I was a terror as a child. The youngest of three, I was the black sheep of the family. I misbehaved, I provoked my older siblings constantly, I got into everything that was forbidden to me. I loved cookies. A lot.
There is not much that I can credit Mitt Romney for doing for me. One of those things is in driving me to get more interested and involved in politics, because the words out of his mouth scared me into action. The other is in bringing Sesame Street back to the forefront of my consciousness and indirectly triggering this bit of self-reflection.
As a child, I emulated Cookie Monster. He was my favorite Sesame Street character, most likely because I empathized with his role and personality, and love of cookies. Yeah, he was a lot of kids' favorite, half a generation before Elmo took over the top spot. His rebelliousness, his precociousness, his love of cookies, so much of the personality given to him by his creators were things that kids like me could relate to and love. And so... I grew up to be a bird lover? and not really care that much about cookies?
I fell in love with birds about the time I was too old to watch Sesame Street. We had always had some birds, but it was our first parrot that sold me. She was a Dusky Conure named Kermit, because she was green. Looking back, my (real) big brother picked a rather prescient name for her. It was not long before she became MY bird. When I was home, she was on my shoulder, or in my shirt, and she even slept under the covers with me at night. We were inseparable until she passed away.
In my adult life, I purchased another Dusky Conure, and while ostensibly her name was Pi (like the number - I love math too), it turned out that she came to be called and answer to the name Baby Bird. She would even make noises to try to emulate the sound of me calling her that (conures aren't good talkers generally, but still mimic sounds). I never intentionally called her that because of its similarity to Big Bird, but I can't help but consider the coincidence and follow it through.
This morning, thinking about Mitt Romney and Sesame Street and Big Bird and how so many of us are so emotionally invested in something Willard thinks so trivial, I made a connection I have never made before. I may have been Cookie Monster as a child, but who I idolized was Big Bird. One is how I saw myself, what I empathized with, what I emulated. The other is what I aspired to be. The smart one, the mature one, the one who had it all together and never got his feathers ruffled (pun intended).
I will never know to what extent Sesame Street and Big Bird influenced the person that I became as an adult. Perhaps my love of math stems from the very same place, that Pi (math) is also Baby Bird and both love affairs began on Sesame Street. However, I do know that the importance Sesame Street placed on things like learning, and diversity, and kindness are all values that I share to this day. I do know that when I have kids of my own, I want them to grow up to share those same values, and if they fall in love with birds so much as I have, all the better. I also know that if we lose Sesame Street, we are losing an incredibly important piece of our culture and who we are as Americans. Mitt's shame is failing to recognize this - Sesame Street is America is Sesame Street, and every one of us owns a piece of that. "We Built That" - yes, we did.