When I make my weekly grocery list, I generally do a good job of noting specific items, how many to buy and typically what my spending limit should be for each. As a poor college student, I should win an award for my thriftiness. While others can come easy, one item will always remain daunting: cereal.
I love shopping for cereal. The cereal aisle alone is enough of a treat with hundreds of colored boxes screaming out to be chosen. Each sends a unique message: some proclaim health, others emphasize their great value and others tell of future trips to the dentist thanks to their thick, sugary coating. I typically spend anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes agonizing over cereal choices. So much to consider; so many options. I realize that many of you have specific ones you only consider, having established your cereal palate early. Mine however, has only developed recently.
Growing up, my mother ruled over cereal choices like an authoritarian dictator. My sister and I were never allowed to share our feelings about what was purchased. To pick something or even to voice our opinion was unheard of. Like the good, responsible mother she was, Mom always chose cereals that had the highest nutrition to cost ratio, meaning that items like regular Cheerios, Shredded Wheat (unfrosted), and Raisin Bran were greatest hits on her cereal choice album.
When I was little I remember never thinking anything of it. Growing up I watched lots of PBS shows like “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “Shining Time Station”, which never had cereal ads. The few cereal commercials during episodes of “Legends of the Hidden Temple” always seemed like abstract concepts, having no relevance to me. I was content to understand them as things that looked truly wonderful, but items that I would never experience. It was a waste of time to pine after them. No matter how many times I whined or complained, Mom would just wave me off and tell me to go outside or clean up my messy room. “Life is what you make of it,” She would say. “Be thankful you get any cereal at all…”
I can remember loving it when my grandparents would come. They lived in California, a place full of excitement, culture and sophistication. Whenever they’d pay a visit to lowly Nebraska, Mom would drastically improve our cereal selection. I still associate Honey Bunches of Oats and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios with my grandparents. They’d usually come once in the summer and again around Christmas, meaning that I could expect sugary cereal goodness for approximately 10 days. Then it was back to the same routine as before.
Other times our cereal regiment changed included football season, when Mom would make Chex Party-Mix to bring to game day parties. She’d buy big boxes, so we’d have Chex leftovers for weeks. The Corn Chex were always first to be exhausted, leaving us with the dried cardboard of Wheat Chex. It served as a good transitionary point for our pallets as we returned to our regular Raisin Bran.
However, when it was our birthday, Mom would give us free reign over the cereal aisle. Once a year we were allowed to choose one box of whatever cereal we wanted. The anticipation would build for months before the actual event. I can remember trying to explain it to people at school, but nobody really understood. “Why are you so excited about picking a cereal?” they’d ask. “We do it all the time.”
When that magical day would come, Mom would drive us to the grocery store and we’d head straight for the cereal aisle. It was my most important decision of the year, and even though I was 5, I still carefully thought through the selection process, evaluating a cereal’s taste, fun and longevity potential before choosing.
Looking back, do I feel deprived? Abused? Mistreated? Absolutely not. If anything, my lack of cereal choice has taught me to value important things like nutritional content and cost before buying something simply because the box is shiny. Life is truly what we make of it. We need to strive to find the goodness in every moment, even if it’s a bowlful of Wheat Chex.
A senior majoring in Political Science and Communication, James hails from Omaha, Nebraska. He focuses primarily on the unique things that define our everyday lives.