Childhood characters have long-term impact, positive influence into adulthood

Erika Heck and Erika Heck

For some reason, I had a hard time differentiating between fantasy and reality when I was in elementary school, and earlier this week, this

problem resurfaced.

Duke University announced that Jovian, one of their Coquerel’s sifaka lemurs, passed away on Monday from kidney failure at the age of 20.

However, you may not know this lemur by the name of Jovian.

You may better know him by the name of Zoboo, the cohost of the PBS show “Zoboomafoo.”

My former lack of knowing the difference between fantasy and reality kicked in for the first time in a while Tuesday night when I started crying over my laptop over the loss of a prominent character of my childhood.

Of course now that I’m older, I’m well aware that Jovian was used to have real footage of a lemur prior to “turning into” Zoboo who could talk and sing. But when I was little, I honestly thought they were the exact

same lemur.

I started thinking of how much I loved the way Zoboo would start a story [“I was leaping along…”]. I started thinking of how it was Zoboo [in both lemur and puppet form] who first taught me what a lemur is, what they eat and where they live.

I started thinking of the ways this lemur, who I only saw on TV in kindergarten and first grade, has impacted my being even into adulthood.

“Zoboomafoo” [both the lemur and the show] has taught me more about animals and nature more than any generic science class ever could.

When I was in middle school and starting to come to a sense of knowing fantasy versus reality, I encountered a raccoon by the dumpster of my apartment complex and in my ears, the Kratt brothers and Zoboo reminded me that animals are more afraid of me than I am

of them.

I walked away from the dumpster, leaving the raccoon to himself.

But mourning over the loss of this one beloved childhood character got me thinking of other cartoon and fictional characters I’ve loved since I was little who still impact my life today.

I thought of the way Kermit the Frog’s optimism resonates in my consolation of people when they are down.

I thought of the way Balto’s [not the real dog, but the hybrid from the 1995 movie] rise from adversity has taught me to not let what makes me who I am hold me back from what I want to do in and with my life.

And I not only see it in myself, but in the people around me as well.

My sister has loved Elmo from “Sesame Street” since we were little. She has Elmo hats, Elmo shirts and Elmo lanyards.

She still owns her first Elmo doll and when we were little, a friend of our mom’s made a sweater for her with his face on it and it said, “Tracey’s

Friend Elmo.”

The joy and love Elmo provides to others in “Sesame Street” I see reverberate through my sister in the way she acts with her fiancée [who is still a fan of the cartoon character Hello Kitty] and with our mother [who is an avid fan of “101 Dalmatians” at the age

of 48].

Characters we love in our childhood who stick with us throughout our years as teenagers and into adulthood are characters worth loving and collecting for all our lives.

They are the characters whose traits have a hand in forming our personalities and I am so grateful that Zoboo and “Zoboomafoo” had a role in mine.

Respond to Erika at

[email protected]