Have you ever had a stressful day where you closed your eyes and wished for simpler times? When you cared more about playing outside before dinner instead of how much time it was going to take to cook at least one meal for yourself this week? When the worst thing you had to deal with all day was math homework instead of making appointments with the cable company? When using a computer involved Space Cadet Pinball, and not cleaning up after someone installed a virus laden copy of Космонавт пинбол с бонусного купона заставки?
I had a Friday like that not so long ago. Coincidentally, my wife did too. We ended up talking about the days when we first started dating. Back then our minimum wage, dead-end retail jobs that brought us together were the only things keeping us from being in each other’s arms 24/7 and we were so...content.
I know in my head those were actually pretty trying times, fraught with living on my own for the first time, discovering debt and other poor life choices first hand. But for some reason, I couldn’t get that rose-colored sense of nostalgia out of my head, and later I laid awake thinking back even further to more innocent times, when life really was free from obligations and complications. I realized how badly I wanted a taste of that once more, and how much I wanted to share that joy with the person that I love. I decided I would surprise my wife with something of a date: A morning of sleeping in, watching cartoons, eating cereal and everything else I loved as a kid.
I snuck out of the bed to prepare. First, I started listing what cartoons to watch. My wife is about four years younger than me, just enough time that we didn’t really watch the same things. I was giddy at the thought of sharing some of my favorite shows with her for the first time. First up was one of my most cherished childhood memories, Batman the Animated Series. The dark, film noir, art deco style of Gotham City was unlike anything young me saw before on Saturday mornings. I don’t know how anyone could say it’s not art.
Rounding out the list was Animaniacs, Dexter’s Laboratory, Pokémon, SpongeBob SquarePants, Courage the Cowardly Dog and The Simpsons. I never got to watch most of these in their heyday, with only over-the-air channels at my disposal when I was younger, and even then closely supervised by my parents. I’ve overcompensated by hoarding as much content as I can. I cherry picked some favorites and started downloading what I didn’t have already so they would be ready in the morning.
Next, I took off for the grocery store. I headed right for the cereal aisle, glad I picked up a hand basket, the nimble shopper’s solution to dodging pallets of goods waiting to be shelved by the night crew. I walked right past everything that had “wheat” or “bran” or “special” in its name, and into the more indulgent end, where rows of grinning cartoon characters looked on approvingly. Actually, they mostly look downward, probably a devilish trick to grab the attention of kids in the coveted tantrum-throwing age bracket.
Not one to resist such ploys, I reached for a box of Fruity Pebbles, which I always wanted as a kid but never convinced my mom to buy. The delicate citrus undertones mingling with the punch of high fructose corn syrup still appealed to me against my better judgement. I didn’t really know what to think of this guy on the back of the box though. Obviously, he’s having a blast eating breakfast cereal, but on the other hand, there is this vague, inhuman quality about him that is deeply unsettling. In the end, unrequited childhood desires won out over my uncanny valley concerns, and the box of sugar ended up in the basket.
A little further down the aisle, I spied boxes of Cinnamon Life in the familiar gentle golden-yellow box, and caught the faintest scent that’s a mixture of my childhood and 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard. I was instantly transported to the dining room table of my youth, daydreaming while looking out the window and chowing down on a bowl before school. That went in the basket too. Then it was time to get out before I made any more rash purchases.
I snuck back into bed and waited for morning. When it came, I laid out my plan to my wife who was totally on board. We feasted on the breakfast cereals, a departure from my usual breakfast of coffee and…another coffee. I fired up Plex and we got to watching. We started alternating between some of the shows she added to the list and mine, and it ended up being a really great jumping-off point to reliving our childhood together.
We tried making a pillow fort to complete the picture, but it doesn’t work so well when your couch is a deadly origami of finger pinching scissor joints and pillows that don’t come off. It made me wish for the couch of questionable origin at my parents’ house, which unfolded into basically one giant pillow. It smelled old, and was missing some of the screw hole covers where I fidgeted with them too much. And of course it came with an afghan blanket in faded earth tones, the same blanket I swear I’ve seen in every other household ever.
After we came down from our sugar high and decided to call it quits on the shows, I realized how content I was in that moment. Although this chance to feed my inner child was only temporary, it still captured something real. Something I am glad I got to share with my wife, and hopefully my future kids someday too. I’m over 30 and still question if I’m really an adult yet. I’m pretty sure I am since I check the side of the cereal box for nutrition info first instead of looking on the front to see if there is a toy inside. But it’s nice to know I can still go back from time to time.