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Leave Your Cheerios at the Door
By Aaron Johnston February 9, 2007

At some point in time -- I'm not sure when -- the makers of Cheerios got together and met in their big conference room down at Cheerios headquarters for an emergency Cheerios meeting.

"We're not selling enough Cheerios," said the boss man at the head of the table.

"Yeah," said his kiss-up underling. "He's right. We're not selling enough Cheerios."

"All these sugar cereals are chipping away at our market share," said the boss man. "They're eating us alive."

"No pun intended," said the kiss-up, chuckling.

No one else laughed. Cheerios is serious business after all, and no one really liked the kiss-up anyway.

The boss man continued. "We've got to be inventive, people. We've got think outside the cereal box. Cheerios with milk isn't enough anymore. We need to increqase demand by giving consumers new uses for Cheerios."

"What about Cheerios as a party mix?" said one man.

"No no," said the boss. "Chex owns the party mix angle."

"What about putting Cheerios in recipes?" said a woman. "You know, like Corn Flakes does."

The boss man grimaced. "Cheerios Chicken Suprise? Please you're making me nauseated. Think different, people. Think uncharted territory."

"What if we encourage little kids to glue their Cheerios to the pictures they draw in pre-school?" said a woman.

"Now that's an idea!" said the boss man, beaming. "Somebody write that down."

And somebody did.

"What about dry Cheerios?" said a shy little man in the back.

"Dry Cheerios?" asked the boss man.

"Yeah. Like in a little baggie or something. Parents could give it to their kids in places where they can't take normal food. Like at church."

The boss man rubbed his chin thoughtfully, a glimmer of hope twinkling in his eyes. "Cheerios at church. Yes, you may be on to something there. Parents are always trying to shut their kids up at church. What better way to do that than to stuff their little mouths full of Cheerios?"

He snapped his fingers and pointed to a sharp nosed man by the door. "Wilson! I want a press release written to every parenting magazine in America. Tell 'em Cheerios is now the official children's food of every religion in the world."

"But can we say that, chief?" asked Wilson. "Don't we need the religions of the world to agree to--"

"Do it!" said the boss man, and Wilson scampered from the room.

"Kowolski," continued the boss man, snapping to a tubby man in a bowtie. "Call every mother's organization this side of the moon. Tell them how Cheerios can turn their irreverent little rascals into perfect little angels."

Kowolski was no idiot. He hopped to it without so much as a word.

And soon everyone in the room had an assignment, rushing here and there like a cluster of bees, writing to the press, calling the Today show, testing the Cheerios capacity of a Ziploc bag -- all while the boss man sat smiling in his tall leather chair, confident that he had once again pulled the flailing Cheerios box from the brink of extinction.

Since that fateful day, children everywhere have been dipping their sticky little fingers into sandwich bags the world over to grab a handful of dry Cheerios. And while they may not be perfect little angels while they're doing it, they are at least quiet for a few moments, much to the delight of their exhausted parents.

So you can imagine my shock when the bishop of our ward recently asked parents not to bring food for their children into sacrament meeting.

Surely he doesn't mean Cheerios, I thought to myself.

"And that includes Cheerios," said the bishop.

I couldn't believe it. I was dumbstruck. Could the Church still be true? Can we go on without Cheerios during sacrament meeting?

But no, I told myself. I wouldn't allow my faith to be shaken -- although I did for a moment wonder if this was one of the signs of the times, like the moon turning to blood.

The bishop smiled pleasantly. "Some of you may be wondering why the bishopric is making this request."

Darn tootin', I thought.

"Well, since the chapel is a special place where the Spirit of the Lord can dwell," the bishop said, "we'd like to keep it as clean as possible. We know this may be a change of habit for many of you, but our hope is that by removing food from Sacrament meeting children will be more focused on the speakers and the Spirit present."

I couldn't argue with that. That man was talking sense. I heard what he was saying.

I also heard what he wasn't saying, which was: (1) food is a distraction that inhibits children from participating fully in sacrament meeting worship. And (2) food is messy.

Personally, I think he's right on both counts.

Let's face it. Kids aren't the most delicate of eaters. Only about 70% of the food they attempt to put in their mouth actually gets there. The rest ends up on their clothes, the pews or the floor.

And we've all seen what happens to Cheerios that fall on the floor. Try as you might to pick them all up, some are going to escape your notice. And those, inevitably, are going to be stepped on and ground into the carpet. Thousands of tiny Cheerios particles squashed into the floor of our meeting house. At that point, you're only hope is a powerful vacuum cleaner. And that's not going to come around for five days or so, at the earliest.

And the same can be said for saltine crackers and Pepperidge Farm fishy crackers and Ritz crackers and any other type of cracker you fancy. Or cookies. Or Fig Newtons (which aren't cookies in my book, so don't even go there). Or granola bars. Or candy bars. Or whatever.

I'm ashamed to admit that we have even given apple slices to our children during sacrament meeting. Yes, noisy, crunchy apple slices. In retrospect I don't know what we were thinking. Apple slices, like carrot sticks, are obnoxiously loud foods that could disrupt the people immediately around you, not to mention a beast to clean out of the carpet should somebody step on one.

Some dear friends of ours have always followed this rule. They never gave food to their children during sacrament meeting. It just wasn't done.

"Sacrament meeting is barely over an hour," my friend said. "Children can go without food for an hour. They do so all day. Why do we feel the need to feed them during sacrament meeting?"

I was nodding along as he told me this. It made perfect sense, after all. But then my family and I went to sacrament meeting the following Sunday, and our kids started asking for a snack. Giving them one, I realized, was much easier than trying to explain to their hungry little eyes that the rule we had been living by was, in fact, wrong and that we would not, in fact, be eating during sacrament meeting anymore. Such news would not go over well. So I stuffed an apple slice in their yappers and went back to listening to the speaker.

But all of us eat and drink during sacrament meeting, you say. We all partake of the sacrament.

And I'm glad you brought that up, because the sacrament ordinance may be the best reason for not having food for our children during sacrament meeting.

Consider the child who eats snacks during sacrament meeting. When the bread comes around, he's going to consider it a piece of bread, a bite of food no different from anything else he chomps on during the meeting.

Now consider the child who doesn't eat during sacrament meeting. When the bread comes around, there's a better chance of him identifying it as special. He's going to think, "Wow. we're not supposed to eat during sacrament meeting, and yet everyone eats this bread and drinks this water. Perhaps I should pay more attention to this."

And even if he doesn't think that exactly, he's at least going to be curious and perhaps ask questions. And what parents wouldn't want their children showing an interest in the sacrament ordinance?

As you can see, I've come around to the bishop's way of thinking. Children who aren't crunching on carrot sticks are more likely to realize that sacrament meeting is a special time. They're more likely to feel the Spirit and, as a result, develop a hunger for spiritual things instead of physical, lightly sugared ones.

How far should this rule go, you ask? Does it include sippy cups as well? And what if the sippy cup has a spill-proof top and is filled only with water?

And what about babies who need bottles? Are we going to keep babies from their bottles?

When we start asking these questions, I think we miss the point.

The spirit of the law is clear. Children can worship on Sundays just as much as adults do. Sacrament meeting can and should be just as special a time to them as it is to you and me -- so special that even snacks would be considered an interruption.

Now, am I so naive to think that kids without snacks will suddenly lose their wiggles and sit arms crossed, reverently listening to the speaker. Of course not. But it can't hurt to try.

At the very least, our abandoning Cheerios will send the head honchos down at Cheerios headquarters into another Cheerios emergency meeting. And I don't know about you, but I'd be interested to see what those geniuses think up next.

Copyright © 2007 by Aaron Johnston

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