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Why My Mom Rules

My mother is a true character.

You need only meet her once to know her for the rest of your life. She is an utterly unique piece of work: lively, touchy-clingy, wild-haired, eccentric, compassionate, generous to a fault, funny as fuck and, um, well, an "unique" dresser. To point her out in a crowd, I'd say, "Look for the laughing lady in leopard print and poofy hair hanging on to someone she doesn't know," and you'd find her easily.

She is cut from entirely different cloth: 52-yards of a leopard-patterned velour that she bought at a yard sale 10 years ago for a quarter, but a different cloth nonetheless. Mom is a straight-edge punk rocker without knowing what that means; a tough-as-nails, sweet-as-pie, goofy-as-hell contradiction wrapped in a pair of zebra-striped pajama bottoms, a construction company sweatshirt and a ball cap with a dirty joke on it.

As I get older, I've really come to appreciate how unique Mom is and just how lucky I am that she raised me. More and more, when I find myself asking, How did I end up okay after all that?, I find that the answer is my Mom.

You couldn't have convinced me at the time but having a free-spirited and eccentric, deeply moral and compassionate mother was exactly the background that allowed me to survive my best attempts to destroy myself.

I would have surrendered to the demons that stalked me for so long without her voice of right and wrong echoing around my head. Without the firm - but sometimes deeply buried - emotional belief she instilled in me that I was loved, and worth loving, I would have given up living more times than I care to count.

To be certain, we've battled over the years. We struggled with each other, in part, because we are so much alike. We each have our own set of rules that we follow; we are both stubborn as mules, and we are both easily injured. We knew which buttons to push.

The wilderness years of the late '80s and early '90s were a particularly tough time for us, fueled by my addictions and angry dysfunction. Our relationship was touch-and-go for a while but in the end it all worked out right.

(Sure, Mom isn't perfect, but the things I saw as her flaws are between me and her, my therapist and the editor of my tell-all memoir. I am leaving any of that difficult shit out and just putting in the cool stuff about my Mom. It's my list and I can do whatever I want.)

Our relationship is great now. I don't get to spend as much time with her as I would like; marriage, geography, ever-changing career choices keep me away for longer stretches than I would like. But I think about her and what she's given me every day.

My mother instilled in me an appreciation of chaos, a love of being different and of being yourself, and a love of creative risk taking. She showed me the rewards of being kind and compassionate, of treating people with care and the blessings of an honest life (not that I always held true to these ideals).

She's taught me that laughing is better than crying; trying is better than not; having your heart in the right place is most of the battle; loyalty, humor and generosity are more important than wealth and achievement; the only limits are self-imposed; and that no matter where you go, you always come from where you were before.

But most importantly, she taught me over a lifetime of example, that it simply does not fucking matter what other people think about you.

Momma, thank you for being you.

Here, then, is a list of reasons why my Mom rules:

1. All That Glitters Is Gold.

During the hair metal years, Mom was famous for having the most glam metal gear around and being willing to trade for it. We could get completely kitted out for a Whitesnake show in Mom's closet for the low price of some Swisher Sweets.

Let me explain: Mom has an extensive collection of gaudy costume jewelry; she's been collecting it for as long as I can remember. She was also a heavy smoker for most of my childhood. She tried to quit smoking by switching to cigars once and ended up a cigar smoker for a couple of years.

My buddies worked out a system with her: She let them pick out earrings and bracelets for whatever metal show we were going to in exchange for cigars. There was almost always a stop at my house for dangly earrings or a chain-mail bracelet or a leopard belt before a show - unless, of course, I was sneaking out. Mom wasn't desperate for the cigars, it's just that she loved having her jewelry worn by someone but knew she'd probably never see it again so at least she'd get something out of it.

My favorite piece was .50-caliber shell earrings that she gave R before the Anthrax show (ironically, she never let me get my ears pierced).

2. Turkey Surprise.

Mom is, um, a creative cook. My brother and I call her cuisine "turkey surprise" because if it tastes anything like turkey, we'd be surprised. She doesn't so much follow recipes as eviscerates them: "Well, the recipe called for butter but I used lime jello and sour cream instead because I figure the texture is about the same anyways."

But it is her spirit of adventure and exploration that are so wonderful, even if the execution occasionally falls a little short. She wants to experiment and doesn't feel bound by the rules. Cooking with Mom is a fun lesson in improvisation and food chemistry. She keeps things exciting and different. Unlike most people, I can honestly say that I've never had the same meal twice at Mom's house.

3. Rhododendrons and Hibiscus.

Mom knows a lot of shit about plants and trees. My parents owned a greenhouse when I was a kid and she's worked in greenhouses for a long time.

She can identify almost any plant off the top of her head. If we go on a walk, Mom will identify the species and needs of almost any plant we see. If you go to Mom's house, you will get a tour of the hundreds of flowers, herbs, shrubs, and vines that she has rescued from the compost pile at the greenhouse were she works and transplanted into her yard.

I love being able to call my folks (Dad is a garden expert too) and get all of the gardening advice that I need.

4. Goddamn and Fuck.

Mom swore like a sailor when I was a kid. I used to really love listening to her swear when we worked in the greenhouse at the potting table transplanting seedlings. She had a way of stringing cuss words together that belied a naive and underdeveloped creativity that I find creeping into my own work.

She let me start swearing around her when I was about nine or 10. It started with a "damn" here or a "hell" there, but by the time I was 12 or 13 I was a full-blown curser. We always kept it under wraps from my father because he would have never approved. It was our little secret and it drew us closer.

5. Momma Do Dance.

Mom loved to dance back in the day. If there was a wedding or a picnic or a song on the radio in the kitchen that she liked, you could bet that Momma was cutting a rug. She used to get so frustrated when everyone else crapped out on her. When I first got clean I had a hard time socializing, so Mom and my aunts would take me out to a country club to go dancing.

One time that we went the place was empty. I'll never lose the image of Mom dancing by herself in the middle of the dance floor, arms over her head, long dangly earrings glinting in the spotlight, shoes off and moving to a rhythm only she could hear.

6. Balls Out.

This one doesn't so much speak to Mom's character but it is just a great fucking story: Mom took me to register for junior high dressed in a purple leopard hot suit with high heels, a two-foot afro-puff of hair and shark's tooth earring. Oh, and I had my first jean jacket on, with a new Motorhead patch on the shoulder.

I put on my best, 12-year-old, "I don't give a metal fuck" walk as we approached a group of cheerleaders standing outside the gym door. Next to them, a delivery guy was loading up a cart with gym towels. As my mother was walking past him, her 4-inch-heel got stuck in a sidewalk crack and she took a plunge.

She reached out to catch herself and clutched the delivery guy's crotch with a steel grip. She was literally hanging off the ground by the delivery guy's nutsack. The poor guy turned blue and wheezy. All of the really, really cute cheerleaders were pointing and laughing at the lady hanging off the ground by the guy's balls. He asked her if she was okay and helped her up.

Mom dusted herself off and kept going like it was all part of her everyday routine.

I acted like I didn't know Mom and kept walking. None of the cheerleaders ever paid any attention to me anyways.

7. Five and Ten.

Mom was pretty good over the years about slipping me a little money whenever I really got into trouble. After I cleaned up, I still had no idea how to live responsibly. It took me years to learn how to build a stable life; I was constantly getting into some weird homeless, jobless scrape that she would inevitably help me out with.

It was never much - $5 or $10 - or a couple of packs of cigarettes or some food, but it was always helpful. Being a chain-smoker herself, she was always, always good for smokes and in those tough days, having a couple of packs of cigarettes made a world of difference.

The best time was when I moved to the Upper Peninsula with a girlfriend in an extraordinarily bad idea. It was painfully obvious that I was making the wrong choice because my Dad expressly told my Mom not to give me any money when I inevitably called to come home. Of course he was right and three or four weeks after I left, I called begging for a bus ticket home and Mom sent it.

That sort of thing made a big difference to me; the little, fallback ways that I could count on Mom helped me through some tough scrapes.

8. Non-Fiction.

I love a good story; I think I get that from Mom. The wilder the experience - and the more implausible - the better. So I have always loved that my Mom has done such a wide range of shit in her life. She's been a belly dancer, a bookstore clerk, and a plumber.

She is also willing to write her own story. When I was a pre-teen, Mom came home from her job at the local bookstore and announced that she was going to become a plumber. She took the test, scored through the roof and got accepted into plumbing school. She worked a five-year apprenticeship and became a fully-licensed plumber. She helped lay the pipe for the International Terminal at O'Hare.

It was absolutely brutal work and I think the other guys gave her a ton of shit for it but she never quit and she never said that there wasn't a job that she couldn't do.

I believe, but don't know it for a fact, that she finally quit plumbing when it became clear that it was no big deal for her to do.

9. Knock, Knock.

My mother has the largest repertoire of dirty jokes that I've ever heard; I've stolen every single dirty joke I've ever told from her. Mom loves herself a good ol' dirty joke-telling contest. Don't get her started; you will lose.

Go ahead, give her a call and ask her what the difference between medium and rare is. I dare you.

10. Taking Care of Business.

Mom loves music and loves the radio. As a child growing up, she would turn the radio up every time a song came on that she loved, and never minded when we played our music loud. I got my love for all things radio from Mom.

11. Checkmate Fool.

Mom loves games - card games, board games, doesn't matter which. Mom is one of the worst kinds of competitive people. She'll tell you that she doesn't care about winning but will tell you in the same breath that she hates losing. And she really hates it.

She came to visit me while I lived D.C. and destroyed my ego, my manhood and my dreams of a better future over the course of a couple backgammon games.

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In one of our mellower moments.

Mom Bib.jpg

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Comments welcome.

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Other Lists By Drew Adamek:
* Today's Syllabus
* Shit My Dad Says
* Work Weirdos
* Things I Miss About Chicago
* 20 Albums I Wish I Had Never Bought
* Their Chicago
* Cities I've Slept In
* My Favorite 1980s Chicago Radio Memories
* Why Milwaukee Rules
* Why I'm Glad I Don't Live In D.C. Anymore
* The Beer Goggle Recordings
* A List Of Reader Comments To Drew's Lists
* Life's Little Victories
* The Worst Jobs I've Ever Had
* Jobs For The Zombie Apocalypse
* Lemme Get A Bite Of That
* Lists I'll Never Write
* Things I Miss About My Imprisoned Best Friend
* Things I Miss About Being Single
* Things I Love About Being Married
* Why Chuck D Should Have Been Our First Black President
* Picture This
* My Suggestions For Ways To Further Desecrate Wrigley Field
* Signs I Am Getting Older
* My Most Memorable Half-Assed Ideas

Plus:
* Fan Note: Me & Metallica



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Posted on June 15, 2010


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