I don’t remember the first time I encountered The Lie. I grew up with a biting skepticism of all authority, for various (and quite valid) reasons, so I’m sure The Lie was something in my consciousness from the first moment of sentience. But I don’t remember when it began.
I do, though, remember the moment where The Lie was solidified in my mind. I was in 5th or 6th grade health class, run by the school’s short, balding blonde, white former-high-school-wrestler gym teacher. He was a nice guy, actually. His glasses were too big for his face, but this was the early 80s and travesties like that happened on the regular.
Mr. Gym Teacher was in the front of the room, sitting on our homeroom teacher’s desk. We were taking about nutrition. He brought up a popular cereal commercial. He didn’t have visuals, as the money for such luxuries in a small parochial school in a forgotten county of Pennsylvania was non-existent. The media wasn’t necessary; every cereal commercial was the same.
“You know how all the cereal ads say, ‘a good part of this nutritious –or complete –breakfast,’?” Mr Gym Teacher asked.
This phrase was so ubiquitous we needed no other reference. Every cereal ad narrarated that phrase over a huge bowl of the product along with 2 slices of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice. Some scenes included a glass of milk [more milk!] or other breakfast foods like eggs and bacon.
We all nodded in recognition. Generation X was inundated with cereal commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. (If Baby-Boomer-invented robot overlords ever take over the world and we Xers need a secret pass phrase to identify each other, “Part of this nutritious breakfast” would be it.)
Our teacher asked, “What is wrong with that breakfast?” We yelled out some answers: doesn’t have enough fruit; no jam on the toast; the cereal was too sugary.
“No,” he said. “How many of you eat that much food at breakfast?”
Mic drop. Silence hit the room. No-one raised a hand. Until that second, I didn’t realize I had been wholly believing the lie those ads were telling. I’d felt shame my family couldn’t offer such “complete” breakfasts every morning.
In reality, our mornings were more mad-rushes to the bus than merry meets of the family. Orange juice was just not done, let alone toast and butter. It was cereal or nothing, and we had a bowl of cereal if we were lucky enough to have time to eat it and enough milk in the house. No milk meant no cereal at all. Powdered milk was an attempt to fill in the gaps but it was rejected outright by my brothers and me. The neighbor kids were out of any kind of milk more often than not, due to their (worse) poverty. They couldn’t understand why we simply didn’t try water or eat it dry. With milk being such a rare commodity in our whole apartment complex, we never, and I mean never, had a glass of it alone like the kids in the commercials. That would’ve been a selfish sin of the most cardinal kind.
Yet here I was, faced with the incongruent image in my head and the reality of not one hand raised. Didn’t middle class people, like my fellow students, who lived in big houses with big kitchens and two parents automatically have “complete breakfasts?” There I was, probably the most broke student in the class, and I wasn’t the only one that didn’t get a “nutritious” breakfast every day. The shock of it! With that small lesson, my teacher told me I was OK, that although I didn’t have the big kitchen or the fancy meals, I was normal (at least in this).
I’d love to say at that moment, as a young girl, I was anointed with holy wisdom and I dropped my obsession with escaping my less-than-ideal circumstances. After all, if the middle class breakfast was a falsehood, perhaps my higher-socio-economic-as-salvation was a bad theory, too.
That thought was cast out of my little brain as quickly as it came in. The “Does money really make one happier?” question still is a biggie for me. But now as an adult I can say it carries with it the “Lie” label. According to research, money can help one be happy. After a certain point, though, it is no help at all. Where that point exists is up to you.
Lately The Lie has taken over public dialogue, specifically around the 2016 Presidential Race. The Lie isn’t the candidates’ promises or their faults. It’s the illusion that ranting and raving on Facebook helps. It doesn’t. We’re all in a mad rush to work. To school. To the hospital. But The Lie has us thinking we’re the only ones. It separates us. It takes over our theories about life. It deludes us with unhappy goals. No-one ever eats that much vitriol for breakfast. Stop serving it.
As an adult, my challenge, now that I have the kitchen, the house, and as much milk as I could possibly drink, is to root out where The Lie is in my daily life. My suspicion hovers around wrinkles and looking younger. The beauty ads never say anything about FEELING younger, do they? That’s left to the vitamin spots.
Yet, I buy the creams and I take the vitamins.
That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? You can never find a good gym teacher when you need one. It’s up to me to decide where my beauty cream regimen ends, where my expensive pill tolerance peaks, or where my money/happiness point is.
I do know one thing: I have enough milk in the fridge. I married a man who keeps it stocked. 🙂
Choose well, Friends.
Photo Credit: Laura Blankenship on Flickr
Video: DigThatBoxTOYS on YouTube