For the last 5 years I have taken my almost 12 year-old daughter to Mardi Gras back home in New Orleans. Each and every year I get people who look at me strange or question me on taking her home for that event and I get asked each time about flashing boobs for beads.
It's hard to explain Mardi Gras to those who have never been and experienced the annual event. Mardi Gras is such a New Orleans tradition and holiday that the schools actually close for 3 days for the event. And Mardi Gras is a season, just as is Thanksgiving and Christmas. Parades and events start roughly a month before Mardi Gras day, which is today. King Cakes are eaten and many people decorate their Christmas trees for Mardi Gras.
But why is it so important for me? Why do I take my daughter out of school for this?
1. Family. This trip my daughter got to peel crawfish with her 86 year-old great grandmother. My Grandmother (affectionately called either G'ma or GG'ma by grandkids and great-grandkids) french braided Cady's hair. My G'ma tells stories too about my mom when she was little or stories about me. She tells us about our family history and little bits of our history. We get a glimpse into the way things were for her and learn a little more about where we come from.
We also got to spend time with my Aunt and Uncle, my daughter's Great Aunt and Great Uncle. That's something a lot of kids don't do. They bond over card games, puzzles, Dr. Who and other board games. It's meaningful to both of us.
2. Friends. I have dear friends back home that I went to elementary and high school with. We have developed a great friendship and my daughter is developing her friendship with their children. I have another friend that we thought we knew each other from elementary school but it turns out we didn't know each other then. Doesn't matter. She's still one of my closest friends and it's a good story to tell. Plus we see my Mom's friends from college and her kids that I grew up with. It's a connectedness I haven't seen elsewhere.
3. Culture. It's like no other. My kid is somewhat versed in jazz music now and knows more about Louis Armstrong than other kids her age. She knows Tuba Skinny and respects street musicians. She knows those marching bands put a lot of work into what they do and she knows music doesn't end in high school. She knows who George Rodrigue is and all about Blue Dog. She understands Katrina and what it did to the city. She knows about the markings on the houses. This time we even visited the Katrina memorial. She knows why graves are above ground and why you can only walk certain paths in the cemetery. She's been through the sculpture garden and she loved it.
4. Food. Seriously, we make a trip just to get food and spices at the grocery store there that you can't get anywhere else. She knows that étouffée is better when it is red, not brown. She knows how to peel crawfish, suck the heads, peel shrimp and loves remoulade sauce. She craves a frozen cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde, but also knows that the beignets are different at Morning Call and loves them as well. She knows when we go we have to get a shrimp poboy and that they do not all taste the same. This time we tried crawfish beignets and oh my, we LOVED them.
5. Parades. Folks, there is no finer free entertainment than a parade. Where else can you see beautiful artwork roll past you, have a good laugh and fun time with some of the great groups that walk by (i.e. Rolling Elvi, 610 Stompers, Pussyfooters and more), catch your souvenirs for free and listen to great music? We come home with a great collection of stories, pictures and loot. Great cups, doubloons to add to our collection, and decorated shoes, purses and glasses to display as prized artwork in our home. Plus, these Krewes have a long and interesting history and each parade is different from the next.
Need more reasons...
In 5 days we went to 12 parades and one of those we saw twice.
My daughter got to climb on a float to see it firsthand thanks to some friends.
She fought for doubloons and picked up the trinkets and necklaces she wanted to come home with.
She learns to stand up for herself and handle a crowd.
She learns how to be nice to others around her and learns that everyone else may not be as nice.
She learns about what is okay to do and what isn't. There is always a lesson in there about seeing someone doing the wrong thing as with any large crowd.
She learns how to talk to strangers, including the adult musician who was speaking to her about not giving up on music and recommending many different avenues and camps to explore.
She learns that sometimes giving away that trinket or bead to someone smaller than her feels better than keeping it for herself.
She knows how to ride a streetcar and the etiquette on board.
She knows Mardi Gras. She knows New Orleans.
(Please note: I'm absolutely exhausted and this entry is probably overrun with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Just forgive them and move on. I need sleep.)