Wednesday, October 3, 2012

let's talk about cereal toys.

Just the other day, I opened up a fresh box of Cocoa Puffs. (And no, I am not too old for Cocoa Puffs.) Nestled right inside the box was a little prize: a goofy straw with the Cocoa Puffs mascot (Sunny? Is that its name?) on it. Even though it’s a cheap hunk of plastic and I will NEVER use it, I kept it. It’s still sitting on my counter in its plastic wrapping.

Like most kids, I loved finding the toy in the cereal box. If I went grocery shopping with Mom, she would usually let me choose one box of cereal, and I’d make a beeline for whichever one had the best toy advertised on its cover. Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Krispies had a great record for awesome toys, and I could usually get away with either of those. Lucky Charms did pretty well, too, but it was pretty difficult to talk Mom into buying those. She knew we’d just pick the marshmallows out and leave the rest to moulder in the cupboard.

My family went through an unfortunate Cocoa Pebbles phase, even though everyone knows that they are far inferior to their Puffs and Krispies counterparts. Our cupboard was even known to house the occasional box of Fruity Pebbles, which is quite possibly the worst cereal known to mankind. The film it leaves on the roof of your mouth, and that horrible pink milk… I cringe at the memory.

If the cereal was so gross, why, then, did we suffer through it? Simple answer: they had AWESOME toys. Sometimes, the toy would be included right in the cereal (like the little Flintstone car with the wheels that changed color in hot or cold water). Most of the time, though, we had to collect box tops to cash in on the really good stuff. There was a whole Flintstones cereal prize catalog, and we were probably their best customers. Each kid got a turn ordering something, and when my turn came, I selected a bendy dinosaur pen and a pencil box full of Flintstone school supplies. Mom even ordered a Fred Flintstone t-shirt that she still wears to this day.
It's her go-to lawnmowing shirt.
No matter what kind of cereal we got, we were under strict instructions: if it had a toy, no one was to go digging for it. We were to wait patiently until it plopped out into somebody’s bowl. The rule was enacted for good reason: while hunting for the toy, our grimy little hands tended to completely pulverize whatever cereal was in the box. The toy was always in the very bottom of the cereal, and my parents got tired of having to eat cereal that was mostly dust. Waiting until the cereal was GONE was torturous – so we simply ate more cereal. The cereal companies eventually started putting the toys on the outside of the cereal bag, but that was after my cereal toy heyday. Where were the cereal executives when I needed them?

Toys or no toys, we ate a ton of cereal all the same. We ate it for breakfast, of course – I lost one of my first teeth thanks to a morning bowl of Corn Pops – but our cereal-eating was never limited to just the early morning hours. We would eat cereal as an after school snack, and my dad is well-known for his midnight bowls of cereal. Though we ate a lot of it as such, cereal wasn’t just snack food to us. As far back as I can remember, my mom did not cook a meal on Sunday nights: it was “fend for yourself” night. I eventually figured out how to make a grilled cheese sandwich and fry an egg (note: to this day, that’s about the extent of my culinary repertoire), but before that, it was always cereal for supper.

Over the years, I got a lot of sweet toys from cereal boxes, though I can only remember one of them clearly. It was a little pink plastic spoon with Jasmine’s (from Aladdin) head on it (note: not as creepy as it sounds). 
I never had the Lion King versions, but I
always wanted them.
This spoon was the best thing ever: at room temperature, the spoon remained pink. However, once you dipped it into something cold (like the milk on your cereal), it would turn purple. Magic, I tell you. I remember carrying this spoon around with me before I was even in school, so it has to be at least twenty years old and most likely in a box in the attic.

So here I am: twenty-five years old and still buying cereal with toys in it. Sure, I might have the cereal palate of a five-year-old, but that’s the beauty of adulthood: I can buy Froot Loops and have the entire box to myself, or I can buy a box of Lucky Charms and pick all the marshmallows out if I want. (note: I would never actually do that, as Lucky Charms are disgusting.) In my defense, though, I no longer buy the cereal solely based on the prize inside. It may be a small step towards adulthood, but a step nonetheless!

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