This morning Todd and I were trying to reset Emily’s FireTV. Nothing we did seemed to restore YouTube. We worked at it for what felt like hours, but it was only ten minutes. What are we going to do if we cannot get this fixed? How will we survive without The Wiggles? Todd and I realized we said WE. You see, for the past 23 years, The Wiggles have been part of our family. Our family has weathered many seasons, and The Wiggles have been by our side. Over the years, our family has grown and transformed. The Wiggles have too. From low-budget sets and plain colored polo shirts to fancy sets and location shoots. The costumes, once generic and basic, now pop. Each displays their names boldly printed across the front. (The Short family was not too keen on the new shirts, but we rolled with it.)
The Wiggles were there from the beginning. Justin danced and sang Hot Potatoes as I nursed Emily. Each morning started with an episode of The Wiggles before we headed out on our daily adventures. Each day was normal. Each day was typical. When Emily was three months old, we knew something was off. Emily would not coo or smile. Emily could not seem to hold her head up. She was not gaining weight and threw up most of what she took in nursing. As we began our journey of a not-so-typical life, The Wiggles came along for the ride.
Anthony, Murray, Jeff, and Greg traveled with us via a portable DVD player to countless appointments and therapies. They were there when doctors thought Emily might have Cystic Fibrosis. They were there when she had MRIs, genetic testing, CAT scans, and blood draws. They were there when we were told that Emily probably has a genetic disorder, but we may never get a diagnosis. They came to each appointment and helped soothe Emily as she was poked and prodded. They calmed her when my love and touch were not enough. When Justin was restless and tired of spending many hours at appointments with his sister, they entertained and comforted him as well. Those dudes had my back.
When Emily began preschool, she would get easily overwhelmed. She would barely last an hour before I would get a call that she was inconsolable. Each day I would go pick her up. I planned each morning around the anticipation of that phone call. I did not dare try to go home. I traveled only a few miles from the school. I took a quick walk at Signal Hill Park or a fast Target or Trader Joe’s run. I never wandered far. When the call came (and it always did), I would go sweep her up and drive her home as she continued to scream the entire way. Once I got her into her room and played a Wiggles show, she would begin to relax. The repetitive music on a worn DVD was the only thing that would comfort her.
One day the principal asked what calmed Emily down. I told him that the only thing that seemed to work was a quiet space and The Wiggles. The next day the principal showed up with a Pack-N-Play his daughter had outgrown, a DVD player, and a Wiggles DVD. He set everything up in a small room (well closet) adjacent to the main class area. When Emily got overstimulated and overwhelmed, the teacher was instructed to take Emily to the adjacent room. She plopped Emily into the Pack-N-Play, dimmed the lights, and turned on The Wiggles DVD. Something magical happened that day. I did not get a call. I got four hours of respite. I cry just thinking about the extra effort that the principal made to comfort Emily and help her adapt to school.
Eventually, Emily would make it through the day without a quiet room and a Wiggles DVD. She still required The Wiggles when we were driving. We used a portable DVD for years. When I bought a car with a DVD player, it was easier to bring them along. Once we arrived home, The Wiggles returned. When it was time to go to bed, they were the lullaby music that lulled her sleep (and they still do). The Wiggles have always been the one thing that would calm Emily and bring her to a happier emotional state. They are the soundtrack of the Short home.
As she grew, they were her friends. Her only friends. She interacted with the characters on television like they were right there with her. She would dance and smile as Captain Feathersword would say, “blow me down”, and fall to the ground. She laughed at Jeff falling asleep and everyone calling for him to wake up. She would groove to Do the Monkey and Hot Potato again, and again, and again. When Justin was off to sleepovers and playdates with his real-life friends, Emily’s friends were the ones inside the glowing box.
In 2012, the original Wiggles planned their farewell tour. They were playing at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. I wanted to take Emily, but I was not sure she would tolerate the clapping, the lights, the noise. She does not do well indoors and is easily overstimulated. My mom encouraged me to take her and thought Emily would love it. I explained to my mom that we did not have the money to buy tickets. I told her it would be a waste of money if we purchased the tickets and Emily could not tolerate it. Mom disagreed. She proceeded to order two tickets for the show.
It was a Sunday afternoon show. I drove nervously to the venue with Emily dressed up and looking adorable in her best dress. We parked on a side street in a sketchy area because I didn’t have extra money to park in the lot close to the theater. We walked several blocks to the theater. I fed Emily along the way so she would not be hungry. We entered the ballroom and presented our tickets to the staff. The kind staff member escorted us to the front of the theater. This could not be right. We bought the cheapest seats available (with a Groupon no less). Because Emily was in a wheelchair, we could not access the assigned seats, so to the front, we went. A few minutes later, the staff returned with a fold-up chair for me. Next to us were 3 young adults in wheelchairs with their parents. The other kids were verbal and insisted each was The Wiggles’ biggest fan. I smiled in agreement, but I knew Emily was their biggest fan.
As the house lights dimmed, my anxiety increased. “What if she screams? What if she can’t handle it? This was a bad idea? She has never done anything like this? I was crazy to bring her. How are we going to leave when she freaks out?” As I concluded my mental beat down, I looked over at Emily. She was mesmerized. The music is playing. Kids are laughing and dancing. The curtain opens. Each of Emily’s friends begins to fill the stage. It was the most incredible thing to witness. She recognized each person as they appeared on stage. Her face expressed joy and delight. She did not exhibit fear or anxiety. Emily had watched The Wiggles on television for 12 years. Today she got to see them in person. Not only did they perform and captivate her attention for the full 90 minutes, but each one made their way to our section and introduced themselves and hugged Emily. They thanked her for coming to the show. My love for The Wiggles grew 10x seeing the love and kindness they showed my daughter that day. They saw her. The reality is not everyone does.
Almost ten years later, The Wiggles are still the soundtrack of our home. After Todd and I got the TV working this morning, the first video that came up on YouTube was The Wiggles Reunion concert from 2020. Todd and I both watched for a few minutes with Emily. The entire audience was Emily’s age. They were all dressed up as their favorite Wiggle. The crowd was going crazy and singing right along to every song. Truth be told, Todd and I were singing along as well. Todd said, “Look at the fans. They are all old. We should have been there. We are fans too.”
At that moment, I knew he was right. For all the crap I sling at The Wiggles, they have always had our backs. They have been there for Emily, but they have been there for me too. I have depended on them to always be there for Emily. They have been her friend, her comforter, her sitter. They have never let us down. They stayed up all night with me when Emily was sick. They traveled with me to difficult appointments. They have entertained Emily when I am exhausted. They have kept her company when I have chores to do around the house. In fact, she is sitting on the floor watching them as I write on the sofa.
I want to extend my gratitude to The Wiggles. I want to thank them for continuing to make music and new shows. They continue to delight children young and old with your catchy, corny songs, which I will never forget. Thank you for seeing my daughter and her diverse peers. Thank you for being a friend to my Emily. This mom is forever grateful for your support and companionship on this unexpected journey and she also might be your biggest fan.