Eli didn't know who The Count is. He does now, but he didn't a little while ago. For like his entire life I have counted for him and added a minimally sinister "Ha Ha Ha!" every few numbers. Apparently he thought that this was just one of Daddy's little eccentricities. He called me on it today.
"Why do you always 'Ah Ah Ah' when you are counting?" he demanded. He was grumpy and he demanded because it was morning and we were counting things . . . but mostly because morning.
"That's how The Count counts things," I said in my best quasi vampire presumably Hungarian accent. "And its 'Ha' not 'Ah'".
"What is The Count and why are you talking funny?" It was really, really morning for Eli.
"Because that is how The Count talks," I said in my Dad voice. Something was amiss here. "And The Count is a who, not a what."
"You've never heard of The Count?"
"No." He used that tone of voice that his mother uses sometimes that implies that the unspoken last word of the sentence is 'stupid'.
"Sure you have," I said. "He is one of the characters on Sesame Street."
"You know Sesame Street ...Big Bird ... Grover?"
More blank stare.
"Really?" I asked. "You don't know the television show that Kermit and Elmo started on?"
"Kermit and Elmo started on a TV show?"
"Yes . . . Sesame Street."
"Never heard of it."
"Brought to you by the letter H and the number 6," I said with an expectant grin.
Blanker stare than before.
The sinking feeling in my stomach became a free fall. "You've seen the Muppet Movies, right?" I asked desperately. I knew he had seen them. "They started on Sesame Street."
"I love the Muppets!" Eli said happily. My happiness was short lived. "What street did they start on?"
How did this happen? How could I have possibly raised a child that didn't know Sesame Street.
Realistically, I know that he has had exposure to the show and different characters. He just doesn't realize that he knows the show and that in itself is a significant issue for me.
I loved Sesame Street. I still do. The show premiered in 1969 and is still running today. Until this year the show appeared on PBS and now, apparently will move to HBO. To say the show was groundbreaking is simply a gross understatement. The entire concept was different. The show was designed to have educational and social value. The adult cast was designed to be highly diverse. It was so racially diverse in fact that the show was banned in Mississippi shortly after the premier. The children in the show, other than regular cast members, were picked specifically because they weren't actors. The producers deliberately designed Sesame Street to not have one specific host. Viewers are treated as visitors, or actual residents, of Sesame Street. Every moment a child spends on Sesame Street is a moment in which they learn something. Whether it is how to count, or the Spanish word for 'water' or how to settle a disagreement, children are learning something.
The show is possibly best known for its non-human characters. Jim Henson's Muppets were and are the stars of the show in my opinion. Each Muppet is unique and special from Cookie Monster to Kermit to Oscar the Grouch to Big Bird to Grover, my personal favorite. Each Muppet represents a quality and aspect of childhood.
I was a bit beyond the intended demographic for Sesame Street when I first saw it in the early 1970s but my brothers were right in the wheelhouse. I watched even though it was a "kids show." I grew to look forward to it. For me Sesame Street was like a giant hug . . .a safe place where nobody picked on you or laughed at you. There was no yelling and no hitting. I discovered Sesame Street about the same time I was working my way out of my stutter. I learned that I didn't stutter when I sang so I would sing along with the characters. It was happy and friendly on Sesame Street.
Naturally I grew out of Sesame Street but when Parker was little we visited regularly. Parker watched on PBS and on videos. Stepping back onto Sesame Street was like finding an old friend, but things had changed. Gordon and Susan had a son and Luis and Maria were married with a child. The two ran the Fix-It shop and David took over the store after Mr. Hooper died. I watched as Parker watched and laughed and counted with The Count . . . "Ha Ha Ha Ha".
Charlie watched Sesame Street at the Day Care provider we used until he was about 6. Charlie knew all about The Count. Eli was not quite two when I left my job to stay home with the boys. We watched some TV, but I didn't see Sesame Street on the cable guide. Eli was raised on "Bubble Guppies", "Umi Zoomi" and "Dora the Explorer". Good shows all, but none of them are Sesame Street.
The facts is that Eli, and every other child in America, knows Sesame Street. They just have no idea that they know Sesame Street. Look around any store, especially at Christmas, and Sesame Street is well-represented. It has become an important part of American pop culture. That doesn't mean that kids still can't benefit from an actual visit to Sesame Street.
I spent a few minutes explaining to Eli this morning about how The Count rolls. I told him he was like Dracula who counts. Eli was interested. When I got Eli home after school Eli counted the steps upstairs and gave me a hearty "Ha Ha Ha". I smiled and told him that The Count was not a pirate and we had work to do. We sat on the couch and I pulled up some vintage Count videos. We watched as The Count counted flowers then counted the sneezes that the flowers caused. Then we watched it again. And again. Each time Eli honed his Count laugh. The last one wasn't too shabby. We will watch it again. Oh well . . . I've had worse days and there are worse places to spend time than Sesame Street . . . brought to you by the letter W and the number 9.