the Sesame Street story

I had to get permission from the boys to tell these stories.

Sesame Street, Part One: In Which Oldest and The Director Bond

It's 1988 or so and little Oldest is a happy lad. He is precocious, to be sure, but not so much as to make him obnoxious - but I digress.
K had been freelancing for a husband and wife team who did a lot of very creative work...dance pieces for public television, concerts for public television and those short interstitial segments for Sesame Street.
As you may well imagine, creating and directing short interstitial segments for Sesame Street (for public television) is not a high paying gig and M and her husband J put out a call to the crew members for kids who wanted to appear. After some discussion (K and I aren't keen on having our children appear on television for various reasons) we decided that Oldest should do it. After all, we knew the directors and K would be on set and Oldest was old enough to tell us if he was uncomfortable. And he did, that day on the set. He told me he didn't feel well. But I was nervous about being on set and pushed Oldest to soldier on. He was shot against a green-screen and had to pretend he was flying which never even amounted to lying down - he merely made himself an airplane shape and tilted a bit from side to side. (Later, in post-production, he was put against a backdrop of clouds and flown around like a plane.) He was making letter shapes with other children in the "sky."
He looked a little queasy on camera and on the very last take he lurched a bit.
The director husband scooped him up and ran him to the bathroom where proceeded to hurl, wiped his mouth for him and said in a manly voice: don't worry kid, happens to me all the time.
In the end, Oldest looked adorable in the segment and we saw it for many many years (as my children are very far apart in age, it seems that Sesame Street was on in our house for over a decade).

Sesame Street Part Deux: In Which Middle Saves The Day

Fast forward about four years. Middle is in kindergarten and adorable but silent. Middle did not care to speak much to the world until he was in second grade, but I digress. K still works with the wife part of the husband and wife team involved with all things artistic for PUBLIC TELEVISION from time to time. The husband does not. I think the husband went to California.
M (who lives in the loft at Ground Zero, the wife) calls and says something like: I'm doing a shoot for Sesame Street, wouldn't it be cute to have Middle in it since I shot Oldest a few years ago? And I think...hmm...it would be sweet to have Middle in a segment and it might be fun, but Middle is such a quiet child...M proceeds to explain that this segment is different as the children have lines to speak and Middle would have to come into town and meet the casting director (my palms began to sweat a little)but she's sure that the casting director would love our Middle with his shiny blond hair and big blue eyes. I am wary, though, and I discuss it with Middle. Would he like to do this? Would he rather not do this? Middle says he'd like to be on Sesame Street and we talk further about what the experience will entail.
The following Monday, I pick Middle up from school and strap him into the car(seat) and we drive into town. He is wee little lad and falls asleep in the car. I wake him upon arrival and tell him we are going to meet the lady who works at Sesame Street. He's sleepy (never woke well, my Middle) and we go upstairs. After a short wait we are greeted by M who brings us to the casting director. She is pleased with his looks, tiny and gentle and cute. She asks him if he can make some faces for her: an angry face, a sad face, a happy face? He looks at me and tears well up in his eyes. I want to go home now, he says in a tiny quiet voice. I apologize profusely for wasting her time, scoop him up and flee. M makes quick apologies and follows us out. Middle cries. He wants to go home. I hold him close and settle him down and he calms. M reassures me that it's okay - that she will do something else. Then, suddenly, Middle is comfortable again and tells us he's ready to meet the lady and make faces for her...but it's too late. The casting director has dismissed him and the part can no longer be his. There isn't a second chance, M explains, and then whispers to me that she can use him as an extra.
I take teary Middle downstairs and buy him ice cream and call it a day.
I tell K the story and he calls the DP (Director of Photography) and offers bribes (jokingly) to pan to Middle as often as possible during the shoot.
All the while I feel terrible for Middle. I know it was hard for him and it is another example of his uber-quiet nature. I worry that he is too quiet in that way that mothers can.
A couple of weeks later, Middle and I travel into town for the day for the Sesame Street shoot.
He will be a background player and will be in wide shots of the playground.
As the scene is set and the children are instructed, he sits by me, quiet but happy.
Another mom comes to sit by us. Her son is to be the Principle Actor she tells us. He has just appeared on Broadway and is in some commercials. What, she asks in that way, has Middle been doing? Oh, I say, trying not to laugh, he's in kindergarten this year! Her eyebrows raise: why is he here? she demands. The Director invited him I say and move Middle away from her.
The crew is busy. It's a small shoot but four children must be wired for sound, some lights must be set and M is explaining motivation to a bunch of little kids.
The scene is ready and little Steven, The Principle Actor, is ready to rehearse his lines. He has a wire, taped under his shirt, leading from the battery pack for his microphone on his belt, to his mic, which is taped onto his undershirt and M would like to hear the line a couple of times before commencing.
The exchange:
M: Steven, can you say "I've never been down the big slide before." ?
Steven: NO.
M: ....
Steven: I said the line in the audition and I'm not saying the damn line again.
M: (blink)
Steven's mother rushes forward to console him and ask him to say the line. There is a bit of a scene between them culminating with Steven tearing his microphone off and throwing it and the batteries across the playground and then threatening to run into the street.
Our friend M, the Director, looks distressed.
Young Steven, Young Uncooperative Steven is now cursing and running around. He will not, it seems, participate in the filming.
But M is a pro (I saw this last weekend as well) and walks over to Middle and sits down on the pavement. Will Middle help her? She has no star...will Middle tell her that he's never been down the big slide before?
The sound guy comes over too...look, he says, I can put this wire in your shirt...like...like a spy!
Could it be like Mission Impossible? Middle asks quietly.
Hell yes! says the sound guy.
You would save the day! says M.
I
will
do
it,
says Middle in his tiny, gentle voice.
And Middle did.
Middle said the lines. Middle went down the big slide. Middle made the sad face and the afraid face and the proud face. Middle saved the day.
And I sat and watched and was too proud for words - and not because Middle was on Sesame Street, and not because the stage mom had to drag Steven away in a taxi but because Middle spoke and enjoyed himself and did well - and saved the day.
There was so much I wanted to say to him on the way home that day.
I am the opposite of Middle: when I am excited I blab and blather and go on and on and on. But on that day, probably for the first time, I recognized that Middle did not need my blabbing and so I hugged him and put him in his car(seat) and told him he did a good job helping M and that I was proud.
When we got home K gave him a big hug and told him he was proud ~ and Middle, true to form, went off to play. I don't think we really talked about it again.

M has not asked Youngest to appear in Sesame Street. I'm sure he would be a "natural."

Comments

Anonymous said…
Your children are the best. If I didn't have my own sweet little ones, I'd want yours.

You are such a gifted writer too. I loved the part about moving Middle away from the stage mom. And M's (blink). I felt as if I were there.

jbhat

PS) children who are big enough to go on the big slide are too small to be saying DAMN. Thanks, Stage Mom.
Badger said…
I less than three you. AND your boys.
Amy A. said…
Bursting with belated and vicarious pride! :)

I'm inspired to write some of my proud moments with my kids now.
Anonymous said…
How sweet, although I got lost at "shiny blond" haired Middle!
It's true you are the family of my dreams.
Paola
catsteevens said…
Great stories. Thank you....to you and your boys for granting permission to share it.
Okay, I am completely fulfilled by this entire story--it was WONDERFUL. Your sons are wonderful. I'll smile all weekend thinking of this.
NorahS said…
That was so sweet! It made me tear up a little.
bunny said…
"Sunny day, everthing's A-OK. On my way to where the air is sweet..."
lagata said…
I love how you tell a story - and such good stories to tell :o)
Duyvken said…
L O V E
God bless Middle. And tell me what ended up happening to Steven, did you follow hos career.
RW said…
these are very fine stories. thanks for sharing them with us.
barbra said…
Oh, bless you, bb! These stories are a gift to me on this day. I have a very quiet boy, too. He is five and just. won't. talk to people. most of the time. And I worry, as mothers do.

I have just finished my second week of being "back to work" after nine years home with little ones. I am teaching at my former job, doing a three-month (at least) maternity leave for the current teacher. My Quiet Boy has had to change his preschool schedule from three mornings/week to five days/week, staying until 3:30 every other day. This was a tough week, with lots of tears and lots of missing mommy. I'm hearing all about it from the preschool teachers and I'm feeling the guilt.

I think he will get used to the new schedule, but he is a quiet boy and being out among people for so many hours is very tiring for him. I can't help but worry about him!

Thanks for the story about Middle! I am so impressed with what you've told us about him now, the young man, so this story about him as a quiet boy did my heart some good today!
Anonymous said…
Bravo, Middle!

I've a quiet guy myself, and one who is decidedly not. It gets tricky sometimes, shifting gears.

ErinH
ThirdCat said…
They made my heart sing those stories did.

PS You don't really live in Tuvalu, do you?
Miz S said…
Great stories, both of them. I wonder if I ever saw your little guys on Sesame Street, back in the day?
Middle is my hero. I did say "Whaaa? Shiny, blond hair?"

We watched a lot of Sesame Street in those days.
Ali said…
I love your stories.
Anonymous said…
Looking back on it, she must've been THRILLED that I was willing to do it. I remember standing at the top of the slide, and she said 'can you hold the railing?' and I put one hand on the top bar, and one on the side, and said 'like this?' and she said 'YES!!!'. I went down that slide a thousand times. I vividly remember the Mission Impossible thing.

-middle.

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