Brought to you by the number 40
November 14, 2009
Sesame Street and I both turned 40 this year–so where’s my Google logo? There hasn’t been nearly enough fanfare on my part, even when you factor in such highlights as my emerging bunion.
My mother tells me I learned to read from Sesame Street, and I don’t doubt it; I watched it twice a day most days (followed by The Electric Company with Morgan Freeman in the cast), and the second airing was a repeat. When I was given a CD of Sesame Street’s greatest hits at my baby shower, I knew all the songs that predated Elmo. Still, I don’t recall many specifics of the show, only kids cavorting with muppets against the backdrop of an urban landscape á la Ezra Jack Keats.
I do remember certain words becoming legible, like “horse,” which I sometimes mixed up with “house,” and writing my name with the letter n backward again and again on dry brown paper, thick tablets of the cheapest pulp. Though I knew the n was wrong, I could not force my hand to reverse the motion. In kindergarten and first grade, we were issued reading comprehension packets color-coded by level, but oddly, as you progressed, the colors grew more drab, peaking at brown. (My friend Margaret told me she flubbed the assessments on purpose so she could have the lavender one.)
As my older son makes his first forays into reading, I recall such instances more often; they are among my first coherent memories, or rather, I don’t remember much of my existence before I could read, and certainly none before language, as if the story of my life could only begin once I was at least capable of the simplest narratives: I want that; I didn’t do it; it’s not fair. My great-grandmother said she could remember being a baby in the cradle, wanting someone to come and get her.
I wonder when my son’s life began to gel for him in memories; I suspect it has happened only over the past year or so, as he has been finding his way to the written word. The excitement of identifying “MILK” emblazoned on the truck we were behind on the way to preschool. Sounding out and spelling “Batman.” Slogging valiantly through the opening pages of One Fish, Two Fish. It seems almost incredible that he may not remember much about his life before the cataclysmic event of his brother’s birth, because for his father and me, there are volumes’ worth of the history of just the three of us. But that we can keep for him, and tell him those stories until he makes them his own.