We’re awfully fond of Sesame Street around here.
Every morning, at 8 am, we turn on the television, find the kids’ section from On Demand, and choose a Sesame Street episode. Should we watch Elmo learning salsa? Or Baby Bear trying to rid himself of hiccups? We three settle in on the couch, Lu on my lap, and watch the opening and sing.
Look, you have to know already that I’m a bit of a sap, right? Or maybe I prefer to say that I’m porous, still open to these touching moments that are easy to dismiss. I grew up on Sesame Street. Ernie and Bert, Grover, and Big Bird were my friends. They still are. I remember that magic world vividly — the ladybugs picnic with the ladybugs sitting around telling knock knock jokes; the guy with the pies falling down the stairs; the pinball cartoon that taught us how to count. (Lu counts up to twelve because of that cartoon. I’m convinced of it.) Sesame Street is part of how I learned to read so young. And now, Lu too.
Watching Sesame Street again with our daughter is knocking out Danny and me on a daily basis. It’s not just that it’s so brilliantly put together, and genuinely does teach kids at their level, but it’s the heart of the show that moves us.
Keep trying, because it takes practice to get something right. Your neighbor may look different than you, but he has great stories to share. Sometimes our beloved pets and friends get sick, or die, and we have to be present to it. Elmo and his monster friends have a running race, but he falls near the finish line. Rather than running faster, his friends go back and pick him up, and they cross the line together, equals. I’m not kidding — every time we watch that moment, I get a little lump in my throat. (I told you I was a sap.) It seems, at times, there’s not a lot of cooperation and fellow feeling in our culture right now. Once again, I find myself wishing that the world could be a little more like Sesame Street.
It kills me that Lu punches her fists in the air, reciting the alphabet, because one of the episodes of Sesame Street shows kids in a karate studio shouting out the letters. She pretty much has them all, although E and N kind of confuse her, because they look so close to F and M. There’s time. The repetition on Sesame Street keeps teaching her.
She cackles her 1 2 3, just like the Count. She clutches her Ernie doll to her chest when she sits in my lap, facing him outward so he can see the books I am reading to her. She loves Elmo as much as any child does. (For awhile, when she woke in the middle of the night and called out in her sleepy state, she called for Elmo before she did me. Thanks, kid.) His exuberance and Mr. Noodle make her grin wide and practice her jumping, just because they are there.
At the moment, one of Lu’s favorite songs is from the Cookie Monster: “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me.” She takes bites out of her toast and makes a C, then hands it to me so I can sing her the song. I bounce the toast up and down and sing, and she bounces her head from side to side, mock singing along with me. When I finish, she looks up at me and says, “Please? Again?” It’s hard to resist.
Last week, I made us these cookies, just so she could have a cookie after she sang along.
I have this vivid memory of my late 20s, when I was living on this island, teaching high school and feeling alone. One day, home sick with the flu, I stopped my channel flipping when I got to Sesame Street. There was Big Bird and a clutch of small children, all races and shapes, on a bridge in Central Park, singing. “Sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong.” I burst into tears. I’m not entirely sure why. It was something about the memory of being a kid, of everything being possible, of that feeling of safety I enjoyed within the confines of that show. And sappy as it was, I think it was that moment when I realized I needed to start singing my song. I started writing seriously just after that.
How could I have known in that moment that I would stand on that bridge in Central Park many times when I lived in that city? That I would create my own feeling of safety in the world with friends from many places, of all races and shapes, who understand me? (I am so grateful.) That I would keep singing my song, finding new notes every day, including today, right here. Now.
How could I have known that I would be living on this island again, this time with Danny and Lu, not alone? And that at least 12 times a day, our daughter would look at me and say, “La la?” She claps my hands for me and asks me to sing. “Sing. Sing a song,” I start singing to her and the sky. She sings with me now, in her small voice, growing louder. “Make it simple,” she sings, enunciating every letter.
And every single time we sing that line — “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song.” — every single time I get a lump in my throat. That’s what I hope for her in the world. That she will sing her song and not worry if it’s too loud, or too soft, or too strange, or too much the same of everyone else. I just want her to sing her song.
Thank you, Sesame Street. All over again.
OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, GLUTEN-FREE, adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book
These cookies are adapted from a recipe in The Grand Central Baking Book. Seriously, I don’t know why this book didn’t garner national attention when it was published. It’s absolutely lovely. Not only are the recipes solid (and written in ounces, so we can adapt them with gluten-free flours easily!), but the book is strewn with good baking tips. I’m re-working my pie crust again based on Piper Davis’ clear instructions for how to tackle the dough.
Everyone who ate these cookies loved them. Everyone. Especially Lu. We did a lot of biting, then singing. “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me!” These cookies are more than good enough for me. They have a crisp outer edge, a chewy inside, and the surprise of both milk and bittersweet chocolate on either side of the mouth. We think you’ll want to sing about them too.
7.5 ounces Aherns All-Purpose Flour
1 ounce gluten-free oat flour
1 ½ ounces sweet rice flour
1 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup white sugar (we use unbleached organic)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
9 ounces rolled oats (make sure they are certified gluten-free)
6 ounces chocolate chips
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Combining the dry ingredients. Sift each of the flours into a large bowl, then stir in the guar gum, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir well and set aside.
Creaming the wet ingredients. Put the softened butter and white and brown sugars into the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can also do this by hand.) Mix them together until they are combined well, lighter in color, and feel fluffy. Don’t forget to stop and scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated.
Crack one egg at a time and add it to the mixture, allowing the egg to be fully incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. Pour in the vanilla extract and mix well.
Finishing the dough. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer, 1/3 at a time. Scrape the sides from time to time. Add the oats and mix them in. Finally, add the two kinds of chocolate and mix. This you might want to do by hand.
Shaping the cookies. Scoop out 1 ½ ounce balls of cookie dough (or about the size of a ping pong ball, if you don’t want to be that meticulous). Form into a tight ball. Place all the balls of cookie dough on the baking sheet, then flatten them into ½-inch disks.
Baking the cookies. Slide the baking sheet into the pre-heated oven. Bake until the edges of the cookies are browned and the middle is just slightly underdone, about 10 minutes. (Rotate the baking sheet at 5 minutes.) Remove the baking sheet and allow the cookies to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.
Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.