It’s Mardi Gras time, y’all. (Side note: for those not familiar with term, “Mardi Gras” literally means “fat Tuesday,” i.e., the day before Ash Wednesday, but the term more typically refers to the days and weeks of carnival celebrations leading up to the Lenten season. Here in Louisiana, that means lots of parades, which, contrary to popular belief, are quite family-friendly.) Everywhere you look right now you see the signs of the season. The swarms of people on the streets going crazy for little plastic throws and trinkets. The king cakes in every grocery store and at every celebratory event. The familiar purple, green, and gold colors on clothes, flags, and store windows. It’s that time of year when we all laissez les bon temps rouler, and let the good times flow like water (or that indescribable Bourbon Street sludge).
We’ve spent the last two days doing parades with the biggies, which got me thinking about all the great life lessons my kids are learning from attending parades. So here’s my quick list of life lessons learned from Mardi Gras.
- Be prepared. Study the parade route. Plan for anticipated traffic and where you’ll park. Pack the essentials, including but not limited to sunscreen, waters, juice boxes, and even toilet paper.
- Be flexible. Despite your best efforts to be prepared, things will not go your way. That sidestreet you planned to park on is under construction? Move on to Plan B. Didn’t leave as early as you planned? Suck it up and move on. Even the adults are working on this skill, kids. Example A—your dad, yesterday.
- Be patient. Good things come to those who wait. Things like giant plastic toothbrushes, fairy wings, frisbees, etc. So grab a seat on the curb, kick back, and be patient. Enjoy those juice boxes and snacks, and take in the music and colorful characters around you.
- Do the work. Like most things in life worth doing, parading is work. You’ve got to endure traffic, wearing shoes (oh the horror, kids), long bathroom lines, walking to your parade spot, waiting for the parade, and shouting like crazy once the floats start rolling by. You’ve got to put the time into these things to sit back and enjoy the parade and all your parade throws when all is said and done.
- Make yourself known, stand out from the crowd, and ask for what you want. This is a biggie. You’ve got to speak up and stand out from the crowd—make yourself known. This has been a great lesson for one of my girls who is more reserved. We practiced shouting loudly and waving wildly so that she could be seen and heard. And if you want that hot pink stuffed animal, try asking for it. It never hurts to ask, and you may get exactly what you want. You never know until you try.
- Be Kind. Even when others are not. We practiced this yesterday when one of my girls grabbed a coveted red plastic car just as another little girl swooped in underneath her and grabbed the other end. Neither girl was letting go. I convinced my reluctant daughter to give it to the other girl. It was hard for her, and she was sure she had grabbed it first, but she still did it. Just as I was patting her on the back for letting it go, her sister gave her an almost-identical blue plastic car because she saw how upset she was. The lesson? Be kind. Sometimes others will not be, but that shouldn’t stop you from continuing to do the right thing.
- You won’t always get what you want. That’s life. Still be grateful. In our house, we frequently buy three of the same things to minimize fighting between the biggies. No such luck at the parades. There were lots of tears over a giant light up sword that one daughter caught at Orion the other night. The other girls desperately wanted one and cried over it for a long time. But sometimes, you don’t get what you want. Life is hard that way, right? I know you’ll want to sit and cry but you have to be resilient. Pick yourself up and try again. You really wanted those pink fairy wings? I’m sorry, baby girl, today is not your lucky day. But maybe you’ll end up with something else great, like the old-school glass Mardi Gras bead necklaces or an oversized flower. Be grateful for what you get, not sad for what you didn’t.
- Say thank you. When that masked man on the float looks you in the eye and singles you out to hand you that stuffed animal you asked for—say thank you. Say it loudly and say it even if he won’t hear you. Still say it. It matters. Maybe not to them, but it’s still good practice.
- In the end, it isn’t really about the stuff but the fun times together. Judging by the fights my group has been having over a single stuffed elephant they’ve named Ellie, we’re not quite there yet. It’s still mainly about the stuff for them. But I hope that one day, they’ll look back and remember the fun times we’ve had together at the parades. I know that’s the case for me; my parents took my five siblings and me to every parade when we lived on the Mississippi gulf coast. I’m sure that at the time, all we cared about were the beads, moonpies, and plastic trinkets. But looking back now, all we remember are the fun times we had together. We all laughed and let loose, and had a good time together. And maybe that’s a good lesson for me to remember, too—it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Happy Mardi Gras, y’all. Make it a good one.