Re-watching Sesame Street

My oldest has been sick with a fever for the last three days so we’ve been resting on the couch a lot, watching Sesame Street. She likes the Tiny Desk concert the best.

I grew up watching Sesame Street; my mom had me/let me watch it because it would help me learn English. We started putting it on sparingly for the toddler recently when we wanted to watch something together. (A full list of all celebrity cameos, musicians, and notable parodies exists on my computer).

It’s not the first time I re-watch something as an adult and realize I missed out on a lot of humor: Animaniacs, The Simpsons, Married with Children. With Sesame Street, I picked up on none of the NYC stuff. Santa Ana is not NYC, but I spent a lot of boring Saturdays at the laundromat too. Not surprisingly, I did not pick up on the diversity of the cast the first time around. It’s rare to see a cast like that even now. Breastfeeding on TV! Johnny Cash!? Watching this has been both fun and a relief. Much of the kids’ content that I became familiar with when my cousins were little were based in a bland suburban location, with Hollywood-esque, homogenous, rich characters. When you watched, you kind of felt like in order to be good, or successful, or normal, you should want to look, live, or be like them.

But today I watched a skit with Kermit that blew my mind. Kermit’s putting in long hours at the office, muppet people come in and are outraged at the idea of a frog behind a desk, doing officework. Kermit then perseveres and sings about dignity. The exchange sounded…awfully familiar…I had no idea Kermit skits were about race! Since this morning I’ve basically been re-processing every Sesame Street and Muppets theme I can remember.

Most people would characterize us as “no-screen parents” but at some point I knew we would watch Sesame Street. “We would let her watch it,” for the positivity, the educational factor, the fact that most kids’ content is shit, or the nostalgia for us.

Instead it’s now, “We need her to watch it.” It’s important, like reading Fahrenheit 451, or listening to The Wall, or making tamales. I expected to have those moments with her when she was older, not as a toddler.

Look, I just turned 33 and I am barely starting to realize just how poor and marginalized I grew up, yet somehow or another–repeatedly–had access to things that only very privileged people do, and now I (just me, not my extended family) get to live a life radically unlike my parents and grandparents. As a kid I had no idea, call it luck, or reverse sheltering, or immigrant naïveté. If I knew, I would probably have given up early on. When I watched Sesame Street, I didn’t feel different. I felt free to learn and explore and express myself. I had no idea it was all intentional, and I’m so grateful that it was.