By Genevieve A. Suzuki | Gen-X in a Millennial Word
This October, Caroll Spinney, the original Big Bird, retired after nearly 50 years of playing most everyone’s favorite yellow-feathered friend.
Upon reading the announcement, the child in me cried. Heaven knows Mr. Spinney certainly deserves to retire and enjoy his golden years, but it was one more painful cut into what’s left of my childhood memories.
Every weekday as a preschooler and young grade-school-aged child, I looked forward to watching “Sesame Street,” a happy Jim Henson-muppet-filled show that dealt with everyday issues confronting kids my age. I laughed hard at Oscar the Grouch, the green guy in the garbage can — also voiced by Mr. Spinney — and loved Big Bird, who reminded me of myself in that I played a lot of games with imaginary friends. I also felt OK about growing up in an apartment building because the “Sesame Street” kids also had an urban upbringing. The “Sesame Street” creators were actually quite successful when it came to children like me; we felt like we had representation.
And now, as a parent of a 3-year-old, I find myself grasping for good programming for him to watch. Although “Sesame Street” is still on TV, I have a hard time making sure I record it. Worse, he’s often glued to YouTube Kids, which runs the gamut from quality educational clips to brightly colored mindless drivel featuring inane songs, such as “Finger Family.”
Despite “Finger Family” giving us a hilariously memorable moment with our son, Deacon, who enjoyed sticking up Brother Finger for a week before finally understanding it really isn’t OK to flash Brother to his 84-year-old grandma, I have almost zero appreciation for its merits. The worst thing is “Finger Family” has birthed an unimaginable number of random versions from Mickey Mouse to ninjas to families from Korea, India and the Russia. (In my humble opinion, “Finger Family” could very well be worse than “Baby Shark.”)
Meanwhile, I can’t help feeling an intense sadness for what will become Deacon’s memories. My childhood buddies made movies we rushed to see in theaters and songs we still love to sing — Kermit’s “Rainbow Connection” is still among my all-time favorites as is “C is for Cookie” by Cookie Monster.
Seeing my toddler zip from clip to clip on his iPad, I know it’s my fault. I haven’t given him a chance to slow down and stroll the “Street.” But there’s a little voice in my head whispering he may lose out somehow if I become a Luddite and refuse to move him forward with the available technology.
Still, the upcoming Fred Rogers movie and Mr. Spinney’s retirement remind me I owe it to Deacon to give him time with some of my old friends. Friends who taught me being different is OK, being sad every now and then is normal, and that “please” and “sorry” are immensely important words among us humans.
Perhaps my generation of parents will soon discover the slower-paced, gentler lessons of our childhood actually placed us ahead of the pack. If that’s true, we will need to find our new Caroll Spinney, Fred Rogers and Jim Henson before it’s too late.
—Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.