It happened today. When I got home from work. I had gone inside to put away groceries while my daughter sat in the car pretending to drive with her dad. This is her new thing. When we get home, she sits in the driver’s seat with her hands perched on the steering wheel, turning it back and forth. She puts my sunglasses on top of her head and fiddles with the knobs. Sometimes, I turn on the radio for her, and she dances in the seat. She loves driving because she gets to be just like Mommy.
After just a few minutes, I heard her father call me outside.
“Do you know what she just did?” he asked. I smiled in anticipation of hearing about the next adorably hilarious thing she had conjured up.
“She put a cigarette in her mouth and was pretending to smoke.”
My heart sank.
My beautiful, innocent 2-year-old girl with baby blond ringlets and huge blue eyes had a cigarette dangling from her lips as she pretended to inhale it. And I am to blame.
I started smoking when I was 16. Both of my parents smoked, so it was easy for me to get ahold of a cigarette here and there. By time I got pregnant with my daughter at 33, I had been smoking a pack a day for almost 17 years. When I found out I was pregnant, I was elated, but extremely anxious because I knew I needed to give up smoking.
Like all moms, I wanted to do everything right. I tried quitting cold turkey, but I couldn’t, so I cut back drastically, just a couple a day until I could quit. Every time I lit up, I was a wreck. All I could think about was how I was already a bad mom and my daughter wasn’t even born yet. If I loved her, I could just quit, right?
It’s so much harder than that. Each time I finished smoking, I was so disgusted with myself that I would flush an entire pack of cigarettes down the toilet in tears. I would swear it was the last one, but somehow my mind could always make excuses. Just one more before I quit for good.
At 13 weeks, I smoked for the last time. Quitting smoking is hands-down the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was harder than being pregnant, giving birth, or caring for a child. Unless you have dealt with addiction, you have no idea how hard it actually is.
I continued smoke-free throughout my pregnancy. I felt amazing. Not only because I was healthier physically, but because the guilt was gone. The urge to smoke never went away, but it became manageable with time. I was officially a non-smoker, free from the stigma and shame. Until about six months ago.
When my daughter was finished breastfeeding and my body was mine again, I found myself in situations where others were smoking, and it was hard to resist. It started with one cigarette here and there while I was drinking. If someone was smoking, I would ask for one. Then it became two or three a day. Then a couple of months ago, I started buying them. And just like that, I am a smoker again. The guilt is back. And so are the lies I tell myself. Just one more before I quit for good.
I successfully hid it from my daughter initially, but there are situations in which I haven’t lately. I didn’t realize she was watching so closely. Maybe I did. Maybe I’m just making more excuses for myself.
I do not smoke in the car with her, but the cigarette was there. She found it, and she put it between her tiny fingers and brought it up to her lips because she sees me do it and she wants to be just like me. That’s pretty hard to swallow. This has been a very important lesson on being a role model. Our kids are always watching and learning.
I am absolutely not a bad mom. I love my daughter fiercely, but I feel as though I have failed her. So starting today, I’m trying like hell quit again and again and again until I finally quit for good. Not for me, for her.