Mardi Gras Mom-Bo

Feb 21, 2014 by

kingcakeAs part of our ongoing Carnival coverage here is a guest post contributed by Heather Penden. While it is not quite our usual fare if you read it to the end you will see why we decided to share it. Enjoy! -Loki

“Can I pee in the bushes?” my mini-me inquires. “No, you can’t pee in the bushes. Why would you want to pee in the…” and that is when my daughters and I both witnessed a penis (not belonging to my husband) shaken twice before being tucked away. This pee-happy parade-goer even kept beat with the high school drummer as the procession marched down the street. It is Mardi Gras time in New Orleans and along the bustling avenues, the city is jam-packed with pee-ers, prophets, party-seekers, and parents passing the baton of “laissez les bon temps rouler.”

So how does one manage “letting the good times roll” when my rolling days now refer to a jogging stroller? When my breast popping out means it’s feeding time? Thoughts like these just don’t enter your mind when you are keeping in step with tradition. This tradition, like most, requires physical presence to fully understand. My Swedish-imported husband never fully appreciated the idea of a city being torn apart by visitor’s displaying his or her worst behavior for a last raucous romp before a ritual time of fasting. I always worried he wouldn’t get it. Yet now, even I can’t understand what there is to get. What is special about this festive time in this party-loving city? Why am I –WITH CHILDREN FOR CHRIST’S SAKE—even here? Not having an immediate answer to that question made me doubt even my own cultural credibility.
The baby-carrier strapped to my front bounced an infant not yet five months old. Her presence goes unheeded by the smokers and tokers that fill the corner where we stand, an all too familiar smell of oily-herbal-pungence wafting around us. We are stuck here until the next float passes, sirens of police escorts suddenly blasting out an audio warning for revelers to back-away, both daughters jump startled. My oldest daughter clings to my leg. Her shoulder presses into my inner thigh as though she is trying to climb back inside the parts from whence she sprang out of me only three years prior. I hold her hand firmly, raise my voice high enough for her to hear me, “We will be back with Papa in a jiffy! Look at the beautiful colors on the float! Do you see all those ladies dressed like mermaids!?!”

She looks up excitedly and smiles a purple toothy grin. The color of royalty has stained her teeth. It is a common side-effect of the king-cake we polished off only an hour ago. At three she had never experienced eating fried chicken from a box whilst sitting atop a ladder on the street. Popeye’s fried chicken chased with a sugar-topped-brioche-ring-cake is a parade-route-dinner-specialty. I smile because I can remember the same crunchy, salty chicken and candy sweet combo on my tongue when I was her size.

Another sudden near-deafening blurt from a police siren signals me back to reality.
All around me people smile, the air is filled with an array of food smells, sounds of trumpets in the distance. The energy engages the body and makes the stiff parts feel fluid. It provokes the mind to put off all priority and postpone practicality. My daughter squeals in delight as she reaches for a bouncy ball beneath my boot. A group dressed as cowboys and Indians to our left hits play on a boom-box and the beat of a familiar festival tune blares, they encircle us dancing without any cares. It is the unexpected intermission of this carnival affair, as the break creates opportunity for crowds to perform their own show. The costumed impress my tiny dancer, her eyes as big as moon-pies, and they shimmy, shake, and pow-wow in unison to the Mambo’s perfect percussive intrusion.

As the floats begin their approach once again, the boom box operator and performers begin to process counter the crowd flow. In mere moments, the tractor is upon our block, dragging the two-story trailer of brightly colored décor and masked throwers who appease the crowds with their various colorful tosses. We back away again from the street in a huddled clump as parade trinkets, cups, and doubloons fly left and right. The little one’s head I protectively cover with my oversized sweatshirt sleeves, the younger one I allow to reach for a stranger’s offered string of beads. The float passes quickly and I see my husband’s arms flailing and motioning for me from across the avenue on the neutral ground.

We see our chance and quickly spring forward, crossing the street. The crowd parts to let us through, holding their arms out to create a path for my little girl to reach her Papa’s extended hand. He pulls her forward, bosom-hugging infant and I fall into the space of this group embrace. It is from the side, I can see from whence I came. A place filled with fun and friendship among strangers, a place where my daughter can find delight in things thrown into the street, where we can dance to a beat, feel the rhythm of life from our head to our feet.

I remember again in this “City That Care Forgot,” there is no place like home. The sounds of the music, the crowds all around us, the visual overload…it is all home. Coming home to this tradition is coming home to parts of me I sometimes forget. I feel a flutter deep in my chest. Sharing this with my little ones seems the most natural thing in the world. The St. Augustine horn section makes their approach, both daughters are bouncing, my youngest upon me, oldest in my man’s arms. I look up at my husband and as our eyes meet I can tell, he too, can feel the beat. There’s no tradition like this tradition that I’m more proud to call home.

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