Cheddar Cheese Goldfish when I was nine meant that I was sitting at the curved bar in the Lagoon Lounge in Florida with my grandfather, drinking a Shirley Temple, waiting for all of my aunts and uncles to assemble so we could be seated at dinner. The goldfish were the bar snacks, mixed in with nuts in dark-brown wooden bowls, and I remember picking two at a time out of the mix and letting them dissolve slowly in my mouth, in between cool splashes of red maraschino fizziness. Floor to ceiling aqua-colored curtains cast a weird light in the room and muted the cocktail sounds, and it felt very special to be there, wondering what kind of grown-up I’d be.
Cheddar Cheese Goldfish when I was seventeen meant that I was flying on an airplane somewhere drinking Bloody Mary mix from a little yellow can. USAir served the fish in little white pouches, and it was so much more exciting than getting peanuts. I only regretted the Bloody Mary mix on the bumpy flights, and loved the combination of the thick savory slurry and the little savory crunchies. It was especially good on the flights where they’d give me a cup of ice with the drink because, by the time I’d reach the bottom of the cup, the ice had made that part super cold and had kind of thinned it out a bit, making it easy to down every last bit. I was probably going somewhere exciting like Hawaii or Cozumel or Vermont, and I was likely travelling alone, or at least sitting off by myself reading Glamour Magazine, trying to picture what kind of grown-up I’d be.
Cheddar Cheese Goldfish when I was twenty meant that I was in college and that I had the munchies and was probably eating an entire box of Stove Top stuffing mix as well. I’d chew a handful of goldfish up into a warm, wet mushy ball and then remove it from my mouth and eat it slowly. It sounds gross, but it was really really good, and tasted a little bit like buttery mashed potatoes. I got to be really picky about my goldfish then and would memorize expiration dates of the especially wonderful batches so I wouldn’t end up having to suffer through fish that were too salty or not cheesy enough. This was before they stopped using palm oil and I really loved the dense crunch of those fish. There was something special about a brand new bag of Goldfish. You’d have to pry the foil part open carefully so it wouldn’t rip or separate too much from the white paper on the outside. I didn’t spend much time those days wondering what kind of grown-up I’d be. It just felt weirdly liberating to be able to eat anything I wanted anytime I wanted.
Cheddar Cheese Goldfish when I was twenty-five meant that I was babysitting Noam and Eliott on the Upper West Side or Sigmund Freud’s great grandchildren on Sutton Place (and not going to graduate school, by the way). The kids were finally asleep and I could settle on the sofa and drink apple juice and eat goldfish out of the bigger boxes these parents usually had in their pantries, and fold American cheese singles into tiny square stacks and relax. The cheese bits were a nice counterpart to the dry crunch of these palm-oil-free fish, and I often had cheese and fish in my mouth at the same time for optimal mouth-feel. I could hardly believe that the parents paid me to indulge in all those yummy kid snacks and watch movies on HBO. It felt very exotic to eat such kid-centric treats. And when I wasn’t having this wholesome kind of evening I was having a different kind of evening in a bar, or at a friend’s apartment. I thought a lot about what would make me happy on a day to day basis, and didn’t think about the future, or of trying to build towards any kind of goal, because it didn’t seem like I’d ever really grow up like my parents who were married and had already had a baby by now, or like some of the people I'd gone to high school with who already looked like they were middle-aged.
Cheddar Cheese Goldfish when I was thirty-four meant that I was finding old ziploc baggies full of them in all sorts of crevices in the car, in the stroller, and in the diaper bag. I hated the way those crumbly dusty ziploc baggies either disappeared when I needed them most, or multiplied when I was most disgusted by the idea of old, wasted food. We way overfished. The 3-packs of large foil bags I’d buy at Costco didn’t serve the fish well at all. One pouch would rip open too much and force us to store the fish that didn’t cascade out all over the counter in tupperware. One pouch would be opened once and forgotten only to be discovered later, completely cardboardy stale. A possibility that, unfortunately, I’d forget to consider until after I had a handful in my mouth. And by the time we got to the last pouch, we’d recycled the orange and white box, and couldn’t be sure if the now-anonymous foil bag in the cupboard held fish, cereal, or something else. I fell out of love with the fish around this time. We moved onto other non-greasy treats like Veggie Booty and didn’t even care when the fish got faces, got big, or came in purple and green. It was astonishing to me to be in charge of the nutritional lives of my young children--and I breastfed them for the first 18 months of their lives to make up for the lousy habits they’d, no doubt, be picking up from me for the rest of their childhoods.
Cheddar Cheese Goldfish now, at 40, means I’m giving the fish another chance. I bought a bag of them a couple of weeks ago when we were heading into the car for a car trip. I didn’t choose the cereal-sized box that’s probably most cost-effective, and certainly not the overwhelming super-money-saving carton. I bought a regular old-fashioned squishy crumply white bag of fish, with the foil liner. If you pour the fish out at an angle, the corner of the bag acts like a funnel and channels them directly into your cupped palm (the one that’s not on the steering wheel). My three children and I handed the bag back and forth--from the front to the backseat and then back up again for the duration of the trip. They were lucky I shared so much with them. Since my motto is ‘when mommy’s happy everyone’s happy’ (or at least has a chance to be happy), I tend to put my own needs before theirs. I’m a much different kind of parent than I imagined I’d be, partly because I still don’t feel like the grown-up version of me who would look sort of like Mary Tyler Moore and who was supposed to take over for me by now ever showed up. But I don’t think anyone’s suffering too much. The fish taste great. Everthing's fine.
7 years ago