Walking by the floats, there was an air of anticipation at the start of the Maritime Fest Parade in Gig Harbor this past Saturday. I marveled at the level of detail in the costumes and floats. All that work for a half hour walk! It was an enthusiasm I was reluctant to embrace. You see, I don’t consider myself a parade person. My first live parade was at last year’s Maritime Fest, when my son was riding on his school float. It was a trip he almost didn’t make, because at the last minute he panicked. After much cajoling, and with his Dad perched closely next to him, he was convinced to be on the float. But he couldn’t even fake a parade face. I watched from the sidelines as he passed by me, a lone, still boy in a sea of waving kids, his mouth pasted into a grimace of sheer terror. It was all I could do not to run and grab him off the float. It was a terrible first parade experience for both of us.
My sons have been to five parades in their little lifetimes, four of which I’ve avoided, and my eldest has now ridden in three of them. Which is why when my youngest son informed me, “I’m in the parade, too,” I had to quickly figure out a way for him to be on his brother’s float. It wasn’t fair that he had been relegated to spectator status strictly by default of me being a non-participator. Loading them on the float and into the pirate’s chest, I said my good-bye’s and prepared for my departure, ready to find my place in the already huge crowd of people that lined the parade route. “But why aren’t you walking with the other parents?” my son called after me innocently.
Feeling very guilty, I slowly turned around to face him. I didn’t quite know how to explain myself without dimming his enthusiasm. I hemmed and hawed, all the while looking around me, taking in the other parents wearing their costumes, armed with their bags of candy to hand out to the spectators. It was a “call to arms” moment when I had no choice but to step up. There was no legitimate excuse. I don’t see the point of all that waving? I don’t like wearing costumes? I’m too tired to walk all that way? I’d like a coffee? You’ll be fine without me? Did I mention I’m not a parade person? Waiting expectantly for me to answer, he watched while I slowly collected my bags of candy and walked towards the back of the float, where I was hoping to blend. I gave my son a brave face and he smiled back at me proudly. There was no backing out now.
Shuffling down towards the start of the parade, it all felt a bit anti-climactic. “Is this it?” I asked the parent next to me. “Is this all we have to do?” But, it was the moment we crossed the start line, and the emcee announced our float, and the kids broke into a full-volume version of their pirate song, that a switch was turned on in all of us and we started marching forward at a brisk pace, waving enthusiastically at the spectators. I went from blending at the back to doling out candy to expectant kids, all the while smiling like I was in the final walk of a pageant! In an instant, I was hooked!
As a novice, I wasn’t without my share of fumbles. In my exuberance, I handed out my candy way too quickly which left me feeling slightly awkward at the one-third point when kids were looking at me wanting their loot. Lagging behind in the heat, we were told to pick up the pace by the Parade Marshall (who even knew there was such a thing!) and, it was only after breaking free of the line to quickly buy a strawberry lemonade beverage that I realized I had committed a terrible parade faux-pas. You don’t leave the procession! Apart from these honest first-time mistakes, it was a truly memorable experience. The kids had a great time, I enjoyed seeing them throughout the parade from my vantage point, and I was left with a great feeling of fanfare.
This celebratory mood stayed with me as we went down to visit the booths in the main area. The kids tried out an obstacle course with their friends, did some arts and crafts and waited in a long line for a 30 second bounce on a trampoline. It was a lot of milling about, but it was fun feeling like I had been dropped into a Norman Rockwell slice of life. So, this is why people love parades!
As we fought our way back to the car through the sea of thousands, hand in hand with my son happily tackling a corn dog, I started running into people I knew in the community, evaporating the security of anonymity I felt as I marched along exuberantly with my first-time pageant veneer. So many people were out celebrating! And it hit me that we were all participants, no matter what side of the procession we were on; with varying degrees of enthusiasm we were all there waving our parade flags. That sense of community, in life and as a parent, is so important. Sometimes we lead the celebration, and sometimes we are on the sidelines, clapping and cheering. But the important thing is that we show up. Life lessons I’ve learned from the Parade…
Driving home after the long day of festivities, my eldest son asked me, “Where are we going now?” I glanced over at his younger brother, slumped over in his car seat, drooling with fatigue, completely done in by the active day, and said, “We’re going home buddy. It’s late.” “Awwww!” he whined. I silently commiserated with his disappointment, feeling slightly anti-climactic after a magical day of being engulfed by enthusiasm. I can admit it. I’ve been converted by the flags and the fanfare. The corn dog phenomenon is one I’ll probably never fully grasp but, remembering my sons’ happy faces, I know there are plenty of parades in my future. I may be watching from the sidelines I thought as I rubbed my wrist, still sore from the intensity of my waving, but, no matter what, I’ll show up.