Elmo, the red loveable furry Muppet on Sesame Street, was “born” when I was seven years old. I don’t remember the first time I saw him on my black and white television, but I remember being in love with him. This love stayed constant through all my various high school romances.
Strange, but true.
He became my alter-ego when I went off to college–and then the “Tickle-Me-Elmo craze” of 1996 grabbed the world. One of my best friends did everything he could to get me a doll–but he didn’t succeed. (Never one to give up, my friend created a vibrating “Tickle-Me-Bob” made from an old stuffed cat, popsicle sticks, and a jerry-rigged motor.)
As I’ve grown older, I’ve always kept a soft spot in my heart for Elmo, even as the mother in me has become increasingly annoyed with his high-pitched voice and his ever-present marketing.
Then, the other day, I was browsing Netflix (dangerous, I know!), and I came across a documentary called “Being Elmo,” which tells the story of Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash.
As I watched, I was inspired as I learned that, as a young child, Kevin was glued to the TV watching Jim Henson’s Muppets from the moment they began to appear on the screen. At age eight, he made his first puppet by tearing out the faux fur lining of his father’s coat. Only after the puppet was finished did he realize what he had done. That’s when he hid–hoping that somehow he would escape the inevitable consequence.
When his parents discovered his handy work, their response was “Next time, just ask.” That’s it. His mother, who is in the documentary also, explains that she knew they could get another coat. But they could not deny his talent and his passion.
Even while the kids in high school made fun of his hobby, he kept at it. He learned all he could watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movies. But a screen leaves so many questions unanswered. So when Kevin learned that many of Jim Hensen’s Muppets were designed by Kermit Love, he shared with his mom how much he wished he could meet Kermit.
His mother got on the phone and cold-called Kermit. She asked if her son, Kevin, could meet with him. The rest, as they say, is history.
The rest of the documentary highlights Kevin’s career and the ultimate creation of Elmo. But as I watched, I kept coming back to these pivotal early moments in his life.
His parents recognized his talent and passion–and nurtured it. Even when it was inconvenient and potentially destroyed their things.
Kevin’s mother heard him vocalize a dream, and then she made it happen. Few teenagers, on their own, have the experience or the courage to contact potentially life-altering mentors. But a parent or teacher can help them do that.
I hope that I can be that in tune, that selfless, and that courageous to help each of my kids discover and nurture their passions.
The soft spot in my heart for Elmo is a little bigger now–a great reminder of the difference a mom can make.