Breathing easy

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There is another thing that I am grateful to my mom for that I wanted to talk about. A couple of years ago, she quit smoking. Now this is a huge achievement for anyone and I applaud every person who makes the effort to quit, for their sake and for their families’ as well.

My mom smoked for over 50 years! And what’s funny is that she never wanted to start smoking to begin with. Back when she was a teenager, smoking was a popular, trendy thing to do – similar to now basically – except that the health impacts weren’t known yet. Everyone who was anyone, smoked. Except for my mom. There are two ‘habits’ that my mom was pushed into by her mom. Drinking coffee – and smoking. My mom was pretty much told that she wasn’t a member of the family unless she smoked. So, at the age of seventeen, desperately wanting her mom’s approval, she made the decision to go ahead and smoke. And as a habit, it was one almost impossible for her to break afterward.

When I was little, both of my parents smoked. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my dad quit, but I know I was still pretty young. My mom tried to quit then too, but couldn’t. Some of my strongest childhood memories are my dad making cigarette runs to the store for her, me whining and begging for my parents to open the car windows a crack to let the smoke out of the car while driving (I can remember sitting on my mom’s lap in the front seat of the car – and that is so completely illegal nowadays, it’s a wonder I ever survived!), and how my best friend used to be able to tell my doll clothes apart from hers because mine smelled like smoke. At the time, I usually barely noticed the smoke smell in our house and on my stuff. I don’t even want to think about the amount of secondhand smoke I was exposed to while growing up. But nobody knew quite how much of a health issue it was back then really either.

Once I moved away from home, I became so sensitive to cigarette smoke that I can’t stand even a whiff of it now. Spending any amount of time in a bowling alley or restaurant where smoking is occurring makes my eyes sting. I don’t really know anyone else who smokes now but my mom would always spend her time out on our front porch or back patio, even in the cold and snow, with her coffee and cigarette several times a day while visiting us. She never complained about smoking outside or even asked us to sit at a smoking section in a restaurant – by then she knew what a horrible habit it is and didn’t want to expose us to it any more than she had to. Especially once the girls were born.

A few years ago, financial considerations finally forced my mom to cut down. She went down to 4 cigarettes a day and held to that for quite a while. Two things finally changed and gave her the motivation to finally quit once and for all. First, she had surgery to clear a blockage in her carotid artery. This is something that runs in her family and she was told at the time to stop smoking. She couldn’t. Then, two summers ago, she was diagnosed with emphysema. Finally, she realized that if she wanted to live long enough to be around while my kids grow up, she had to stop. And she did. She now munches on Mentos mints or “Grandma’s candies” as my girls call them almost continually, but as far as I know, she hasn’t touched a cigarette since. And she looks and acts so much healthier than she had for a long, long time before.

I hope my girls never pick up a cigarette when they get older. I hope they take after me – I’ve never even tried one. Partly because my mom used to joke that she would kill us if we ever started the filthy habit (yes, she was joking, but I did take her just a teensy bit seriously!). Thank you for that, mom!