I’ve always been a hands-on sort of person. Not in a creepy, leave me alone kind of way, or a give me all the gory details because I insist on knowing everything kind of way. I’d just rather not use a fork, knife, or spoon when I eat.
I don’t think I’m alone on this, either. There’s some sort of social mandate, I guess because we live in a society, or maybe because our moms didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of company or friends, that dictates we must use utensils when we dine. When we were toddlers we all ate with our fingers, right? And we all really enjoyed eating, or, more accurately, scooping up globs of food from our highchair trays and shoveling it into our mouths (when we were on target), right?
Eating with our hands wasn’t a problem until we were ridiculed for being slobs. And being a slob wasn’t a problem until we understood the implication of the word. It’s my contention that this is the reason some children take longer to start speaking than others. They’re just postponing the inevitable, when they can no longer pretend that the meaning of the word slob evades them. Anyway, I, for one, was never encouraged to play with my food – until I was a grownup with kids of my own.
When my daughters were school age (not college age, but probably not as young as you’re picturing them), they struggled with the whole process of starting their day. With much coaxing, and some screaming, they would eventually get out of bed, get dressed, decide on a bowl of cereal, and then persuade me to drive them to school so they wouldn’t be late. After a while (not ten years, but probably not as brief a period as you’re picturing it to be), I decided to do what I could to mitigate their slothfulness – and my screaming. I figured I could erase a good ten minutes of squandered time each morning by making their cereal selection for them. I’d pour it into their bowls, pick from their collection of archaic, curiously durable, plastic Happy Meal cups for the milk, and have it all waiting for them to enjoy – or complain about.
This routine somehow worked well, at least until the girls realized they’d been gifted with an extra ten minutes, ten minutes which I soon began to spend staring at uninspired bowls of Rice Krispies, waiting for my princesses to show.
I had a choice. I could be upset that I had wasted time coming up with this time saving scheme, or I could make the most of the time I was wasting while waiting for them. I started playing with their cereal. They weren’t watching. Nobody was. I could get away with it. I started combining different cereals into one bowl, mixing flakes with Krispies, Trix with Mini-Wheats, merging rivals as if world peace were a real possibility. The girls didn’t mind. In fact, they started looking forward to seeing what idiotic combination I’d come up with each morning. They started showing up for breakfast earlier and earlier, out of curiosity, not because they wanted to be on time for school. I had succeeded, inadvertently (like all my successes), and I was grateful for this accidental achievement.
Although mixing, swirling, and merging disparate cereals seemed to satisfy my children’s need for early morning entertainment, it was becoming wearisome to me. I had food, I had a kitchen to myself, and I had available hands – hands I could use to play with cereal. I sorted it, stacked it, arranged it, and generally amused myself with it, just as I had when I was a toddler, before I was told not to, before I admitted to being a slob. The simple designs became more intricate, more inspired, more…inane.
My girls have since graduated and moved on. My wife no longer dreads dining with me in public. She no longer waits for the embarrassing moment when I push my silverware to the side at a restaurant so I can maneuver my arms and hands as I see fit. She knows I’ve had my slob fix already, in the early morning hours, on a playground that I suppose might also be described as my cereal bowl.
See more of Harry’s imaginative cereal designs on INSTAGRAM
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Harry Margulies is the author of The Knowledge Holder and the recently released The Weight of the Moon. When he’s not writing about romance, money, women, and other subjects he thoroughly enjoys but knows nothing about, he’s frittering his precious time as a cartoonist.