That’s Supposed to be Elmo?!?!

Yesterday was pretty rough for Daniel’s first day of potty training. To give you an idea of what it’s like, I want you to go ahead and pee in your pants. Go ahead. Do it. It’s all right. You’ll be fine. Just pee in your pants. Go on.

Won’t do it, huh? Going to the toilet is ingrained in us (unless you’re drunk and stumbling about at two in the morning and can’t find a bathroom. I sure hope no one reading this had that experience–and before you ask, no I didn’t either.) But that’s tantamount to what I’m teaching Daniel to do. For two and a half years, we’ve taught him not to pee on the floor, or in the bath, or on your uncle’s lap, but in a diaper. And now, I’m suddenly telling him to pee in this tiny little potty, or in this huge toilet. The rules have changed and Daniel doesn’t like it one bit (although today, he’s no longer freaking out whenever pee pours out of him. Now he views it with a growing fascination)

Regardless, yesterday afternoon, both of us was fried and frustrated. But then I learned that Kevin Clash was coming to Barbara’s Bookstore in Oak Park to promote his new book My Life as a Furry Red Monster, and he was bringing Elmo with him. For those of you who don’t have children, Kevin Clash is the voice of Elmo. He’s also a 6 foot black guy with a deep voice. The blurb in the Tribune’s book section said that he was coming to read passages from his book and do a signing. I’ve always been curious on what made Clash decide to create Elmo, and because Daniel’s a toddler, he automatically loves Elmo. So I figured I drive down and give Daniel a little treat.

Well, I wasn’t the only one to think this. When we got there at 7:30pm, the store was packed. Everybody and their mama came down to see Elmo and a long line snaked all through the store, filled with babbling, sobbing children. There had to be at least 200 people there. I had to wrestle through to see Clash, manipulating an Elmo puppet on his hand, in the center of the store. They decided not to have Clash read and just have Elmo greet the children, one at a time. I looked at the crowd and thought, “Naw…it isn’t worth this. Daniel can see Elmo on TV anytime.”

But then, Daniel caught sight of Elmo and his eyes lit up. “Elmo!” And at that particular moment, the next child coming up to Clash completely freaked, grabbing his mother and sobbing on her arms. Clash, who had been speaking in a normal voice, cried out as Elmo, “Oh, no! Don’t cry!” And he made the puppet wrap his red furry arms around the boy, laid Elmo’s head on the boy’s head, and cry in sympathy. This caused the boy to stop and stare at Elmo in surprise.

That impressed me. Hey, he really is good with kids, I thought. So I stayed.

The good thing about a kids’ signing is that unlike adults, some kids don’t have the patience to wait and wait until they meet their hero. They get tired, hungry, whiny and what not. When they do, the parents shrug and finally leave, towing their screaming kid behind them. So the crowd slowly thinned out over time, making the line shorter. And the bookstaff did a good job in scattering Elmo books around the store, so the rest of us who had restless toddlers could snag a book and read it to them while we wait. And as I watched Clash, a strange, freaky thing happened. Clash slowly disappeared–oh, he was still there, but it was like he didn’t register anymore. All I could see was Elmo: laughing, hugging, waving to a camera. As he broke off from meeting people to come up to the little girl crying behind us and telling her to, “Don’t cry–you’ll see Elmo soon? Okay? Kiss, kiss!” The girl stared at Elmo in wonder. She wasn’t disconcerted that he had no feet and appeared attached to a guy. For a moment, I had a taste of what she felt: Elmo touched me. Elmo just gave me a kiss. He really does care about me. Elmo is real.

Now that’s a good actor.

Around 9pm, Daniel finally got to meet Elmo. He walked up to him and reached a curious hand out to feel his fur. Clash asked me for his name, and Elmo said, “Hi Daniel!” Delighted, Daniel honked his nose. “Hi, Elmo!” One of the staff took his picture (seeing that I stupidly left my camera at home), then Elmo asked for a hug, and Daniel obliged. I then thanked Clash for all he has done and he replied, normally, “Oh no problem. It’s what I do.”

I don’t know if Daniel will ever remember that he met Elmo. I don’t know if he even remembers what happened last night. Today, I turned on Elmo and just like any other morning, Daniel sat, glued to the TV, and joyously called out, “Elmo!” He doesn’t care who voices Elmo, or that Elmo is just a puppet. All he knows is he cares a lot about Elmo.

And that’s the mark of a true artist.

I think I will read Clash’s book after all…

Edit: You know, I completely forgot that I had a picture of Daniel taken with Keven Clash and Elmo. So here it is for all posterity.