Cigarettes, Booze and Kids

Two Sundays ago, I picked up my nine-year-old daughter from a girly girl sleepover birthday party at her friend Jo-Jo’s, five minutes from our house. In addition to her rumpled pink sleeping bag, my daughter left the host’s front door carrying a purple balloon and a goodie bag filled with unicorn stickers.

 

Before we got home, her eyes welled with tears.

 

“Mom, you won’t believe it,” she said, the tears slipping down her cheeks. I thought of pulling the car over to the side of the road. Had she witnessed a kitten being tortured?

 

“Jo-Jo’s dad was… SMOKING.”

 

Long parental pause. I kept driving. How to proceed?

 

“Cigarettes?” was the first question I ventured, my voice shaky. My 70s mind immediately conjured marijuana, crack, an orgy of drugs and sex with wide-eyed nine year old witnesses...

 

“Yes, cigarettes!” my daughter said in a tone of outrage and disapproval more commonly associated with heroin addiction funded by street prostitution.

 

“Jo-Jo caught him. He said he was really sorry but he’s a little bit addictive. She says he’s going to die.”

 

More tears flooded the backseat. TEARS! Triggered by a friend’s 40-year-old father puffing a Marlboro on his back porch? For heaven’s sake, even President Obama sneaks a cig here and there!

 

Then I realized: in nine years of life on this planet, my daughter has never seen a live human being smoke a cigarette. How utterly amazing. By the time I was her age, I had already smoked my first cigarette. I had also drunk an entire plastic cup of beer from a keg at a touch-football game and gulped a huge disgusting sip of a martini while cleaning up after one of my parents’ frequent cocktail parties.

 

With the fog of social stigma and legal repercussions having firmly attached itself to cigarette smoking and even the most genteel drunken debauchery, the casual adult vices many of us grew up witnessing have vanished from the world of many American children.

 

None of my friends smoke any longer (okay, one does…but that’s top secret). My husband and I have beer and liquor in our house for guests, but we never booze it up ourselves. The results of my own experimentation, plus evidence collected from myriad out-of-control adults, convinced me early in life (long before I had kids) that alcohol, cigarettes and drugs were indulgences I couldn’t afford . Our friends and family members rarely drink more than a glass of wine at dinner. Our children have never witnessed firsthand any adults getting intoxicated, passing out on the toilet, or throwing up in the front yard (things I took for granted by the time I was nine).

 

What a refreshing change.

 

momma
06.07.11

I really don't think Jo-jo was over reacting when she found out her dad was "addicted to cigarettes" - Good chance she will see him die a slow and painful death from cancer when she is in her 20s, 30s or 40s. I would freak out too if I was her.

bestmommy
06.07.11

You are so right about today's children being sheltered from adult vices.
Neither myself nor my husband or any close friends smoke. I do however have relatives that have smoked for decades that just can't break the addiction. It's quite bewildering for my kids to see them smoke (outside only). We do have beer and wine on ocassion but never over indulge to the point of regretting it the next day. My 2 teenagers know that they'd be in for some serious punishment if they ever came home drunk, high or under the influence of the drug of the week. They've told us about other kids getting into trouble for alcohol, pot etc. and so far they think it's a stupid thing to do. I know they will probably experiment sooner or later but I'm very impressed with their attitudes about partying. They know they can have a good time with friends, music, video games, movies, dancing, etc. without adding any illegal or dangerous substances.