Category: To Be Young

Cereal Prize

Alex found the blue plastic bowl he liked best and put it on the table.   Then he dug through the silverware drawer until he found the spoon that looked like it had been chewed on by alligators or piranhas or maybe both. His mom said it was the garbage disposal, but Alex had looked inside once and it didn’t have any teeth. It was still a little scary though.

The spoon went on the right side of his bowl, because he was right handed.   He considered getting his plastic alligator from the bathtub to put in the bottom of the bowl. Would it taste like soap? He could rinse it off first. But if it was in his cereal it could get milk all over it. He could lick it off. But what if it came to life and bit his tongue? He could give it a bath instead. Alex found his alligator, rinsed it, and put it in his bowl.

Alex checked the fridge. There was the perfect amount of milk left. The carton wasn’t so full that it was too heavy or so empty that his cereal would end up dry. Dry cereal was gross, almost as gross as soggy cereal. That’s why you had to put the milk on at just the right moment.

He set the milk on the left side of his bowl. Then he pushed a chair over to the cupboards. He climbed up and looked through the selection. There was a bag of cereal shaped like life preservers. That could be fun. There was a bag of flaky cereal like leaves or fish. Hmmmm. Oh, there was a box of cereal in big puffy shapes.   That was new.

Alex ran to the bottom of the stairs. “Mom,” he yelled. “Can I open the new box of cereal?”

“Yes,” she yelled back. “Just clean up after yourself.”

“I know,” Alex said. He ran back to the chair and took down the box.

He carefully peeled the top open. The bag inside had a line of holes poked in it to make it easy to tear open, so he didn’t even need the scissors. Nice. He tore it open and left the thin plastic strip by his bowl. Maybe he could pretend it was a ghost snake and it could battle the alligator. The alligator would win of course, unless the cereal was piranhas. They always ate everything.

Gleefully considering the possibilities, Alex stood on his chair to carefully pour the cereal into his bowl. He tipped the box just enough so that the puffballs were slowly burying the alligator alive. Would they eat him, even in open air, or would they wait until he added the milk?

Just then, something heavy slid out of the box and crunched into the bowl, sending puffballs flying over the edge. Alex stopped pouring and set the box down. He gathered up the stray cereal and popped it in his mouth.   “Aaaaaaaah,” he said, making the dying scream of the piranhas.

He shifted through his bowl to see what had fallen out of the box. Was it a cereal prize? He looked at the box. It didn’t say anything about a prize. Maybe it was coupons. He saw something shiny and brushed the puffballs away. It was a little toy car.

It was light blue and very detailed, and it was not in a little sealed plastic bag. Alex picked it up to look at it more closely. There were little people inside. Angry little people. They were waving their tiny little arms and screaming at him in high-pitched voices.   Alex couldn’t understand what they were saying.

They started pointing down. Alex looked down. There wasn’t anything there.   Oh. They wanted down. Alex carefully set the little car on the floor. He stood still as it carefully drove around his feet. Then, it drove straight at the wall and disappeared.

Huh. That was strange. Well, it was time to get back to breakfast. He hadn’t decided yet if the alligator could beat the piranhas. What if the ghost snake was attacking at the same time? He had to decide before he added the milk. Soggy cereal was gross, after all. Alex forgot all about the car.

Hair Model

Every morning after breakfast, Mom would brush and brush and brush Leslie’s hair. She would pick out an outfit for Leslie to wear, and then Leslie would watch cartoons and have to sit so, so still while Mom tried out lots of different hairstyles.

She would watch videos on the computer or look at pictures and then start tugging and pulling and twisting Leslie’s hair.   Even if her hair was pulling on her head, Leslie wasn’t supposed to follow it and twist her head and turn.

When Mom got her hair just how she liked it, she would undo it all and brush and brush her hair again. Now, Leslie needed to sit in a chair and face the wall. Mom would do it all over, stopping to take pictures and write down notes. Then it was time to curl the ends and spray it. More pictures.

Leslie would go back to her cartoons and Mom would start typing on the computer. And finally it was lunchtime. Mom had been doing this for months and months, and really it wasn’t so bad. It made Mom happy, and Leslie’s head didn’t get sore at all any more from all the brushing and twisting and pulling.

But, one morning, Leslie woke up feeling grumpy. “I don’t want you to do my hair,” Leslie said. She was wearing an outfit she picked out and not the one Mom left out for her.

Mom frowned. “But Leslie, I had a great idea last night. Look, I drew a picture. I think you’ll love it. It looks like a flower, see.”

Leslie looked at the picture and looked away. It did look nice, but today, Leslie hated it. “No,” Leslie said.

“I’ll give you some fruit snacks,” Mom said. “The ones that are all strawberry-shaped.”

Leslie loved those. But not today. “No.”

Mom looked sad. “All right dear.” She sat on the couch and started flipping through a magazine.

“I want cartoons,” Leslie said.

“Not today dear,” Mom said. She looked up and smiled. “Why don’t you go play with your blocks.”

“I want cartoons and I want fruit snacks,” Leslie said. She stomped her foot angrily.

“That’s not the polite way to ask for things,” Mom said.

Leslie screamed. She roared.   She stomped. Mom left the room. Leslie started to cry. Mom didn’t come back in. Not even when Leslie threw the tv remote at the wall. Finally, feeling defeated, Leslie went and found Mom. “You can do my hair,” she grumbled. “But I want three fruit snacks.”

“Two,” Mom said, and closed her magazine.

“Three,” Leslie said. She stomped her foot and scowled.

“All right,” Mom said. She stood up from the kitchen table and got the fruit snacks from the cupboard.

Leslie had already missed the first of her favorite cartoons. She folded her arms and scowled at the tv. She growled every time her mom pulled on her hair or twisted it, and sometimes she angrily jerked her head.

“Leslie,” Mom said once. Leslie growled louder. Mom didn’t say anything else.

When Mom was busy typing, Leslie stomped off to the living room. Her head hurt from the crying and the growling.   She didn’t want to watch cartoons.   She stomped to the kitchen to get a drink of water. There were scissors on the counter.

Leslie took the scissors and hid them under her shirt. Then, she snuck into the bathroom. She sat on the counter in front of the mirror and grabbed her braid and snipped it off. It took a couple snips to get all the way through.

The cut ends of braid started to unravel. Leslie looked at the braid sitting in her hand, looking dead and broken.   She suddenly felt alarmed. She jumped off the counter and stumbled a little.   She shoved the braid in a drawer with the soap and ran to her bedroom and hid under the blankets.

A little while later, Mom came in. “Leslie, are you feeling okay? Were you grumpy because you feel sick? What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine. Go away,” Leslie said. She clutched the edges of the blanket tightly in her hands in front of her face.   But mom flipped the blanket off of her from behind.

“Oh, Leslie,” she said.

Leslie began to cry. “I’m sorry.   I’m sorry, mom.”

But Mom was smiling. “I’ve always wanted to try hairstyles for short hair. This was a great idea. Let’s go even out the ends.” She held out her hand.

Leslie couldn’t believe her luck. She took Mom’s hand and followed her out of the room.

“No more playing with scissors,” Mom said, as they walked down the hall.

“Okay,” Leslie said. And that was that.

Vegetable Ghosts

Alice’s mom had been working out with exercise tapes and walking a lot more since the new year started. Every day she stepped on the scale in the bathroom and frowned.   “What’s wrong?” Alice asked one day.

“It’s not working. I’m working out six days a week and nothing’s changed,” mom said.

“It’s because of the vegetable ghosts,” Alice said.

“What do you mean?” Mom asked.

“In class we learned that unhealthy food doesn’t have all the right nutrients,” Alice said.

“That’s right,” Mom said. “There are a lot more vitamins and enzymes and antioxidants and such in vegetables.”

“I know what vitamins are,” Alice said. “What’s that other stuff?”

“I couldn’t tell you exactly. Maybe we should look it up later. Tell me more about vegetable ghosts,” Mom said. “Did you learn about them in school?”

“Of course not,” Alice said. “Teachers don’t know about ghosts.”

“Of course not,” Mom said. “I don’t think I know about ghosts either.”

Alice sighed. “That’s because you don’t pay attention. Vegetables like to help people. After they die, they leave vitamins and stuff behind to make people healthy.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mom said.

“Here, let me draw you a picture,” Alice said. She went up the stairs to her room, and then dashed back down, skipping every other step. She sat down at the kitchen table and drew two tall triangle carrots and then a cupcake shape.

“Now I need to color it,” she said. She colored one carrot orange and then she colored the cupcake.

“You forgot that carrot,” Mom said.

“That’s the ghost carrot,” Alice said.

“Of course,” Mom said.

Alice drew an arrow from the ghost carrot to the cupcake. “Vegetable ghosts hold onto unhealthy food and try to add nutrients,” Alice said. “If you eat the unhealthy food, they sit in your body holding a place for the vitamins that you were supposed to eat.”

“So if I eat a cupcake, I eat a carrot ghost too?” Mom asked, pointing to the drawing. “And the ghost doesn’t go away?”

“Unless you eat healthy food,” Alice said. “That’s why junk food makes people gain weight. It’s all the vegetable ghosts.”

“I thought ghosts don’t weigh anything,” Mom said.

“Vegetable ghosts do, if you eat them,” Alice said.   “I don’t think you can eat any other ghosts.”

“So, how do you get rid of the vegetable ghosts?” Mom asked. She picked up the picture and her finger traced the arrow from the carrot to the cupcake.

“The vegetable ghosts are just there saving a place for the vitamins,” Alice said. “I’ll draw a picture.” She drew two more carrots and colored on in. She drew an arrow from the colored carrot to the blank one.

Alice pointed to the colored carrot. “If you eat healthy food, you get the vitamins you need and the vegetable ghosts go away because you don’t need them any more.   Then they go find more unhealthy food to hold onto.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Mom said. “But how do you know which vitamins you need?”

“If you eat lots of healthy food, eventually you’ll figure it out,” Alice said.

Mom stood up. “I think that sounds like a great plan. I’ll put your pictures on the fridge to remind me. Would you like a carrot?”

“Of course I would,” Alice said.

Museum Trip

Mariah was so excited. Today they were going for a long ride in the car! Mom said they were going to a museum. She said it was a place for people to look at pictures. Mariah imagined a giant refrigerator. That could be interesting.

“It’s going to be a long drive Mariah. Here are some fruit snacks and I’ll play your favorite music, all right?” Mom said.

Mariah had finished the fruit snacks before they were out of the driveway.   She tossed the wrapper on the floor.   “More?”

Mom sighed. “Wait a bit, Mariah.”

“Pwease?” Mariah clasped her hands together and made a sad face.

“Fine, fine,” Mom said. She stopped and gave Mariah another packet of fruit snacks.

Mariah ate more slowly. She wasn’t really sure if she wanted them. She put them down next to her leg in the car seat and looked out the window.   There was a bird. “Biwd,” she said.

She saw the moon. Why was the moon out in the daytime? “Why moon?” she asked.

“Why are we going to the museum?” Mom said. “It’s a discount day and it’s good for us to learn new things. At half price.”

Mom made no sense sometimes. Mariah looked out the window and watched the moon. Mom turned on her music and Mariah was clapping in time to “hot cross buns.” This was fun.

By the time they arrived at the museum, Mariah was screaming to be let out.   This was so boring. She was going to die of boredom. This trip was an awful idea.

Mom finally stopped the car and unbuckled the car seat. Mariah slid out of the seat unhappily. Her head hurt. “Mariah,” Mom said. “You didn’t finish eating your fruit snacks and they melted all over your car seat and your outfit. Where are the wipes?”

Mariah endured having her leg scrubbed, but she was really ready to get out of the car. Mom finally decided she needed to change Mariah’s outfit, and then finally they were walking down a sidewalk with an interesting pattern of bricks. They went zig-zag, zig-zag like stairs or waves.   Mariah tried to turn her feet to follow the bricks.

“Stop spinning like that,” Mom said. “You’re going to fall over.” Mariah sighed and took Mom’s hand. They went inside a nice warm building full of people standing in a long line.

The carpet had a funny design of lines. Mariah wanted to walk along them and pretend they were paths. “Don’t wander off Mariah,” Mom said. She handed Mariah a book.

Mariah tried to sit and look at it, but the line kept inching forward, and she couldn’t sit for long before it was time to move. It was too hard to hold the book open and walk. She hit the book on her leg and sang “Eensy Weensy Spider” instead. She couldn’t remember all the words, but that didn’t really matter.

They finally got to the front of the line. Mom paid some money, and she and Mariah got stamps on their hands.   It was a blue star. Mariah rubbed on it to see if it would smear.   “Stop that,” Mom said. “Hold my hand.”

Mom lifted Mariah up to see some of the pictures. She’d point out a cat or a bird. Mariah would agree that there was a cat or a bird there, then they’d move on. There were things in glass cases they couldn’t touch. There were statues missing arms or legs or clothes or bodies. They just kept walking and walking and walking and looking.

At lunch, Mom held Mariah up so that she could drink out of the drinking fountain. The water was so cold and it went up and then down like a rainbow. Mariah put her hand in the water to see what was holding it up like that.   “Don’t play in the water,” Mom said.

“Why up?” Mariah asked. How did the water do that?

“I held you up so you could reach the water,” Mom said.

“No, water up,” Mariah said.

“No, no more drinks Mariah. Let’s go eat lunch.”

That sounded good. Mariah followed Mom to a park bench. They had cheese and crackers and grapes. A sad looking bird hopped up close. Mariah wanted to share her crackers with the little bird, but Mom said no.

Mariah tossed it one when Mom wasn’t looking. The little bird pecked at it. It looked happy. Mariah smiled. “Mariah,” Mom said. “I told you no. I guess you’re done eating. Let’s go back inside.”

Lots of walking later, Mariah was being buckled back into the car seat, despite her protests. “Come on, Mariah, we need to go home. Your yellow bear is waiting for you.”

Mariah stopped struggling. It would be nice to see Yellow Bear again and tell him about her day. “Beaw now,” she said.

“Not until we get home. Did you like the museum? What was your favorite part?”

Mariah thought about it. “Watew.   Biwd,” she said.

“I’m not sure which painting that was,” Mom said. “Was there a boat too?”

Mariah sighed. Then she yawned. Maybe it was time for a nap.   It had been a strange day and she was tired. And she never did see the big refrigerator.


New Year’s Eve

“Lottie, it’s New Year’s Eve,” Dad said. “We’re going to stay up until midnight!”

“Really?” Lottie asked. Her normal bedtime was eight o’clock. “How late is midnight?”

“Twelve o’clock,” said Mom. “You’ll be staying up four hours extra. Do you think you want to take a little nap now?”

“No. Naps are for babies,” Lottie said. “I can help with the puzzle.”

Lottie helped with the puzzle until it got too boring. She ate chips and watched a movie. At first staying up was exciting. But then she started to feel tired. She yawned.

“You can’t be tired yet, Lottie,” Dad said. “We still have three hours to go.”

“I’m not tired,” Lottie said. She was tired. Her eyes started closing on their own. It got harder and harder to open them and stay awake.

“Don’t go to sleep. You’re almost there. Just a little over two hours, Lottie,” Mom said.

Lottie suddenly felt suspicious. Her parents were always telling her to go to bed.   Why did they want her to stay up now? It didn’t make sense. Maybe these weren’t her real parents.

Lottie felt a little less tired. She needed to find her real parents and rescue them. She started to search the house.

“What are you doing?” Her maybe-not-real-mom asked.

“I’m looking for something,” Lottie said.

“What are you looking for?” Her maybe-not-real-dad asked.

“It’s a secret,” Lottie said.

“Just stay out of our room,” Maybe-not-real-mom said.

Aha! Of course they’d hide her real parents in the one place she normally wouldn’t look. Her real parents wouldn’t mind if she went in their room just this once. They’d want Lottie to save them from the not-real-parents.

Lottie looked in other places until the not-real-parents lost interest.   Then she opened the door and snuck into her parents’ room. She looked under the bed. Boring.   No people. She looked in the closets. Nope. She checked the bathroom. Empty.

Lottie looked out the window. It was too dark to check outside. She carefully closed the bedroom door and went back downstairs. She needed more information.

“What happens at midnight?” Lottie asked.

“It will be a new year,” Maybe-not-real-mom said.

“It’s so much fun, Lottie,” maybe-not-real-dad said. “We’ll bang pots and pans together and yell and make lots of noise!”

“In the middle of the night?” Lottie asked.

“That’s right,” maybe-not-real-dad said.

That confirmed her worst suspicions. These couldn’t be her real parents. They’d never tell her to stay up late and make lots of noise at night.   She wasn’t supposed to bang pots together or yell in the house in the middle of the day.

“Hmmmm,” Lottie said. She tried to look like her normal self. She was feeling tired again, but she didn’t want to fall asleep around the not-real-parents.   She looked around.

She could squeeze in behind the couch. She went to her bedroom and got her blanket and pillow. She started to crawl backwards, pulling them in behind her.

“Lottie, what are you doing?” Not-mom asked.

“I’m going to sleep,” Lottie said.

“But you’ll miss the New Year!” Not-dad said.

“I don’t care. I’m going to sleep now,” Lottie said.

“All right, if you’re sure,” Not-mom said.

She would find her real parents in the morning. They couldn’t be hidden far away. Maybe they’d come back on their own. Maybe the not-parents were going away at midnight, and if she was awake they’d take her too. All the more reason to fall asleep now.

As she drifted off, she heard Not-dad say, “But she’s always wanting to stay up late.”

“Kids are so funny,” Not-mom replied. “Sometimes I wonder what she’s thinking.”



Harold paused by Melvin’s desk. “It looks like we can get a group discount on tickets to the game this weekend.   Are you in?” He asked.

“I thought baseball was all done for the year. There’s snow out,” Melvin said.

“No, it’s basketball now,” Harold said.

“Is it going to be much different than that baseball thing we went to this summer?” Melvin asked.

“Well, it’s inside. And it’s a different sport,” Harold said.

“Does it last as long?” Melvin asked.

“It can,” Harold said.

“Are there soft seats? You get soft seats at the movies and they’re shorter,” Melvin said.


“Is there a soundtrack?” Melvin asked.

“Well, sometimes the announcers…” Harold began.

“Like at the baseball game?” Melvin asked. Harold nodded. Melvin snorted. “That’s more like listening to ringtones than a soundtrack. And it was so boring. They should at least try to script it.”

Harold laughed. “If they scripted it, it wouldn’t be real. People go to a game to see something real.”

“No they don’t. It has an imposed set of rules and people who train heavily to boost their performance.   Real life is nothing like that.   And I can watch real life for free,” Melvin said.

“Fine, I guess that’s a no for you,” Harold said.

“That’s right. If it’s anything like the baseball game, all there is to do is sit and eat and talk.   The food was expensive, the people were drunk, the game was boring, and they didn’t even have free wifi. I hope you have fun,” Melvin said.

“Ouch,” Harold said. “I guess you’re not a sports fan. Well, you’ll feel left out when it’s all we talk about next week.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll look up the scores and such and be able to follow along,” Melvin said.

“Whatever,” Harold said. He stalked off.

Janet paused by Melvin’s desk. “Hey, there’s a comic con coming up in two weeks. A group of us were going. Do you want to join us?” She asked.

“Is it going to be any different from the one we went to last year?” Melvin asked.

“There’s new speakers,” Janet said. “And we’re all going to wear Star Wars costumes. It was Avengers last year, you remember?”

“Are the lines going to be as long?” Melvin asked.

“That’s part of the fun,” Janet said. “You get to talk to people you wouldn’t have met otherwise that share your interests.”

“We didn’t really do that last year. We just stood there and shuffled forward every so often,” Melvin said.

“No, we talked to those girls in the Sailor Moon outfits for twenty minutes,” Janet said.

“The ones who kept rolling their eyes at us?” Melvin asked.

“And we talked to those school teachers, they were nice,” Janet said.

“I suppose so. But we could hardly see the speakers and it was too loud and the food was expensive.   Everything was expensive,” Melvin said.

“Yes, but it’s an experience,” Janet said. “And it only happens once a year.”

“Pass,” Melvin said.

“Whatever,” Janet said. She stalked off.

Susan had the desk next to Melvin. She’d agreed to go to both the basketball game and the comic con the moment she was asked. When Melvin was getting ready to go for the day, she asked him, “Melvin, what kinds of activities do you like to go to?”

“Oh, I like almost anything,” Melvin said. “I’m not picky.”
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