I can remember the first time I consciously decided to take initiative, to suffer the consequences, and to acknowledge that my values were my own. It was over Cheerios.
I’m unsure as to my age at the time, but let’s say 6 for the sake of the story. It was early in the morning and I was alone in the kitchen, waiting for my parents to come start breakfast. After some minutes the idea came to me that I could start breakfast. I had never done that before, but had followed instructions on many occasions. I can do this, I thought. Just set out the cereal boxes and bowls and stuff so we can get going right away when they get here. So I climbed up on the counter – the kid climb you know that involves more knees than you seem to have as an adult – and one by one brought down the cereal boxes. I noticed that we had run out of Cheerios and there was a new box. Untouched and unopened and that was really going to slow things down as I wasn’t going to be able to dish in before everyone showed up. After a few more minutes the further idea came to me that I could open the cereal box. This was a bigger idea than just setting up. This was the sort of thing I should be asking permission for, but that seemed unnecessary at this point. It wasn’t like I was doing it for a private snack – I was doing it for a family breakfast. That box was going to be opened this morning either way and there was no reason I saw that should make this action illicit.
So as carefully as I could I pried apart the cardboard flaps, taking care not to rip the top – then I tackled the sealed bag. That was tough for little fingers but I got into it without any massive spillage or mutilation and to my delight, discovered that for once the toy was right on top! No elbow length groping or waiting ages till we ate the box down – there it was pretty as you please sitting right on top. Well now, that made all of this quite worth it!
However long later, when my parents joined me in the kitchen I proudly announced that everything was ready and look! The Cheerios toy had been right on top! My mother’s dead reckoning fell upon the Cheerios box and the heroic moment went downhill from there. I had, turns out, opened the Cheerios box upside-down. There was a terse lecture. Maternal tones of disapproval were employed. My intentions were questioned, as was my moral fortitude. I remember being mildly chagrinned that what I felt was the real point here was being missed, and giving some serious thought to the validity of her viewpoint.
My parents have often reproached me for not listening to them, but I can say with all honesty that I listen very well to them. Often years later I can recite their wisdom, advice and warnings back to them while they have no recollection of ever partaking in such a conversation. My parents are very smart people. They are also truly wise which is not the common pairing many people assume it to be. But from this Cheerios day, I have realized that I do not always view things with the same value, risk or solemnity that they do, and my decisions are my own, as are the consequences whether they are good, bad, or a mixture of both.
The outcome of this was that I acknowledged my mother’s assessment and did not argue back, and speaking with her now she has no recollection of this event. But on that day I decided that upside-down Cheerios were not so bad a thing in the world, and while I would not intentionally have done it, and took care that it did not happen again, I was still pleased with my endeavors and that a couple of weeks of soireehC was not a sufficient reason to take upon myself guilt of any magnitude.
Looking back now I realize what a huge lesson that was to learn at 6, and how much it has influenced who I am and how I go through life. Not only did it teach me independence of thought and action, but also to challenge norms, and to hold my personal values for reasons that I have come to terms with, not just bestowed upon me by tradition or culture. What if I value ease of access to the toy over the proper orientation of cereal boxes? What if you opened my cupboard right now and found that all my cereal had been opened upside-down and were devoid of toys?? (Sorry mom, they are not by the way.)
Life is more than survival I think. It’s more than success or failure. It’s more than happiness or achievements or comfort. Human beings were made to be thoughtful. Intentional. Distinct. I have hope.