When my husband and I moved to Baton Rouge, we had absolutely no idea about Mardi Gras. I mean, sure, we had heard of “Fat Tuesday” and had the vague sense that beads were involved, but the Louisiana Mardi Gras EXPERIENCE was a complete unknown. That first February, we strapped our baby to my chest in a carrier and headed out to a local parade. As I masterfully shielded her head from the flying beads and toys with the urgency only the first-time mother of a newborn (or a Jedi) can muster, we laughed and cheered with glee. The giant floats rolling by, the people shouting and dancing in the streets with arms outstretched, the music and lights… It all absolutely dazzled my senses. This complete and utter delight with my new culture was further rooted when that same weekend, my Louisiana-born cousin dropped by with a king cake. “What’s that?” we breathed, as she gaped at us.
Eleven years later, we rarely miss a parade and have tried most every flavor of king cake from most every bakery in town. We put up our purple and green and gold decorations practically the same day we take down the christmas tree, and we marvel at how the rest of the country lives without this extra “season” of the year. If you are new to the Baton Rouge parade scene as we were, here are some tips to help you and your family set out for your first one:
- One of the best ways to experience a parade is to hang out on the lawn of someone who lives on the route. This way there is access to bathrooms, food/drink, and often guaranteed parking…Not to mention friends to chat and play with while waiting for the parade to start.
- If that’s not possible, always make everyone use the bathroom before leaving your house. Then at a gas station five minutes later. Then another one five minutes after that. (I kid…or do I?) Leave early to ensure you park not too far from where you want to be on the route.
- Bring water bottles for each child. I’m not sure what exactly happens to my children during a parade, but midway through they suddenly behave as though we have taken them to the Sahara for a week-long trek through the sand dunes.
- Invest in a wagon. (A stroller works, too, but can’t hold as much gear.) In it, pack tailgating chairs for everyone, a blanket depending on the weather, a bag for each of your children to collect goodies (No, they canNOT share! Try this once if you must, and then get back to me…), and a cooler filled with your family’s beverages of choice. Our cooler always contains a few beers for my husband, an insulated go-cup of wine for me, and lots of water. The wagon will also help schlep tired, bead-laden children back to the car at the end of the parade.
- Bring snacks…even if everyone just ate. There is always a period of standing or sitting around, and everyone knows children cannot wait for anything at all without fighting, eating, or needing to use the bathroom. Pick the lesser of the evils and bring snacks.
- Keep in mind that it is a rite of passage for every Louisiana child to get hit in the face with a whip-fast flying strand of beads. Comfort your screaming child, but remind him or her that this raging sting is a badge of honor.
- It’s ok for parade swag to strategically disappear later. Your children will receive more beads and cheap toys than you ever thought possible, which will be so exciting in the moment, but will soon end up broken and forgotten in a toy box. My main strategy is to “forget” to remind them to bring all their stuff inside when we get home. This usually means they take their favorites into the house and leave the rest in the car. At the end of parade season, when we can barely swim through the car to buckle our seatbelts, I donate everything to their school.
My final tip is this: do not be daunted by all of these tips! Not everyone is as much of a planner as I am. Another parade-going option is to ignore everything I have said, leave your house late, try your luck at parking near the end of the route, hop out just as the parade passes by, squeeze into an empty space on the sidewalk, say some Hail Marys regarding bathrooms and thirst, and have as much fun as everyone else. It just depends on how you roll… See what I did there? See y'all on the route!