She Runs A Good Race

mothering is a marathon

Cigarette Girl

on September 27, 2013

images-1It was summer.  1979.  I just finished 3rd grade with a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Finefield.  I was nine.  I wore the Rainbow Shirt. You know that shirt that had the rainbow splashed from left arm, across the chest and onto the right arm?  Super groovy.

I was a child.  And I smoked all summer long.  (You can gasp now.)

My mom was a smoker.  She had been smoking for decades.  She always had a carton of Merits in our laundry alcove.  Our house smelled like smoke but it was all we knew.  I didn’t even notice it.  I wonder if the nuns at school smelled it on our brown plaid uniforms? They must have.  But then again, it was the 70’s.

My older-by-11-months sister, Jennifer, and I played with neighborhood friends.  In those days you did, you could, and no one was overscheduled.  We were fancy free.  We swam, we walked to the candy store, AKA “the liquor deli,” on the corner in Rossmoor, and we made up skate routines to disco music.

It would be easy to blame the older neighbor girl for influencing Jennifer and I to steal my mom’s smokes and give it a try.  She was 11 after all, and so worldly.  It may have been a factor.  Maybe.

Or it could have just been childish, foolish curiosity.

I was  a ”good kid,” a people pleaser and a rule follower.  I kept my side of the bedroom neat and clean and organized.  I liked school and always got outstanding citizenship awards at St. Hedwig’s Catholic School.  I may have mouthed off once in a while to my mother’s dismay, but I was not an out of control 9 year-old.

However, in a whim or a dare or a thought, we stole my mom’s cigarettes for a whole summer and smoked in our playroom.  We played office or restaurant and had ashtrays nearby.  My mom was a single working mom and we had our little puff parties while our babysitter was downstairs watching tv or who knows what.   What was she doing?!  Because how did she NOT check on us and catch us?  We were three young girls, ages 9, 10, and 11.  Not needing constant supervision but A LITTLE MORE that we were getting obviously.  She could have protected us from our silly selves.

Again, I cannot really blame the sitter.  We made our choices.  And we liked looking like Farrah Fawcett with our feathery hair (or was it Dorothy Hamill bowl cuts?) and trying to blow smoke rings. So cool and sophisticated were we!  So grown up.  So we thought.

As a mother who worries about the choices my kids make, and WILL MAKE, I’m a little taken back with this childhood memory.  Not really proud of it.

Yet, the big take away from this trip down memory lane does leave some wisdom.  What I extract from this is that good kids make mistakes.  Really good kids make mistakes.  They do.  My kids will. Your kids will.  Even if I passed Parenting Perfectly 101.  They will have their own ideas, their own will, and their own immaturity to contend with.  Not to mention peer influences and unique opportunities that will be in front of them.

I never became a full-blown smoker.  It did not lead to pot addiction at age 10, 13 or 17, etc.  I did not turn into an uber rebellious teenager.  I absolutely made bad choices; I am not trying to sound pious or self-righteous in any way.  No.  But I did not go off the proverbial deep end because I tried cigarettes at age 9.

I share this story because it (strangely) comforts me as I begin a new chapter as Parent-To-A-Teenager-Boy.  He will make mistakes.  He will even be foolish or reckless. (Only once or twice, right?)  But I do not need to have a panic attack and imagine he is ruined forever if there is one or two or three bad choices made, even one BIG ONE.  It does not determine his whole identity and existence and future.

I still wonder if my mom knew what we were up to that summer….

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13 responses to “Cigarette Girl

  1. Kristin says:

    This is one of the best pieces you have ever written. I’m sending it to all my friends!!!

  2. Wow. And yet you grew up to be an upstanding citizen anyway. It’s scary to be a mom and know that our kids might be doing the same things we did.

  3. Marisa Marshall says:

    EXXXXXXCCCELLLLLLLLLENNNNNNT!!!! LOVE IT!!! 🙂
    Really really really well written and I love that we “good girls” definitely had our share of “humanness” along the way!!!

  4. Grace, Its a little scary and daunting yes. As I was writing this, I kept turning it off when Luke or Kate walked by. Don’t want them to know. Not yet.
    Thx for reading!

  5. Jenna says:

    Oh mom knew what we were up to………………DEFINITELY!

  6. Suzie Lind says:

    Me too 🙂 4th Grade.

  7. Liz says:

    Well done AGAIN Jess! In this day of “Facebook perfect” lives I truly admire you for your honesty, and introspect. We all need it… No one is perfect and we all did and will make mistakes! Like you I can wait to have my kids know mine ! Thanks again for giving REAL pieces of quality writing… You have a gift XO

  8. Jeannette Wagner says:

    Hilarious!!! The good ole 70’s:) I often think about the poor choices that I made as a young person and agree that it is helpful for me to consider these things when I watch my kids do what comes so naturally to them, and all of us as human beings.

  9. Kirsten Hanson says:

    This is another reason we’re friends Jess.

    Love it. P.S. I had the rainbow bedspread too!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

  10. Dana says:

    Love this, Jess!! You are definitely NOT alone!! I was also a pleaser kid and yet still made really bad choices (sometimes later in life than I care to admit!) Like sneaking shots out of the 150 proof alcohol in my parents’ bar, or swiping a “tar bar” from my mom’s package of Benson & Hedges, or helping some neighborhood boys light an M80 on the back of someone’s pick-up truck (NOT GOOD!) No – this is not the kid my parents wanted me to be….and I was well aware of it. Yet, still, I was still compelled to dabble in the dark side. Who knows why…! You’re an awesome mom, Jess, and I know your kids will make good choices ultimately. Lets just hope and pray they don’t find interest in blowing up someone’s mailbox as my husband did 😦

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