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Writing Coaches of Montana has a lot to say about how great our communities are. 

Growth Mindset, April 2023: My First Memory

I had my first memory when I was five years old. It was here that my mother and I
shared an unexpected tale of personal courage that paved the way for my amazing life’s
journey. It all started when Mom became fast friends with Sheila, our new next-door
neighbor. She was a smoker and before long Mom was bumming cigarettes from her
and plunged headfirst into the ugly habit of smoking. She sucked on Winston’s and
became a reckless pack-a-day smoker.

She was addicted.

Of all the toys in my toy basket, my favorite item was a pink flowered blanket with
soft satin edging. I sucked and drooled all over this beloved shroud all day and cuddled
with it all night. It was pried from my hands before going on outings, and I didn’t like
parting with it on laundry day.

I was addicted.

On a day much like any other, Mom made a fleeting comment as she held out her
cigarette, “I wish I could stop smoking these things.” I was curious, and I climbed onto
her lap with my blanket in hand. An easy chat about quitting an ugly habit quickly turned
into a bold challenge. My five-year-old self was invited to a reckoning.  She looked down
at me, our eyes locked, and she spoke these words, “If you stop sucking on your
blanket, I’ll stop sucking on my cigarettes.” We sealed the deal with a pinky promise and
final proclamation, “Tomorrow we throw out our nasty habits.” 

Suckers, Unite and Toss!

The next day I woke up, got dressed, and headed into the kitchen. Mom made a
slight mention of our agreement hoping I had forgotten. After breakfast, I gathered up
my blanket, hugged it close to my heart, and made my way to the backdoor. I watched
my hand grab the doorknob. When it opened, I saw my two feet step down onto the
cement patio. I had a strange new feeling as if I stepped from a black-and-white limbo
into a full-color memory just like Dorothy stepping into Munchkinland. Bravery and fear
were holding hands. 

I looked left and saw the fence from across the patio. Behind that fence was the
garbage can. My thoughts paralyzed me for a moment. Then I squeezed my blanket a
little closer, which gave me permission to carry on. As I inched closer, my heart was
racing, my steps were slow, and my feet felt thick. I reached the gate and pulled the
latchstring. The gate slowly creaked open and the silver garbage can sat waiting for

I stared up at the lid and envisioned my blanket mingling with the soup cans, gravy,
and eggshells. Even though I was scared, my promise to quit was still holding true
north. Time was quickly coming face to face with action. With shaky hands, I bravely
stepped up to the can and pushed up the lid. On tippy-toes, I opened it just enough to send my blanket over the edge and onto the pile of garbage. I fixed the lid, walked back
out into the patio, closed the gate with a chime, and walked back into the house. 
My mother was flabbergasted. I asked her later if she had quit smoking that day
and she confessed, “I realized I was playing truth or dare with my five-year-old
daughter. The ball was in my court, so I had no choice, I quit!”

That single act of courage gave me permission to face many other challenges
throughout my life. I learned to fail without feeling like a failure, to succeed without
arrogance, and to risk with wholehearted passion. More than anything, I stayed curious,
keeping my eye open for opportunities to venture into the unknown.
As I stumbled along through adolescence and adulthood, this sense of
wonderment guided me on my amazing life’s journey. That same childhood excitement
helped create a long successful, career as a ballet studio owner and instructor.

Today, I look back at my life with immense gratitude and my focus has a more
reflective and contemplative flavor, which has inspired me to write my memoirs.
However, when I saw the Interlake spotlight on the Writing Coaches of Montana it
sparked my curiosity, yet again, and a new challenge came to life….Volunteering!

--Carol Sullivan