War vets on Sesame Street

For years now generations of children and parents have relied upon Sesame Street to talk about, well, everything. You could count on Grover to understand what it feels like to be embarrassed. You knew that Ernie would be able to capture that sort of reckless joy that maybe some of us don’t feel often enough. Even Elmo—bless his furry, annoying little soul—has guided many a preschooler in learning about words and feelings and how to talk about yourself in the third person.

So it’s not exactly surprising, but it is a momentous step, all the same: The next big Sesame Workshop project is geared towards military families, and is all about injured war veterans returning home:

More than a million children have parents who are in the military and have been deployed in the last six years. And roughly 18,000 military personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan have been wounded or injured seriously enough to be evacuated.

In the new production, Rosita, a fluffy blue mop-headed muppet, is upset because her father has returned home in a wheelchair. Rosita angrily refers to the wheelchair as “that thing” and reminisces about the days when she could dance to salsa music and kick a ball with her dad.

With encouragement from Elmo, Rosita musters the nerve to talk with her parents about how she is feeling.

“Sometimes I feel a little sad, because things are so different now,” Rosita says during a family outing to the park. “I wish your legs were OK, Papi, and I wish you didn’t have to go to the doctor so much. And I just wish things could go back to the way they were!”

Rosita’s father tells her that although he may have changed, his love for her hasn’t. And he persuades her to hop on the back of his wheelchair so the two can try a new kind of dancing.

I wish there wasn’t a need for such a DVD. Unfortunately, there is, and to have children’s beloved characters once again facing situations they themselves might be grappling with at home is bound to be a comfort to children and families facing the reality of wartime military life.

The project is already drawing praise:

Psychiatry professor Stephen Cozza of Uniformed Services University, which trains military doctors, said a parent’s injury or emotional problem is often “a big white elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about.”

[...]

On the other hand, there can be a tendency to give young children more information than they can handle, said Cozza, who also is an adviser to Sesame Street.

He said the new DVD seeks to strike the right balance by showing families how to talk openly about the changed situation they face without frightening young viewers.

This is the sort of thing that makes Sesame Street the legend it so richly deserves to be. Kudos to everyone involved for tackling such a sensitive issue. I feel all warm and fuzzy, now, heading into the weekend. Have a great one, everyone!

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