It’s 6:30am and my alarm goes off. By alarm, I mean my mother telling me to get up. “It’s time to get ready for school,” she says. “I laid out your favorite Zubaz pants.” (Kidding about that, kind of…) Then she’d leave my room to continue preparing breakfast, and probably hoping that I’m not going to snooze her for another 5 minutes. While lying in bed, teetering between dreams and reality, sometimes the only motivation I had for facing another day of Mrs. Hansen’s 3rd grade boot camp was the bowl of cereal waiting for me downstairs.
Cereal used to be much more of an experience than it is today, and of course much more of a sugar-infused experience as well. Whether it was puffed, frosted, looped or marshmallowed, it was all the same fuel of empty calories that prepared us kids for a long day at school. But there was more to kids cereal than just bright colors and a sugary taste, there was the enchanting “back of the box.”
I remember just getting lost in the back of the box. Oftentimes cereals would have an intricate, Where’s-Waldo-esque scene on the back, and I’d chomp away while admiring the cartoon fantasy land that I desperately wished I could visit in real life. The back of the box always coordinated with the cereal’s theme too.
In addition to your standard cereal mascots, there was a cereal for just about every lovable character in pop culture – E.T., Slimer, Gizmo, even Steve Urkel. And although it was clearly “evil” marketers just trying to get my mom to buy their brand, I didn’t care, and still don’t. I’d totally buy cereals based on some of my favorite things today – Frosted Beerios, Professor Blastoff’s Podcast Pops, Micachu and The Sugar Shapes, C3PO’s – wait, that actually existed…
Once the box started feeling light, you knew that any day a toy would pour out with the final bowl of cereal. Sometimes if you were too impatient, you might force-feed yourself just so you could get to that toy. And whether it was a little dinosaur, a toy car or one of those parachute guys you could throw out a window, a fight between my brothers and I over who gets the toy would inevitably ensue at the breakfast table, to the point where we had to take turns claiming ownership. (Josh always got the best ones, no fair…) Today it’s a lot harder to get away with throwing a toy in with food, because apparently kids will eat and choke on everything.
Walking down the cereal aisle now, there are few pop culture tie-ins, no fun fantasy lands and hardly any “FREE INSIDEs,” only “Whole Grains!,” “Zero Sugars!” and boxes with computer-generated graphics (which somehow removes the warmth), directing you to go online to join some lame cereal community or to play some mundane online game.
Of course we want our kids to eat healthy and to avoid choking-hazards, but nonetheless, cereal has lost its fun and pizazz. There is no flare, no spark, just a grocery aisle that is the result of years of regulations and consumer complaints. The cereal world that I once visited every day is long gone, and to me, it’s a tragedy.