It’s 11 at night and my 10-month-old daughter won’t go to bed. My husband is preparing to sleep on the couch, yet again, so the baby and I can have the bed to ourselves. He’s been doing this for months now, and in turn, he’s been getting unbroken sleep —meaning he’s prone to Hulk syndrome, liable to morph into an unrecognizable mass of angry green husband at any given moment. This is one of those moments. Between our yelling and the baby’s crying, I’m genuinely shocked our neighbors haven’t called the police or CPS.
My husband self-medicates with cigarettes and video games. My only respite since Goober’s birth has been the shower, and my dry skin is starting to hint that I should find a new form of stress relief.
So when I took one of my husband’s cigarettes out on the balcony that night and smoked for the first time in two years, I guess I had finally just snapped.
As I took one drag after another, I remembered the night long before I was a mom when I had decided to quit. It was January of 2011 and I was standing outside of a Border’s bookstore (remember those?). It might’ve been the caffeine buzz from my Americano, but I had two epiphanies, both of which are probably going to sound stupid.
One happened after I saw a family of four entering the store holding hands. The two doe-eyed brunette children raced ahead of their parents. The parents followed, looking healthy and fit. I hid my cigarette behind my back to keep from offending them. Then I realized I would have kids one day, and how could I possibly keep up with them and snuggle them close when I reeked of cigarette smoke?
The other was when I saw a seriously disabled young woman riding her scooter around inside the store. I realized she was probably born with her disability and sentenced to a short life—and here I was, healthy as could be, intentionally filling my lungs up with smoke.
Yeah, it was definitely the caffeine that lifted off that thought-rocket.
But somehow, those epiphanies were the pushes I needed to start my journey as an ex-smoker. I spent the next couple of weeks manically chewing on cinnamon sticks and eating Krispy Kremes to keep myself distracted. I gained a couple pounds and felt sick from the doughnuts, but I kept reminding myself I was doing it for my kids, the imaginary kids of my future.
And wouldn’t you know it? I got pregnant two months after quitting.
I have no doubt that pregnancy helped me stay on the wagon. Smelling my husband’s cigarette smoke made me nauseated. And finally, days started to pass where I didn’t even think about a cigarette, not once. Even more miraculously, two months before my baby’s due date, my husband quit smoking, too.
In November of 2011, she was born. Literally minutes after our successful home birth, my husband took off to buy himself a pack of Camels. I, however, was so deeply saturated in the haze of cloud nine that a cigarette was the last thing on my mind.
But a few months after her birth, I was offered a clove cigarette while hanging out with friends. I figured if I didn’t really inhale, it didn’t count. Somehow I smoked it and woke up the next day with no desire to have another. This happened again a few weeks later; one clove and that was it. I was like the characters in old movies, able to enjoy a cigarette socially, like dessert, and then be done with it. I thought maybe I had the self-control to go on this way forever. After all, I still enjoy donuts on occasion, but I don’t need one every hour to function. Why couldn’t cigarettes be like that?
So up until that horrendous night, I didn’t consider myself a smoker. But that night changed everything. When I came back inside after smoking, my body was quivering from the buzz. Oh, how I’d missed this.
An hour later, I went back outside to smoke again. But this time, my daughter crawled over to the French doors and pulled up against the glass to watch me. What she did was heartbreaking.
She looked at me, her gray eyes round and curious. Then she looked at my hand, the one holding the cigarette. She looked back at me, but this time her brow was slightly furrowed, like she didn’t quite understand what I was doing. She had seen her dad smoke before, so seeing her mom holding a cigarette was probably strange to her.
I hid it behind my back, the same way I did that night at Borders. And it hit me: how was I able to quit for someone else’s kids, but not for my own?
It’s because parenting is not what I thought it would be. There are things I’m doing right, things that bring me joy like I’ve never felt before. But there are difficulties I could’ve never foreseen. And if I have to indulge in a nightly cigarette in order to cope with the disappointing aspects of parenthood, I’m oddly at peace with that.
(photo: gcpics/ Shutterstock)