It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or at least it is in my book. These three weeks in February and/or March when purple, green, and gold decorations adorn doors, mailboxes and store fronts, and children and grownups, alike, go a little crazy for plastic beads, cups, bracelets…whatever they can get their hands on. It’s Mardi Gras, and if you’ve never experienced it but think you know what it’s all about, well you’re probably wrong.
When we moved here I knew little about Mardi Gras, but I was pretty sure I had a good idea of how things worked. Young adults invaded the city, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, stumbling through the streets, and exposing themselves in order to take home cheap, shiny beads. In my ignorance, I believed that Mardi Gras was basically a one-day event and was certainly no place for children. What I discovered was that, for the most part, I couldn’t be more wrong.
If you’ve never been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras season, you should really put it on your bucket list. (If you have one, which I don’t, but I still use that term.) Parades begin three weekends before Fat Tuesday, and while that first weekend doesn’t boast the best parades, you can get a feel for what Mardi Gras is about and get some decent throws.
Two weekends prior to Fat Tuesday (which is what this weekend was) is when the excitement really begins for me. Parades take place in New Orleans, as well as many small surrounding towns. My family got its proverbial Mardi Gras feet wet with Northshore parades, and because we had young, cute kiddos (we sure thought they were cute, anyway), we cleaned up! After a few years, we decided we were brave enough to give a real New Orleans parade a try. We headed to the Uptown area to find a spot on St. Charles, expecting huge crowds and lots of craziness. We were shocked to find, not intoxicated twenty-somethings, but families, almost exclusively. Kids were playing frisbee and football on the “neutral ground”, which most people just call the median. On St. Charles, the neutral ground is also where the street cars normally run. We just so happened to have a frisbee in the car, a prized item from a parade the night before, so we grabbed it and threw it around until the parade arrived. After catching more loot than we could carry, we learned there was another parade immediately following, so we hung out for parade number two and doubled the goodies. And that was it for me. I was hooked. Northshore parades would never again be enough for me…or for Griff.
While Brett and Kyndall enjoy parades in small doses, Griffen and I love them all and continued to add more to our list. The following year, we even ventured to the city bright and early on Fat Tuesday to try to catch a coconut at Zulu and see Rex, King of Carnival. We were amazed when we realized what we had been missing. We had no idea where to go, and as a result, we caught very little, but wandering up and down St. Charles in the freezing cold, marveling at the costumes and just the overall sense of fun was enough.
We now have our own Mardi Gras parade traditions. Kyndall and I always go to the city after school the Thursday before Fat Tuesday to try our hand at catching a Muses shoe. (More about this in a future blog.) This night is just for the two of us, and we are very protective of it…no boys, no friends…just mom and daughter. Griffen and I still do our Fat Tuesday early morning outing. Over the years, we have figured out the best places to get the good stuff, and we have determined that we really enjoy paying a little extra for balcony (and bathroom) access. We try to catch as many parades as possible, and two years ago we set our all-time high with twenty-one. It’s going to be tough to ever match that number, but we will continue to try!
I’m not sure what I’m going to do when my children are gone or outgrow their willingness to hang out with their mom. Some things I don’t mind doing alone, but a grown woman alone at a parade is just a little sad. Maybe I’ll start a little empty-nester parade group when the time comes. Or maybe one of y’all would loan me a kid for a day or two. I’ll be taking applications. Happy Mardi Gras!