Fridays were always the best lunch days at school. Without peeking into my blue Smurfs lunchbox, I knew my special end-of-week treat would be packed with care.
Other kids got Twinkies, MoonPies, and Wagon Wheels. But not me. Sure, it was the 80s and Hostess cellophane-wrapped treats were cool from Monday to Thursday, but Fridays were reserved for the tastiest and rarest of rewards.
Enter the Lowney Cherry Blossom — a chocolate-wrapped maraschino cherry embalmed in sweet syrup and surrounded by a mixture of coconut bits and roasted peanut pieces. A cube of sugary heaven boxed in yellow and wrapped in tinfoil. Biting into one always sent a stream of gooey goodness down my chin, shortly after the sharp snap of bursting chunky chocolate. Sigh.
The anticipation of opening my Smurfette-clad lunch kit and spying a sweet yellow box got me through the tedium of morning math class and the isolation of recess. The other kids didn’t get me, which was totally OK ’cause I knew that when the noon bell rang, I would be holding my prized confection of the week.
Opening my Smurfy lunchbox required skill. The blue plastic latches were fragile from years of use, and that dang ‘Flip’n Sip’ Thermos could roll without warning, smushing my tuna fish sandwich. Smashing my Cherry Blossom would have been the worst. That yellow box had to be preserved at all costs.
With the lunchbox lid popped open and my sandwich saved from the gloopy soup served in the leaking Thermos, I did what few kids would do: I pocketed my chocolate treat. My worn raincoat had a secret fabric tear, the perfect place to shroud my dessert from the hungry eyes of greedy bullies.
Friday after school was the best time of the week. Free from the confines of the school bus I’d skip home and bound up the stairs to my bedroom. I was alone to enjoy the contents of that little yellow box.
After examining the box for dented corners and stained cardboard (dang leaky soup), I did what few kids would do: I added my sweet to a secret stash of identical yellow-boxed treats, all hidden in a hope chest beside my bed. Over several agonizing months of chocolate-free Fridays I had managed to save a stack of eight delicious Cherry Blossoms.
Building pyramids with them was fun. I’d line ‘em up in rows, make grids, and play imaginary games of Pac-Man to protect them from evil ghosts. Taking one from the bottom and putting it on top was my budget version of that Jenga game, only my blocks were more delicious.
I suppose my goal was to save 12 yellow boxes and share the spoils with family and friends. But deep down, in my taste bud deprived state, I think I just liked watching the pile grow. Seeing all my Cherry Blossoms lined up was like a potential party in my mouth, and dreaming of the day I’d actually consume one (or all eight) was the reward unto itself.
But alas, all good things (and Jenga games) come to an end, and children with secret things hidden in hope chests often get busted by nosey parents. And Blossom-busted I was.
My mom didn’t see the humor in my secret chocolate stash. Nope. She likely saw a child who didn’t eat her lunch, a kid who failed to appreciate an expensive treat packed in a lunchbox with love, and a school girl who was (at best) a little bit weird.
Only the weird part was true. Too bad mom hadn’t heard of Stanford scientist Walter Mischel.
Walter Mischel must have loved tormenting kids with marshmallows, ’cause in 1972 he devised a delicious psychoanalytic experiment that tested the will and fortitude of preschool children.
In a room surrounded by video cameras, Mischel offered each child a single marshmallow. The kid was given two options — either eat the marshmallow now, or wait and be rewarded with a second one later. Mischel then left each kid alone for 15 minutes. Some kids caved and ate that enticing marshmallow, while others agonized and waited for the second hit of sugar.
Of the 600 children who took part in the experiment, one-third deferred gratification long enough to get the second treat. Videos of the actual experiment and reenactments are hilarious, and a little bitter sweet.
After tracking these kids years later, Mischel found an unexpected correlation between the results of the marshmallow test and the success of the children in adulthood. The kids who were able to delay gratification had fewer behavioral issues, stronger friendships, and higher SAT scores. Brain differences in 2011 fMRI scans were visible, correlating to how these kids did on the marshmallow test decades earlier.
I’d love for Walter Mischel to comment on my Cherry Blossom hoard and fMRI my brain. He’d probably image visions of stacked denim jeans, see a penchant for Fluevog shoes, discover my strong sense of compound interest (even in times of low interest rates), and grasp my insane ability to save money.
Take that, mom.
So where am I going with this?
Teaching kids how to wait can be good for their brains, behavioral actions, future bank accounts, and even SAT scores. Demonstrating your own ability to delay gratification around your kids ain’t a bad idea either. Heck, even those without kiddlets can benefit from thinking things through before pulling the ‘spend’ trigger.
Some things that helped me along the way to waiting patiently:
1. Interrupting others was not allowed. Budding into a conversation to hear my own voice was never permitted. I was told to wait my turn, and asked to apologize for being rude.
2. Earning money was a must. Household chores when I was young, paper routes when I could walk, and 8-hour shifts at Tim Horton’s when I was older taught me the value of earning a dollar. Money didn’t grow on trees or spew magically from ATMs. Money grew by vacuuming the house, delivering newspapers, and selling donuts.
3. Opening a bank account makes money real. At the tender age of ‘sooo long ago I can’t remember’, my mom took me to the bank and helped me open my first savings account. I was encouraged to save a portion of my ‘chore money’ every month, and I watched my money grow. Emphasis on MY MONEY. The magical power of compound interest was explained. Good things come to those who save and wait.
4. Spending taught prioritization. Never one to lavish me with every toy on a whim, my mom showed me how to withdraw my saved moolah from the bank, and taught me how to spend my hard-earned cents on something special. Because I had to hand my money over to the cashier, I saw first hand how many quarters it cost to buy that pink Yo-Yo. I equated the number of completed chores it took to earn a particular toy. I often passed on the spend, in favor of saving for something bigger. Priorities, people.
5. Setting goals helps you reach them. It’s a long road to toe if you don’t know where you’re going, and one can lose the way without a proper map. Loosing my secret stash of Cherry Blossoms taught me it’s sometimes better to enjoy a few spoils today — you don’t need to collect the whole dang set.
Now excuse me while I Google around for vintage Smurfs lunchboxes. I have a hankering for Cherry Blossoms, and I intend to eat the lot.
Your Turn: Would you have eaten the marshmallow as a kid?