I’ve never been one to shy away from expressing my interests.
Even at five years old, I would talk myself red-faced and winded about whatever my particular interest was at the time. And I wanted everyone to be on that same level. Outside my childhood passions, including a just-budding interest in music, I didn’t wander too far from my comfort zone. As I approached my teenage years, my choices and judgments were often very reserved. Being the oldest child of a single mom, I felt it pertinent to act “older.” While my friends gave in to the adolescent urges to act goofy, sneak out or have fun, I refrained from joining them. I wanted to grow up as fast as possible and looked down on the people around me who were acting only natural for their age.
Truth is, I was scared to be myself. I didn’t like to let go because I didn’t know that side of me very well and was scared to show it. It was like diving into a pool in which you couldn’t see the bottom.
Fortunately, I got a much-needed push from my mother.
I’ve never had what you’d call a wholesome or traditional relationship with my mom. Like a clichéd single mom-son relationship, we raged against each other for most of my childhood. The one thing we did bond over, however, was music. Most of the quiet, non-argumentative moments between the two of us were spent blaring our favorite CDs. In place of our nonsensical fights we filled the void by scream-singing albums like Journey’s Escape, Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying, or Eminem’s The Eminem Show.
When I moved up to middle school, she tried something new. In her constant effort to find bonding activities for us two, she started taking me to my first concerts. I took to this like a fish to land.
My first concert was Elton John at Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace, and 12-year-old me had to essentially be dragged into the theatre. Halfway through the show I left and sat in the hallway because the semi-nude images playing in the background were “too inappropriate.” In reality, I was only pouting to disagree with my mom.
A year later, it was Maroon 5. While the group serenaded an enraptured crowd at the then-Saint Petersburg Times Forum, I was plugging my ears because it was “too loud.” I even had my mom go to customer service to get me earplugs.
Behind this façade of pouting and complaining, though, my eyes were widening to the opportunity I saw before me. For the first time, I started to feel the urge just have fun and let go. Singing along with thousands of people, I began to see the full scope of what live music really has to offer. People used these shows to get away from the hassle of the day-to-day. Nothing made this more evident than by watching my mother.
My mom similarly rushed into adulthood. While her parents hitchhiked and bounced around the country, she was raised by my loving, yet strict, great-great grandmother. As I would rebel against her, my mom rebelled against her great grandma, a move that would send her to live with different relatives spread around Virginia, New Jersey and West Virginia.
After high school she immediately went to work in order to realize the dream of owning her own place. While other kids her age attended college, she worked three jobs. By her mid-20s, my mother was in her own place, but now had two kids to provide for with my younger brother and I now also in the picture.
While the aforementioned relationship struggles were prevalent, my teenage self began to recognize my mother’s incredible gift for in prioritizing time for self-enjoyment. In the smoke that had become responsibilities and family life, my mom provided a breath of fresh air when it came to finding time to have fun.
By the time I reached high school, my social skills had improved, but were limited when it came to feeling comfortable with kids my age. Focused on maintaining grades and not making a fool of myself, I was often left out by my friends who had learned to assume that I would just say “no” to social outings.
When I found myself at this crossroad, my mom’s guidance egged me on. After being taken to more and more shows, I began to experience an obsession with live music myself, and dove further into this setting. Whereas I would normally be too embarrassed to sing or dance while out with friends, I found myself doing just that at each show.
I started going to one, two, sometimes three concerts almost every weekend. When no one would go with me, I’d go by myself. Concerts became a sanctuary where I knew how to have fun and could leave behind my anxieties. Years of frustration wrought by a fruitless effort of trying to grow up too soon were finally being alleviated on a set-by-set basis.
This fresh addiction took me to over 300 concerts during my high school and college years. As the experiences added up, the outgoing and silly side of me began to spill into my personal life.
I’ve never been the most vocal about it, but my mother is the biggest influence in my life.
Whether it was seeing Justin Timberlake, Aerosmith, or Jay-Z, my favorite star at the show was always my mother. She gave me the courage to grow and the desire to help cultivate a passion that has become such a big part of my life. Without these tools and interests, I might still be that kid who was too scared to experience things or be comfortable with myself. So while our relationship is often as rocky as my first few concerts, I will always laud and love her for being the woman that shaped me into the man I am today. Thanks, Mom.
LJ Hilberath is a contributor to the Tallahassee Democrat and a Florida State graduate trying to figure out how to retroactively fail a class so he can go back to undergrad. Contact him here.