the Mommy fail of taking my daughter to Madonna

My daughter and I are going to the Madonna concert for her tenth birthday. It will be her first big concert ever and I am so giddy, I feel as though I am fourteen. Madonna, though not exactly role model material, was an important and provocative figure for me while I was growing up. Both of us had an Italian dad and a rebellious relationship with Catholicism. Both of us were fighting through our art for sexual liberation for women, for the LGBTQ community, and we did so through spiritually provocative images and ideas. Me and my erotic Christ figure in Espresso certainly must have gained courage from a superstar who got flack from Rome for a video of her making love with a saint, and a saint of colour to boot! Madonna is not that much older than me. Hard to resist the retrospection on my career. I have my artistic integrity but I could sure learn something about marketing. I feel content to talk to hundreds instead of hundreds of thousands. Why?images

I ponder this and Telus tells me I have reached my data limit for the month. Ironically, there is a Telus van in the ferry line ahead of me. The truck has a poster that says “It’s in our nature to care.” Something tells me Telus doesn’t give a hoot about me and my limit limiting my art. Am I supposed to be the monkey in their poster or the bird on the monkey’s tail? Either way it is a lie. There is no symbiotic relationship between capuchins and canaries.IMG_3070

I wonder how often Madonna sees her children when she’s on tour? I wonder if she’s healed from her last fall? I wonder if she’ll enjoy the ocean view from her hotel window tonight or if she will crawl into her bed, exhausted from giving us an incredible show. I wonder if she feels surrounded or if she feels alone.

My bread rises in the front seat of my car and my laundry is all clean in the backseat as I return from island paradise, to the big city. What a clever little life I lead.image

When I get home and tell Nora she’s going to her first ever concert and it’s MADONNA she sort of blinks at me and crinkles her brow with worry. I say, “You know, Madonna, we dance to her Ray of Light song, it’s our song.” She nods, still nervous. “How will it be? What should I wear?” She asks me, “Is it going to be appropriate?” I admit, “It is probably going to be pretty sexy but in a stylized dancer way. I’ll cover your eyes if anything goes over the top. And Daddy said it was okay, I checked with him. It’s Madonna. She’s 57. We have to see her now before her knees give out.”

My fellow has not only purchased the tickets but he’s made dinner too. As we all drive down to the stadium, Nora bumps into another child we know (recently back from yet another international trip this year) and asks them if they’ve ever seen Madonna. No. But they had tickets and didn’t feel like going, didn’t like Madonna that much. Then the other child proceeds to list off a number of concerts they’ve seen, in monotone. Nora quietly listens, her great exciting first concert trivialized by an eleven year old.

But as soon as we get up to our gate and see the swarming crowds she starts to get it. She leaps up and down in her fancy dress, clinging onto my arm, hurry hurry hurry Mom, we don’t want to miss a thing! We actually have a pretty good view of the stage, albeit third floor up. The crowd is almost entirely middle aged women and gay men. We are, however, sandwiched between two suburban looking couples in their fifties wearing tasteful leather. A line of party girls around the same age are in front of us, dressed with scarves in their hair, lace gloves, and bras on the outside of their shirts. Nobody is smoking dope. Good. IMG_3088

Half an hour of waiting, I am wondering where the opening band is and who they are. A little dude scuttles on stage, the DJ. He plays mixes of Madonna and Michael Jackson for about forty five minutes. Nora and I stand and dance in our seats, giddy and laughing. We are able to connect with our friend Tara Jean who is working the concert tonight as a radio celebrity. It’s great to see her and she gives us one of her signature warm and joyous hugs. She lets us know that Madonna has been notoriously late for her concerts this tour and there is no opening act.

So, we arrive at 7:30 and 8:30 rolls by, Nora’s bed time. Then 9. “When is she coming out, Mommy?” Then 9:30, Nora asks, “Can I sleep on your shoulder?” Then finally, 10pm, Madonna decides to grace us with her presence. Just as the lights go down a tall loud woman in a blue wig with her quiet bearded boyfriend, two-step their way to the seats directly behind us holding beers and a big tray of nachos covered in jalapeño and hot cheese. As this woman sits down, already chatting loudly in that “I”m already completely drunk” way, she tips her nachos and the whole top layer of hot cheese and peppers pours all over the seat right beside me. Thankfully this woman had just stepped out to the bathroom so it didn’t scald her, only covered her nice leather purse and completely soaked her chair and floor. “Oh my God! Bahahahaha, I’m so sorry! Here’s a napkin!” Says the drunk Smurf.

Needless to say, the napkin is not going to do it. The woman beside me comes back to her seat, I give her mine while I go set security and a clean up crew. This is all during Madonna’s first song. It’s mostly video, sort of Camelot S&M “light”. This makes me nervous. What have I done? There’s blood and ropes and killing and kissing and Madonna stomping around in a cape and big boots killing all the male dancers around her. Okay. She’s a warrior. The dancers around her are fantastic though! The stage is fantastic!

Clean up crew arrives with a broom. That’s it. They sweep up the cheese in a greasy smear and take off. I tap the cleaner on the shoulder and say, “What about the chair? Shouldn’t these people be moved? She can’t sit on that.” She grunts, “Chair clean.” “No, it isn’t, it’s wet and greasy, we just wiped the top layer of cheese off.” The cleaner nods in understanding and leaves.images-1

Madonna’s second song is just her on her own playing an electric guitar singing Burning Up very badly. The crowd is less than enthusiastic. I mean, if you’re going to make us wait for two hours and not entertain us with an opening act, at least sing on key when you arrive. Her face on the screen looks gorgeous and bored and slightly aggressive. She calls out in a trashy girl voice that Canadians are shy and who wants to be here and let’s make a little noise. She pits side A against side B like some inner city camp counsellor, pumping the audience for hoots and applause. She says, “Are you tired?” And I yell out, “Yeah, maybe we should have taken a two hour nap like you did?!” The material girls in front of us laugh.

Next up is an incredible dancer with a floating scarf.  Then a pole dancing routine that I ask Nora to look away from. But it’s fairly stylized and gymnastically impressive. There’s a sort of “The last Supper” staged with strippers and saints and transvestites and a Jesus figure with a crown of thorns. When she did “Like a Prayer” back in the day, I got what she was on about. But this just seemed crass for no good reason. Again, the mother in me is wondering what the heck I was thinking and – how am I going to explain this? Nora looks at it all quizzically. “That girl has her shirt off, Mommy.” “Um, that’s actually a boy I think. Good dancer, eh?”

Luckily things lightened up with a body shop series of songs and got even cutsie. Again, some fantastic dancing and staging. Really, her dance troup, costumes and set are worth the price of admission alone. I think of my friend Jethelo working backstage on this show. He’s working his butt off! IMG_3091

Another couple arrives and I can no longer offer the woman beside me my chair. We have to shove over. Maintenance arrives again with a mop this time, mops the floor and lays two scrubby towels over the seat for the woman to sit on. She graciously does sit her nice leather jacket and good skirt down on the maintenance rags and smelly cheese chair because she doesn’t want to wreck the evening with her quiet male companion. There are empty seats all around us, I don’t know why they don’t just move the people.  Meanwhile, drunk Smurf is still yattering away at the top of her lungs with more beer, occasionally slapping the shoulder of the woman beside me or me to the point where I have to say, “Please, stop engaging me now. I want to watch the show.”

Madonna tries to get the crowd pitted against each other again. This time she says something about all of them working very hard for a living, she never takes a day off, long hours, we don’t know how hard she works…hey, I’m in show biz, I know. Touring is exhausting. The flights and the shifts in elevation. The hotels. The forced air and dehydration. The time changes. Constantly meeting new people. Security. Privacy. Media. Make up removal. Keeping the roots up. Nursing injury. I see her hide her frustration when her mic doesn’t turn on right away. t watch the carefully rehearsed tucks and rolls, supports and lifts. I watch her cautiously tip toe down large stairs in impossibly high heels with flowing treacherous costume bits. It makes me anxious. I catch myself holding my breath, hoping she doesn’t trip. She’s warmed up now, her singing has vastly improved and she’s doing a lot of cool dance moves and lifts. She does an intricate and beautiful number on a flight of stairs and at the end of the song she pushes the male dancer off the top and he free falls into a dark pit. It’s alarming, gorgeous and fantastic. images-2

We are up in our seats dancing for the next series of songs that involve some kind of bullfight and Nora is having great fun, all is well again. Smurf is dancing behind us and suddenly I hear a big man shouting and swearing behind us. He’s saying, “Sit the fuck down!” over and over and over. At first I think he’s talking to us, but it’s the Smurf woman. I mean, despite her vocal volume and the cheese ordeal, she hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s just dancing in her seat like thousands of others around her, like us. But for some reason this man is behind her and thinks she should sit down. “People have paid good money, so sit the fuck down!”

Holy crap. Nora starts to shake and cry because he’s so loud and Smurf starts yelling back and it actually breaks into physical violence right above Nora! I am afraid one of them, in their grappling, is going to topple off and into our aisle. I pull Nora into me and cover her body with mine and yell for security.

Well, this little woman in a blue shirt with a flashlight comes up, seats the angry man and crooks her finger at Smurf to leave. Smurf refuses. This goes on for half a song and nobody does anything except yell and say “no” “come here” “No, I didn’t do anything wrong!” Nora, understandably, wants to leave. But I don’t want her to have such a negative experience. I ask her to wait a while to see if things improve. The woman who had to sit on the cheesy rags has now given up and they’ve both left.images-3

The next number is quite spectacular, lots of costumes and leaps around the stage. The stage lifts up, creating a kind of wall that dancers scramble up or fall down in a way that feels precarious and near impossible. Madonna continues to kill or humiliate all the male figures around her. It feels psychologically sick now. Hateful towards men. I guess it’s some kind of dominatrix deal but I hardly feel “empowered” watching this dynamic. During her little audience chats she asks her male dancers to show off their six packs, she tells one he has a funny looking face. Then she has not one but two songs where she embraces her identity as a bitch. I’m thinking, “You’ve got that right.” This all seems to go mostly over Nora’s head, but I am curious about our conversations we’re going to have about the entire evening.

Smurf woman hits me and yells, “You should be up dancing!” At this point I say, “Please leave me alone!” Blue shirt has now returned with security guards in black uniforms who clear the aisle and pull her out. She starts yelling again and Nora starts to cower and cry again. The man who started the whole violence is sitting up in his seat, smugly, giving her the finger while she’s paraded out. I yell to security, “He’s the violent one! He should be kicked out!” But they ignore me and the guy gets to stay. Nora asks to leave again and I agree, sadly.

I head out and tell the security woman in blue we don’t feel safe. She offers us new seats. At first they lead us to the same area where they have reseated Smurf! I say, “are you kidding?!” And so they keep us trucking down to the next gate and sit us nearly behind the stage in a completely empty area all by ourselves, little Bunny and me, tearful and blinky. “It’s almost done, honey, and the best dance numbers are at the end, can we stay and try to make this worth our while?” She nods and then buries her little tearstained face into my shoulder.

I shake my head. What a Mommy fail. This was NOT how the evening was supposed to be. Madonna now answers an earlier question I have. She sits herself up on a stage that looks like a big cake and pulls out a ukulele. She says her daughter Lolo taught her this song and it’s her birthday and the first time she’s without her on tour and she’s missing her. She sings solo, with her ukulele, Edith Piaff’s la Vie en Rose. I would like to tell you it was touching and made sense of the whole evening, but it was terrible.

I start to laugh. Nora asks, “What’s so funny, Mommy?” I say, “I think the joke’s on us. She has the audacity to do whatever she wants and we are foolish enough to pay to watch.” Luckily, the next few dance numbers were again, spectacular. Dancers climbed up on long flexible poles and bent them back and forth with their body weight so they catapulted themselves up and over the audience like bugs on the ends of long grass. It was amazing. The encore was “Holiday”, very fun. Madonna waved the Canadian flag while stomping around in Stars and Stripes. I thought, “Well, there’s the American dream right there. Not a genius talent but she has become rich and famous because she works so hard.”IMG_1749

Nora and I scoot out and get picked up on Beatty by a tired Fellow. I put little Nora to bed, she falls asleep instantly. I want to tell Fellow it was an incredible experience because he spent money we don’t really have right now. But I tell him the truth. I say, “I feel I exposed her to too much tonight. Not just on stage, but the adults around us. I feel as though I have robbed her of some innocence. She’s a child. She’s sensitive. I should have done more research. I should have been more protective. Once innocence is lost…it’s lost.”

He doesn’t disagree.

We still don’t have a bed so we’re back to sleeping with our kids when we’re at the Vancouver condo. I crawl in beside my sleeping girl and gently stroke her cheek, still chubby with sweet littleness. I ask God to forgive me for being reckless. Then I lay on my back and think of that aging beauty and the many careful ways she would stand up on a platform in high heels to protect her knees, her back, her balance. Why? Why is she doing all this? I do appreciate her set including relationships that were varied, not all hetero. I do appreciate the skill and the opulent beauty of the design. I do appreciate her fitness level. I do appreciate her audacity and her command of the stage and her assertion that if men can do it, so can she. But is it empowering to turn around and do the crappy things men have done to women and to subjugate them? Humiliate them? I think it shows great weakness. The whole concert felt angry and sad. The uplifting songs were at best a “screw you, I will do as I please”.

I close my eyes and feel as though I am still covered in hot cheese.



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