Breakfast Surprises


To many children, breakfast in the morning is filled with anticipation, particularly if it included cereal, and even more if they were the lucky child to find the surprise inside. If you had brothers and sisters, chances are that only one of you would actually play with the surprise; it was nearly unheard of in our house unless you stayed over at a friend's or relative's house. My mother also made it a rule that most sugar-coated cereals were not purchased; sugar was bad for our teeth and also revved us up like high-octane fuel. Yet we all managed to find surprises in our breakfast bowls nonetheless.

Let it be said beforehand that my mother is the best cook I have ever known and that most mornings we got a hot breakfast along with a bagged lunch if we weren't coming home in the daytime. These were also more than just ordinary oatmeal, too: pancakes, eggs, waffles and toast. Sometimes we just wanted cereal, but the hot option was always available.

Having chosen cereal, we then picked which kind to have. There were even more to choose from, but the main staples were always Raisin Bran, Life, Cheerios, Golden Grahams and Rice Krispies. Now and then Captain Crunch might breach the shopping cart, but mostly it was those cereals. My parents also had their favorites, like Bran Flakes, Special K or the ever appetizing Bran Buds, which perplexed us because it didn't even look appetizing. The makers of Bran Buds somehow stopped in the middle of creating their cereal, neglecting an important step which is to make your cereal look like it was edible. They seemed to begin with natural ingredients, mix them and then stop halfway. The end result looked like you could grow things in it or from it, if conditions were right. We almost always picked one of the other kid friendly cereals and were relatively happy with that decision.

This is where we encountered our first surprise of the day. As we poured the cereal into the bowl, even if the picture on the front claimed Golden Grahams, you might get an entirely different cereal. Perhaps even several. Breakfast became an adventure as we tried to peer into the bowl like prospectors sifting in a stream. Sometimes we had four or five cereal and grain companies represented in our bowl.

My mother, you see, to conserve prescious pantry space mixed the cereals all into one box. It didn't matter if one was cornflakes and one was bran; if they were more than halfway finished, they were tossed in with the rest and the box was disposed of. Your time in the pantry is done! Sorry, it's a popular place! My mother was so efficient, that sometimes she could cram a whole cereal aisle into one convenient breakfast experience.

Usually, the dismay we expressed in getting Bran Buds with our Cheerios was enough to stun us for the next surprise. An expert at distraction, our mother would now hover around us with a knife and a piece of fruit and ask us if we wanted any in our cereal. Since this might be the only time of day we encountered anything healthy, it was a good plan. In fact, we were so tired that she could slip in pieces of our shoes and we would eat them. Having asked the question, she usually started slicing the fruit into our breakfast without waiting for us to reply. In fact, this is how she responded to all questions about food. If my mom asks if a guest wants anything and they say "No", she hears "No, but what else do you have?" and she will offer food options until the guest is overwhelmed and agrees. It's surprising the number of options that she can come up with if pressed.

So she slices the fruit into our bowls. Most people probably assume bananas and this is always true, but my mom would cut up peaches, pears, apples, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and even kiwis. Many times, this fruit had been passed over for a while, so it would have large wedges hacked off as if it had barely survived a machete attack. The bananas would attain a softness that made them almost fuzzy on the edges, as if out of focus. My Mom also would almost hurriedly slide these off so you'd have large chunks of fruit landing in milk from great distances. It was like being under attack as your cereal exploded, throwing flakes and Bran Buds everywhere, spraying milk around. "Hey!" we'd yell, not just at the splashing, but at the alien presence of fruit. "Hey! I didn't want any of that in my cereal! What is that bran in there?! Eeew!"

But we ate it anyway, because walking out hungry was not the way to start your day. Mom mom also inadvertently prepared us for later years of California mix and other combinations. We were probably healthier for it, too. I don't know how much bran I unknowingly ate as a child, but we did go through many boxes of Bran Buds! Not to mention toilet paper!

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