From the time I found out I was pregnant and would be due in February, I knew that our son would likely celebrate his birthday on Fat Tuesday at some point in his life. In fact, one of the very first things I purchased after learning I was pregnant was a Throw Me Somethin’ onesie from Two Sprouts. Once he was born and we knew his actual birthday, I googled future Carnival dates out of total curiosity. Not only will his birthday fall on Mardi Gras, but when that day comes, it will be the year that he turns 21. For real. The native New Orleanians in us couldn’t have planned it better if we tried, right?!? It got me to thinking … by the time that day arrives and my little boy is “all grown up,” who do I want him to be? And what can we teach him about life through Mardi Gras?
Five Life Lessons Our Kids Can Learn From Mardi Gras
Be Neighborly. One of our city’s greatest traits is the friendliness of our residents, but I find this especially true during Mardi Gras. Even though it’d be easy to ignore the “reserved parking” trash cans in front of houses, we don’t. And while it’s tempting to move an unattended ladder or tarp turned picnic blanket from their front row spots, we won’t. Instead, we invite newfound friends
strangers to join our neutral ground parties. We share tips with tourists even if it means our favorite po-boy shop will have four more people in line. We open our coolers and homes to one another as if we’ve been friends forever. “The more the merrier” sentiment is prevalent in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and there’s a spirit of generosity and hospitality. I hope our children carry this with them wherever they go … except the leaving trash in the street part.
Be A Glass Half Full Kind Of Person. I have to admit that when I dine in other cities, I find myself annoyed that drinks are not replenished more quickly. I find this rather symbolic of our city’s spirit, tenacity and positive outlook: in New Orleans, the glass is always at least half full, literally and figuratively. Mere months after Katrina, we were able to say “at least we have Mardi Gras,” and we paraded on. That’s how vital Mardi Gras is to this city: it gave us hope when we could easily have chosen to have none. While the rest of the country was saying “why would anyone choose to live there,” we were busy dancing in the streets. Let that be a lesson to my children: even in the most troubling of times, there is hope (and a beacon of light in the form of a Muses spotlight).
Relax. I firmly believe that Mardi Gras is good for the soul. For the rest of the year, we all have work to do and places to be, and our calendars are packed to the brim with events and deadlines. But for a few glorious weeks, our city ignores all that. (Well, we probably ignore it around Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest and … come to think of it, do we ever work down here?!?) Anyway, the point is that we schedule events around Mardi Gras as if Mardi Gras itself were the most important commitment. And in some ways I think it is. It’s important to let loose and relax. It’s okay not to worry about work for a few days. Should our children choose
make the terrible decision to live in other cities as adults, I hope the first thing they do is request vacation days for Mardi Gras every year. We’ll have cold beer and crawfish ready.
Have Patience. We’ve all done it. You’re not a New Orleanian until you’ve gotten stuck at a red light while floats are being unloaded from a den and escorted across an intersection. Or made the dreadful mistake of not checking parade routes before leaving home and getting “trapped” by a parade or associated traffic. Or left home 10 minutes too late and struggled to find parking only to end up walking 20+ blocks to Bacchus. And we all know that parades don’t always roll on time and tractors break down. What I’d like my children to take from all of this is that life doesn’t always go according to plan. That’s what the ice chest full of drinks is for.
Be Thankful. It’s pretty amazing to me that Mardi Gras is hundreds of years old. Whether you’re a history buff or not, you have to respect a tradition like that. I, for one, am incredibly grateful that my parents chose not only to raise us here but to brave the parades with us as well. I fully realize that New Orleans does not bubble to the top of the “best places to raise a family” list for a lot of Americans, but I disagree. I am glad I grew up here, surrounded by friendly, optimistic and fun-loving people. New Orleans and Mardi Gras are engrained in my personality and are a deep part of who I am. I’m thankful for everyone who works hard to pull Mardi Gras off and keep the streets safe (it’s not a vacation for everyone!), and I’m thankful for a city that fights to keep traditions and history alive. I can only hope that our children will one day look back at their childhood and be as grateful as I am and simply say “thank you.”