It’s not often that I’m appalled by a box of cereal, but then again, I thought pulling someone’s finger was a legitimate digestive aid until I turned 40.

So it’s of little surprise that I noticed something sitting next to the box of frosted cereal on the countertop the other day. No, it wasn’t the usual breakfast necessities like a bowl, or spoon or a fifth of Jack Daniels, but a cheap plastic toy encased in a package.

The odd thing about the toy was the package contained no residue from the cereal, so I examined that thing like it was a valuable piece of evidence at a crime scene until my head was filled with pain and voices.

Fortunately, one of the voices had me ask my wife if the toy was inside the bag with the cereal.

My wife said, “No, the toy was inside the box, but it was outside of the bag of cereal in the box.”

“Well, this is unacceptable,” I said.

Why? Because we have denied kids the opportunity to learn the patience, the ingenuity, the perseverance and the sense of the hunt of finding a cereal box toy buried in the mounds of Cap’n Crunch, Count Chocula and Lucky Charms.

Also, if a kid has siblings, they’re denied old-school competitiveness and how to play dirty to get the prize. My brother once gouged his thumb into my eye to get to the stick-on tattoo from a box of Rice Krispies before me. Sure, I can’t legally drive at night, but I’m tougher because of it.

It’s like we haven’t damaged this generation of youngsters enough. You can’t smoke around them, you can’t have them prepare and deliver mix drinks to you and you can’t have them run around in the yard while holding target boards so you can play extreme lawn darts without the police getting all up in your business.

We were tougher as kids.

I remember going to the donut shop back in the 80s; the cramped space was normally packed with men and women drinking coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette. When you walked into the door, it was like opening a cursed mummy’s tomb. The smoke embraced you and lulled you inside for a caffeine, sugar, a fat chaser and a hit of second-hand smoke.

Not only did the donut shop allow smoking, they also had those shoe box-size packages for the donuts where a dozen were crammed and smashed inside and caused toppings and flavors to mix and mingle.

Of course, that didn’t matter so much because when we came home to eat the donuts, they absorbed all of that cigarette smoke, and you could taste it when you bit into one.

I still remember the sandwich-board sign reading, “Today’s featured donuts: Lucky Strike Lemon Filled and Marlboro Maple Bar!”

Did we complain? No … mainly because we were too busy coughing and trying to gouge each other’s eyes to get to the last Camel Cinnamon Roll, but we didn’t complain.

Sure, I have COPD, PTSD and LOL from the experience, but I’m tougher because of it.

Today, a pack of candy cigarettes comes with a Surgeon General’s warning, but that’s only if you can find a pack of candy cigarettes.

So, this column’s message is, when you know a toy has been included with a box of cereal, do your future adult children a favor and bury it in the actual cereal. They’ll grow up tougher, more resourceful and will have a good head on their shoulders.

Just look at me as an example.

According to Hofmann is written by staff reporter Mark Hofmann of Rostraver Township. His books, “Good Mourning! A Guide to Biting the Big One ... and Dying, Too” and “Stupid Brain,” are available on Amazon.com.

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