It was a Saturday morning, and the players were in their usual positions. Mom was catching some ZZZZZs. Dad was sitting in the den, drinking a third cup of coffee and reading the paper. And right beside him, 3-year-old Emily Susanna Levey was watching "Sesame Street" on television.
Suddenly, Player No. Three was in the lap of Player No. Two, and shrieking so loud that she threatened to awaken Player No. One.
"Look, Dad!" she exclaimed. "Wimp! Wimp! Wimp!"
I looked at the screen, but I didn't have to. I knew who would be there, droopy shoulders, self-pitying face and all:
He is, of course, the famous yellow creature on this famous children's program. He is also the bane of my existence. I can't stand Big Bird -- and I've told Emily so ever since Sesame Street became the most popular program in the house (I think that was about two minutes after she was born).
"All he ever does is whine," I said to my wide-eyed child on another Saturday morning about six months earlier. "He complains, he whimpers, he slinks around. He's never happy. He's never outgoing. He mopes and he gropes, and the only thing he's good at is feeling sorry for himself. Add it all up and you know what you have? A wimp."
Hand a new idea to a 3-year-old and the first thing she wants to do is see how far it extends. So, to grasp wimpery, Emily asked:
"Is The Cookie Monster a wimp?"
"No, honey. Maybe he's not the smoothest guy in the world. I don't like his table manners very much. And his voice is pretty awful. But he's not a wimp."
"Is Kermit The Frog a wimp?"
"Well, he's a little wimpy. He mutters a little, and his voice is a little mooshy. But he's cheerful and friendly. No, he's not a wimp, either."
"Is Oscar The Grouch a wimp?"
"Not in the slightest. In fact, I sort of admire Oscar. He doesn't take any nonsense from anybody. Good, solid guy who knows what he hates -- which is everything. No, he's not a wimp at all."
"Why is Big Bird a wimp?"
The screen was answering for me. Big Bird was expecting a visitor to Sesame Street -- the 6-year-old nephew of one of the human characters. But when the nephew got off the bus, he turned out to be 10.
Big Bird was crushed. "I don't know why a 10-year-old would want to play with a 6-year-old like me," Big Bird whimpered, as he slunk away.
"You see, Em? That's exactly what I mean! If this had happened to you, you'd say, 'Gee, I thought he'd be my age. But I'll play with him no matter what his age is.' But look at Big Bird. He's feeling sorry for himself -- again. All he wants to do is go hide in the corner and mutter. He's a wimp!"
As with all paternal pronouncements, my Big Bird lecture was designed to teach Emily a lifelong, nonwimpy lesson. But it merely provided her with some ammunition. Any time she wants to zing me, she now knows how.
"Dad, I don't like that tie. It makes you look like a wimp . . . . Dad, why did you get angry at that man in the other car? Are you a wimp? . . . . Dad, I didn't like your column today. I think you're a wimp! . . . ."
Meanwhile, Emily's mother invited herself into the thick of battle. She pointed out that people aren't always smiling and self-assured. Sometimes they're unsure or defeated. She noted, correctly, that Big Bird is a lot more realistic than "Father Knows Best." She said she hopes Emily learns to respect and understand people like Big Bird -- and she'd thank me to knock off the wimp talk.
Well, 2-against-1 wins any ball game. My ladies have beaten me. The word "wimp" is gone from my vocabulary.
But I'm not going to hang my head and complain. That would be like you-know-who -- and it would make me a you-know-what.