That Horrid Little Red Guy

Yes, this is the exact one we have.  Blah.

Yes, this is the exact one we have. Blah.

And if you’re wondering who I mean, it’s Elmo.  Yes, that furry, “cute” little red guy from Sesame Street that irritated me even as a child.  I recall wondering why the thing spoke only in third person instead of like an intelligent 4- or 5-year-old.

My youngest son, D, received a version of the hairy beastie last Christmas from a well-meaning soul.  By ‘last Christmas’, I mean 2012.  It’s a “rock & roll Elmo” and came with a plastic microphone, baby-toy-like tambourine, and plastic drum kit.  The environmentalist in me squirmed when I thought about all the plastic involved in its manufacture.  Anyway, it loudly sings and thrash-dances, so we were all thankful when the batteries died after an interminable three days.  I did not replace the batteries.  I kept trying to give the thing to our local MCC thrift store but D. would have none of it.  He enshrined it on his dresser and guarded it jealously throughout the year.  I hoped against hope that it had died, but today we discovered that I had hoped in vain.

D. managed to scrounge up the 6 rechargeable batteries it requires (Six!!  Can you believe it?), charged them all, then loaded it up and subjected us to the 100 decibel gag-me songs of Elmo, until my eldest son, A., and I screamed at him (politely, of course – I did say ‘please’) to take it off to his bedroom and SHUT THE DOOR!  D. came out again, twenty minutes later, glassy-eyed and partially deaf, but grinning.

Now, my argument with the red object is not that it’s loud.  I do think the volume of the toy is excessive, especially since it’s intended for kids under five who have not yet had time to damage their hearing.  If the thing were meant for 75-year-olds, I would understand the volume of it.  My dispute with the loathsome thing is that the Sesame Street toy-makers had the audacity to call it a toy.  It is not a toy.  Playing with it involves pushing a switch, covering one’s ears, and watching it dance/sing.  That is not play, either.  It’s mindless entertainment, only slightly better than children’s programming on TV.  We’ve managed to avoid the brain-killing toys pretty well, but somehow this one slipped through the razor-wire of our vigilance.  Perhaps the fact that it came from a great-grandparent has something to do with the red thing’s continued survival.  This is a part of consumerdom that I dislike intensely and owning something like this pushes against all my scruples.

I think children should be outside, reading good books, playing with toys that encourage imagination, talking with other humans, and exploring the world around them in as many ways as is practical.  We should consider the packaging of the toys we buy, where and how they were manufactured, how long they’ll be useful for, and what will happen to the toy when it’s worn out.  (And in case you’re wondering, I Christmas-shop carefully! Often it’s not even fun.  🙂  )  I don’t even buy toys like Elmo from the thrift store!

There is some irony here.  My son seems to like it – a lot – and it still lives in our house more than a year after it first annoyed me.  So I have my principles but haven’t totally put them into practice because it would infringe on my son’s autonomy, his freedom to like something that I dislike.  Rightly or wrongly, Elmo is alive and well in our house.  I sure hope my kids aren’t scarred for life because of it.

Although now that Elmo lives again, I won’t speak for my husband.  We might wake up one morning to find that Elmo has mysteriously disappeared. Now excuse me while I go outside to dig carrots from my organic garden.  😉


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