Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

July 02, 2001

The age of the Cheerio

This is the dawning of the age of the Cheerio.

I had no idea what that would mean, until Lucy was capable of eating them. But, as I am learning, it means everything.

Lucy’s Cheerio-readiness means she has finally progressed past the stage of early infancy known as “mitten hand.”

Babies with mitten hand can’t pick up tiny objects, because they use their fingers as one, clumsy counterpoint to their wee thumbs. As developmental limitations go, this is not a bad one. Babies with mitten hand cannot grab your nipple and twist it slowly, as you might when you’re trying to pick up radio signals from such faraway countries as Japan.

But all parents, even ones with sore nipples, want to see their children gain full use of their fingers. How would Lucy ever learn to run the washing machine otherwise? She’d never be able to run a delicate cycle or clean the lint trap with mitten hand; that was for sure.

Once I was confident in Lucy’s pincer grip, as the next stage is called, I started giving her Cheerios, just two or three, to tide her over while I prepared her breakfast. She put one in her mouth right away. Not because she knew it was food, but because she puts everything into her mouth: briefcase straps, shoelaces, zipper tabs, cat fur, dog fur, sunglasses, remote controls, CDs, magazines. It’s her way of saying hello, I guess.

This time, though, she liked the taste of what was in there. She crunched. She swallowed. She went back for more. And so began a new ritual of giving Lucy a heap of Cheerios before every meal. While it’s true that her diet now consists of more oat fiber than such a small body can handle gracefully, at least I know she’s not eating the equivalent of a heart attack on a highchair tray.

Lucy is as happy as can be when she has her mouth full of Cheerios. While I do the microwave dance (to pass the 18 seconds her mushy food requires for warming), she laughs and shows me how well her four teeth can pulverize the oaty O’s.

And because I have been at this parenting thing for nine months now, I have learned to take something that makes the baby happy and abuse it for as long as it lasts.

I used to do this with the Gymini, then the Baby Van Gogh video. When all else failed, those tools would pump Lucy full of happy. These days, it’s Cheerios. When she starts getting fussy in the late morning, boom! Out comes a handful of Cheerios. When she can’t be consoled in the afternoon, but won’t go down for a nap, Cheerios ride to the rescue.

The only time Cheerios have failed me is on the way home from Costco, where we bought a giant box of them. Lucy cried for 10 miles, which is a very difficult thing to take when your husband is driving and taking all the red lights we were getting as personal insults. I dumped a huge handful of Cheerios in Lucy’s car seat, hoping they’d work their crunchy magic. But they didn’t, and we had to stop at a café and give Lucy a little floor time so she could come down from the overstimulation that happens to all of us, baby or not, when we warehouse shop.

In just three weeks, we have gone through that coffin-sized box of Cheerios, a box so large we have to keep it in the basement.

Of course, only a small portion of these has been eaten. By Lucy, anyway. The dog has had a ton. She always has Cheerio breath lately, but this is an improvement over the era of cat-box breath. And, it’s the first time in 9 months that the dog had a reason to be glad Lucy’s here, instead of resenting her every inch. Now she sleeps in the baby's room, instead of ours.

Another 42,000 or so Cheerios have perished underfoot. It’s a sickening sound, not unlike that of a bug being crushed. And it means I have to sweep the kitchen several times a day. It’s either that, or say I’m decorating with a beach theme, because a graveyard of trampled Cheerios looks an awful lot like sand. The bright side is that it would finally give me a use for the festive sun hat that’s sitting in the basement next to the Cheerios box.

The rest of the uningested rings have all become part of the grand biology experiment known as the Cheerio life cycle. When they are born, Cheerios are puffy and pale — the lovely color of coffee that’s been heavily laced with milk. A Cheerio that has been loosed from the box may die young and beautiful, whether eaten or trampled.

Or, it may die a slower death, trapped in Lucy’s clothing or worse – her diaper. These Cheerios tumble out far from the kitchen, and at the most unexpected times. Once, a whole handful poured out of Lucy’s onesie when Adam was changing her.

Though the dog might find one of these stray Cheerios and put it out of its misery, more often they just pick up hair and start to shrink. Compare a fresh Cheerio to one of the more worldly ones and you start to wonder what’s going on in there that makes them start to shrink as soon as they hit the free world.

The worst Cheerio death happens to the ones that have been in Lucy’s mouth or wet hands. These dampened circles shrink, prune up, and eventually turn as dark as mahogany. They’re the shrunken heads of the cereal world, grim reminders of the fact that a Cheerio’s life is not as cheery as the name implies.

But what would you expect from a cereal that once gave out fake Confederate money as a toy surprise? (And that’s not all: Cheerios also gave out toy guided missiles and won a citation from the U.S. Army.)

Now that I think about it, I realize that the Cheerio experience, with all the grimness that it brings to mind, is a little like what it’s like to be a parent.

You start out round, plump and beautiful –- full of nutrition and cheer. And then, over time, you get dark and shriveled. Definitely worse for the wear. You may find yourself chewed, sprawled on the carpet, stuck to the kitchen floor, or a lot closer to the inside of a baby’s diaper than you ever expected to be.

But somehow, you know this is your destiny, and that you’d give your life for this baby, a thousand times a day.

Too bad, though, the job no longer comes with a toy surprise inside. There’s a festive sun hat in the basement that I would really like to blow up.


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