By Jeremy G. Butler (Author Page, Twitter Page, Facebook Page)
What I’m Thankful For:
Last Friday my Mom turned 51. A sort of hippie throwback, she casually studies Wicca, says “Right on” when she approves of something and currently lives in Arizona because she digs the energy she finds in the mountains. But I didn’t really get a grasp of all this until I was an adult.
When I was a kid, she was your stereotypical single mom: worked her ass off to support herself and her kid and made damn sure she did it on her own. But what wasn’t stereotypical about her were the little things. She was the Cool Mom (and to a lot of my friends once I got older, she was the “Hot Mom” too, but that’s a discussion in which I can’t really take part, though I had to endure wannabe high school studs making BLATANT PASSES AT HER in front of me. Jesus. I digress…). At the time I didn’t really know why it was cool, but I always appreciated that she refused to get cable until they started carrying MTV. Where a lot of parents turned the channel in disgust, my Mom sat there and giggled with 9-year-old me at “I’m Bart Simpson – who the hell are you?” She introduced me to AC/DC and Heart and Stevie Nicks and Genesis (in ‘92 she took me to my first concert when Phil, Tony and Mike stopped in Dallas on their “We Can’t Dance” tour) and was cool when 14-year-old me played Warren G‘s “Regulate” album with ridiculous regularity (which culminated in her blowing my mind on a road trip to Dallas when she actually sang along to Nate Dogg’s “Sixteen in the clip…” verse) . She’s always quick with the jokes and to her the more off-color the better. My friends all loved her because she said the type of shit the other Moms didn’t
But above and beyond being “cool,” she’s one of the most sensible people I’ve ever known. While a lot of parents took their kids to church to teach them about Jesus and the Bible, my mom talked to me about the Universe and energy and about how the things you do are what you put out into the world. But, having the open mind that she did, she embraced and encouraged my short-lived church-going phase as a kid. A proponent of self-expression, she was patient with me when I went through a phase in 6th Grade where I only wore black (but wasn‘t even cool enough to have the angst to match it) and in college when I decided I wanted to be blonde (unfortunately true story).
She understood art and culture and what their purposes were and she never shied away from that or tried to shield me from it. The Simpsons is a small example of this, but there was also that night in ‘96 where she turned on HBO so she and 15-year-old me could watch George Carlin’s “Back in Town” special. Even though she couldn’t articulate it in quite the way he could, she was the first person to teach me about the notion that there are no such things as bad words – only bad intentions. She monitored the art and entertainment that I got my hands on and while there were some things she reluctantly allowed and some she just flat-out refused, there was that day when she discovered a bootleg cassette of 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down, Ass Up” in ten-year-old me’s backpack, which she recorded over and very angrily introduced me to the concepts of sexism and misogyny.
She did her best to keep me away from the horror when I was really young, but what made this kind of awesome is that it 1) gave me the opportunity to seek it out on my own, which gave it a whole gritty, underground appeal (and I did seek it out on my own – thank God for my aunt’s video store) and 2) once she realized that that’s where I was going and what I was interested in and that it wasn’t damaging to me, she gave up the ghost. And not only that, said “Fine,” and opened up her entire Stephen King library to me. I was reading Pet Sematary in grade school. And not without her guidance – she always made the time to talk to me about what I was reading and what I thought it meant And even though my own cognitive skills weren’t quite developed enough to work out things like theme and subtext, I knew that what I was reading not only appealed to my juvenile taste for horror, but that for some reason it was important and that my being allowed to read this was kind of a big deal so I respected it.
That whole scenario leads up to my favorite story about my Mom, which concerns my writing a book report over Cujo in the 5th Grade. My teacher never said anything blatant to me about it during the writing process (it was like a big month-long project), but I could tell that she didn’t approve. What I didn’t know at the time (and only found out a few years ago), was that she actually called my Mom in for a conference and proceeded to tell her just how irresponsible and inappropriate it was for someone of my age to be reading such things. My Mom’s defense? “First of all, you should be glad he’s reading at all – how many kids in your class take such an interest in it? And secondly, not only is he reading, but he’s reading things that are WELL beyond his years. And he’s understanding them. He’s comprehending them. As a teacher, shouldn’t YOU be promoting this kind of behavior?” She then left that teacher’s office (who’s name I can’t even remember now, if that tells you anything), who, from then on, took a very active interest in the things I was doing, reading and interested in. My mom, the scrappy little single parent who should have been ashamed of herself for letting me read such filth, blew that teacher‘s mind that day. That’s pretty awesome.
I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that my Mom taught me how to be a whole person. She taught me how to appreciate things on a deeper level and taught me that all the bad shit out there served a purpose too, and that some of it might not even be as bad as they say, but either way it was important that I knew about it and understood it. She made her main focus as a parent preparing me for the world, as opposed to protecting me from it.
Again, she’s in Arizona now, doing her hippie thing in the mountains, and I love her for it. She’s still cool as shit too – she loves Crank (the movie, not…crank) and when she read my article about Antichrist she giggled and said it was a fun read. She’s always just been her. She’s battled some demons, she’s had some hard fights, but at the end of the day she’s the type of woman who believes in owning every bit of yourself, good, bad and ugly.
She’s also the type of woman who, after I would come home from football practice complaining about a sore wrist, wouldn’t even take the time to look up from her book before dryly telling me that I ought to switch hands once in awhile. And for that, I’m thankful.
(Happy birthday, Mom)