Monday, October 8, 2012

The Smoking Gun

My three-year-old, Maisy, has a voice that rivals Kathleen Turner after she chain smoked a pack of cigarettes.  If she decides to go into acting, she will easily be cast the role of a drag queen on any daytime TV show.  Even when strangers express worry about her "hoarse voice", I'm secretly proud of her throaty, husky speech- unlike my own high-pitched voice, it's authoritative and commanding.

Yesterday, my mother-in-law and I were driving home and joking about the gravely conversation Maisy was having with herself in the backseat.  "I really have to get her to quit smoking," I teased.  

What was supposed to be an innocuous comment, turned into this-

"What's 'smoking'?" asked Elana, the five-year-old.

"Ummm... you know, like cigarettes."  I responded.

Elana- "What are cigarettes?" 

Me- "Those skinny white things that burn on the end and people put in their mouths."

Elana- "Like when we come home from a trip and those people outside the airport?"

Me- "Huh?"

But, then the fog clears and I understand perfectly when she means.  Living in San Francisco, where smoking pot is widely accepted in public spaces, cigarettes are virtually unheard of, having been banned from all indoor spaces, and many outdoor ones too.  The one place my children have actually seen someone with a cigarette is outside of baggage claim, in the smoking section.

Me- "Yes, just like those people.  But, more importantly, smoking is really a terrible habit and it is not good for your health."  

Elana- "Then why do people do it?"

Dammit!  She had to go there?  Do I tell her the truth- that it can, sort of, look cool and feel good?  Nah- better to lie on this one.

Me- "Because it is a habit.  It is kind of similar to how you bite your nails.  You know it isn't good to put your fingers in your mouth, but after you start, it is hard to stop."

Elana- "Do you know anyone who ever smoked?"

Me- "Sure, lots of people.  In college.  But, most of them have stopped, because it is so bad for them."

Elana- "Did you ever smoke?"

Double dammit!  I was planning on being an open and honest parent, yet I hadn't planned for this topic so soon.  If she were a few years older, and wiser, I would be happy to have an honest conversation about this topic.  But, at five years of age, can she really understand the truth?  Can I handle her reaction?

If I explain to her how when I was growing up in my small Oregon town I felt out of place and lonely, like I didn't fit in anywhere, and then I began hanging out with a crowd that would skip Pre-Calc to smoke cigarettes and weed in the abandoned lot a block away from school, and I finally felt slightly less isolated, would she understand? If I told her that when I was full of teenage angst and depression, I could sneak out of the house for a smoke, and feel a sense of purpose, would she think I was weak?  If she knew how terrified I was of gaining weight, and secretly loved that smoking suppressed my appetite, would she model that behavior?

Will she be able to see that twenty years ago things were different, my circumstances were different, or will she think I am a bad person, who did bad things? 

On top of that, my MIL is sitting in the passenger seat observing every moment of my unease.  Time to make a decision.

Me- "Nope, never."

Elana- "Ok, Maisy and I will never smoke either."

Maybe we will revisit this discussion in five years, and maybe then I will come clean.  However, in the mean time, I'm content being a lying liar. 

1 comment:

  1. I think Elana's response lets you know you made the right choice your children in that moment. If she had responded with more questions, or in any other way than an affirmation that what she wanted was just to feel safe and that it was okay to make a choice not to smoke, you would have doubted it, but, it all worked out!
    I like your plan to revisit it if need be. Assuredly, once she figures out that you have a blog and that she can read about you on the internet, that will force the issue!