Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around.I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go. ~Holden Caulfield, Chapter 6, The Catcher in the Rye.

When my nineteen-year-old son comes into the house, he brings the unwanted stink of cigarette smoke. I say to him,  "Max, you smell awful." His eyes open wide in surprise. But his clothes, his jacket, every pore of his body is tainted with the smell of Marlboros. Does he remember what happened to the Marlboro Man? He's dead. From smoking Marlboros.
I don't pretend to be a paragon of parenthood, but I can safely say Max had all the requisite lessons and warnings about the dangers of smoking. Between home and health class he has all the information he needs. But I'm not fool enough to think he could escape the influence of friends and television and high school, and that's why I think he started in the first place. Damn outside influences.
I caught him once, smoking a cigarette during a college visit when he was in the search phase as a high school senior. He and his friend had gone ahead of my husband and me, and we found them skulking behind a building, drawing a long drag and blowing it out slowly in the manner of kids who imagine they look cool when they light up. I was shocked at this vision, and dismayed. My heart sank. Though it wasn't my fault, I still felt like a failure. What lack of parenting expertise caused my second child to feel compelled to put a cigarette in his mouth and damage his lungs, his teeth, his skin, indeed every cell in his body?
When Cliff was three years old, my husband and I began trying for a baby brother or sister for him. The year progressed and still no pregnancy. I was diagnosed with secondary infertility. The thought that I might not be able to conceive again was incomprehensible. I come from a family of eight children. I wanted a big family too. After two more years of specialists, tests, medication, a minor surgery followed by major abdominal surgery to correct the problem, I became pregnant. All that effort, pain, longing, and single-minded focus finally paid off. When Maxwell James Taylor was born, I was overjoyed. He was, and is, my precious boy.
Staring and staring at him in my hospital room, I reflected on all I had gone through to have him. I had had an emergency C-section and lost a lot of blood. I was white as a ghost. But I didn't care; my son was here! I think back to his cries, the pink, perfect lungs he used to let me know he needed something.
So forgive me if I feel pain at the way he's treating the body God gave him. I would do anything to get him to stop before it becomes so much of an addiction that it will be impossible to quit without immense struggle.
And how funny (ironic!) is it that he religiously works out at a gym? What does he think will happen to all those muscles he's cultivating if his lungs go? Perhaps like most teenagers, he believes himself to be indestructible.
My brother, Tony, at my request, talked to Max last year about not smoking. Tony is a lifelong smoker and he has the crummy heart valves and the decreased lung capacity to prove it. Tony started his family late in life and now, wants nothing more than to be here for his children. Fifty-seven years old and he can't get that particular monkey off his back. So, Max told him he had a plan: he would smoke for the duration of his college years and then quit when he graduated. Such innocence. Or should I say, such ignorance?
And what, really, can I do to make him stop? He is of age to make his own choices, even if those choices suck.
I don't know. To that end, I have added Max's smoking to my ever-lengthening list of worries. Will cigarettes be his undoing in the end?  This is when I have to remember the Serenity Prayer. There is nothing else to do.


Sunday, December 12, 2010


"Come in. Sit down. Relax. Converse. My house doesn't always look like this. Sometimes it's even worse." ~my mom's refrigerator magnet from 1971

I've just taken a good look around my house and have declared it a disaster area. I'm surprised the Governor of Massachusetts hasn't been called in to make it official. There are dust balls under the furniture, the windows are dirty, everyone's laundry is spilling over out of the hampers. The tidy piles I make of newspapers and catalogs and mail are not so much piles as they are misshapen blobs. While I wouldn't say my house is dirty in the same way that say, the Greyhound Bus station is dirty, I'm mortified when someone comes over, embarrassed at the boxes in the dining room (my new furniture hasn't arrived yet) and at the dog hair embedded in the carpeted stairs. None of the pictures went back up on the walls after they were painted TWO MONTHS AGO. The kitchen floor isn't looking too hot either.
At times like this I get aggravated at everyone who lives in this house, including me.  I berate myself for not being one of those parents who made their kids do chores. I never even made them clean their rooms. I'll tell you why. I'm impatient. I can't wait for things to be done. I can do things faster and more efficiently than my husband or my kids. In the years I didn't work, or only worked part-time it was never an issue. After everyone left the house I could clean with no one in my way. Ah,I miss those days. Sort of.
I've been thinking about why my house is in such a state. I promised I'd tell the truth, so here it is: I don't want to clean every minute of my life. I want to watch The Apprentice. I want to sing songs from West Side Story to Cliff and make him laugh. I need a nap. If I'm cleaning, I'm not exercising, or reading a book or talking to my kids. If my house is all clean all the time, I'm not living. When am I supposed to have my tea?
I suppose if things get really bad, I can always hire The Maids to clean the house for me. But that means they'll come in my house and see that it's not clean. So before they come over I'll have to clean up. Oh what the hell. If you come over don't expect perfection. We can have coffee and a few laughs. Just don't give me the white glove test and everything will be just fine.