As a musician who convinced his very pregnant wife to stay out late at a pub where his friend's band was playing just so their baby could be exposed to live Irish music in utero, that is a hard statement for me to make. But after spending a blazing hot weekend chasing my daughter around a festival where the music was basically delegated to background noise, I have to say if I had to do it over again, I would have taken her to a park instead. I'm pretty sure she would not have noticed the difference.
Of course I am well aware that every kid and every festival is different, as is the expectations of each parent. The one my family attended last weekend was the Green River Festival, a two-day event held in Greenfield, MA. It is a particularly family-friendly event, with a stage for kids' music, craft tents, big open lawns to play on and even a mardi-gras costumed parade. My wife and I and a large group of friends have gone for the last seven or eight years, and we plan to keep that tradition going for as long as the festival is running.
I am used to getting right up close to the stage, checking out the instruments and band dynamics and just absorbing the great live music vibe. This year, I basically ran up and down a grass hill and tried to stop my daughter from stealing every water bottle she could get her hands on--and there were many, as you can imagine. The music was too loud for her to get close, even at the kids tent, and frankly, she wasn't interested in the music anyway. The fact that pretty much every picture we have from the weekend was taken at our blanket with nary a musician in sight illustrates my point.
We had some wonderful family time, she got to interact with a lot of other kids, and we visited with old friends, all great stuff. But I couldn't help thinking that we could have achieved the same thing at a crowded park, or a beach, with a radio playing in the background.
Like I said, every festival is different, as each child is. Festivals where you camp on site would have allowed one of us to take her back to the tent for a nap while the other got to see some music. Other kids her age may be content to sit still for more than a minute, or might even be able to nap on a blanket or in a stroller in the midst of the noise and action. We knew our child was not a sit-still, nap-anywhere kid when we bought the tickets, but we figured we would give it a shot anyway. Lesson learned.
But the biggest lesson is for me, more of a reminder, really. Life is different now. I cannot expect things to be the same as they were before our daughter was born. You would think that by now that lesson would be burned into my brain, but I somehow hoped that I would be able to enjoy the music like I always did before, without restraints. But those days are over for awhile. I have to step back, take a deep breath, and learn to enjoy it differently. This weekend was a start. I still have a ways to go.
We will no doubt go again next year, with hopes that one more year will make things a bit easier (hope springs eternal, right?). I will be sure to pack my new-found wisdom and positive attitude right next to the sunscreen.
What lessons have you learned from attending music festivals or other similar events with toddlers?
(Images: Richard Popovic)