When I was growing up my mother was adamant that her children NOT watch television. At the time I was furious. That anger lasted for years but now I see the wisdom of her decision. If I was bored she would tell me that “only boring people can get bored” and then she would direct me to one of the many art books we had strewn around the house. "Knock yourself out" she would advise me, depositing me at the foot of a stack of books. And so I did. To this day I much prefer books to T.V. of any kind. And I'm grateful to my mother for her steadfast insistence that T.V. - or the idiot box as she called it - was a waste of precious time. I did, however, get a sneak peek at the popular T.V. shows of my youth. Rarely at home but often at friends’ homes. I loved Sesame Street. I especially loved Big Bird and the Cookie Monster. I wished they lived in my town so that we could have playdates together. Just the three of us.
Recently I was talking to my friend James about the old-school Sesame Street which was fabulous and fun and perhaps less about "teaching children life lessons" than it is today. "Shame about the Cookie Monster though" James said. "Oh no, what happened to the Cookie Monster?" I asked, concerned about the fate of my favorite character. "Well.....he's not our Cookie Monster anymore" James told me. "He's learning impulse control now." "What? No!!!! That can't be" I replied. My Cookie Monster was a total addict and that is probably why I liked him. "Me want cookie!!!" he would growl while smashing a towering plate full of freshly baked cookies into his mouth. He was wild, unrestrained, violent. I think he even ate another character once after mistaking her for a cookie. Cookie Monster could only be mildly satisfied and somewhat sedated by shoveling platefuls of cookies into his gaping, chronically unsatisfied maw. It didn't matter what where when or who got in his way, he would get his goddamn cookies. Then he would wolf them all down, sending crumbs, cookie chunks and sometimes even plates flying around the set, before going in search of more cookies. "MORE COOKIES!!!!!" he would howl. Like addicts everywhere I think Cookie Monster felt that repeatedly smashing platefuls of cookies into his face might still his internal angst. News flash...it will not.
"What do you mean they’re teaching Cookie Monster impulse control? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard" I told my friend. So he sent me a clip of The New and Improved Cookie Monster. There he stood, calm and adorable. Historically, Cookie Monster looked crazy. Strung out even. Like the Muppet version of a human junkie. He always had the jumpy demeanor and crazed eyes of an addict, desperately trying to figure out where his next fix was coming from. But not anymore. Someone cleaned Cookie Monster up. And he cleaned up nicely. His fur, usually a matted mess of crumbs and sticky God-knows-what-else, had been brushed. His eyes, usually half-lidded with cravings or rolled back in the ecstasy of indulgence as he shoved a dozen cookies at a time into his mouth, were clear and bright.
"I see you have a cookie there", Big Bird says to Cookie Monster in the clip I watched. Big Bird looks nervous. Like he would like to fly away given the chance. But sadly Big Bird can't fly, and besides he's on contract with Sesame Street so he can't just up and leave no matter how destructive his bestie, Cookie Monster, chooses to be on any given day.
"Yes, cookie!!!!" says Cookie Monster, looking down wistfully at the plate set in front of him on a table. "Well, aren't you going to eat it?' asks Big Bird as he slowly tries to put some distance between himself and his dangerous, unpredictable friend.
"Cookie." sighs Cookie Monster wistfully. "Me want cookie. Me want cookie now!" he says with increasing desperation. And then something crazy happens. Cookie Monster looks up at his friend Big Bird and says "Me want cookie now. But me wait."
Neither Big Bird nor I were ready for that completely uncharacteristic answer. "How can that be?" I asked myself, "that's impossible. Cookie Monster and I are the same age! Leopards this old don't change their spots just like that!" Had the powers that be at Sesame Street sent Cookie Monster off to an inpatient rehab? Somewhere he could get clean? Somewhere he could learn about impulse control and resist the addictive, destructive pull of those cookies? It certainly seemed like it.
Now Cookie Monster is going the rounds of the talk shows, NPR and the likes, talking to kids about self-regulation and impulse control! What the hell is this world coming to? Cookie Monster? The ultimate addict, teaching us about impulse control? And yet there he is, burning up the airwaves with his newly-acquired wisdom.
So I went down a little rabbit hole, toggling between old videos of "my Cookie Monster", the wild, disruptive, destructive, out of control, addicted Cookie Monster and the new rehabbed one. And I have to say, the new Cookie Monster does look calmer, cleaner, more peaceful. This furry blue maniac, previously hell-bent on cookies and mayhem seems, dare I say - happy.
I see that I'm still learning, even from shows originally created for toddlers. I certainly have learned impulse control from my years battling addictions to food, drugs and alcohol. I am still doing battle with the addictive nature of the chronic negative thought patterns swirling around between my ears. I have learned that there is a space between thought and action. Between thought and thought even. A space between craving something and then giving into that craving. That space between thought and action is my Higher Power. I still crave alcohol sometimes. Currently there is very popular drink making the rounds. Everyone is acting like this is some grand new invention and they are the proud inventors of it, but the fact is this trendy cocktail has been around for over 75 years. This drink, the Moscow Mule, contains my 2 favorite beverages ever...ginger beer and vodka. So yes, I see that drink making its chic reappearance and I can't help but think..."me want Moscow Mule. Me want Moscow Mule now!" Sometimes I even (embarrassingly) salivate when one crosses my path. But thanks to Cookie Monster I see that just because I have a craving, it doesn’t mean that I have to immediately act on it. There is space there. Space and time resting between all impulse and action. By resting in that place I see that I don't have to act on my self-destructive impulses ever again.
So yes, me want Moscow Mule. Me want Moscow Mule now. But me wait. And me realize that me love ginger beer just as much without the vodka. So me thank you Cookie Monster. And me thank you Sesame Street, for still teaching me those important lessons that I somehow managed to NOT learn in childhood. Me happy about that.