MEXICO CITY – It was eight hours of squeals, screams, tears: an emotional rollercoaster, at least part of which I spent with my 9-year-old daughter on my shoulders as she craned for a better view of teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
We parents, probably thousands of us who had accompanied an estimated 200,000 shrieking fans to the concert in Mexico City’s main plaza Monday night, could only exchange knowing smiles as euphoria caught hold of the teenagers.
This was their night. And they did not want parents doing anything that would spoil the experience.
“Can I sing too?” I asked my girls. “No,” they replied.
So we soldiered through the evening, reduced to the status of chaperone, protector and occasional viewing platform, until after four or five songs we begged our daughters off our shoulders.
We discretely tapped our feet. We clapped a few times in rhythm.
How could we have gotten so old?
It was a shared youth experience, much like the new student movement sweeping Mexican politics, called “I am 132,” that sprang up on college campuses in May; oldsters (anyone above college age) are welcome to attend, but only in a supporting role.
There was a brief moment of rebellion on my part, a short-lived practical joke: Checking my smart phone, I announced to everyone within earshot that Bieber had announced he was cancelling the show. “Aw, mister, you had me scared,” one teenage girl said reproachfully.
Just minutes after the Mexico City government announced last week it was sponsoring the free concert, I knew my job as a reporter and a dad: To immediately confirm it and alert my daughters to the development.
It would not be their first venture in Bieberlandia.
We had paid nearly $100 for three tickets to an arena concert Bieber held in Mexico City in October. That much money apparently bought bragging rights for my girls, because, apparently, you’re nobody if you haven’t seen Bieber. Who knew?
There was no question we would attend the free concert, too, even though it meant leaving work early (I wouldn’t let them miss school), arriving several hours before the event even started, standing in a pressed-in crowd with no place to sit, enduring the hot sun and later rain. Mexico City’s ubiquitous street vendors lived up to their reputation for resourcefulness and omnipresence, turning up at the first hint of rain and hawking disposable rain capes for 20 pesos, about ($1.50).
I was by no means the most devoted parent among the crowd. Some mothers had spent days camping out on sidewalks near the main plaza with their daughters, waiting for some of the first spots near the stage. One youth told a local newspaper he lost his job because his boss didn’t want to give him time off to come to the concert.
We didn’t even get close. The jostling and crowding up front was reportedly fierce.
Still, I was concerned. Even as far back as we were (and my daughters said they felt we were closer than at the paid concert in October), thoughts ran through my mind: Forty people had been injured in a stampede at a Bieber concert in Oslo, Norway, in May. The girls were oblivious. I, on the other hand, feeling older by the minute, glanced around and mentally plotted potential escape routes if a massive surge of hormones sparked a stampede.
It didn’t happen. Bieber did what he usually does: invite a single girl up on stage and sing “One Less Lonely Girl” to her. She couldn’t stop weeping. She’ll no doubt have something to remember for the rest of her life.
So do my daughters. The 14-year-old, Sarahi, told her mother over the phone, “I endured hunger, fatigue, rain and sun to see my platonic love.”
They had become part of the elite group of fans known as “Beliebers.”
I have a little souvenir of the concert, too, a backache that seems to suggest I did something really, permanently bad to my spinal cord.
That, of course was exacerbated by carrying my exhausted but content 9-year-old out of the plaza after the concert.
Magically, she had become a little girl again.