird’s never been portrayed as having a mom and a dad, and Gordon and Susan are clearly meant to be his caretakers right now.  He’s a foster kid.  Why hide it?

Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

In which my wife destroyed my childhood– and you can too!

Both my grandmothers were crafty people.  Not in the “sneaky” sense– although at least one of them probably qualified in that sense as well– but in the sense that they liked to make stuff.  I have all sorts of stuff around the house that my maternal grandmother made, and a couple of quilts that my paternal grandmother made.

One of them, due to overuse– I literally slept under the thing for fifteen years, and it’s gotten a bit gnarly– is permanently inside a duvet cover because there’s only so long a teenage boy can sleep under the same blanket without staining occurring, no matter how diligent you are about washing the thing.  One of them had Sesame Street characters on it, and while it’s gotten dragged out when we needed extra blankets for years, it’s mostly been on ice for a couple of decades or so.

My mom, who has had custody of it for a while, gave it back to us a couple of weeks ago, since she figured the boy was likely to appreciate it.  And it’s a cute blanket– Big Bird, Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert are on it, all reading books, and the background is the alphabet.

Again: I have had this thing since I was a toddler.  And my grandmother made it.

The blanket, right now, is– rather ignominiously, I ought to point out– being used to cover up a couple of computers that I slaved over the other day so that they’re not immediately obvious from outside our front window.  My wife walked past it this morning– all three of us were in the dining room for some reason– and said “Wow, this thing is filthy.”

“Wash it, then,” I thought, but didn’t say.  “It’s been in a bloody box for like ten years, and it’s probably 35 years old.  It’s not gonna be pristine.”

Then she points at the titles of the books that Cookie Monster and Bert are reading.  (Big Bird is reading a seeds catalog, and the title of Grover’s book is not legible, as he’s lying down on top of it.)

And, wham, just like that, childhood destroyed:

photo-2You either get it or you don’t, I think, so allow me to provide two helpful Amazon links:




Oh.  My.  Fucking.  God.

So, here’s the million dollar question, right?  It ain’t like Grandma designed the material from scratch.  She bought it by the yard from a bolt and then sewed the quilts together.  My mom and dad clearly never got the joke.  There’s no way; they’d have mentioned it by now.  They can’t have been waiting thirty damn years for their kid to figure it out.  And I know for damn sure neither of my parents have read The Story of O.

(I have.)

Did Grandma?

I have at least one funny story involving my grandmother buying something without checking it out completely, one I might tell later in another post, that has resulted in one of my most treasured, if inexplicable, possessions.  And she died while I was in college, so I never really got to know her as an adult.  But, y’know, I kinda remember her having a bit of a salty sense of humor.  And she was a nurse, so it’s not like she was squeamish.

(Oh god just noticed the looks on their faces)

I have moments where I intensely miss my grandparents; none of them are around any longer, and I lost my grandfather– her husband– when I was somewhere between four and six, so I never really knew him at all.  I miss my mom’s dad on interestingly regular occasions– Veteran’s Day, for example, and Christmas– his birthday.  I miss my mom’s mother whenever I pick up a book, or look at the Bunka dragon hanging over the fireplace in my family room.

My other grandma sneaks up on me.  Reliably, I miss her on my birthday– she used to always take my brother and I out for lunch and to go shopping, just the two of us, every year, until I idiotically decided I was too old for it, which probably happened sometime around high school.  But other times?  Wham.

This is a “wham” moment.  There’s literally nothing I want more right now than to be able to talk to her for five minutes to find out whether she knew what a filthy, filthy thing she had her grandsons sleeping under for years.

And I kinda hope the answer’s yes.  🙂

Gotta go.  Crying.