Carnival season isn’t really my scene even in the best of times. Every year, I have to psych myself up to get out on the parade route, and although I usually have fun once I’m out there, I also would have just as much fun staying home and eating pasta in my sweatpants.
I’ve had truly magical days along the route, running into old friends and making new ones, hoisting my kids up for stuffed animals, getting pelted with beads, dancing to marching bands, watching kids make jump ropes out of broken beads.
I’ve also had truly miserable days when I was wet and cold and cranky and had blisters on my feet and was hungover by 4 p.m.
This year, even though my kids and I are all fully vaccinated, it just feels like more risk than I’m inclined to assume – and that’s if it even ends up happening. If I try to do a risk-reward analysis, I end up with all the normal bad stuff plus the additional stress of willingly participating in what I fear will be another super-spreader event. If I really loved parades, I’d probably still do it, so no judgment for those who make it out to the route, but as someone ambivalent, I’m planning to stay home.
But it has made me reflect on some of my more memorable Carnival seasons.
There was the first one I remember back in 1984 when it rained on Mardi Gras and so my parents threw beads at me from the second floor.
Then there was the first one I celebrated without my parents, back in 10th grade. The less said about that one, the better, but suffice it to say that I’m borderline terrified of my own 15-year-old daughter going out with her friends this year, and not just because of COVID-19.
In 1998, I skipped Mardi Gras to go visit colleges, and that was actually sort of exhilarating, realizing how much my world was about to change and expand. Of course, the very next year, I was achingly homesick as I trudged through the Missouri snow to go take a test on Fat Tuesday.
The first Mardi Gras after Katrina will always hold a special place in my heart – my mom and I drove down from Missouri and went to every parade and made friends with strangers who invited us to their various house parties. We laughed and cried and ate and drank way too much. We didn’t want to leave and swore we’d move back one day.
Ruby’s first Mardi Gras was the next year, and I was still living in Missouri, but we flew down for the occasion. In hindsight, bringing a 9-week-old baby to Bacchus was a bad idea, as she got incredibly overstimulated and screamed for about three straight hours, but honestly, I can’t even say I regret it. I’ll always have a picture of her dressed up like a tiny baby money … being held by my dad’s friend who was dressed up like Satan.
By 2008, we were back in New Orleans, just in time for an early Carnival season, and I brought Ruby, a toddler by then, to almost every parade, where she would return triumphantly with massive piles of stuffed animals. By Fat Tuesday, her Pack ’n Play was filled to the brim with toys, which was fine because she didn’t use it anyway.
The 2010 season was incredible because it coincided with the Saints Super Bowl win, and 2012 was memorable because I was pregnant with Georgia, but after that, it all starts blurring together. There was the year we realized, two years after buying our house, that we lived just blocks from the Rex route, and there was the year we all got the flu but recovered enough to make it out to a few parades on the big day. There was the year a woman on the Zulu route twerked on Georgia’s head, but then gave her a coconut by way of apology, and the year that Ruby gashed her eyebrow on a trash can edge on St. Charles on Lundi Gras and we ended up at Children’s Hospital while they poured the strongest antibiotics ever invented into her because God only knows what was on that trash can.
I’ll always remember Mardi Gras 2020 as one of the last “normal” times in my life before everything went crazy … and Mardi Gras 2021 as the year of house floats.
This year, I guess, will be the year I sit it out … but I am hopeful that in 2023, I’ll be back at it, ready and willing to accept the good and the bad inherent in the season, fortified, as always, with plenty of beer and King Cake.