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The smell of victory (02/09/2006)
By Cynthya Porter
After six months of teeth-gnashing and a little wild-eyed hair-pulling for good measure I think I can say it's official: I don't smoke.

And while I'd love to boast that I quit out of resolve to be healthier or to have my clothes and hair smell better, it wouldn't be true.

The truth is that I did it because of my daughters.

Oh sure, I knew it was bad for me. That it probably killed my father. That it probably cost me a uterus. That if I kept smoking the odds of my dying from it someday were staggering.

But those things seemed so nebulous compared to the pure joy of a cigarette in the morning on my front porch.

For the taste of that cigarette I could forgive the premature pucker wrinkles around my lips, that not-so-healthy sounding cough morning, noon and night.

And I would congratulate myself on how conscientious I was smoking outside instead of in the house, even forgiving myself that half of the conversations my children had with me took place on the front porch.

"Don't smoke," I'd always tell my kids. "It's bad for you and I wish I didn't but I'm addicted and it's really hard to quit." I convinced myself that those words somehow held more sway than the sight of Mom always stopping to smoke, always structuring her life around the next cigarette.

Oh sure, it was embarrassing sometimes to be a smoker... like the time my daughter, fresh off of a D.A.R.E. lesson, said, real sad like in a crowded ladies bathroom, "Mom, why do you have to do drugs?"

I swear you could have actually heard hair grow it got so instantly still and quiet in that bathroom as a half dozen women tried to steal a glance at me and the mournful child.

But still I was cloaked in the belief that it was only about me and I was somehow being a responsible smoker, so I kept right on. Thirty times a day or so.

And then I saw the report that made a cigarette go stale on my lips.

It said daughters of women who smoke are three times more likely to try cigarettes, and as likely to be smokers themselves by almost the same margin.

All the front porch smoking, all the words of wisdom in the world weren't going to make a bit of difference.

Yes, my mother smoked, although I would never consciously lay my 25 years of addiction at her feet.

But was that the legacy I wanted to send forward with my girls?

I could forgive my own coughing and wrinkling and stinking and potential death for the love of a cigarette, but could I forgive myself for passing that life on to them?


So I availed myself of every stop smoking product on the market and I quit almost exactly six months ago.

Granted, it wasn't easy, and there were times during the past six months when I was a lot closer to Mommy Dearest than Mother of the Year.

But if I ever doubted whether my daughters, 8 and 12 at the time, were old enough to appreciate what I'd done, I needed only to remember the day I told them I quit.

It was the first morning and I was in the kitchen trying to make it through my first post-smoking cup of coffee. I was on the verge of tears. "Girls," I announced, "I just want you to know it's going to be hard for a while because I quit smoking today."

And what happened next propped me up like a crutch whenever my resolve waned over these past months, because for all the times I had been proud of them, this time I had done something to make them proud of me.

Wordlessly, my eight-year-old crossed the kitchen and solemnly wrapped her arms around me. Almost skipping, my older daughter followed for a morning hug that for the first time in their lives had the smell of victory instead of stale cigarette smoke.



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