Aya, my sweet and surly second born, turned 16 this month. It’s difficult to believe considering that I just enrolled her in pre-school a few days ago. Nevertheless that’s what the calendar says: My baby is officially in the first phases of young adulthood. Her first decision as a young adult, you ask?
“I want to spend my 16th birthday on American soil,” said she.
I had no instructions beyond that, so I was free to allow my imagination run wild on what the celebration might look like. We could go to an anime convention, or go to a seaside resort…Oooh, or go to New York? Each idea was shot down. Though she likes anime, she is not as big a fan as she used to be. “And I hate sand,” she reminded me. And New York is great, but what would we do in that city if we didn’t have tons of money at our disposal?
It was my sister – who is equal parts saint, scientist and psycho – who made the recommendation that would seal the deal.
“The girls like musicals, right? Let’s take them to see this!”
‘This’ was a link to a show called Speakeasy. I read the description to my conservative pastor husband, mumbling specific key words and emphasizing others. (You can probably guess which.)
Step into the world of Speakeasy where sirens rule the night and celebration is not only encouraged but expected! Following a Sold Out run in NYC, and featuring world-renowned Broadway, cirque, and burlesque artists; this is your chance to be a part of an electrifying entertainment-mixology experience! Get ready for an unforgettable evening of performances, and five finely crafted cocktails…
Him (not fooled): So it’s a burlesque show.
Me: No!!! Okay, yeah…But it’s more than that! It’s theater. See? Right here. It says Broadway…
Two weeks later the girls and I landed in DC, completed our shopping and arrived at the Sunset Room on a blistering Friday evening. But as hot as it was outside, it did compare to the sizzle of the performances inside. My word! We’ll get to those in a minute. First, I want to talk about why I think taking my girls to a performance like this and why I hope to do so again.
First of all, they love theater.
Nadjah and Aya, like many kids of their generation, dig the performing arts. They were forged in the age of High School Musical and refined by Hamilton. Few things bring them more visceral pleasure than high kicks and harmonies.
Second, they never esperrit.
My kids think I’m a prude and a square; but they do not know that prior to their births I was on the cusp of living a very exciting life. Now that they are older, I can pick up where I left off and they get the benefit of joining in on the ride with me! It’s good to demonstrate unpredictability where one’s kids are concerned. It keeps the relationship spicy. You should have been there to see their faces.
Soon after the thrid performer let her boa drop deliberately from her shoulders and twirled a pair of crimson tassels like miniature cyclones from her breasts, Nadjah managed to pick her jaw up from her lap long enough to ask, “Did you do any research on this show before bringing US here?!”
The site said that people 16 and older were welcome. That was research enough for me.
Third, to demystify sensuality.
Art forms like burlesque are sadly misunderstood and frequently dismissed as “dirty”. And while they can be provocative, these performances showcase over the top and extraordinary displays of talent. More importantly, they are funny and in times like these laughter is indeed medicine. I wanted the girls to see people in sequence and feathers and bare skin and not feel embarrassed about it. I needed them to see me experience a positive reaction to the show too. I never want my girls to feel shame about sensuality, should they decide to embrace it.
Fourth, because I’m nosy.
My eldest are 17 and 16 girls living in the age of the internet. And while I was far from “innocent” at their age, I did not have access to the barrage of information just a thumb tap away. At one point in the performance, a woman in thigh boots and a red lace trimmed corset pranced around on stage ‘striking’ her cast mates with a punishment device.
“Is that a whip?” I asked no one in particular.
“No. That’s a flogger,” replied one of my children.
I decline to tell you who this was, but I will confess that I suppressed the urge to shout, And just how do YOU know what a flogger is, Miss Missy Thang?!? I refused to react because, y’know, I am a cool mom. But in that moment? I never esperrit. *weeps in tables turning*
Fifth, because they are my friends.
One of the most pleasant surprises of my motherhood journey has been that after the long years spent rearing, correcting and cajoling these two people, they have turned out to be two of my friends. Two of my best friends, in fact. They may not think of me in those specific terms (and it’s perfectly fine if they don’t), but I do know for a fact that we enjoy one anothers’ company immensely. All of the people in the world I would want to spend my first burlesque experience with – my kids and my sister – were at our table that night and I can only hope that they felt the same.
The stereotype of the African Mum/Parent is that we are strict task masters; unhinged dream killers; unreasonable ogres obsessed with the (perceived) success of our offspring. That we are unapproachable and cannot be confided in because ultimately, the African Parent will betray your trust for the child’s “own good”. I grew up under some of those conditions, but the most precious parts of my childhood – the moments that I look back to when I need comfort or cheering up – are those moments when my parents demonstrated their humanity. When they tapped into their wonder. When my mom tried (and failed) to teach us to jump double dutch or when my dad flipped bottle caps with us. I hope my daughters will remember the evening of the Speakeasy performance, us all laughing one moment and gasping the next, and feel gratified that they had an African Mum to share the night with instead of hiding it from.
Please enjoy this gallery of some of our favorite moments.
My parenting people! Did your parents ever done the unexpected or unconventional with you? Did it have a positive or not so great impact on your parenting choices? Discuss! (Keep scrolling. You’ll find the ‘leave a reply’ section eventually.)