When good girls eat bad cereal

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On the morning I turned 45 last month, Tom gave me a gift right after I dropped the kids off at school. Waiting for me on the kitchen counter was a birthday card and a box of cereal bearing a familiar face I hadn’t seen in the kitchen since my 20s – Cap’n Crunch.

I nearly squealed with delight. I clapped my hands, as if a great performance had just happened right there on the kitchen island. Then I had to make a decision: To eat or not to eat? After all, I’d given up sugary cereals years ago because it felt like the grown-up thing to do.

But I knew Tom was trying to remind me of a simpler time. When we met in 1997, I lived in a one-bedroom townhouse, worked crazy hours at the newspaper, and regularly ate cereal for dinner because it was easier than cooking and cheaper than Pizza Hut. If someone had cut me open when I was 24, they would have discovered that my body was made up of 80 percent Cap’n Crunch and 20 percent Coca-Cola.

I could get away with it back then because my metabolism was young and strong and impervious to empty calories. But once we were married and expecting our first baby, I decided to break up with the cartoon captain. I wanted to be a good mom, and good mothers didn’t scarf down sugary cereal while they were growing a human inside them, right? Good mothers didn’t buy that stuff for their kids, either. I wanted very much to be “good.”

So when I went to the grocery store, I kept my eyes straight ahead as I walked the cereal aisle, passing by the seductive gaze of the captain’s beckoning blue eyes. I refused to be drawn in by him. Instead, I looked for boring boxes that said things like “whole grain,” “fiber” and “granola clusters,” which are even less exciting than they sound.

But on the morning of my birthday – alone with no kids around to watch – I went back to my old flame Cap’n Crunch. Let the record show that I did it for Tom. If you check the marriage vows, I’m pretty sure there’s an obscure footnote in there somewhere that says you promise to eat the mid-life crisis cereal your husband buys for your birthday so as not to hurt his feelings. He was just trying to distract me from that number – 45 – which may be the most middle-age number in the world.

So I grabbed a bowl and opened the red box, letting the smell of it waft over me as I tore open the sealed bag inside. My mouth watered as the golden nuggets cascaded down, clinking against the ceramic bowl. I opened the refrigerator door, praying our teenage boys hadn’t drank all the milk again. I sighed with relief when I saw there was just enough left for a bowl of cereal.

I drained the carton into the bowl and sat down at the bar, using a spoon to dunk the cereal nuggets under the milk until they were just right. I looked over at the mustached man in uniform and told him this indulgence didn’t mean anything. It was just this one time, I said, hoping to convince myself it was nothing but a birthday fling.

But after the bowl was empty, I didn’t throw away the box like a “good girl” would. Instead, I hid my sugary secret behind the oatmeal in the pantry, knowing the kids would never find it there. For the next few weeks, I’d steal away to have “just one more bowl.” I’m not proud to admit it, but I let the Cap’n “crunch-a-tize” me, just like it says on the box.

Days later, once the kids had gone to bed for the night, Tom asked me what had happened to the box of Cap’n Crunch he’d given me for my birthday. I admitted that it was lurking in the back of the pantry, like a sugary little secret.

“Is there any left?” he asked.

“Maybe enough for two bowls,” I confessed.

“Should we just finish it off and get it out of here?” he said.

“That sounds like the responsible thing to do,” I said.

We emptied the box into two bowls and pretended to be young again while we ate in front of the TV. Then we vowed not to bring the temptation back into the house – at least not until I turn 46.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. Her book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile” is available on Amazon.

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