On Elmo the Dentist and Other Marketing Perils

Babyman ran to me when I picked him up from school, so excited he could barely get the sentence out: “Mommy, may you — may you — may you please put Cheetos in my lunchbox?”

Huh?  For a brief, hopeful moment I assumed he meant the cheese-flavored rice cakes I’ve been packing lately, until his teacher explained: Babyman’s lunch buddy gets Cheetos at tea-time every afternoon, and Babyman is hell-bent on getting his hands on some of that neon orange goodness.

I looked at the teacher and murmured, “I’m afraid that would be something of a departure for me.”  Even as the words escaped my lips they sounded a bit snobbish, imperious: like a pricey-arugula-buying health food militant — which, I assure you, I am not.  But I honestly believed that the cheddar cheese rice cakes represented a happy medium.  I’ve never bought Cheetos.  Enjoyed them at the odd Superbowl party or picnic, sure, but made a point of keeping them in my cupboard?  Not so much.  Why would I start now, because a 2.5-year-old asked me to?

To put this next anecdote in context: there is a Safeway literally inside my apartment building.  You could make the case that Babyman has logged as much time in Safeway as he has in our apartment.  Rainy day jitters?  Surely we need milk; let’s mosey down to Safeway for a while.  Daddy running late from work?  Maybe he would like a cold beer when he gets home — Safeway!  When Babyman’s birthday parties come around, I don’t bother lighting up the Golden Gate Mother’s Group message board with questions about custom Lightning McQueen cakes.  I know where I’m going.  The bakery manager’s name is Christian, and he’s got my back.  Just last week, the Safeway manager stopped me to inform me that I had attained “Elite Safeway Customer” status and gave me a card with his cell phone number “in case I should ever need anything while I’m shopping”.  (This should give you some indication of the glamourous life I lead. I am a VIP at the grocery store.)

The other day Babyman and I were doing a big shop on a weekday afternoon.  Babyman was in high spirits, stealing a few hours home from school midweek (for reasons I cannot recall), and he chattered away in the cart.  His monologue sounded something like this: “Mommy, there’s Nemo on that cereal!  Look, it’s Mickey cookies!  C’I have that Clifford box, Mommy, please?  That’s Elmo toothpaste!”

For all the hours I have spent in Safeway, I had never really noticed it before: there is literally not a single aisle which is untouched by the face of a favorite Disney, Nickelodeon, or (heaven help us) PBS character.  And the vast majority of these products are full of sugar and food coloring (don’t be misled by the obvious abuse of the words “Made with Whole Grains” — Fruit Loops are not a healthy breakfast cereal.)  Elmo?  Peddling toothpaste?  Come on!  What’s a mom to do?

Well, there are only so many times you can sing-song “We don’t need to buy everything we see!” before it starts to sound forced.  So this mom buckled and bought the Clifford apple juice boxes.  Which Babyman adores, and it’s not the worst thing in the world.  So far I’ve kept the Cheetos at bay.  Until the next Superbowl.

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