Disingenuous Elmo

Disingenuous Elmo is not the opening act of the opening act of the opening act of MGMT at Coachella. It is the theme to much of my first year of parenthood.

One of the real neat things I do when I get thrown into a situation in which I have no idea what I’m doing is play make-believe that I have control. I put on a $9 wig from Party City and trot around like it’s totally normal and gorgeous. I eventually get swept up in the charade and convince myself that my farce is real, which I guess might be the entire point of pretending in the first place. Playing pretend that we have everything figured out is a coping mechanism. We cling to images and symbols that sound right and we want for ourselves. But when those symbols – take Elmo, in my case –  don’t jive with reality, I have to snap myself out of my pantomime and start living as a real person rather than an actor. My neon blue curly wig is not fooling anyone, and it’s only setting me back from embracing my own graying roots.

 <a href=

No Elmo in sight in this Season 16 cast picture Source

Elmo was still a minor character on Sesame Street when I was a child. In the ’80s, he was just a minion in the Bird Bird Army. But then, when I was in ninth grade, Tickle Me Elmo came out. Little kids got the Crazy Elmo Eyes and parents became equally possessed with Elmo fever, essentially slitting each others’ throats on Black Friday to acquire one of these toys for their kids. I absorbed the Tickle Me Elmo wars as they were recounted on the evening news. As a side note, just remember the next time you are throwing a shoe at your TV for reporting “news” about skateboarding pigs that this has been going on for years. Fluff journalism is nothing new.

I could not have known it at the time, but observing the fixation that both children and parents had on Elmo in 1996 was shaping my view of parenthood, which I wouldn’t enter myself until 2012. I filed Elmo away as the kryptonite of all crying children, and the vibrating doll became the symbol of parental appeasement.

When my day of reckoning finally did roll around and I pushed C from my loins in a moment of triumph with a splash of what-the-eff-have-I-gotten-myself-into, all those old images of Elmo came back to me like the smell of my kindergarten lunchroom. I clung to them and assumed they were collective parenting Truth. I sincerely believed that if things got really bad one day – like, the baby was screaming from dawn to dusk dawn, totally angered that she had gotten stuck with me as a mother – Elmo was the trick to fix it all. All I’d have to do was switch him on and she’d mellow out.

This is as delusional as it sounds. Obviously. Elmo was the furthest thing from C’s mind when she was hungry, tired, or just frustrated. All my attempts to thrust that little red monster on her were met with contempt and ire. This is no surprise, of course. It’s also not the moral to the story.

I continued to perpetuate this image of her that she just loved Elmo.  Look at my cookie-cutter baby. She is so cute and obsessed with a little red monster. Yes, she is just so attached to him and isn’t that just darling? Thank God for Elmo or I’d never get rest! LOL LOL LOL. Platitude after platitude. It was all fabricated by me because I was panicking that I didn’t know who my kid was. Elmo was this symbol I latched onto and perpetuated in my everyday dealings with other parents and in my writing because I didn’t want anyone to know that even though I loved C, I had no idea who she was. No idea. Some days, she was happy as a lark and then she’s have a Jekyll and Hyde moment and turn into a seething teething monster. Her preferences were fickle. Just when I thought she was developing an attachment to a particular toy, she’d scorn it. She really, really liked that damn Gangnam Style, but that didn’t fit in with my image of things babies should like. So I disingenuously convinced myself that Elmo meant something to her even when she couldn’t give a crap about him. All I wanted was a good, safe symbol.

It has been my experience as a parent that all births come in pairs, even if your child wasn’t a twin. First, you give birth to a little screaming salami. Then, in the bloody, mucousy afterbirth comes another screaming infant: yourself. That person is just as foreign to you as your baby. During your childless years, you were in utero preparing to be pushed forth into a foreign, cold world of parenthood. Just like your baby, you baked long enough to survive on the outside, but surviving is not the same as thriving. You still have to figure out who you are and whether Elmo or whatever you selected as your arbitrary mascot is actually yours. You have to shoot spitballs to the wall and see if any stick. And if they don’t, you have to let it go and forgive yourself for not living up to your idealized version of your parent self. Let that effortless love you have for your baby leak into the dwindling supply of love you have for the parent you, that other new baby. Forgive yourself for not being able to anticipate who you would be.

But then, move on.

It took me a year to realize that Elmo was not ours. More importantly, it took me a year to realize that it’s OK to have moments  – nay, weeks – when I look at her and feel like I’m staring at a stranger. Even though I may feel like she changes every day, there is a thin, strong, invisible fishing wire threaded right through her that makes her essentially her. As her mother, I have the ability to find it better than almost anyone else, but only when I stop looking for it and observe her as a whole.

I’m stripping away the Elmos and finding a relationship with my daughter that is better than anything I could have ever seen on the news when I was thirteen.


  1. I have always despised Elmo for his obvious attempts to bump off Grover.

    We’re probably right around the same age, though I don’t remember exactly when the Molest Me Elmo doll was the toy du jour.

    1. Grover is indeed a cool dude. I always felt like he was more realistic and complex than Elmo, who, for the record, I do think is pretty cute. Grover has real frustrations and his happiness is more sincere.

      OMG, I feel like such a pretentious snob for waxing poetic about Grover. But ZOMG it’s true!

      1. Well, I have a tattoo of Grover, so y’know, I’m a little invested.

        I like Grover’s honesty, guilelessness, and openness to vulnerability. He’s a great role model for wholehearted living (watch Brene Brown’s awesome TED talk and see if you agree!)

        1. I will check it out ;D

  2. That was sooooo good….and be happy she hasn’t developed an affinity for Barney.
    Oh yes, they are ‘ours’ but they are also uniquely ‘themselves’ –

    1. Thanks! I count my blessings every day that her nap time falls exactly when Barney is on. That stuff is nauseating.

  3. What an excellent observation! One thing that always rankles me as a mother is people trying to impose things on my kids; and I think it only happens because I see how futile my own efforts were in this regard. Sesame Street was my big thing when the boys were small, but they could care less about it and moved right on to Spiderman like he was handing out free candy. And it is interesting having two the same age because they go through similar phases of likes, but with dramatically different results. A solid reminder that even your genes don’t necessarily dictate who you are.

    1. Yes! I’m glad you understand what I’m getting at here. I think we go into parenthood with a whole bunch of expectations about how it’s going to be and what is going to work with our kid. Then. Then the kid(s) shows up, and we realize that they are little humans who we can’t just warp to fit into our little made-up world.

      1. For me that’s one of the best things about parenting; I really like watching what things they get into and figuring out ways to foster their interests. People do have a huge tendency to impose stuff on them; I suppose it’s another way to impress yourself on future generations. But it just doesn’t work.

        Also: GROVER FOREVER

  4. I am absolutely SICK of Elmo…

    1. He needs to retire.

      1. Well, he did, though not voluntarily. Unless he came back without me hearing about it.

  5. Could the appeal of Elmo be the voice? I hope your daughter doesn’t grow up to talk like him. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    1. It could be the voice. Although, if you listen to him long enough, his voice starts to crack a little. It’s fairly disturbing.

  6. I got this visual of a plush Elmo the same size as C, with its furry little arms around her neck, and her kicking him in the face.

    1. She basically did this. That kid has a strong arm and a strong will. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

      1. Nice! I approve.

  7. LOVE, love, love this post….I was lost for a minute, and then I got it. So beautiful Emily, the way you get to that huge point: that we are constantly trying to see who these people are, who we gave birth to. The are evolving humans, who we are infinitely tied to, tied up in… love this post!

    1. Thank you so much for saying that, Dawn! You totally got what I was getting at in this post, which, I admit, is kind of all over the place.

  8. We change, as does Elmo. (He is now voiced by a different person than the one who actually gave him “voice” these last 15 or so years.) I like how you observe that not everything works for everyone. It may seem really obvious, but it’s like when a mom tells you that this “always” works for her kid and your kid is completely different. Sometimes my kids still seem like total foreigners to me, but somehow we all get along.

    1. Here, here. I am learning to tune people out when they say that such and such is “always” set in stone because in parenting (as in life), there are very few rock hard ways of doing things. Other than feeding them, getting them to rest, and making sure they know they’re loved, there is a lot of wiggle room.

      1. In my opinion, kids wiggle better than Elmo does.

  9. The descriptions of the kid are hilarious – screaming sausage. And oy, Elmo. I’m glad you’ve moved beyond him and into the wiser world of … ummm … yeah lemme know what comes next because I don’t have it figured out either.

    1. Haha thanks! We are bigger fans of Yo Gabba Gabba around here. I’m still trying to determine if that is a good thing ;D

  10. Beautiful! So well-put. The fact that you really don’t feel like you know your kid really resonates with me right now, as I am just trying to adjust to my son’s mood shifts and proclivities. I love the line: “Even though I may feel like she changes every day, there is a thin, strong, invisible fishing wire threaded right through her that makes her essentially her.” Brilliant. :)

    1. Thanks, Jocelyn! I totally hear you about those mood shifts. They are very jarring and they kind of force you to recalibrate your entire daily routine. Exhausting.

  11. This happened in our house with Cookie Monster, the parents’ favorite monster. What they didn’t realize was that P was TERRIFIED of Cookie Monster. Nice one, Mum & Dad.

  12. […] know what else I am learning?  With the help of reading things like The Waiting, this process is really forcing me to let go.  It’s okay to want…and it’s okay […]

  13. […] awhile back when I tried to speak with sagacity about Wee Cee’s lack of interest in Elmo? And remember how you seasoned parents kindly held […]

Now you can hold the magic talking stick.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: