For months now, Squirrel has been talking about the crowns in the North End of Boston, begging me to take her to the festival. I’m pretty sure that those crowns, while meant to celebrate a few select festivals during the spring and summer, are up year round, much like many Catholics’ Christmas decorations.
I usually have no idea that the festivals are happening and in the past have stumbled upon the feast of St. Anthony, but Squirrel shrilly reminded me every time we passed Hanover Street that I needed to take her to the festival. And really, why wouldn’t I?
There are carneys, street food and beer gardens that I can’t enter because… kids. It’s always the end of August and brass brands and pilgrims with statues bedecked in dollar bills roam the narrow streets, pressing back the hot waves of humanity munching on arancini and fried dough. It’s perfect for kids.
But I had a solid plan to make even the most daunting trip a success.
Tip #1: The Rule of Three
First, plan three things. No more. No less. One of those things should involve food. One of those things should be revealed so your kids can tremble in anticipation. And behave. And one of those things should be kept as a surprise, either because it might not happen or you don’t know what it is, but mostly because the “surprise” is what allows you to gracefully exit stage left like a magician — look what I pulled out of my hat! Time to go home now!
So three things. I told the kids we’d go to the festival and get pizza for lunch. Squirrel remembered that there was a bouncy house one year and helpfully initiated Goose by chanting: “Bounce!-E!-House! Bounce!-E!-House”. I prayed to Saint Anthony that we would find a bouncy house. I still hadn’t figured out what the surprise would be. Maybe it would be my sanity.
After 45 minutes of trying to leave (potty emergency, eating snacks, packing more snacks, choosing the right toys to take with us, finding shoes, arguing over why we weren’t taking a car) we were finally on our way. When we arrived, there was confetti. And carneys. And lots and lots of people with no room for a stroller and bike. And of course we immediately stumbled upon the main parade which upset Squirrel because the band was too loud. We took some side roads, found another band, waited, took another side road, and finally: the sweet smell of pizza! We had made it to the promised food. The clouds parted, the kids rejoiced, and we ate in peace.
Then, as Squirrel so helpfully reminded me several times, we had to find the bouncy house. Along the way, Squirrel was eyeing every game and every Sponge Bob Square Pants balloon like an appraiser on The Antiques Roadshow. But somehow, we were led away from temptation and delivered unto the Bouncy House. The kids were ecstatic, angels were singing, and we were charged $4 a head for 15 minutes.
Tip #2: Remember ABC
The price was totally anathema to St. Anthony and wholly unexpected, but tip #2: ABC. Always. Bring. Cash. So I happily forked over money for my kids who flew and giggled and jumped away their troubles. And the best thing? It was right next to event number three, the surprise, the holy grail of any street festival — face painting. And that was free!
Tip #3: Simplify
But lest you think this would be a two minute affair of some teenager dobbing a sponge on a stencil, let me set the record straight. This was full on, professional face painting, with rows and rows of paint, glitter, airbrushing and even jewels. So while I knew it was going to be awesome, I also knew it was going to be a while. So like any sane parent, I started prepping the girls: “How about a simple butterfly on your cheek? You like butterflies, right? Or a small rainbow?”
Nope. Kids may have small plans, but not when it comes to face paint. Squirrel wanted a butterfly that went up one side of her face and over her forehead with glitter and jewels. And Squirrel, who never ever sits still, sat very very still for a full five minutes. When she actually smiles for a picture, you know she’s happy.
And then there was Goose. You’d think a kid who, just that morning, showed up excitedly in the middle of my shower to flaunt her Moana stamps would be all for face painting. But she was not.
While Goose desperately wanted to participate, she didn’t want a stranger near her face. Tip #3: Simplify participation for little ones. In this case, it meant hand painting for Goose, which only took a minute, and she was able to see magic as it happened. Afterwards, she basked in the glory of her rainbow.
And curtain. Three things done, time to go. And just like that, there were no arguments, no negotiations. The monsters were tamed and we began our trek back home. Goose held her tiny fist high in a sign of solidarity with the world until she fell asleep. Squirrel happily prattled on about her butterfly Thanks to St. Anthony, and the carneys, I think we all found a little bit of happiness to last us a while.