“Do you know what no one understands but us?” My brother poses this questions as he and I are outside my parents home in the suburbs, smoking the inevitable late-night cigarette.

“What?”

“Unfrosted Pop-Tarts. We are the only people I know who like plain Pop-Tarts.”

“Plain and toasted with butter is the only way to go,” I quickly agree.

My brother takes a drag, “Frosted Pop-Tarts are gross.”

I have since brought this conundrum when talking with friends. You know, when Pop-Tarts come up in conversation. (They never do.) Still, my brother is right. No one likes Pop-Tarts that aren’t frosted.

“The filling is already full of sugar,” I always explain, “You don’t need the frosting at all. Just stick ‘em in a toaster and put some butter on the top. Trust me, that’s all you need.” I am always assured that this preference is extremely weird.

I have also discovered that some stores don’t even sell unfrosted Pop-Tarts. However, they do sell Oreo Pop-Tarts which have frosting as a filling AND frosting on top. Also, some people don’t even toast Pop-Tarts which makes no sense because that is why they are called POP-tarts but also how do you toast a Pop-Tart in a upright toaster without the frosting melting all over the place? There is so much I do not understand.

Like most unique preferences, this is a product of my upbringing. Raised in a family with strict grocery rules, we weren’t allowed to have frosted Pop-Tarts when we were kids. Even plain Pop-Tarts were a treat that we could only partake of on Sunday mornings. Because my parents were very busy on Sunday mornings, (my father was the pastor and my mother ran Children’s Church), my siblings and I were responsible for our own breakfast. We made a Pop-Tart assembly line. You know, to save time. An assembly line of two people. I toasted the Pop-Tarts and my brother Andrew buttered them. We had blueberry and strawberry filling. Our younger sister Abby didn’t really have a job. She was too young to really manage the toaster or to use a butter knife. She probably doesn’t even remember the Sunday morning assembly-line. She probably eats frosted Pop-Tarts now.

***

Plain pop-tarts aren’t the only thing I’ve had to explain the merits of recently. With Thanksgiving plans in mind, I was recently reminiscing about Thanksgiving memories with my cousins (They weren’t our actual cousins, because our cousins lived far away so we rarely saw them. But we called them cousins. They were family friends. They were family.) Growing up, my siblings and my “cousins” and I played a game called Mafia Tag whenever we were together, which was every Thanksgiving.

“Mafia Tag was the best game ever. Trust me.I tell my boyfriend.

“I don’t understand. In Mafia you draw cards and sit in a circle and close your eyes. How would you play Mafia tag?

I suggest we order another drink at this point, because going through the rules will take at least as long as a pint of Founders Centennial.

Mafia tag had about thirty different rules and I won’t even bother to explain them all here. In short, it’s biggest appeal was that it was a game played after dark. We chose roles using cards just like traditional Mafia, but spent the rest of the time sneaking around the yard. The designated Mafia had to tag someone to kill them, but the person tagged counted to thirty before screaming their lungs out. If you found the dead body, you screamed, “DEAD BODY!” If you heard someone hollering, you ran to the sound. Once congregated, there were deliberations over who was the murderer.

“You guys played this in a residential neighborhood?”

It never occurred to me that this was strange. Sure, our parents gave us limits like, “No playing games involving murder at the dinner table,” but the reason we loved our cousins’ Thanksgiving visits so much were because we were two families of dreamers. Our parents gave us rules that allowed us to make our own fun. So we invented games like Mafia tag, and played for hours. We once were on a vacation where it rained for a week, so we wrote a fifty-page play. (It was a murder mystery.) We were too busy writing to realize that most kids would have watched TV and eaten frosted Pop-Tarts all week.

It’s inevitable that at some point of persuading someone to just trust me, that I remember how lucky I was to have a sometimes inexplicable but undeniably sheltered, safe and imaginative childhood. I also find myself incredibly thankful that my parents gave me everything I needed, which was really just company and space to play.

Caroline Higgins
Caroline Higgins ('11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.

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