Was it three o’clock already? The front door slammed shut, and I heard footsteps on the stairs, the unmistakable bounding of my 12-year-old son. Then, the door to my den flew open. Whatever happened to knocking? As I furiously fanned away the smoke, I knew I was busted. “Mom, you promised!” my son screamed. He was referring to my promise to quit smoking cigarettes—which I had. What he caught me doing was smoking a joint.

I started using medicinal marijuana in 1997 to combat side effects from my first HAART regimen. The combination of AZT, 3TC and Crixivan nauseated me and killed my appetite. Prescription and herbal therapies helped keep me from barfing—but they also knocked me out. A fellow HIVer suggested that I try marijuana; having puffed more than a few joints as a kid, I wasn’t averse to Mother Nature’s remedy. I’ll admit that the first few hits got me pretty buzzed and sent me searching for my Black Sabbath LPs. But after a few weeks of occasional toking, I found that I could control my “dose”—and my nausea. And lucky for me, I live in Canada: With my doctor’s help, I secured a license to possess, produce and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the border. Haunted by flashbacks of sneaking off to do my first doobie in grade seven and repeating grade 10 math due to short-term memory loss (I “forgot” to go to class!), I was determined to keep my grass away from my preteen son. It was easy to fool him when I smoked cigarettes, but when I gave up the butts, I had to get creative. The bathroom, the garage and my den are all ventilated to handle fumes and are strict “knock before enter” zones in our house (though sometimes my son forgets). All of my “herbal” medicine is kept under lock and key. I am always careful not to smoke anywhere around him—or any more than I really need. My precautions worked for seven years, until last fall, when he caught me red-handed.

I could have lied and told him I was smoking cigarettes again, but I couldn’t face his inevitable disappointment. Instead, I told him that Mommy had a new medicine called marijuana that had to be smoked. He and I are both HIV positive so I thought this would fly—he’s been on HAART since he was a toddler, and he knows all about my meds. What I didn’t realize was that he had already been subjected to antidrug propaganda in school. He simply couldn’t grasp the difference between recreational and medicinal marijuana use, even when I showed him my photo ID, proving my legal exemption. And he was very angry. After he busted me, he slammed all the doors on the way to his room. He pouted more than he had when they banned Pokémon cards at school.

I decided to take him to a counselor. I confided to the psychiatrist that my son was upset because he was worried: I had told him that only about 800 other people in Canada were allowed to use marijuana medicinally, so naturally he assumed that Mommy was sick. Man, was I wrong! After 30 minutes, the counselor and my son emerged from the office. “Your son thinks you’re a drug addict,” she said. “He’s afraid that if his friends find out, they’ll also find out that you have HIV and that he has HIV, and no one will play with him.” And that wasn’t all. My son was hurt because I had kept a secret from him.

More counseling and some at-home talks have calmed his fears, and we’ve agreed: no more secrets. That’s helped lessen my own anxiety that he will use drugs irresponsibly. But I still wonder how I’ll feel the day he asks, “Mom, this antinausea medicine makes me drowsy. Can you roll me a joint?”