Holidays are hectic — especially when you have only a limited number of days to reconnect with a seemingly limitless number of family and friends. After spending Christmas at home in Massachusetts, we set out for our annual New Year's celebration in New York.
We would have less than a 24-hour overlap with our good friends from London and we decided to make the most of it. My long-time girlfriend's daughters are just a bit younger than my own teenager, and we hadn't seen them since our visit to the U.K. last June. But, what to do, what to do? It used to be easier getting together; when the girls were little, we could simply rendez-vous in a playground. Today, the common denominator seems to be shopping, but I think there's been more than enough conspicuous consumption this season, thank you very much. I mean really, how many sweaters and jeans and boots and jewelry and iPhone cases does one fifteen year old girl need? (Apparently, a lot. But, I digress.)
So, in a fit of cultural self-righteousness, I ordered tickets for a show. I'm a long-time fan of Eve Ensler and her Vagina Monologues, and her current off-Broadway production sounded promising. Emotional Creature is about "The secret life of girls around the world." Well, our little group would only represent girls from two continents, but (from the parents' perspective at least) any glimpse into their secrets would be most welcome. In fact, I originally reserved seats for only the girls and the moms. Then my friend's husband asked to join us ("It might help me understand them") and my own husband was coerced into coming as well.
In a high-energy 90 minutes, we were invited into multiple secret lives. Some were painfully familiar. There was a dorky teen who tearfully faced the popular girls gauntlet in the cafeteria. There was a girl whose parents thought she was studying, but who was actually procrastinating by taking countless "selfies" with her smartphone camera to update her online profile. There was a "thinspiration" Hunger Blog of wannabe anorectics. "Celery!" announced one, "It has no calories!" "Help me!" pleaded another, "I just ate a whole bag of donuts!"
There was a little bit of tough language ("c*nt" comes to mind, and, perhaps in homage to earlier work, "vagina" was thrown around pretty liberally). And, one young lesbian relived her thrilling first kiss only to tell us how her love interest spurned her at school the next day. There was a teen pregnancy and a suicide fantasy. But, all in all, the tales of U.S. teens were pretty tame.
I knew we were in trouble when the stories moved overseas. We heard a heart-wrenching monologue from an underage Eastern European prostitute. "I am garbage; I am receptacle." Ten rules for surviving rape and slavery from a teen mother in the Congo. "Never look at his eyes. Never feel sorry for him. Never lose hope." And, another young woman in Tanzania who climbs a mountain to plead to her god to save her from genital cutting. "I cannot believe you would want my clitoris cut. I just discovered it!"
The youngest of our three girls was sitting next to me and I was concerned about her. In hindsight, I think I probably bugged the crap out of her, reassuringly stroking her shoulder and patting her thigh.
Then again, I didn't dare so much as look at the two dads. Yikes.
Nevertheless, everyone seems to have survived the experience, and my own daughter announced, "I loved it! If I lived here I would see it again and again."
The highlight for me was a brilliant monologue spoken by a fifteen year old girl in a toy factory in China. She was proud of her work as well as her ability to project her thoughts across space by focusing and sending her message out to the world inside the Barbie heads she manufactured. She shares with us that a new Barbie is created every three seconds and that there are more than a billion of them out there. She sharply contrasts Barbie's world with her own.
"She live in dreamhouse? I live in nightmare house!"
But, by the end of her story, she is defending Barbie, explaining that she is much smarter than we give her credit for and that she actually hates shopping. "Free Barbie!" she chants, "Free Barbie!" And the audience joins in.
The final number, despite some really raw stories that preceded it, was full-on girl power. And, I was very happy to be there with my own emotional creature:
I am an emotional creature.
Why would you want to shut me down
or turn me off?
I am an emotional, devotional,
And I love, hear me,
love love love
being a girl.