Back in my day, a day in which the wheel may or may not have been perfected, there was Sesame Street and there was the Muppet Show and they were good. Kermit the Frog was the only cross-over character between the two and he presented a form of irresistable Muppet leadership that made us all happy to follow him through movies, tv specials and the constant entertainment fare of his two tv gigs.
But times have changed and Disney owns Kermit now so his ubiquity is a fond dream of yesteryear. He doesn’t appear on Sesame Street much anymore because Disney does NOT own that particular not-for-profit enterprise, despite some nefarious attempts to snatch up those valuable and beloved properties after the untimely death of Jim Henson back in the early 90s…but I digress and all the information I’m spouting right now can actually be found in a terrific book called Street Gang by Michael Davis, which is the sole source of all my Sesame Street related trivia. Now, where was I? Oh yes. Kermit. Kermit is no longer a regular player on Sesame Street and us 30-something parents usually have to put up with Elmo and Zoe and their simpering antics rather than Kermit’s trenchant observations on the state of the world. It’s really NOT easy being green, is it? But Elmo isn’t telling us that kind of life lesson, instead choosing to pound out “Jingle Bells” on a clinky toy piano and hollering a single word instead of actual – oh I don’t know – good lyrics. So imagine my surprise and delight when one night, which watching an OnDemand episode of Sesame Street with my two year old, Kermit appeared on my screen, sitting atop a wall and discussing subtraction.
It was love at first sight. C’s eyes got wide when he saw the talking frog and asked me to rewind him over and over. Smugly, I watched as my son mooned over the same smart, snappy, frog who had charmed me as a child and thought pityingly of all those poor parents whose children had chosen Elmo to obsess over. Lalalala, indeed. In our house it will be the “Rainbow Connection” and other Joe Raposo masterpieces instead of squeaky ditties sung in the third person when they should be in first.
After a few repeated viewings of the OnDemand episode containing Kermit, C began saying “Hee-ho, Kermitfrog here!” in what I thought was a BRILLIANT imitation of his idol’s signature greeting. We would come home from daycare and he would try to con me into letting him watch tv before his usual pre-bedtime ritual by grinning widely and saying “Kermitfrog?” (To be fair, he would employ the same technique, substituting “Erniebert?” if asking for Kermit didn’t work but Ernie and Bert are still waaaayyyyy cooler than Elmo.) When Kermit would finally appear on the screen, C would exclaim “Kermitfrog!” and settle in to watching Kermit talk about subtraction for the umpteenth time because that one Kermitfrog, er, Kermit the Frog sketch was the only one I could find.
This Kermit-love appeared at a critical juncture – the middle of holiday shopping season. I had already purchased stuffed Ernie and Bert dolls as a Christmas treat. Once it became clear that Kermit was a star, I decided nothing would do but for C to have Kermitfrog waiting for him on Christmas morning. So, off I trotted to a computer where I entered Kermit the Frog into the search field on Amazon and found…very few options. A new stuffed Kermit the Frog was going to cost me $50. $50!!!!! For a stuffed toy with bendable arms and legs. I love C and I love Kermitfrog but that was more than even I was willing to spend. I abandoned Amazon and struck out on the internet in search of a more affordable option. The internet was a wasteland, bereft of Kermit as far as I could tell. I don’t know what’s going on at Disney headquarters or what their market research people are telling them but they have apparently not clued in to the fact that 30+ Muppet lovers are now parents who would like to shower their children with the lovable, fuzzy characters of their own youths. And do it for about $20. But the mass market was not producing Kermits for sale, at least not online, and I was getting desperate. I wanted C to have a Kermit, dammit!
Now, a short word about my son, here. C is a boy. An early walker, he is a physical, active child. By 15 months he was reliably making baskets with his kid-sized hoop and, by 20 months, insisted on trying to shoot hoops on the regulation court around the corner from our house. He discovered buses, garbage trucks, fire engines, motorcycles and police cars on our many walks around the neighborhood and is happy to watch videos of trains on YouTube for way longer than I am happy to sit there refreshing videos of trains on YouTube. He likes blocks and legos and toy vehicles, especially when they make noise. At daycare, his art projects are always sloppy and incomplete looking, as if he sits still only long enough to get some paint on the paper before rushing away to do something more physical and noisy than sitting at a table, fingerpainting. And he never plays with dolls or stuffed animals. Never.
But I have a mommy’s vision of Christmas morning that involves not only the elusive stuffed Kermit toy but also a child who will love it. I dream of a yelp of recognition and delight when the paper tears away to reveal a familiar green face with those bulging eyes whose irises look like the holes in cardboard packaging where they hang from rods on a store wall (oh, come on, they do and you know exactly what I’m talking about). I want my child to hug Kermit to him, take a firm hold of his flippy green hand and not let go again. I fantasize about keeping green thread on hand at all times to repair any injuries Kermit might sustain and stealing him in the night to try and get him a little clean before replacing him in C’s bed before morning. I script out conversations about how Kermit can’t go to kindergarten with C because frogs go to frogger-garden where they learn frog things instead of little boy things but he’ll be waiting when C comes home. I want his high school girlfriend to include “It’s Not Easy Being Green” on playlists for C as an homage to beloved Kermit. I imagine seeing a stray flipper sticking out of a box or backpack when we pack C off for freshman year of college. In short, I want Kermit to be the most beloved toy, the most constant companion, Hobbes to C’s Calvin. And I want to be the one who provided Kermit.
This vision and my own stubborn refusal to acknowledge that C will probably not adhere to it led me to Toys R Us on a rainy Saturday two weeks before Christmas in the hopes that Kermit would be waiting for me there. The first hurdle is determining what Kermit actually is – a pre-school toy? A character? A Sesame Street toy? A movie tie-in? Is there something as straight-forward as a section for stuffed animals in Toys R Us squished someplace between the acres of Dora stuff, electronics, and, weirdly, a whole shelf devoted to things like Snuggies? I saw a familiar flash of red mange and headed in that direction hoping perhaps where there is Elmo there might also be Kermit. Um, no. Where there is Elmo there is more Elmo. Shelves and shelves of Elmo. Elmos who talk. Elmos who giggle. Elmos who dance. Creepy Elmo gloves that vibrate and sing. But not, as far as I could see, a snuggly stuffed Elmo that could be hugged and cuddled at bedtime. What is the use of furry creatures that aren’t at all physically comforting, I ask you? And why can’t Elmo just shut up for a minute? I mean really, he’d be so much nicer without that squeaky little voice and sickly laugh piping away all the time. Not to mention the perennial complaint parents like me have about toys that do everything for a child and leave no room at all for a developing imagination.
I made a left out of Elmo’s World and wandered down the pre-school toy aisle until I found a small section of stuffed animals. None of them were lisenced characters and nowhere could I find a section devoted to the Disney-owned Muppets like Kermit and his paramour Miss Piggy (a creature I admire as a feminist icon but perhaps that’s a subject best addressed at another time). Finally, I found a a person who worked there and asked her if they had any Kermit dolls. No. They didn’t. Maybe just a plain frog would do? Um, no. I’m not the mom who tries to pawn off a generic frog and convince my kid it’s Kermit. I’m the mom who finds Kermit through hell and high water! Kermitfrog not Randomfrog!
Daunted but undefeated, I purchased several hundred dollars worth of other stuff for Christmas and C’s early January birthday (disclaimer, lest you think I am a profligate spender who could have saved everyone a lot of time by just forking over the $50 for the Kermit on Amazon: the largest gift I was purchasing on behalf of my in-laws. Everything I bought was in the $10 range because my kid not quite 2 and doesn’t really get Christmas.). I went to work Monday, and told the other mid-30-somethings my difficulty in finding Kermit which led to an excellent bit of reminiscing about Muppets in general and the brilliant suggestion to check eBay.
eBay is like the Island of Misfit toys and I found several Kermits available, one of which was priced to move in an auction that was going to end in a matter of minutes. I moved fast, won the auction, and only on review discovered that the seller showed pictures of a damaged eye. Ah, the pitfalls of buying used. Unsatisfied with a sub-par Kermit, I went trolling the auctions again. I found a lot that included two Kermits, one of them nearly identical to the $50 one I had rejected at the outset of this Kermit-acquisition-expedition and apparently in good condition. I put in my auto-bid, and watched as the time ticked down. Yes! Another win and Kermit, or KermitS, were mine.
For those of you counting along at home, that is a total of three Kermits I bought in the space of an hour. On work time. For a boy who doesn’t play with stuffed animals.
Now the waiting game began. PayPal worked its magic and I forked over the cost of Kermit plus shipping to faceless toy-sellers. Kermit arrived before our Christmas Eve flight to Kansas, the good, undamaged Kermit was the one to show up, not the broken Kermit. Meanwhile, I kept selected the episode of Sesame Street with Kermit for C’s pre-bedtime tv time to keep Kermit in the forefront of his little mind, thus enhancing the chances for my Christmas magic moment. Manipulation? Yes, yes it was. Hey, I’m not proud.
On Christmas Eve, our flight was one of the last to land in an icy rain in Kansas City. My suitcase, with Kermit tucked safely inside, shot down the ramp of the baggage claim and I was ready to set the stage for the Big Reveal. Except for the part where my son was disoriented from the flight, truncated nap, long car ride, and disastrous bedtime involving an inflatable toddler bad in the same room where Mommy and Daddy were going to sleep.
Finally, finally Christmas arrived. We all gathered around the tree trying to convey the excitement of the day to a little boy who would have been happy to spend the entire morning extracting tinsel from his stocking one strand at a time. He was too young to understand that he was to tear into each gift as it was presented and I had to teach him how to open a present. Each gift was a revelation, a toy so cool that he was ready to play with it then and there with no thought for what might be lurking beneath the wrapping on the next package to be handed to him. Before C grew too overwhelmed, I extracted Kermit from beneath the tree and handed him to C. Camera poised, I helped him tear off the wrapping paper. I selfishly wished that I was alone with my son at that moment, that his reaction to seeing Kermit would be allowed to continue without the interference of other loving family wanting to give him lovely gifts. I watched my child’s face as the green limbs came loose from the paper and waited…
There was a smile, indeed. A flash of recognition, a quiet exclamation of “Kermitfrog!” that I could hear above the confusion, a smile as he held his new toy out to examine it. And then there was another gift, more paper to tear, a truck to roll across the floor, tinsel to touch, lights on the tree, his aunt building him a tower with blocks. In short, Christmas continued and, more important, C continued to be indubitably himself running about and playing with trucks until he was tried and wanted to cuddle, not with a stuffed frog but with his mommy.
So I didn’t get my wish for Christmas. But I have my photo of a small boy in red footie pajamas holding the gift I worked so hard to get him and a warm memory of his second Christmas. The Kermit I gave him has not, as I knew deep in my heart, become the precious companion I envision. Instead, he is settled into C’s crib with him, keeping watch with bulgy eyes and bearing witness to the quiet moments of a little boy’s early childhood.
I still have my Kermit The Frog and he is sitting on the top shelf of one of my daughter’s book shelves in her room next to my metal The Muppet Show lunch box. Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas is one of the Christmas shows we watch every year, even though the part with Kermit The Frog was deleted. (We have the DVD).