Looking back, I see indications that I may bear some of the responsibility for my children’s addiction. I think in some ways I try to compensate for the cereal childhood that I never had. I don’t think I should shoulder the blame completely alone. Oh no, I think there’s plenty of blame for several people. Let’s start with my own mother and with this guy:
Oh, sure his wife is Marlo Thomas who is an amazing champion for St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital and who works tirelessly to find a cure and better treatements for children’s cancers. I’m even sure that he, Phil Donahue, is a nice man, a fine upstanding citizen and a diligent contributor to society. But this man also had a talk show from 1970 to 1996, a talk show that ruined my sweet cereal childhood. You see, one day my mom was watching Mr. Donahue’s show. Phil’s guest that day was a pediatrician who fancied himself some sort of nutritionist. Now this was way before our current health conscious society even knew what trans fats were or that high fructose corn syrup was bad for you, but Dr. Smith was way ahead of his game. On that particular show he was preaching against the dangers of sugar in foods. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was enough to send my mom on the warpath. From that day on, we were not allowed to have any cereal if sugar was the first or second ingredient.
Remember, this was back in the day when cereal choices were limited anyway. But every time we went to the grocery store, my brother and I would study the sides of cereal boxes like they were preparation for the SAT. Maybe, just maybe Sugar Smacks had changed their formula since last time we were there and sugar wouldn’t be the second ingredient. People would walk through the cereal aisle and stare at the pitiful children pouring over the rows of cereal boxes. “Didja find one?” “Nope, not yet.” Every week we’d hope against hope for something new, but every week we’d go home with this in our cart:
Look. I have nothing against Cheerios. It’s a lovely cereal, truly it is, but I ate bowl after bowl of this cereal over many years of my life. It’s a wonder my brother didn’t float like a Cheerio in the bathtub. For my brother, cereal was like many people’s morning coffee. We found it best not to talk to him until after he had his first bowl. A few months later, Donahue had Dr. Smith back on the show and as a result my mom decided that my brother might have a milk allergy. She took him off cereal for awhile to see if it made any difference. Oh, it made a difference all right. Ever seen a coffeeaholic go without coffee for a few days? It was a sad, dark time in our family’s cereal history.
The only bright spots were the times we spent at my grandmother’s house. Almost as soon as my parents left, Nanny would take us to Bi-Lo grocery store and let us pick out any cereal we wanted. We almost always came home with this:
Oh, and a bag of these:
They have absolutely nothing to do with cereal, but they were another treat my mom would never buy at home. We’d get completely hopped up on sugar that week and then begin suffering severe sugar withdrawals on the drive home.
Eventually my brother and I grew up and started making cereal choices of our own. I think for a few years we ate what we wanted when we wanted, but eventually I became a mother. A mother who reads and watches talk shows where nutritionists preach against the dangers of sugar AND high fructose corn syrup AND trans fats. Before long, I would come home from the grocery store with boxes of this:
Then I started noticing that whenever we’d go visit K’s mom, our kids would eat bowl after bowl of this:
Only the little Merlin on the box had changed. It was still nothing more than cookies in milk for breakfast. I ate a few bowls at my mother-in-law’s. They were just as good as I remembered. Upon our return from one visit, I found myself in the grocery aisle, conflicted and confused. I had thoughtfully placed in my cart the obligatory box of Cheerios, but I was drawn to the Lucky Charms. They’re magically delicious, you know. Plus I had a coupon that allowed me to buy three boxes and get one free. The kids were with me one day at the store and I ended up buying three boxes of Rice Krispies so that everyone could have one of the Indiana Jones spoons contained in each box. Instead of learning how to find sugar in the ingredients, my children became adept at deciphering whether a box actually contained a toy or involved box tops, money, and stamps. Our cereal addiction grew, one thing led to another, and before I knew it I had six boxes of cereal in my cart. I reasoned that we’d only eat the sugary cereals on Saturdays. That worked the first week. The next thing I knew we were eating cereal willy-nilly not only on Saturdays, not only for breakfast, but for snacks and even–gasp–for dinner on Sunday nights! Suddenly six boxes weren’t enough, we needed nine boxes to feed our habit. It snowballed from there and this morning, I looked in the pantry and this is what found:
We have a problem. Yep, we’re one step away from being Jerry Seinfeld. What’s even more embarrassing is that we’ve already plowed through two boxes since I was at the store last week. Some of those are relatively healthy cereals and some are like candy in a box. My children have even concocted weird cereal cocktails that involve mixing various cereals when their favorite flavors are too low to fill a bowl. They’re addicts and I’m to blame. I bought the cereal. I put it in their bowls and gave them spoons. I understand that admitting we have a problem that is out of our own control is the first step. I guess now I should start looking for a 12 Step group to join. And I will, right after I finish this bowl of Lucky Charms.
By the way, when I was home over Christmas do you think I found even one box of Cheerios in my mom’s pantry? How about even one box of cereal that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup or sugar listed as the first or second ingredient? Shameful.