I was raised by a single mother who made me pay rent as soon as I got a job (I was 16 and still in high school). I hated it, and I thought she was such a jerk parent for making me, a poor defenseless kid pay her rent every month. We had tons of screaming matches very similar to the one between Joel and his Dad. She also made me chop wood and mow the lawn which was a giant hillside rather than a flat piece of land. She wouldn’t pay allowance if we didn’t work, and she always pushed us to work to earn money. I was doing paper routes and finding ways to make my own money as early as I can remember.
Part of the reason for it all was that she simply couldn’t provide for us because she was dirt poor. She couldn’t pay for college, she couldn’t take us on vacations. She worked 2-4 low income jobs at a time and made us learn to take care of ourselves. She taught us how to cook so that we could have dinner ready when she got home a few nights a week. I would help her do a paper route at 4 in the morning and she would give me a cut of the money. She would be so exhausted from working two other jobs that she would often pass out in the back seat and let me finish the route on my own, driving the car with a learner’s permit at 15 years old.
Even as I hated it, I became a hard worker on my own because she made me realize that I could get places if I was willing to put in the work. I don’t mean to high places like fame or fortune, only that if I wanted to get a stereo, or a cool toy or anything I could think of, I just needed to do some work and earn it.
So senior year of high school I was working as a dishwasher at a buffet restaurant and my mom was making me pay her $50/month for rent. Not bad for rent but I constantly fought her about it because I didn’t know any other person in my school who had to do that. I thought she was being uniquely cruel.
That same senior year I found out my school was hosting a trip to Australia and New Zealand and I got this unquenchable desire to go. I was going to need around $4,000. I told my mom I wanted to go and she literally laughed at the idea. International travel had always been way out of our family’s financial reach. I had been on a plane once when I was 5 to go to a family reunion. I told her I was going to earn the money myself. I started finding drawing jobs and started saving as much as I could from dishwashing. As summer approached I found a second job at a sign shop that hired me literally the day after graduation. I worked 9-5 at the sign shop 5 days a week, and 5-10:30pm washing dishes 4 or 5 days a week. I managed to earn most of the $4,000 in a matter of months.
Another thing happened my senior year… I won first place in a district wide school art competition and received a full ride scholarship in art at my local community college.
Graduation day came around and my mom handed me an envelope. She said she was saving it to help me with school but since I got a scholarship I could have it for my trip. The envelope contained all the money I had paid her for rent.
My mom could not offer me a lot, but she instilled in me the will to work hard and live on very little. I come across people in comics who went to art school and are now expecting to draw a comic book that can supply them with the salary to pay off the student loans they incurred. I find that, while I did have some talent, I also had work ethic and a willingness to live making very little money. The money I make today still would not be ideal for someone trying to pay off student loans. If I had student loans to pay off I don’t think I ever would have done what I did and gotten where I am. I dropped out of Community College because I was not impressed with the art program. I always wanted to go to a good art school but never wanted to go in debt for it, so instead I worked very hard to get good at drawing on my own time and to keep drawing comics until I got good at it.
The story of course has more details, but the point is that most of the things I hated about how my Mom raised me as a teen are the things I now love her for. I can cook, I can take care of myself, and I can work hard. There are few things as precious as a parent who holds their kid to a high standard and does what is right whether or not they are loved for it. My mom held me to a higher standard than I was willing to hold myself, and in doing so she elevated me to set higher standards. So I just wanted to write this little blog here and tell the whole internet I love her very much and thank God for her every day.