Cracker Jack Calamity

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Once upon a time, so very long ago, when I was a child, Cracker Jacks were the thing. The snack itself was not terribly interesting or tasty. Children across America did not dream about Cracker Jacks in terms of eating. The allure was the promised toy hidden somewhere in the recesses of the sugary corn and peanuts. Eating the stuff was merely an afterthought, a means to an end, because it was all about solving the mystery of what toy the box contained. One never knew.

Cracker Jacks today come in a bag instead of a box, and are a bargain at just 99 cents. But I’ve got to say, the prizes look pretty lame. Back in the day, the prizes were much more interesting; our anxious fingers would pull out salty treasures like tiny games, puzzles, toys and tattoos. Today, you get… a baseball card. Okay, so it’s a collectible baseball card, but still.

The idea of a hidden toy was ingenious. Parents who remember the thrill of discovery may still feel a distant sense of reverence for the promise of what might be, and be more likely to succumb to the heartfelt pleas of their own children who yearn to unearth whatever treasures today’s products might hold.

I did.

While Christmas shopping the other day, my daughter came over clutching two vividly- colored tins which loudly proclaimed that they held not only Enchanted Unicorn Bandages, but…you guessed it…a free toy inside!! We did, in fact, need band-aids. No, really. Our supply at home had dwindled down to only a few unappealing Barbie band-aids (and Barbie is currently so out in our household) so it was quite simple for me to say yes. Plus, my daughter had been thoughtful enough to grab the extra tin to give to her cousin for Christmas, making it feel like a real win-win situation.

As you might imagine, my daughter felt driven to open her box immediately, which she did in the car ride home. Heck, even I wanted to know what the toy was. Listening to the crinkling of the plastic seal as it was removed, I waited for her excited proclamation. Instead, she said, “Mom, can this box be for my cousin instead? I think I want to open the other one.” Obviously, her toy was not at all appealing. “It’s some half-naked angel shooting something,” she explained, holding up a tiny plastic cupid. Apparently, cupid is borderline repulsive to a six-year-old. While I couldn’t blame her for feeling disappointed, I felt compelled to break the bad news that the other box probably contained the same half-naked anomaly.

But isn’t this the perfect metaphor on life; you never quite know what you’re going to get.


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