How I Learned to Trust Haunted Elmo

From abused kid to normal parent.

Jessica Wildfire
Jun 2 · 7 min read
Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

hen she died, the only thing my mom left me was an old Elmo doll. The animatronic kind. You know, touch it — and it says stuff. I don’t think it’s a tickle me Elmo. Tried that. Does nothing.

This thing is like the Book of the Dead. It would’ve been forgotten. Locked away. Except I made the mistake of having a daughter.

Which means everyone — including your parents — wants to empty their Satanic attic shit on you.

Please, take our toys and kid crap. Even the Fisher Price Ouija board. It’s not a thing yet. But it probably will be soon.

And just like any good horror story, demons enter your house through possessed objects. Mirrors. Furniture. But especially toys.

Demons just love toys…


ve lost track of all the versions of Elmo. Honestly, I don’t even think I’ve watched a full episode of Sesame Street.

Not even the ones with Katie Perry.

Anyway, this Elmo tells long, boring stories. Like one time, Elmo watched Cookie Monster eat a shit ton of cookies. Wow, didn’t see that coming. Sounds like Elmo’s name dropping just a little. Trying to convince you he’s a real member of the Sesame Street cast. Hmmmm?

Elmo pretends to fall down and asks you to help him up.

Creepy AF, if you ask me.

That’s what kidnappers do. Pretend to fall down, ask little kids to help them up. They have a van full of candy just ‘round the corner.

I’m not interested in my daughter learning to help Elmo up. That motherfucker can just lie there. I want my daughter to learn how to leave people in the street.

That came out wrong…

Let’s try again. I want my daughter to help people. But not if they’re giving off weirdo vibes. My daughter should put herself first, because a lot of predators will prey on her good will, if she lets them.

See, Elmo has a defect. When he randomly falls, he just keeps asking, “Will you help Elmo up? Will you help Elmo up?”

Like a serial killer having a stroke.

The designers should’ve added something like, “It’s okay. You don’t know Elmo that well. If I can’t get up on my own, will you call an ambulance for Elmo? You can do that from a safe distance. Elmo doesn’t have a pack of syringes full of animal tranquilizer like Dexter Morgan.” Just a suggestion from a kid who grew up in the midst of mental illness.

Part of me wishes my daughter had a tickle me Dexter doll. At least he had a code. He only killed murderers. Elmo, he’s an unknown. We know that he pretended to fall down. What’s next? It puts the lotion in the basket, that’s what. Tickle me Dexter says the truth, like “Never trust anyone. Also, keep your boat supplied with plenty of trash bags.”


very morning, I feel like Elmo is watching me. My daughter and I stare at him, unnerved. He just smiles back. We’re afraid to throw him in the trash. Because he might come back.

Knowing how we really feel…

You don’t want to see a supernatural, disgruntled Elmo. One with guacamole stains and a coffee filter hanging off one side.

My attitude has nothing to do with unresolved mom issues. Look, it’s just a creepy toy. Nothing to be afraid of. You just need to relax.

Or maybe Elmo has an unfortunate garbage disposal accident.

Things happen…

It’s worth mentioning that I have nightmares about my mom, coming back from the dead. Like one morning I wake up, and there she is. Making pancakes. Or trying to, with a clothing iron. While screaming. But your dad just sits there, whispering “She loves you. Just has a strange way of showing it.” So just wait around for her to burn you with the iron.

Then you realize. Elmo has nothing to do with your nightmares. Those derive completely from your own struggles as a parent. You’re the one trying to make waffles with an iron. Because that’s what parents do these days. Try to juggle everything. The Elmo has its own story.


o, chill out. It’s just a toy bequeathed to me by my dead mom. Irrelevant. At least before my dad unearthed this relic, found in the recesses of our attic, for my daughter’s very first Christmas present.

So, yeah. Not really given to me by my mom. Just a found object. Something that used to belong to her.

It’s not like she wrote in her will, “And to Jessica, I relinquish one strange ass Sesame Street doll, which might be grooming children for molestation. But he’s cute. Please find a place for him in your home.”

My dad just found Elmo in the attic. He probably even forgot that he’d originally bought it for my mom, with a “fine, I’ll chip in $20 for that” from me and my brother.

And yet, Elmo is the only creature who ever made my mom laugh. Not just a fake laugh. A real laugh. Innocent laughter.

So how can I throw away this Elmo again?


eah, my mom was hard to shop for. Especially in her late 40s. She pitched little fits on Christmas, just like a toddler. Buy her jewelry. Coffee mugs. Music. Books. Clothes. She’d sit on the floor and pout.

These little episodes upset my dad. He still expected her to act like an adult. To want adult things.

But so many various mental illnesses had ravaged her mind by then. We didn’t know who she was or what she wanted anymore.

Not even remotely.

Music always felt like a safe bet. You had to play it for her, though. She couldn’t operate a CD player, much less an iPod. But she loved Talking Heads and the Beatles. Hated everything else.

Put a real damper on the holiday.

So it relieved my dad when she finally started pointing at commercials and saying stuff like “I want that!”

Meanwhile, I was off at grad school. Trying to escape my past. Except when family holidays dragged me back. Around Thanksgiving, I felt enough guilt to start talking to them again. Imagine my surprise one year when my dad said, “So the only thing your mom wants this year is an Elmo doll.” She’d been talking nonstop about them.

I’d remained cynical. All the way up to Christmas morning. An Elmo doll? No way. She’d introduced me to Guns ‘N Roses.

And yet, that’s when I saw her laugh. A for real laugh. Watching this Elmo doll and his theatrical gestures and story time voice. Christmas morning. Just as predicted. She sat on the floor and touched his chest or his foot or whatever and giggled and snickered.

Her happiness made me sad. After all, it’s never a great thing to see a 40+ woman lose her shit over a little toy. My entire life, I’d feared this woman. My mom. Sometimes, even respected her. What really scared me was that I’d wind up just like that one day. That’s the fear that lived on inside that Elmo doll, the one given to my daughter on her first Christmas.


surprise, my daughter cried when we turned Elmo on the first time. She shared my terror. Probably for different reasons. Elmo tossed back his head and cackled. My daughter stared for a few moments. She looked at me for confirmation.

None from this angle.

So she cried. We both wanted to light that Elmo on fire.

Personally, I don’t know shit about Elmo. He’s a stranger to me. No fond memories of Sesame Street here. I’m sure we watched the show. It just so happens that my vivid memories are of me watching my mom wrestle with police officers and paramedics.

But there’s one other vivid memory. Christmas, early 2000s. My mom wanted an Elmo doll. More than anything. She asked the way a kid does. The way I used to ask for toys. But here she was, late 40s.

Begging. Childlike.

She wasn’t supposed to act like that. The mom I knew was a displaced CEO. She was going to go back to school one day. To get her MBA. Rise up the ranks at the corporation where she quit.

Coca-Cola. She worked at the main headquarters. It would’ve been something else to see her ascend. Then mental illness hit.

After about four miscarries. That’s gotta fuck you up a little bit.


ut my kid likes Elmo now. She listens to his boring stories and grabs his nose when he stops talking. So I can’t exactly throw him away. That would make me a bad parent.

Sure, I wish the toy’s heritage were different. It’s not evil, though. And it’s far from the only thing that makes her giggle. Blowing on her face causes just about as much hysterical laughter.

My kid will never get to meet her grandma, though. She died a year early. Honestly, I’m glad. Part of me didn’t want them to meet.

Nonetheless, Elmo is the next best thing. He remembers the few minutes of innocent joy my mom had experienced in decades.

Does that really make him evil? Probably not. So I guess we’re in this together. Now Elmo has taken his rightful place as a real kid’s toy. Who am I to deny him that right?

Jessica Wildfire

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