I firmly believe that New Orleans is not where I am from; it is who I am. It is more than just a place; it is a state of mind, an emotion. It is a sight, a sound, a feel, a smell, a taste – a sensory overload. It is home, and, indeed, it is where my heart is. Raising our baby Jane here has renewed these feelings for me as I begin to experience life in New Orleans all over again through her eyes. In my opinion, there is no more special a place to be a child than in the wonderland that is New Orleans. And to have the privilege of being a mother to such a child makes me eternally grateful.
10 Reasons I’m Grateful to be a New Orleans Mom
1) The Rebirth: I am so proud that Jane will grow up in a place that has risen from the ashes. Jane was born at a time when we are experiencing the NEW New Orleans. It is a place where anything is possible. It is a place where entrepreneurs move to start their businesses, where educators come to be a part of the overhaul of a revitalized school system, where movie makers come to take us to a place that only exists on the big screen. It is a place that no longer accepts the old adage, “That’s just the way it is here.” It is a place of change and growth and progress. Yet, it somehow still adheres to its cultural identity and tradition. The NEW New Orleans is an example of who I want Jane to be: tough, resilient, proud and ever evolving.
2) The Audubon Zoo: Where else in the world would a zoo inspire a song that would become one of its city’s greatest anthems? Only in New Orleans! I have such incredibly fond memories of going to the Audubon Zoo as a child. Growing up in Lakeview, making the trip Uptown was always exciting. As my parents’ car would wind along the curves of the river, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation that was palpable as we pulled up to the zoo’s entrance. Once inside, we entered a whole new world of lions and tigers and alligators, oh my! A visit was never complete without standing atop New Orleans’ highest point, Monkey Hill. Living Uptown now, we are able to walk to the zoo with Jane. She loves to watch the animals and see her daddy make funny faces like the monkeys. The Audubon Institute is one of the greatest institutions in New Orleans, and I am certainly proud to be serving as a committee member for this year’s Zoo-to-do. Just last week, the committee members and their families were invited to an after hours tour of the discovery walk. Jane had the best time learning about what gives flamingos their pretty color. Just see for yourself! I think she’s trying to say, “Dey all axed fuh you!”
3) The Joie de Vivre: I recently asked my NOLA mom friends why they were grateful to raise their children here, and one said, “I have lived in a few cities (Charleston, SC, Asheville, NC and Washington, DC). All are wonderful but there is just not enough funk in these places, not enough struggle and grit. Kids need to see those things too. Plus, there is always a reason to celebrate – not just birthdays and Christmas.” Perhaps from the grit and the struggle comes New Orleanians’ love of life. Here we celebrate all of the big things, and we celebrate nothing at all just the same. We celebrate life at birth, and we celebrate life at death with jazz funerals. I love that Jane will grow up knowing that life is fleeting, but the moments we share together, whether big or small, are worth celebrating.
4) The Festivals: In New Orleans, you have an easier time identifying weekends without festivals than those with them. There is the po-boy festival (this weekend, in fact!), the oyster festival, the creole tomato festival, the Satchmo festival, the French Quarter Festival…the list goes on and on. In our house, though, there is only one that matters most, and that is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Jazz Fest is just one of those New Orleans things that is almost so special you can’t actually describe it. It is the smell of jasmine that guides you along Bayou St. John to Esplanade Ave. It is the beat of a drum under your feet that gets louder and more present as you make your way towards the entrance. Once inside it is the harmonious sounds of horns and washboards and gospel voices that introduce you to a world of everything that is great about our dear city. We introduced Jane to this amazing experience this April. While only five months old, we wanted her to be a part of her magical city. I once read Chris Rose describe Jazz Fest as the best education his children could receive. Cheers to that, Chris! Stay calm, New Orleans, and Fest On!
5) The Music: There is no sound that warms my heart like the sound of a New Orleans horn. I was particularly homesick one South Carolina night. It was my first holiday season living away from home, and I longed to be near my family. Mark and I were watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and I heard the most beautiful sound in the world (you MUST spend 4 minutes of your day watching this, but have a tissue handy). It was a sound that could only come from the horn of a musician born and raised in New Orleans. It grabbed my attention and drew me in. For sixty minutes I watched an episode titled “All I want is my city back.” Never before had I needed to hear the sound that came from Trombone Shorty’s trumpet than I did then. The music here comes from the soul of those who play it. We have tried to introduce Jane to that since birth. On my maternity leave, she and I would listen to New Orleans music for hours. We recently purchased Putamayo Kids: New Orleans Playground for her, and I promise you that the second she hears the first note, she kicks her legs and raises her arms. The kid’s got rhythm and a love for the music her city wrote.
6) The Food: New Orleans is a food town. Not because it is haughty or pretentious as some may measure a foodie town. In New Orleans, our food comes straight from the heart of the people who serve it. New Orleans food, like the city itself, is steeped in tradition and meant to bring joy to all willing to give it a fair shake. When we first moved, I remember thinking, “What will life be like without red beans and rice every Monday?” In any other place, January 6th is just another cold day in a winter full of them. Here, it is filled with the warmth of celebration and the first bite of the season’s King Cake. In New Orleans, we gather around a table piled high with piping hot crawfish that somebody’s daddy fixed and commune as a family. I can’t wait for Jane to work with me in the kitchen as she learns how to make her first roux. I can’t wait for her to realize that Popeye’s does indeed help the Saints rally to victory. I can’t wait for her to see her first tourist try cumbersomely to peel their first crawfish and giggle at the thought that not everyone grows up knowing how.
7) The Mardi Gras: From the moment I first experienced it, I loved Mardi Gras. The sounds of the sirens announcing the parade’s arrival, the feeling of the earth rumble as the bass drums pass, the sparkle that glistens off the majorette’s sequined uniform, and the first sight of the king’s float – is there anything more incredible?! It truly is the greatest free show on earth (unless you ride like Mark and I do, then ughhh! But where else would you spend hundreds on plastic beads to throw from floats?!?). This year as the Christmas season came to a close, my excitement for Jane’s first Mardi Gras could not be contained. Everyday we would walk for miles in search of practicing marching bands. Each day we could hear them off in the distance, but we could not find them. Then, on one particularly beautiful afternoon as the days of practicing would soon turn into the big show, Jane and I found the Xavier Prep marching band! We moved to the sidewalk, Jane and me, and watched as the girls played and marched in perfect unison. She and I danced and clapped and experienced something you can only experience here. And it was special. Of course, Jane will grow up not realizing that. She will think everyone’s Mommy and Daddy ride on floats. She will think that everybody’s Mommy has a collection of wigs and false eyelashes that would rival Ru Paul’s. She will think that everybody’s Fat Tuesday exists on an avenue filled with families jubilantly celebrating. And the day where she realizes that they don’t is the day she will realize just how special it all really is.
8) The People: “Hey Baby.” It’s as common a phrase as any other here in New Orleans. It is short and sweet, but in actuality that little greeting says more about New Orleans than any other. I think it represents a sense of community that we New Orleanians feel. That while completely unrelated, we don’t merely coexist. We matter. Here you are greeted by a stranger the way you would be by a friend in any other place on earth. In New Orleans, the people are the place because the place lives inside of you. In the words of Drew Brees, “We are New Orleans.”
9) The Saints: I truly can’t imagine life without the New Orleans Saints. When we lived in South Carolina, I remember someone asked me when was it that I became a Saints fan. I really had to think about it because the thing is, I don’t think I became a Saints fan; I was born one. As a little girl, I would put on my Saints globe earrings for luck and sit with my dad as we watched the game together. He never treated me any differently than he would have if I had been his son. He taught me the rules of the game, and I loved it. I guess that’s part of why the Saints are so special to me. They aren’t just a team playing a game. They are a part of the bond I have with my father. Living away for four years, they were my lifeline to New Orleans. There is nothing like sitting on your couch in a place they call elsewhere and watching proudly as a brass band blows their horns or a chef at Mothers serves up a Ferdi just before they break for commercial. And there is nothing quite as comforting as calling your dad from far away and getting his take on that Sunday’s action. The Saints make you feel at home wherever you are. I want for Jane to know that feeling.
10) The Family: For me, returning home ensured that Jane would be born into a family that lives no further than fifteen minutes from one another. They would be able to see her learn and grow and come to appreciate all of the things that we experienced as children. Returning home also meant that she would be surrounded by neighbors and friends as well. And in New Orleans, your neighbors are your friends, and your friends are your family. Within just blocks from our home, Jane is surrounded by children who she will grow up with. These children will be a part of everything she ever knows. Their parents will be too. Our family expanded the moment we planted roots here. Not just because of Jane, but because of everyone we share our lives with. Because as New Orleanians, we open our home and our hearts and our families to one another. And for that, I am grateful.