Total vindication!  So I called up my mom to ask her a question about knitting that damn hat and guess what?! The PATTERN is wrong!  That's why it kept coming out weird; the number of stitches listed was completely wrong.  (Except for that time where I twisted it into mobius beanie. That was totally my bad.)  Whew!  I feel better.  Also? I realized that the yarn I was using was really difficult to work with; it kept snarling and catching and wouldn't hold the tension nicely and generally making everything worse. It was the cheap stuff I had bought to "practice with"… little did I know it would drive me insane. (I wish I hadn't bought three balls of it.)  So I ditched that yarn and decided to just try with the nice fancy yarn that I had meant to make into a hat anyway (you know, after I "practiced") with the adjusted pattern and voila!   

I am not hopeless.