Smoking, Sugar, Helmets…

Feeling guilty about what I didn’t know back in the day

By Marilyn L. Pinsky

I smoked through most of my children’s growing up years. I tell myself it was in the early days of knowing about the dangers of smoking, let alone second-hand smoke, but is ignorance a defense?

It was in the ‘50s when studies started coming out that smoking caused cancer, so if I had been paying attention, I should have known. I justified ignoring the warnings by telling myself that doctors I knew were still smoking and if they weren’t worried, why should I be? And then, even when I knew the studies were right, I still had trouble stopping until I had to have a biopsy which scared the heck out of me and I stopped cold turkey.

But the guilt of having exposed my children to the smoke remains.

Now we are learning more and more about the dangers of eating sugar.

We were brought up, and probably brought up our children, to associate sweets with being a treat for being good. You cleaned your whole plate, now you can have dessert. If you clean your room, you can have a piece of candy. Even the doctors gave out lollipops!

And now, though I know better, I’m still hooked. I tell myself that if I eat a healthy meal, rather than what I really want to eat, I’ll reward myself with something sweet at the end.

Worried that I had an addictive personality because of my relationship to sweets and cigarettes, I never was tempted by drugs because I couldn’t take a chance being addicted to anything else. I felt like Dracula — one bite and I’d be hooked.

When I was in college, I worked the dormitory switchboard at night to earn money. My cousin and I, in school together, shared an August birthday and we used to complain that we never had a party like our friends whose birthdays were during the school year. So the friends surprised us one night with a sheet cake that had wonderful, thick icing on it saying “Happy Half-Birthday Donna and Marilyn.” It was delivered to the desk where I was working and after an hour of staring at the huge box, I opened it and ate all the icing off my half of the cake. Needless to say, everyone was furious at me. I understand why Dracula gets no love.

Then there’s the whole seat belt thing to feel guilty about.

With three kids, there was always a fight over who got the two side windows and who had to sit in the middle. When they weren’t fighting over that and climbing over each other to get to the windows, they were in the back of the station wagon rolling around and fighting about something else. Parents these days would never think of just tossing their kids in the car and taking off. Looking back now, I feel like such an irresponsible parent.

My children used to jump on their bikes and ride pell-mell down the street and I never gave it a second thought. It wasn’t until the late ‘70s and ‘80s that we learned about the importance of wearing helmets for bicycling and motorcycling and that well-constructed helmets protect against brain injury.

So I can give myself a pass on that one timeline-wise. I know it’s not easy to police kid’s helmet use when they’re out of sight, but there is hope as I see that this generation of parents have their little ones on tricycles wearing helmets, so they get used to just putting them on when they get on their bikes.

When I asked my granddaughter, who refused to wear a helmet when she was a child, what she’d do with her own children when she has them, she said, “absolutely they’ll wear helmets.”

There’s hope for the next generation.