At 14, I went with a friend to my first concert: Billy Idol, in the ’80s, at a mellow outdoor venue in suburban New Jersey. We had lawn seats and there was a thundershower that we were unprepared for, and some folks on a nearby blanket gave us Hefty bags that we fashioned into suffocating rain ponchos. My mom dropped us off and my friend’s mom picked up, or maybe it was the other way around, but whoever it was came too early and we had to hear the encore, broadcast by a local radio station, through the car’s tinny speakers on the drive home. I have not a single photo from the evening, and the black concert T-shirt I bought that night has long disappeared into the ether. But the vague, quirky memory lives on.
Last weekend, I took my 9-year-old daughter to her first concert: P!nk’s “Beautiful Trauma” tour, at a massive N.J. arena. We had floor seats and there were towering grownups who never sat down, but she stood on her chair and I planted myself in front of her, and she perched her phone, on constant video mode, on the crown of my head. We took selfies and belted out lyrics, shrieking loudly when P!nk (revealed on Wednesday as the cover star of People’s “Beautiful” issue) made her grand entrance swinging from a giant fuchsia chandelier, and louder still when she soared over our heads like a glittery ninja during her “So What” encore.
This time around I was the mom, but I was there, and I loved it — unlike the decades-old position of my own mother, whose pop-culture reality was so vastly removed from my own that our music tastes almost never overlapped, and who was just about the farthest thing from a “Rebel Yell” fan you could find.
All throughout the P!nk concert, though, my girl and I were in sync. I had to keep spinning around to glimpse her expressions and hug her, my face happily in her belly as the show swirled on behind me, because I was so thrilled to be with her at her very first concert. Because while she has no idea that “first concert” is one of those major milestone stories that get shared, like pocketed jewels, over and over again throughout our lives, the hugeness of the moment was far from lost on me.
Which is why, when she began the evening freaked out about the immenseness of the crowd — and continued to be anxious well into the third song (“Just Like a Pill”) because of the assaultive volume — and I asked her, feigning calm indifference, “Do you want to leave?” and she said, “Maybe,” I silently panicked. I worried that I’d misjudged both the situation and her tolerance levels, just as I’d done in 2017, when I dragged her to the Women’s March on Washington and we’d gotten caught in a crowd crush.
She’d given me hints for days that the concert might not have been the best idea — even though, months before, when we’d watched P!nk concert footage together and imagined how cool it would be to actually go ourselves one day, she’d been all for it. She’s been a P!nk fan since age 4, after all — when one of her first very cool babysitters played The Truth About Love for her over and over again in the car one summer and then she’d gifted us with our own copy of the CD at the end of the season. P!nk soon became our favorite family driving music, my daughter and her two moms singing along, raising our invisible glasses and screaming, “dirty little freaks!” and cracking up, my wife and I loving the empowering, confidence-building messages for our daughter.
Once reality loomed, though, our crowd-averse tween grew lukewarm, and said she might not actually want to go after all, since it would surely be too crazy and loud. I assured her that we’d leave if she hated it, and she clung to me as we inched our way through the airport-level security line, tightening her grip as we headed into the echoing halls of the arena, the vibe growing more frenetic by the minute. We took a tour of the space to get accustomed to it, checking out the snack offerings and judging designs of the official merch, agreeing that the garish tees were not worth their $45 price tag.
Only when the deejay blaring ’80s rock cleared the stage (“Too loud, Mama!”) did we make our way down to our seats, and only after that third song — and my gently stuffing her ears with balled-up toilet paper because I stupidly forgot the earplugs — did things take a blessedly magical turn. I felt her legs stop shaking up on the chair and her whole little self relax into my back. She started really taking it in — we both did — and filming and singing and grinning hard, loving little exchanges like when P!nk signed autographs at the edge of the stage or accepted a knitted frog hat from a fan, pausing to pull it onto her head before comically continuing with “Just Like Fire.” I got teary on and off, not only because P!nk was over-the-top amazing, but because I loved my daughter so much in those moments.
After the show, when we were both giddy from the spectacle, my wide-eyed fourth-grader yelling, “That was insane! Oh my God!” about everything from P!nk’s powerful voice to her superhero aerial moves, I did something I’ve never done before at a concert: bought a knock-off tee for $10 from one of the many shady hustlers hovering around the edges of the arena.
“I got size ‘sexy’ for you right here,” was this guy’s particular sales pitch to all the women who passed, though he seamlessly switched to, “I got kids’ sizes!” when he saw us slow our pace. I asked to see one and he pulled a giant lump of them out from under the shirt he was wearing, just below his collar. Not a kids’ size in the bunch, natch, but I bought her one anyway, and she wrestled it over her head and was alight with happiness.
P!nk’s face when she spots the frog hat! Priceless!! #Repost “@tetaiika When you give your favorite singer handmade hat and she wears it… priceless Thank You! @pink Hat made by @annasabolovabatalikova #beautifultraumaworldtour2018 #pinksinger #pinkfans #pinkfamily #pinkconcert #justlikefire via: @pinkfans_ please follow me:@pink_Anderson777
A post shared by pink_Anderson (@pink_anderson777) on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:23am PDT
“You’ve introduced her to a whole celebratory part of life, and you wanted to do it properly. Music is one of the delights of life,” my trusted source Barbara Greenberg, a Connecticut-based teen and adolescent psychologist, assured me over a nagging worry that I might’ve been too helicopterish by taking charge of such a formative first for her.
“Because while yes, we probably all started going to concerts in our teens, and parents dropped us off, now I think it’s a lovely thing that parents are enjoying it with their kids. Anything that happens between you and your kids, the bottom line is to ask, how is this impacting the quality of the relationship? And it sounds like it was a very bonding experience … and that you helped her enjoy it.”
Newly outfitted in her fake concert tee, she clasped my hand and we continued on with the buoyant crowd, reliving our favorite moments. We’ve not stopped since, spending the past several evenings watching our videos of the show, checking out others’ points of view on Instagram (including a rave from the “Series of Unfortunate Events” guy Neil Patrick Harris — who, to my daughter’s delight, was in the audience on the same night).
I’m conscious that every moment is precious, and that all of it — her desire to hang out with me and share with me what’s on her mind, and what she likes and what she can’t understand (“size sexy?”) — could end at any moment with the thunderclap of adolescence. Our very own, sure-to-come, beautiful trauma. Until then, I’m holding on.
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