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Listener Essay - God Rest Ye Merry, Elmo Doll


  Diane Kavanaugh-Black is an upstate New York writer who leads workshops at Of-the-Essence Holistic Wellness.

"God Rest Ye Merry, Elmo Doll" was one response to the sadness pierced post-divorce question: Were we the family I remember us being? The answer: Yes -- sometimes, yes

God Rest Ye Merry, Elmo Doll

For Christmas 1996, no one could lay hands on a Tickle Me Elmo for holiday giving. By Christmas 1998, no one wanted one, and the bright red Sesame Street character ended up in discount bins everywhere.

The fever pitch for a chuckling Muppet had never infected our nuclear family, but Grandma Elaine loved a good bargain and a noisy toy. Her previous gifts had included 2XL the obnoxious quizzing robot, and, complete with wiggling hips and rap beat record scratches, Hip-Hop Santa.

Those other toys had been more age-appropriate. Unfortunately this time, Helen was eight, a little old for preschooler Elmo. She tore off the wrapping, tickled him a couple times, and we all got used to the high pitched H’eh-h’eh-h’eh-H’EH! H’eh-h’eh-h’eh-H’EH! Her older brother, James, picked it up by one arm. “Now what?”

Their dad had started medical school two years before. Inspired, Helen ran to her bedroom and came back with a white box. “I have my doctor kit.”

Her eyes sparkled, relishing the prospect. “Maybe Elmo is sick!”

She proceeded to prod Elmo’s ears and mouth with her tools, and exclaim, “I think I have to take his temperature”—she held for the punch line—“in his butt.” A pause. “Daddy, there’s no place for the thermometer to go!”

To distract from the doll’s anatomical anomaly, he answered, “More importantly, Elmo’s in cardiac distress. He needs CPR!” My spouse encouraged with his third year med student knowledge: “Ten compressions, then two breaths!”

Soon, Helen looked up from her attempts, wisps of crimson fluff on her mouth, “He’s too fuzzy, Daddy! It makes my lips dry!”

“Just chest compressions, then. Take turns, you’ll be doing this for up to thirty minutes…” James jumped in with thumps to the upper torso. “Lemme show ya, Helen!”

“Watch out kids, don’t break Elmo’s ribs…” their dad cautioned.

“No, he’s mine!” She wrestled Elmo back by tugging on his head, hard.

“…or dislocate his neck,” I added.

“This is lotsa work,” Helen complained.

Seeing their energy waver, Daddy complicated Elmo’s condition.

“His heart’s working again but now Elmo’s choking on a chicken bone. Quick, the Heimlich Maneuver!”

Revived like Elmo, the children did up-thrusts and abdominal squeezes. I wondered aloud how Elmo had managed to eat while not breathing.

“Kids, Elmo’s the size of a baby—you have to bang him on the back instead!” James and Helen alternated, Whap! Whap! taking out every bit of Christmas morning frustration, excitement and chocolate overindulgence on Elmo’s furry flat thoracic area.

Their dad stopped them. “Wait a minute, let me palpate”—feeling the hard plastic voice-box—“What’s this thing inserted inside? Oh my god, it’s a pacemaker and it’s not working!”

“Shock him, Daddy, shock him!” they shrieked.

“I don’t know, it’s an awful risk; we could fry him!”

I wiped tears of laughter from my eyes. My spouse pretended the two ends of the toy stethoscope were paddles and performed a technical looking maneuver.

“There, now he’s safe. But we’ve still got the chicken bone to contend with!”

The delicious combination of holiday frenzy and typically-prohibited violence was irresistible. From behind, Helen proceeded to Heimlich the hell out of Elmo.

“Sometimes people use a countertop when they’re not strong enough. Or a piece of furniture.”

Helen pushed Elmo’s belly against the back of the sofa, quoting something she’d overheard:

“I’m gonna save ya Elmo, even if I have to KILL ya!” Grabbing him by the legs, she swung his body against the bookshelf and the radiator, then slammed his back against a wall. I called from my safe spot across the room: “Whiplash, dear! I treat too much of that in my massage practice.”

Elmo still giggled artificially. We hooted heartlessly.

Finally, a crack against the couch elicited one H’eh-h’eh-he’h-h’eh that ended in a strange squeak.

“It’s back to CPR!”

Panting, they flopped onto the floor. “No, you do it, Daddy. We’re tired.”

“Me? I’m just a medical student! “

Ever the mom, I stepped in. Pound. “H’eh.” Pound. “H’eh.”

“Kids, I’m afraid Elmo’s not gonna make it.”

It was suddenly very quiet.

Helen and James looked at us, unsure if there would be punishment. They’d broken the brand new doll.

We looked at them. Would they start crying?

Instead, simultaneously, each of our faces curled into a wicked grin.

Yes, we agreed—Elmo’s part in our Christmas medical melodrama had been well played, even if it was a short run.

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