I hate to admit it, but in my teenage and young adult years, I was an expert at pushing my mother’s buttons. (If I haven’t said it lately, so sorry about that, Mom.)
It seemed like every time she spoke, I would respond with high-pitched whines, ever-rolling eyes, and yeah whatevers. (It really, really is a miracle that I made it to adulthood!) Worse yet, I would argue the opposite of what she was saying. If my mother stated that the sky was blue, I would claim that it had a tint of red. If she commented that it was cold outside, I would swear that I was hot. And if she yelled, “Turn down that #$&* noise!”, naturally, I cranked up the volume. (Yep, I was THAT kid…)
I am not sure why I felt that it was necessary to be so contrary to dear ole mom, especially when it came to music. Maybe it’s because no matter what my jam, Mom put the kibosh to it. (If it wasn’t the Carpenters, ABBA, or 60s folk music, it was a no-go for her.) Needless to say, Mama was not a punk or metal aficionado (I can’t imagine why), and she really despised raunchy, risque, or R-rated riffs. (This was back in the day when an R-rating still meant something.)
After a while, this back-and-forth became a banter between us. (Slightly dysfunctional, I know…) When she would tell me to switch the station or put on a different record/cassette, I would select another song equally strident or offensive. Mom would then jack up her jam and “sing, sing a song; sing out loud; sing out strong.”
When Christmas rolled around, and the carols came out. Mom preferred the traditional ones crooned by Burl Ives, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and the church choir. Although I (secretly) enjoyed these tunes, I would counter her song choices with some alternative selections: Father Christmas, by The Kinks; Il Est Né Divin Enfant, by Siouxsie and the Banshees; Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight), by The Ramones; and Christmas Wrapping, by The Waitresses. (Mom didn’t seem to mind…too much.)
One Christmas during my college years, when money was especially tight, I decided that I should embrace the season of giving by gifting my music to my mother. Yep, it was time to mix-it-up with a mixtape. (For my younger readers who did not experience the 80s or early 90s, a mixtape is a compilation of favorite pieces of music, typically by different artists, recorded onto a cassette tape… You know, those things before CDs but after 8-tracks… [Blank stares] Never mind, just ask your parents.)
So, a mixtape it was. What songs should I select? Oh, the choices, the choices… Luckily, there are a plethora of rock songs with questionable subject matter or explicit lyrics. Narrowing down the selection to fit the 60 minutes allotted on the cassette tape would take some doing, though. After much consideration, I chose the songs, wrote the dedication to my mother on the tape, and wrapped it up with a bow.
Christmas morning arrived bright and early. After breakfast, the gift exchange began. By that point, that small voice in my head began questioning my choice of presents. Songs like Superfreak, The Stroke, or Let’s Talk About Sex don’t really convey the Christmas spirit, do they?
Oh well, there was nothing I could do about it. I had to let the chips fall where they may, as my gift was next to be unwrapped. I held my breath as my mother slowly opened my meager offering, one piece of tape at a time.
Once the cassette was exposed, my mom read aloud each and every song printed on both sides. “Oh man,” I thought, “I’m in for it now.” When my mother finished reading, she sat silently, while I squirmed in my seat. A moment later, she looked up and said, “Thank you for the thoughtful Christmas gift. I love you.” Perplexed but grateful to still be alive, I responded, “Love you too, Mom. Merry Christmas!”
Years passed, and memories of that mixtape faded into misty memory. Then, about a decade ago, another Christmas rolled around. That year, I was traveling south to see my mother and sisters. When we finally arrived, ten hours later, I was road-weary yet eager to catch up with family.
Sitting around the kitchen table, sweet tea in hand, my mother asked if I could please put on some music. I walked into the living room to select the tunes. Sitting on top of stereo was Mama’s Mixtape. Before I could speak, my mother, who was standing beside me, started chuckling. Looks like Mama got the last laugh with that darn mixtape…