Elmo’s radio broke. He shook his furry head and banged on his toy. Elmo wanted to listen to music. He wanted to sing the ABCs, or a song about shapes and circles or fish in the sea.
I was 25 years old when I first watched “Sesame Street.” Oh, I knew Bert and Ernie from children’s books — the Yellow Rubber Ducky and Oscar the Grouch. But in the ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park, TV is forbidden. There is “Uncle Moishy” and “The Marvelous Middos Machine” — but “Sesame Street,” Barney the Purple Dinosaur and other goyishe nonsense are seen as unnecessary and contaminated.
I was a young mother of two toddlers when I defied this rule. I had picked up a “Sesame Street” DVD while browsing through the sale items at the local Target. Big Bird stared out from the cover, tempting me. Elmo stood right behind him, a wide grin on his face. They seemed so harmless, all smile and fluff.
I thought of the pile of “Uncle Moishy” videos that my children had watched too many times to count, and my past teachers’ warnings flashed through my mind: “It begins with children’s movies, and ends in porn.” Then, in a moment of determination and defiance, I decided I’d buy it.
When I came home, I waved the DVD in front of my cousin’s eyes.
“According to statistics,” I explained, “children who watch ‘Sesame Street’ know the ABCs and numbers 1 through 10 better than those who don’t. It’s a proven fact. I’m telling you!”
My cousin, holier than I, peered at the picture of the oversized yellow bird. She observed Elmo. They looked unfamiliar, colorful, gentile. But I did not care.
“It’s ‘Sesame Street’!” I said. “It’s educational, it’s healthy, and it stimulates the brain cells!”
I sat my children in front of the computer in the den. I slipped in the DVD. I then leaned back in the chair, sighing contentedly. There are wonderful things out there for my children to enjoy. Why watch the same old things?