As I walk into work tomorrow clad in my purple, green, and gold 504 sweatshirt and my kids in their Mardi Gras striped polos, Randazzo’s kingcakes for their classes in hand, everyone will just stare blankly. “Happy Mardi Gras!!!” I’ll say with a huge grin. “Oh that’s today?” they’ll respond with an unsure smile. Secretly they’re thinking I’m a crazy mom for even mentioning a day that’s all about boobs, booze, and debauchery, but I go on about my day sharing with my students and coworkers the “other” side of Mardi Gras.
Three years ago, we moved to Katy, Texas for my husband’s job, and finding out first hand that not everyone celebrated Mardi Gras was a huge burst to my little New Orleanian bubble. I grew up in Chalmette, attended high school at Mount Carmel Academy, and went to LSU for college. Living in and around New Orleans and its culture and traditions was all I’d ever known. I was unaware of just how deeply New Orleans was embedded in my soul. The first Mardi Gras that I spent in Texas, I ended up crying that night. We ate crappy grocery store king cake, picked up Popeyes for dinner, and had the kids put on a parade for us in the living room with leftover beads from the attic. It was all I could do to try and keep the spirit of Mardi Gras alive.
This year, we made it a point to take our boys, now ages 2 and 4, back home to New Orleans for at least a short Mardi Gras celebration. The joy on their faces as they caught beads, toilets with lollipops, and plungers from Tucks was something that I’ll never forget and surely something that no one in Texas will ever understand. The excitement of being with my sister’s family and my mom and dad as we found an amazing, and not to mention legal, parking spot was something that I won’t ever take for granted again. Finding a home base to set up shop and watch the kids throw footballs in the street while waiting for the parade to start warmed my heart. And finally, experiencing the pure happiness and camaraderie of the parades made my soul smile. We laughed; we danced. We screamed and cheered; we bounced and waved our hands in the air, but most importantly we were together. Mardi Gras is so much more than you can read about or even attempt to explain to someone. It is something that lives inside of you even if you have to move away from New Orleans.
Now as I teach my 9th grade English classes tomorrow, I’ll make sure that their bellies are full with king cake, that they have heard “Mardi Gras Mambo,” and that they know all about parade ladders. It won’t come close to experiencing it firsthand, but it’s a start. I’ve found out that the saying is really true that everywhere else it’s just Tuesday … unless you have a teacher or a mom who is from New Orleans.