Once upon a time when my kids were little they were very into puppets. One Christmas they received a few puppets as presents, various animals and community figures, including a chef and a police officer and a beaver or some other woodland creature. Over the years the puppets have been handed down to relatives with small children or donated, all of them except – dun-dun-dun– (You need to do this part because he has a theme song, ya know) Officer Rodriguez.
Officer Rodriguez was born in the Bronx and has been working on the police force for many, many years. He has seen it all, and witnessed many crimes being committed in my own home, including “The Case Of Who Took The Last Working AA Batteries Out Of The Television Remote Control And Put Them In A Video Game Controller” and “Who Left The Carton Of Milk In The Refrigerator With One Mouse-Sized Swallow Left And Didn’t Tell Anyone.” You may have read about these infamous cases in your local newspaper, and it should be noted, that Officer Rodriguez leaves no crime unsolved.
Ok, yeah, so I have no idea how the whole Officer Rodriguez thing came about. I think his name may come from a character who was on Miami Vice or some other old-school cop show my husband watched growing up. I have no idea what his ethnic background is. He has a Hispanic name, a vaguely Italian sounding accent (possibly because my husband speaks Italian) and he was born in America. He really loves his mother. He has always wanted to be a cop.
I have no clue how he became such an integral part of our whole child-raising thing but I do know that on many occasions, we have solved behavior issues, sibling squabble-fests, and questions about life using a damn hand puppet. This is truly one of the stupidest and dorkiest things we do as parents, and I am refusing to believe we are the only ones. You may not necessarily have a hand puppet who is now basically a member of your family, but I think all parents start doing something with their kids that for some reason becomes a sort of tradition that is unique and personal to your own people. Our thing just happens to be a puppet with a bad mustache who has a strict moral code that includes not calling your sister a “dork face.”
My husband is Officer Rodriguez, but we are all sort of Officer Rodriguez. But it’s my husband who is him, his voice, his stories, his reminders that “Yes, you need to wear a coat in winter because one time during his early days as a rookie cop he had a partner who didn’t wear a coat in December and (shakes puppet head sadly) he ended up with a terrible cold and couldn’t play with his friends or solve crimes for nearly two weeks.” Officer Rodriguez has third-degreed my children when they were little about what they should do if approached by a stranger in a car who asks them to help find a lost puppy. He has made my daughter feel better when she has been teased at school. He has talked at length with my teenage son about prog rock from the 1970s. He has flirted heavily with me in front of my children. He has gone on damn family vacations with us.
And this is how we live our lives! It is such a thing where it isn’t even a thing anymore. I’ll hear my daughter ask on occasion if “The Officer” can come tell her goodnight. I’ll be putting away dishes and hear an argument break out in another room and I will yell “Honey, get Rodriguez. ” One of our kids will be studying for an upcoming quiz and sometimes it will be The Officer who is asking him what the Beringian Land Bridge was. Once my two youngest were at a play date at a neighbor’s house and were shocked to find an Officer Rodriguez buried at the bottom of a toy bin and exclaimed to my neighbor “We know that guy!”
One of the strangest things about Office Rodriguez, yeah yeah yeah, other than the fact we treat a puppet like a family member, is that when interacting with him, my kid’s entire demeanor almost changes. It’s sort of like they forget the person with his hand shoved up the puppet and treat The Officer with a sort of respect and admiration that is different than how they interact with me or their father. They really listen to him. It may be because we don’t bust him out constantly, or that he has really interesting anecdotes to tell, but no one rolls their eyes or asks to leave the room when The Officer is making an appearance. My kids respect us as parents, they usually behave pretty well and do what we ask of them, but there is sort of this odd unspoken level of admiration for The Officer, a twenty dollar hand puppet with a wooden stick up his ass.
I never expected this puppet to be so popular with my kids. He was purchased on a whim and his entire persona just came about over the years. I have spent hundreds of dollars on video game systems and Legos, Barbies and stuffed animals that were cast aside or forgotten or dumped in the “donate box” a few weeks after my kids received them. My children have a few toys that are important, giant robots that will be saved, art toys purchased from Kid Robot that are displayed on bookcases, a special doll or two that we will store and keep until my children have their own children. Objects are just objects, but it’s within families that certain objects take on a greater significance, whether it be a well-worn stuffed bunny or a children’s book that you read together as a family or a weird hand puppet that answers questions about life and reminds the kids to put their napkins in their laps.
Families are weird too. The games we play, the inside jokes we have, the rituals that we each develop that are unique to us, that become a tradition within our own families. I would never consider my husband and I to be the type of people who do shit like this with our kids, we aren’t exactly “puppet people” – but for some reason we are. And I know this is something my kids will always remember, even if appearances from The Officer occur less and less frequently throughout the years. He will be there when they need him, and he will be there when they have their own kids. I can totally see my husband at age 70 busting out Rodriguez and telling the grandkids about his early days on the force, back when their parents were little too and knew nothing about Emerson Lake and Palmer and why it’s not cool to call women bitches and how to determine who ate that cookie before dinner.
Until then, he will be around just in case someone fights over whose turn it is to take out the trash or if anyone needs information about underage drinking laws. We got The Officer on the case. Dun-dun-dun.