what you can`t see, in this picture, is the big furry red monster. the one who materialized magically, bigger than life, at the weekend`s Jack Frost winter festival.

Oscar was beside himself. the boy has a thing for Elmo. it`s not just a man-crush, it`s a shine, a full-on pure-hearted love and delight that i can`t quite begrudge him even if Elmo`s cloying over-marketedness irks me. when the Elmo impersonator enfolded him in his fluffy red arms moments after this shot was taken, i think Oscar thought he`d been transported to heaven…or he would have, if we talked about things like heaven in our house. we don`t.

but then, we never talked about things like Elmo in our house, either.

i ran away screaming the first time one of those “Elmo likes to go up up” dolls assaulted me in a toy aisle, and i`ve mostly eschewed toy aisles since. we`re a hibernatory, bookish people. we don`t watch tv, really, and the DVDs O owns are mostly of the Little People, Baby Einstein, and Richard Scarry variety. even then, i kinda feel i should flagellate when he watches more than one. so, other than a replica of his namesake Oscar the Grouch, replete with trash can, i didn`t think my boy knew Elmo and the rest of Muppetkind from a hole in the wall.

erm, okay, i was pridefully SURE he didn`t know Elmo and friends from a hole in the wall.

until the day, before Christmas, when my mom and i decided to take a rare Saturday morning shopping trip with Oscar. he was in the cart, happy. we steered through the seldom-visited toy aisles, because my mom was thinking she`d like to get him something nice and developmental and, um, smart. or something. and he lost his mind.

every time we rounded a corner, my wee darling morphed into a cart-troll, howling an unrecognizable blue streak at the top of his lungs and flailing fiercely at…something. i thought he must be tired. i thought he must be overstimulated. i thought we should find him some bloody playdoh or something and get the heck out of there. but just as we were about to flee, my mom happened to stop the cart quite close to one of the displays, so she could find her wallet.

fur flew. red fur. not one but two separate Elmos came flying off the shelves in the fat, gleeful paws of my son, who held them aloft like victory itself and crowed, “Mamie!” and i realized that that was what he`d been shouting for the ten minutes previous, each time within sight of a different Elmo toy.

what happens when a toy-snob sanctimommy discovers that, unbeknownst to her, she`s been raising not only a child who knows Elmo but a child who would clearly sell her outright for a furry piece of red plastic that sings in a saccharine falsetto?

she caves, friends. utterly caves.

over the past few months, i have come to live in a Muppet universe. we didn`t buy the singing Elmo toy, or any other Elmo items from the toy aisles, admittedly, but we started watching old Sesame Street Elmo clips on youtube. and then Oscar the Grouch clips, which seemed…welll…a natural extension. then Grover, and Kermit…and before you knew it we were sliding down the slippery slope into hardcore Muppet Love and watching Swedish Chef reruns and “Beaker sings Danny Boy” every night before bed. we sing “Rubber Ducky, you`re the one” in the tub, and “The Rainbow Connection” any time we`re feeling snuggly. we have Sesame Street stickers all over most surfaces of the house. Oscar still calls the whole Muppet crew “Mamies”, and loves them indiscriminately…though i think his heart belongs to Elmo first and foremost. and i – gasp, i, heartless cynic – have begun to think Elmo’s kinda cute. sometimes.

so when we saw Elmo – or the dude in the Elmo suit – at Jack Frost on Sunday, i didn`t react at all like i would have even a few foolish months ago. not a nose-hair did i raise in disdain. nope, instead, i did a double-take and stood there with my mouth wide open like i`d just been confronted with the spectacle of superstardom there in front of me, live and in the fuzz. because in Oscar’s world, this was like running into Elvis…and since we’ve never done any of these kid fair things before, the whole presence of Elmo stunned me just as much as if it had been Elvis in front of us. then i came to my senses, grabbed my boy, hightailed it over in front of that ersatz Muppet, and beamed like a twit at the joy on my little Mamie-obsessed rerun-addict`s face. and after Oscar had gotten his hug and was backing away from the plush wonder, stars in his eyes, i had to remind myself that the sixteen-year old kid inside the Elmo suit really didn`t need a hug from me, too.

because for a second there, the delight on that little face overcame me and i was small again too, eight or nine, trying to understand why the words to “The Rainbow Connection” made my eyes fill with tears…for a second there, with Oscar and Elmo, i almost believed.

so thank you, mass marketing…for the unexpected joy i’ve found in being wrong, about Elmo and tv shows and all the rest. now to just get that boy hooked on “Fantasy Island” and “Little House on the Prairie”…oh, yeh, and “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Mr. Dressup,” or maybe really “Mr. Dressup” should come first because Daisy’s short shorts are way more risque than Casey & Finnegan’s purported relationship…and oooh yeh, maybe some “Polka Dot Door”…nah, they were lame…