Why I miss Lucky the Leprechaun, my bad boy ex

Oct. 13, 2011 at 10:24 AM ET

AP file /

Lucky Charms and cocaine were considered equally hard drugs in my household when I was growing up.

The “magically delicious” kids’ cereal, along with any other sugary breakfast sporting a bright cartoon mascot, might as well have been the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, as I was strictly forbidden from eating it. The reason? I was never given one, except that something very, very bad would happen to me.

I remember grocery-shopping with my mom, staring longingly at those bright boxes. How could that joyous little leprechaun hurt me? Oh how I yearned to feel the excitement that the kids on TV had when they slurped down a sweet, colorful bowl of happiness. Somehow, the fruit and bran cereal my mom bought just didn’t have the same effect.

The likes of Lucky the Leprechaun, Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam will continue to entice generations of  kids, now that government officials have announced that they won’t push cereal companies to get rid of these brand icons as part of the fight against obesity. The news reminded me of my own fixation with these characters and what they represented to a child of immigrants: the American dream.

I had a dream that one day my palate would have this life-changing experience, and when I got my driver’s license (after the third try), that finally became possible. The first thing I did was hit the convenient store for some Lucky Charms and Rice Krispie Treats. While I was there, I spotted something else that would soon become the object of my teen affection: Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs.

I bought a couple of boxes of each, giddy and nervous as I walked back to the car. Within seconds of getting in, I exploded, tearing into those Charms handfuls at a time. When I returned home, I carefully cleaned up the carnage and stealthily ran into my room with the remaining cereal.

For the next three years, I developed a habit of buying all the sugary cereals I had missed out on and hiding them under my bed, careful to push them right into the middle where they couldn’t be seen when someone walked into my room.

But once I was in college, there was no more need to hide: I could (and often did) gorge on Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs for breakfast, lunch and a post-nightclub, pre-hangover fix. It wasn’t until my senior year -- after the Freshman 15, sophomore 10 and junior “uggh, I’m not counting anymore” took their toll -- that I finally weaned myself off all that sugar.  

But these cereals will always have a sweet spot in my heart, although it’s too much of a slippery slope for me to ever go back. Still,  every now and then, when I’m with my safe, reliable breakfast hubby -- plain oatmeal with fruit -- I fantasize about the fast life with Lucky and the other bad boys of breakfast.

Tell us, did you eat sugary kids’ cereals growing up? What were your favorites, and did their mascots have an impact on you?

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