When the garbage men smoke: explaining smoking to your kidsMy son has many heroes. He celebrates every time he sees them as they are every day kind of folks that maybe you or I wouldn’t think twice about. His heroes are forklift drivers, mechanics, people who check out the groceries. Above all his heroes are the people who collect trash. Not just our local trash collectors, but goodness does he adore them, but EVERY SINGLE trash collector that he sees.

If you have ever ridden in a car with a person between the ages of two and five you have probably seen some of this hero-worship. Whenever we see a rescue vehicle we shout out the name of the vehicle, but when W sees a garbage truck?


This is why it is especially difficult in this mama’s life when we pull up next to a garbage truck at a red light and W notices that the driver or any of the workers on the truck are smoking.

“Mama. Do you see that? Do you see what he is doing with that thing? It’s smoking. I’m so sad.”

This is what I have taught him. I have taught him that smoking is sad. I don’t know how any of the rest of you guys are doing it, but I have found this bit of parenting challenging.

There are four main issues here:
• My mother has always hated smoking
• I smoked for several years and stopped cold turkey after seeing footage of smoker’s lungs
(I now can not tolerate the smell at all.)
• I would be thrilled if W never EVER smokes
• People smoke

My mother would be thrilled if I taught W to recoil in shock and disgust and play dead whenever he saw a smoker. I know this because this is what I was taught to do when I was a kid. And I did it with gusto because I knew that smoking upset my mom. When I was in college I started smoking. And I will not even attempt to glamorize it, but whenever I think of my life in New York I think of Parliament cigarettes and gin and tonics and off-Broadway shows. It is all wrapped up together.

When I decided to quit I recognized that it was a choice. Just as I had made a choice to begin smoking I was making a choice to stop. Some people really struggle with quitting. I was lucky in that I just stopped. The end.

So when W sees someone he admires smoking and he asks me about it I want to mind-meld with him, “please please please please please don’t ever do this. please please please do not ever think this looks cool. please please please please do not ever start.” But what tumbles out of my mouth ends up being this awkward explanation and apology for my own smoking that happened over a decade before he was ever born.

So I tell W, “He is smoking. He made a bad choice and I am so sad that he did. I hope he does not get sick. Let’s hope he can stop this bad choice soon.”

And I say this every damn time he sees a cigarette. Yes. EVERY TIME.

Image Credit: Michal Zacharzewski

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