This year, we’re taking the children to a festival. An honest to goodness, three day, camping in a field, wearing a stupid hat, pooping in a hole, music festival. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘Oh. You’re one of those1 parents are you?’ And you’d be right. But for the time being, let’s just revel in the fact that I’m going to do a thing, which might be quite fun, which the children might quite like too and which might not be a complete disaster. God knows, it’s been a long time coming.
Last year we went to two semi-festivals, one day each and both very kid-friendly and it was good. I mean really good. Every single one of us, adults and children alike, had a thoroughly enjoyable day. So we figured, let’s do it again only this time bigger! And longer! And let’s go a bit further afield because as we all know, there’s nothing quite like sticking the kids in the back of the car for a long drive in the middle of summer! So we’ve bought tickets and it looks like we’re actually doing it.
I used to go to a lot of festivals. It was the perfect combination of music, camping and late-morning drinking. There’s something extraordinarily evocative about the sound of live music drifting across a field on a sunny day, slightly fluctuating in a light breeze. Preferably with a flat, warm cider in one hand and a rare-breed burger in the other, surrounded by people who are equally relaxed and intoxicated by the music or atmosphere or whatever. Of course it won’t be quite like that with two boisterous children but if we start with that as the ultimate aim, then we might get close. You have to think big. In my worst nightmares it will be like Glastonbury 2007 when it rained solidly for 4 days and I got trenchfoot but that’s a little pessimistic, I think.
When our eldest had just turned two, we decided it was probably time we took him to a festival. We chose one which was farrrrr away. About as far away as you can get without leaving the country. We went on public transport because we like a challenge and the girls we shared a cab with for the last leg of the journey were in awe of our parenting skills. It was all going so well. Until we arrived. We found that the number of families had dwindled since our last visit, all defecting no doubt to an actual family friendly festival while the family camping was stuck next to the 24 hour dance tent. We found also that the demographic had shifted dramatically towards the very drunk teenager end of things and we felt a tiny bit… unwelcome. There was also the problem of a grumpy toddler demanding milk and crumpets at 6am, in a field full of comatose bodies and shut food stalls.
There were some good bits, I would imagine but I’ll be blowed if I can remember them. By the Sunday morning we gave up and moved to a nearby campsite instead to see out the rest of the trip somewhere a little more accommodating. On the Sunday night as the boy refused to go to sleep and the local curry house delivered food directly to our tent door, I heard Stevie Wonder, my prime motivation for going in the first place, drifting over the hills from a few miles away and may have shed a little tear.
But that’s all in the past. It will be different this time. Different because the boys are a bit bigger. Different because my expectations have drastically lowered. Different because we’ve picked our festival wisely2.
So the question is, I guess, why am I so keen to go anyway? Why not wait until they’re a bit bigger and a good weekend is more of a dead cert? There’s an element of maternal guilt for starters. I don’t see them enough during the week so let’s do the really fun stuff with them when I can. But that applies to pretty much everything I do and every decision I make. I want to hide upstairs for a bit and do some sewing? No. Maternal guilt. I drank too much last night and now I’m not firing on all cylinders? Maternal guilt. They’ve eaten baked beans three days in a row? Maternal guilt.
Partly it’s because I want them to love music as much as I do. I want to share that with them in the same way that I shared my Dad’s record collection when I was a kid. I want to watch Maximo Park play Books From Boxes with a small child wrapped in a blanket on my back and tell them that the song reminds me of when I was on maternity leave every time I hear it. I want them to think that their parents’ music is kind of OKish, to like something I love and to follow it up with the confidence to go and find something they love. I want them to get the live music bug early too and to associate that drifting, wind-distorted sound of al-fresco music with happy times. Music is important and if you disagree with that statement then your soul is made of lemons.
I want to camp with them too. Our tent is possibly a bit small for all of us but we’ll manage. One of the best bits of your small children getting bigger is when you can boot them out of your bedroom into their own room and regain some of your sanity. So every night, we tuck the boys in and get into our own bed on a different floor to them. In the main, this is for the best since they turn into snuffling forest creatures the second they fall asleep. Just for a bit though, it will be nice to squish in together, tucked up under a turf of blankets and cuddly toys. Up at first light, no doubt and out to forage for bacon sandwiches and tea. We’ll cook with them too over a little stove, nothing more ambitious than super noodles and toast but enough to be a tiny little adventure for excitable boys.
So it will be good for them. They’ll see some things and learn some stuff and fall over in some mud and it will be grand. It will also, secondarily, be good for me. It will make me feel like perhaps my life isn’t so different to how it was before. Sometimes I want to keep my babies small. They’re pretty cute when they’re small and at the moment we don’t have to pay for the little one on the tram. Overall though, I like seeing them grow and become independent. I love to see them engage and wonder at their perspective on the world. This festival is all about that. It’s about shared experiences and family time, music, adventure and memories. Last summer, in a field watching Madness, singing Baggy Trousers with the biggest boy, I felt like maybe there was some light at the end of a long dark tunnel of baby-wrangling. We’re getting there.
- There is literally nothing that could go wrong.