by Joseph Oberle
General Mills must be happy. Cheerios, it's star product, seems to be the meal of choice among the pre- sentence set. Nearly every infant with a few choppers spends mornings cramming Cheerios in its mouth; most toddlers on three wheels are driving around with oat breath. Everywhere they go little trails of free advertising are left behind - and Seth eats enough to be pictured on the Cheerios box.
But why Cheerios? With grocery-store aisles stacked to the roof with sugar- filled, marshmellowy, rainbow-colored breakfast cereals, why does every kid born devour Cheerios like a piranha in a wading pool? It was a question that puzzled me from the moment Seth started to eat solid foods - and even more so when I cam home to be the one feeding him. Was Cheerios doctor-recommended? Or was it some trade secret passed between mothers? How did Lora know to start buying Cheerios? Was she just taken in by good advertising? My reporter's instincts were piqued, and I was determined to figure it out.
I had not been a househusband for long before I began to learn more about Cheerios. The little round O's were everywhere - on the bathroom floor, in the toy box, between seat cushions, and down every hallway. Scattered Cheerios dotted the terrain like insect life preservers. The vacuum cleaner was soon filled with them, and I began to wonder which got more, Seth or the Hoover.
But I also began to suspect that many of these spilled Cheerios were left behind on purpose. On one long car trip I happened to glance into the back seat to discover Seth happily munching away - and I knew I hadn't given him anything to eat. That is when I learned that Seth's carseat held a veritable cache of Cheerios. Since then, I've never cleaned out any stray Cheerios sitting in the corners of his seat: I leave them behind for emergencies.
Was it hereditary, I wondered, was Seth a third-generation Cheerios muncher? I knew that Cheerios was my only morning menu choice until I was about six or seven years old, when I had both the flu and Cheerios for breakfast. (I couldn't go near them for years after that.) Had Cheerios been around for my mom to grow up on, and had she forced her tastes onto me? My dad who grew up on a farm, always had eggs and bacon for breakfast, so it couldn't be ancestral on his side.
Of course, masterful marketing is part of the story - General Mills' advertising has certainly helped keep the nation's children munching doughnut-shaped oats. For instance, while many mothers keep little plastic bags full of Cheerios in their purses or diaper bags, we have a round plastic container specifically designed for transporting a late breakfast. Marketed by General Mills, it is shaped like a Cheerio and is bright yellow like the cereal box, guaranteed to make Seth salivate on sight no matter what the time of day.
In fact, I keep expecting General Mills to come out with the slogan that Cheerios aren't just for breakfast anymore. Seth eats them any time of day (he would eat them in bed, if we'd let him). Sometimes I think that it's like an addiction - you dare not run out of Cheerios or else you'd better prepare for the inevitable tantrum. Then again, a tantrum is just what the sight of Cheerios can magically stop.
Take for instance, church - where children's tantrums live. In our church, the fire and brimstone of the pulpit is frequently bested by the anger and wrath of the cryroom. But not with Cheerios along. When Seth isn't rolling the little oat wheels along the back of the pew in front of us, he sits back, restfully taking in the sermon and a few O's. But even that doesn't guarantee peace.
On one trip to Sunday Mass, Seth decided to eat his breakfast in the cryroom. As he lay back in Lora's arms, relishing his Cheerios like a wino with a bottle, the boy in his mother's arms in front of Seth eyed him carefully. In slovenly handfuls, Seth stuffed his mouth, moaning with oral satisfaction. Each of Seth's groans caused the boy's eyes to widen until tears began appearing around the edges.
The boy whimpered, catching his mother's attention, and she turned to discern the problem. I asked her if she would like some Cheerios. "Oh, yes, thank you," she replied. "He has a container like that at home."
With a soggy little hand, Seth offered one Cheerio to the boy, like he was handing out communion, and I wondered if the whole child congregation would soon be queuing up. At that moment, a whole new facet of the Cheerios phenomenon opened up before me.
As a safeguard from tantrums, Cheerios was a common ground for all mothers. And if you are without Cheerios this time, someone else will have some. Next time you will help out - it was like cereal socialism.
OK fair enough, but, still, why Cheerios in particular? Why not another cereal? I answered that question a couple of weeks later. The Cheerios in our house were gone, and Seth and I were late for mass. I hurriedly filled the plastic container with Rice Krispies and raced off to church. Thankfully Seth liked the Rice Krispies and he noisily shoved them in his mouth while sitting on my lap. But strangely enough, no one eyed us in envy. In fact several nearby families recoiled slightly in their seats and slid down the per at the first sight of the Rice Krispies. Smaller and weaker than the mighty Cheerio, the little Krispies flew like fathers from a pillow as Seth ate - there were cereal particles and dust everywhere. I struggled to retrieve then as Seth stuffed more in his mouth, catching what I could of the cereal squirting between his fingers.
When I stood up, Rice Krispies fell off me like drops of sweat, and I spent the standing portion of Mass on my knees cleaning the carpet. On our way back from communion, the two of us left small cereal drippings behind the aisle. We made an early exit - but not before I vowed to never again bring Rice Krispies to church.
I have finally reached my conclusion about Cheerios, and it's really brilliantly simple; They hold together better than other cereals (you should see the Wheaties crumbs in my car), and kids like them. There's nothing more mysterious than that. When I finally asked Lora about it, she told me as much. I should have asked sooner.
Of course, just when I figured it all out, I discovered a new problem: Seth likes milk on his Cheerios.
Joe Oberle resides in Fridley, MN with his wife Lora and their 3 children Seth, Tessa and Paige. This story is an exerpt from his new book, Diary of A Mad Househusband.
If you would like to drop Joe a note with your comments, thoughts or just so say hi my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org . To find out how to order the book Diary Of A Mad Househusband click here.
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