An Open Letter to the Muppets, From a Little Girl and Her Dad

Rockin'_RobinDear Muppets,

One of the best things about having kids is getting to introduce them to the things you loved when you were young. One of the worst comes when they don’t see those things quite the way you always did.

I was really excited this morning when my 4-year-old son, Bennett, raced up to me to say he’d just seen the greatest YouTube video ever — and it starred the Muppets! I love the Muppets! I’ve even written about them before on this blog! Bennett started describing it to me in his adorably excitable way.

“Daddy, you won’t believe what they were sitting on… BRANCHES! Isn’t that CRAAAAZY? And there were BIRDS! They were going, ‘Tweet, tweet!’”

“Wait a second, dude,” I said, in my older, excitable way. “Was this song called ‘Rockin’ Robin’?”

“YES!!!”

“I REMEMBER THAT!!!”

“WOW!!!”

“LET’S WATCH IT RIGHT NOW!!!”

“OK!!!”

I grabbed Bennett’s twin sister, Sutton, and the three of us ran to the iPad. As the video played, Bennett and I giggled and sang along. Sutton just watched.

“Daddy,” she said, about halfway through, “there aren’t a lot of girl Muppets.”

Cue the record scratch here.

I’m not going to pretend that this was news to me. Sure, everyone knows Miss Piggy, and any true Muppet fan is aware of Janice, who in fact, sings lead vocals on “Rockin’ Robin.” Other than her, though, it was a total sausage factory on those branches, the same way it is in the Muppet Theater, the Muppet movies, the Muppet TV specials and everything else Muppet-related.

camilla

The 3rd most popular “girl Muppet”

Think about it. After Miss Piggy and Janice, what other female Muppets are there? Camilla the chicken?

I don’t want to play up this moment too much. It’s not like my daughter burst into tears or stormed away declaring she didn’t like the Muppets anymore. She was just making an observation. And that is exactly why I’m so upset.

At 4 years old, my daughter has already figured out that sometimes, there just aren’t a lot of girls. Some people create entire realms of characters where women are an afterthought or a token, where one or two females can represent every feminine characteristic they intend to portray. The boys come in endless varieties, each with their own lovable quirks. There’s Kermit, the avuncular optimist, Fozzie, the goofy vaudevillian, Swedish Chef, the, well, Swedish Chef… and then there’s Miss Piggy, the girl.

What really hurts about this is how otherwise inclusive the Muppets are. Muppets come in all shapes and species, all colors of the rainbow, some have different accents or dress in a unique way. The only blind spot the Muppets seem to have is the one that covers, you know, roughly half of the entire world’s population — and 100% of my daughter.

I realize this isn’t a new thing. The Muppets have always been a boys’ club. What’s changed, of course, is that I have a daughter now, and I want her to feel as welcome and included in this fun little fantasy world as I do.

suttonanddolls

Sutton and 1/1,000,000,000th of her stuffed animal collection

I could very easily steer her toward other pop culture choices. Believe me, she knows about princesses and Strawberry Shortcake, properties that were created specifically for her gender and where girl characters typically outnumber boys. But she wants to like the Muppets, and I want to share them with her without her feeling like she needs to sit on the sidelines while her brother and I geek out over their videos.

The Children’s Television Workshop has done a good job of integrating new female characters, like Abby Cadabby, Zoe and Rosita. There’s no reason the Muppets (who are owned by Disney and operate as a separate entity) can’t do the same.

Come on, Disney. This is on you. I know you know how to market things to little girls, so let’s get on this, OK?

I am not wagging a finger at you so much as I am waving dollar bills in your face. My son owns about half a dozen stuffed animals, including Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo. My daughter owns about nine squijillion. Many of them are your characters. If you make some new girl Muppets, we will buy the toys. We will buy the original doll, we will buy the “young” version of the doll, we will buy the Classic Animator edition of the doll, the Barbie version of the doll, the pillow pet of the doll, the miniature figurine of the doll. The last time I counted, I believe Sutton had six Rapunzels, and she’s never even sat all the way through Tangled. Whatever you churn out and squeeze onto the shelves of the Disney Store, we will charge on our Disney credit card and take home with us. You will have us on the hook for years and years, for hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars.

What I am begging you for is the opportunity to make you considerably richer. If that’s not win-win, I don’t know what is.

Look, I realize my timing is terrible. The next Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, comes out in March, and from what I’ve seen, it’s just as testosterone-heavy as all the other Muppet films. No new girl Muppets, although there is Tina Fey — who, by the way, I’m pretty sure will be with me on this.

It's almost like one of those Pictureka pictures, where the goal is to find two women before the time runs out.

It’s almost like one of those Pictureka pictures, where the goal is to find two female characters before the time runs out.

Maybe you can squeeze in a few reshoots or CGI in Beaker’s mom or something. Bring back Skeeter if you want to. I’m not picky. At the very least, you’re probably in development on the next Muppet movie after this one. (I hope so. I hope there are a hundred more Muppet movies on the way, ones both my kids will want to see with me.)

If you’re still in need of ideas, here’s one for you. After we watched the video this morning, I told Sutton she should create her own girl Muppet. Then at preschool, that’s exactly what she did. When I picked her up at the end of the day, she couldn’t wait to show me her drawing. Her name is Rosada.

EPSON MFP image

Rosada, according to Sutton, is nice, quiet and as smart as a bug. She likes Milano cookies, her shoes and her bag that her mother got her. She is not a ladybug.

A four-year-old came up with this. What have you got?

Sincerely,

Jerry Mahoney

Gay Dads Have All The Answers…

selfportrait

Her first self-portrait

“Daddy, when I’m an adult, I’m going to grow a baby in my belly.”

“That’s great, Honey, and if that’s what you decide, then yes, you can.”

“But Daddy…?”

“Yes?”

“How does it get in there?”

“How does what get in there?”

“The baby… how does it get in my belly?”

“Um… well…”

“How does it get in there, Daddy?”

“Well… um… actually, for Daddy and me… we had a doctor put you in.”

“Oh. OK.”

Giant sigh of relief.

 

How to Win an Argument With My Daughter

coat, winter coat, pink coat“Let’s go, guys. Time to put coats on!”

“I’m not wearing a coat today!”

“Yes you are.”

“No!”

“Honey, it’s zero degrees outside. Do you know how many degrees that is? None. That’s cold.”

“I’m wearing a sweater.”

“And you should be. But you need a coat, too.”

“I DON’T WANNA WEAR A COOOOOOOOOOAT!”

“I DON’T CAAAAAAAAAARE! Put it on!”

“I won’t be cold! I promise!”

“I’m not arguing about this. There’s your coat. Put it on.”

“What if I wear… a jacket?”

“You’ll actually wear a jacket?”

“Yes.”

“Fine. There’s your jacket.”

(I point to her coat. She puts it on.)

“Great. Now let’s talk about gloves.”

The Rules Are Different When Your Kid is Sick…

mrs. bunny, bunny, bunny blanket, rabbit, rabbit blanket, rabbit doll, bunny doll

… and boy, do we have one kid who knows how to take advantage of that. So I wasn’t surprised when Sutton showed up at my bedside at 3:03am this morning. Who knows how long she’d been standing there, because she does this a lot, and like the possessed woman in Paranormal Activity, she just stands there perfectly still and quiet until the force of her gaze bearing down on me shudders me awake.

Despite the fact that she’s been hovering there for who knows how long, she never has much to say when I do wake up. She usually shuffles back and forth, drops her head and asks with the sweetest little face you’ve ever seen, “Daddy, will you tuck me in again?”

“NO!” I shout… sometimes.

She knows she’s not supposed to get out of bed, and she’s definitely not supposed to wake me up at 3:03am, so we have a strict no re-tuck policy, which she nonetheless tests every chance she gets. Sometimes I’m too tired for the fight, so I cave.

Like I said, though, this time is special, because we sent her to bed with a fever and a lung-busting category 5 cough. Honestly, I’m surprised she made it that late before wandering down the hall, even more surprised that this time she had a good reason for getting out of bed.

“I’m wet,” she announces, matter-of-factly. I feel her pants and sure enough, she peed through her pull-up.

I drag myself out from under the loving warmth of my winter blankets and dig out a new pair of pants and a dry pull-up for her. “There you go,” I say, and I give her a gentle pat on her tush to signify, “G’bye!”.

“No, Daddy,” she replies. “Tuck me in.”

Of course.

I walk her back to the bedroom she shares with her brother. He’s sick, too, so I really don’t want to wake him up. “Climb in, and I’ll tuck you,” I whisper.

“Where’s Mrs. Bunny?” she shouts. I shush her. Miraculously, Bennett sleeps through her outburst.

“Quiet,” I remind her. “Bennett’s sleeping.” I start feeling around in the dark for her beloved bunny-headed blankie, who she can’t sleep without. It’s not easy to find her, because there are at least six dozen plush toys on her bed at any given time. I pick up Miss Piggy. Nope. Then Punaniñas, this weird pink leopard-skinned hamster-like creature who’s been her absolute favorite for about the last two days. Nope. Then Mrs. O’Bunny, the green bunny I brought her back from Ireland.  Nope.

Finally, I find Mrs. B in the crack between the bed and the wall. I’m pretty sure this is how Indiana Jones felt when he placed his hands on the Holy Grail. Sigh. “Here you go. C’mon, I’ll tuck you in.”

“No, Daddy,” she says. “The sheets are wet!”

“The sheets aren’t wet, Honey. They’re –” I feel the sheets. The sheets are wet. Sigh. “Okay, I’ll get you a new blanket.”

I grab a blanket from her bedside. It’s covering up another six dozen or so plush toys who wouldn’t fit in her bed, so she’s created this odd co-sleeping arrangement for them instead. “No, Daddy,” she says. “I want Tiana!”

Sigh.

Tiana, Princess Tiana, Tiana blanket, Princess Tiana blanket, Princess and the FrogI grab a flashlight and search through the linen closet for the Tiana blanket, stunned that Bennett has somehow slept through all of this.

A minute later, I’m back, and she’s waiting patiently at her bedside, enjoying this late-night edition of “The Daddy Show” she’s quietly scripting as she goes along. She waits until I have the blanket positioned and tucked before she adds, “Daddy… The bottom sheet, too.”

She’s sick, I tell myself. The rules are different when your kid is sick. “I’ll be right back,” I say. I grab the flashlight again.

The next thing I know, I’ve stripped the entire bed, taken out the mattress in order to get the fitted sheet on, and now I’m on my hands and knees, painstakingly tucking the corners of the top sheet.

This is it, I decide. This is the last demand I give into. I don’t care if she’s sick or not. I just want to go back to sleep. That’s when I hear her voice again.

“Daddy?” she whispers.

I try to ignore her, but she says it again, more urgently this time. “Daddy!”

“Yes, Sweetie?”

“You’re doing a really good job.”

That’s when I give her a big hug and a kiss and tuck her in two times, as requested. “Good night, Honey,” I whisper in her ear. “Feel better.”

A Tale of Two Flower Girls

Bennett, in his favorite outfit

After two previous posts, I wasn’t planning on writing yet again about my son’s fondness for wearing dresses.  Most of the time, he’d rather wear his Thomas the Train t-shirt and jeans, but occasionally, he asks to wear something out of his sister’s closet.  None of us makes a big deal about it, except maybe his sister, who likes to gush about what a beautiful princess he makes.

But this was a very special dress… and a very special day.

Drew’s brother Peter was getting married.  Drew and his other brother were the Best Men, Sutton was a flower girl and Bennett was a ring bearer.

At least, that was the plan.

Naturally, we made a big deal about the flower girl dress, at the risk of causing Sutton to spontaneously combust with glee.  It had a sash, Aunt Ali had picked it out personally and it was so special it could only be worn on that one magical day.  It wasn’t white, as Sutton would remind us over and over.  It was “cream-colored.”

We looked at pictures of the dress online almost daily until it finally arrived, when Sutton began asking us every ten minutes if we would take it out so she could look at it.

As with most formal occasions, men’s fashion was an afterthought.  Bennett would wear a white shirt, dark pants and suspenders, which we could shop for and purchase at our convenience.

We shouldn’t have been surprised when Bennett announced that he was going to be a flower girl, too.  He never showed much interest in the dress itself, never stood at the closet door and gawked at it with his sister, but he insisted that on the wedding day, he was going to wear it.

His uncle and aunt-to-be assured us that they didn’t care what he wore or what he carried down the aisle, just as long as he was a part of their big day.

This was months ago, and Drew and I had to make the call.  The flower girl dress was expensive, and it needed to be ordered way ahead of time.  Would we have a ring bearer in the family… or two flower girls?

Those of you who have never been parents of a three-year-old need to know one thing:

You can’t plan for a kid’s desires five minutes in advance, let alone five months.

Trust me, I live with this kid.  One moment, he might ask very sweetly for me to play “Part of Me” by Katy Perry, but 22 seconds later, once I’ve found it on my iPod and hooked it up to the speakers, he’s furious that we’re not listening to Maroon 5.

Who knew what he would really want to do on the wedding day, when he saw the other ring bearers in their white shirts and suspenders?  Would he do a 180 on us and refuse to go down the aisle in the cream-colored gown?

OK, I’ll admit we also considered the fact that a little boy in a dress was going to steal some of the spotlight from the bride.  If our son identified as a girl and this were a matter of acknowledging his gender identity, that would’ve been different.  But it seemed like it was more the case of a little boy who was jealous of his sister.  We bought him the suspenders.

Occasionally over the next few months, the subject of the wedding would come up, and we’d mention that Bennett was going to be a ring bearer.  “Nope!” he’d say.  “I’m a flower girl!”  Then, we’d quickly change the subject.

This past weekend, we went to Philadelphia for the wedding.  The other kids in the wedding party weren’t at the rehearsal, and Bennett continued to insist that, during the ceremony, he would be spreading rose petals down the aisle.  We knew we had blown it.  Bad call.  The next day, we’d have one very hurt, angry little boy on our hands.

The morning of the wedding, we met up with one of the other ring bearers.  Bennett had actually had a play date with him a while back, during the bridal shower.  “You remember Little Pete?” I asked him.

“Yes,” Bennett said.  “I played with his trains.”

When it came time to put on his ring bearer outfit, Bennett didn’t put up much of a fight.  He thought Sutton looked pretty in her dress, and he beamed when we told him how handsome he was.

We breathed a sigh of relief.  We had made the right call.

Sutton did an amazing job as flower girl, and Bennett and Little Pete were top-notch ring bearers.

“I’m so proud of you,” I told Bennett after the ceremony.  “Did you like Little Pete?”

“Yes,” Bennett said.  “When I grow up, I’m going to marry him.”

I smiled at my kid and said, “Bennett, nothing would make me prouder.”

Teacher Conference

“Sutton and Bennett’s dad?  Hi.  We had a little biting incident today.”

“Oh no!  What happened?”

“Well, Sutton bit Bennett.  They were just playing around, but then she asked him to bite her back, and he broke the skin.”

“Oh, whew!  So they only hurt each other, not anyone else’s kid?”

“Oh yes.  They’ve never hurt the other kids, though Sutton has a habit of tackling all the boys and kissing them.”

“Great, so I have nothing to worry about then.”

Meet Sutton’s Dolls

Sutton likes to  name her dolls.  Here are a few of her favorites:

“Sutton”

“Sutton”

“Sutton”

“Sutton”

“Bennett” (because he’s a boy)

“Sutton”

… and the new one.

This time, she let me in on the naming process.

“Daddy, what’s her name?”

“You can name her whatever you want.”

“Daddy, please can you name her?”

“OK.  I think she looks like an Angelica.”

“No.”

“No?  You don’t like that name?”

“No.”

“OK.  How about Sylvia?”

“No.”

“Joann?”

“No.”

“Maxine?”

“No.”

“I’ve got it, Honey.  Why don’t we name her Sutton?”

“Daddy, no!!!”

“What?  Why not?”

I’m Sutton!”

Ahead of Her Time

“Daddy, I’m done with time out!”

“No.  Time out isn’t over until the timer beeps.”

“Beep!  (brief pause) Daddy, it beeped!”

“No it didn’t.  That was you.”

“Beep!”

“Sutton, I can tell the difference between the timer beeping and you saying ‘beep’.”

“Beep… beep… beep!”

(I leave the room to laugh.  Two minutes later, an actual beep sounds…)

“Honey, why did I put you in a time out?”

“Because I ran away when you told me to come inside.”

“Yes, but–”

“But you love me and you forgive me, just don’t do it again!”

“You left out the part where I tell you to say you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry!”

“OK, go play.”

Note: She’s not quite 2 1/2 years old yet.

My Little Mermaid

“Sutton, where did you put that toothbrush you were holding?”

“Under the sea.”

“What do you mean ‘Under the sea’…?”

(singing) “Wandering free… I want to be… part of your wooooooooorld!”

… and with that, I realized we’d have to childproof our new house after all.

(Side note: while I was typing this, Sutton locked herself in the bathroom.  It took 10 minutes to get her out.)