When my older cousins and my sister started to get married and have babies, I found myself in a delightful and unique situation. Since I was not a parent, I didn't have to be as uptight or worried about maintaining my dignity as they were. So it freed me to interact with their kids on my own terms. One thing I never did with these next-generation kids was talking down to them. I never spoke to them as if they were dumb kids. Baby talk was just for babies. And dogs. Dogs never get too old to love baby talk! I tried to talk to them in the way that I felt about them - they may not have had my years of experience and education, but they had smarts. Another thing that I felt free to do with the kids was acting silly in front of them. Hey, I wasn't going to have to discipline them or anything, so I didn't have to worry about losing face.
When I was in high school and babysitting the neighbor kids, they took me on a journey that I grew to love. We went to Sesame Street together, and it was delightful. I really loved all of the characters, in different ways and for different reasons. For years, I wondered if Bert and Ernie were named after the cab driver and the cop from the movie It's a Wonderful Life, and I was pleased to find out that they were. There was something delicious in the way Oscar reveled in his grouchiness, the Count savored his numbers, and Big Bird held firm in the knowledge that there was, indeed, a Mister Snuffleupagus. But my all-time favorite was Grover.
It's possible that what attracted me to Grover was his accent. He could quite possibly have been a Hungarian. My ears were tuned in to this little voice and maybe my brain remembered the Hungarian accents of my parents. I don't think that was all of it, though. Grover was a skinny little guy who tried his hardest, and had a huge heart. One day we saw a skit with Super Grover visiting the zoo. He got shut in and tried so hard to pull apart the iron bars on the gate to escape, but he wasn't strong enough. "On, my cute little arms are getting tired!" he exclaimed. I use that line to this day. Grover may not have been strong, but he always made an effort. Like any of us, he might succeed, and he might fail, but at least he knew that he tried.
I found out that I could do a really good Grover voice. The kids I babysat loved it. A few years later, I started talking to my kid cousins in Grover's voice at family get-togethers. I also spoke in the voice of a sort of country bumpkin by the name of Bob. The first times that they heard me speaking as Grover or Bob, I think that they may have been surprised. Here was an adult talking in a fun voice, and directly to the kids! I wasn't doing it to impress the adults, or the kids for that matter. Maybe that is why it impressed them so much. I was just cutting loose and having fun, regardless of our ages. It didn't take long for the kids to start coming up to me at family gatherings and asking, with great hope on their faces, if Grover or Bob had come to the party. I would tell them that I would check, and before you know it, they were chatting away with whichever one happened to be there.
A couple of years ago, one of these kids, who is grown up and has children of her own, sent me a note saying that she had been remembering me fondly that day. She had been watching Sesame Street with her kids and saw Grover. The memories came back to her of an older cousin who was cool enough to talk to her in Grover and Bob's voices. My heart was full when I realized how much she had loved having me do that, and that she remembered it after all of those years.
I haven't practiced my Grover voice in quite a while, but I am still unafraid to just be silly in front of kids. But don't expect me to break out of a locked zoo right now. With all of this typing, my cute little arms are getting tired!