In 1970, when “Sesame Street” was a new children’s educational program on American public television and I was living with my young daughter in then-Salisbury, Rhodesia, Africa, my mom in New Jersey, USA, sent us the freshly minted “Sesame Street” long-playing record album in the mail – to the delight of all the neighborhood preschool kids.
My daughter and her little friends sat cross-legged on my living room carpet in a semicircle, as if my record player were a hearth, mesmerized by the happy music so new to them and to the world: “Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away — on my way to where the air is sweet! Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”
In the fifty years since then, “Sesame Street” has become the most widely viewed children’s program in the world — broadcast in more than a hundred and twenty countries — and those little kids who sat in my living room have become parents and, some by now, grandparents.
I’m sure we all have our own favorite “Sesame Street” characters. For me, the two I’ve always loved best are Kermit the Frog (“It’s not easy being green…!”) and Count Count (“One bat, two bats, three bats – I’m going batty counting bats! Ha-Ha-Ha!”).
In my own passion for puppet-making and using puppets as teaching tools (I like to hide behind my puppets to let the kids think the puppets are doing all the talking or singing), I’ve made a frog puppet my young Mexican students have loved: La Reina Rana (the frog queen), who purports to be Kermit’s auntie. (See my April 29, 2017, WOW post, “Green Queen.”)
Rana used to like to sing to the kids — in English, because she was there to help them learn English – a variation on Kermit’s song. Hers went like this:
It’s not easy being a green queen,
being the color of the leaves on the trees.
I think I’d prefer to be red – like an apple,
or yellow – like a banana, or
gold – like a star! …
I say she “used to” because Rana and I – and all of my other handmade puppets – have not seen the children since March, when my last lesson with them was on hand-washing (counting “one banana, two bananas, three bananas…” up to 20 seconds’ worth of bananas) because the coronavirus was newly in the news and washing hands really well was a new municipal government guideline. (See my March 14, 2020, WOW post, “Twenty Bananas.”)
Now I’m wondering: When will my puppets and I see the kids again? (We miss them!) When will schools reopen here? Does anyone dare give a date?
Every so often – maybe twice a year – I’m gripped by the overwhelming need to make another puppet to entertain – oh, and to educate! – the kids I volunteer-teach. Just this week I thought of a new puppet I’d like to create one of these days soon. This one will be a take-off on Count Count, but he won’t, like The Count, be a vampire. The name of my new puppet will be Count Blessings.
I plan to replicate some aspects of Count Count’s costume (the cape, for instance) and imitate his Eastern European accent and hearty laugh. But instead of teaching arithmetic (a subject I’ve never excelled at, I confess), my new puppet will teach the students how to count their blessings in English. We’ll list their blessings on the blackboard until the board is filled with big, beautiful words, such as: HEALTH, FAMILY, PETS, FOOD, SCHOOL …
Yes, even school.
After so many months of being apart due to this pandemic, and being in lockdown in our respective homes, I’m sure all of us will feel it’s a HUGE blessing to be back in school.
Now I’m wondering: How much time do I have to create this new puppet? Two months? Three? More? Who knows? If anyone knows when the cloud of this pandemic will have been swept away and schools here will be reopened, please tell me.