The best Mardi Gras parade was the one I didn’t see coming

The moment a police officer stopped traffic on St. Charles Ave. for my kid's daycare parade.

The moment a police officer stopped traffic on St. Charles Ave. for my kid's daycare parade.

The sky was turning dark and the air felt like rain was coming. I hoped the bad weather would hold off a little longer, at least for this one Mardi Gras parade.

I left work a few hours early during one of the busiest seasons of the year, and was standing on St. Charles Ave. waiting for the parade to begin.

I say parade, but this wasn’t a typical production of floats and walking groups thrown by the krewe of anything. This was a celebration made of up of toddlers and preschoolers. This was a Mardi Gras parade thrown by my daughter’s daycare.

And, if I’m being honest, I was a little stressed.

Mardi Gras brings a lot of mixed emotions for me. I love the celebrating, the food, the face paint, the costumes and the sense of community. But for the NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune newsroom, it also means a lot of extra work.

In addition to writing this parenting column, I manage our newsroom’s social media team. These producers do much more than send out tweets; they shoot beautiful videos and photos, live-stream events, and generally keep a finger on the pulse of our community online.

So, when I received an email from CC’s daycare saying that they were having their own Mardi Gras parade, my reaction was “Aw, cute!” but also a little bit of, “Aw, man.”

I knew it would be adorable, and I wanted to see my daughter participate, but let’s face it, it’s a daycare parade. How big of a deal could this be? Is this one of my daughter’s events, in a whole calendar year full of toddler events, that I really needed to be in attendance for?

I must have forgotten that we live in New Orleans.

As I waited to watch what I thought was kids walking down the sidewalk and around the block, I got my first clue that this was going to be something bigger. Much bigger.

I overheard another parent, who was also worried about the weather, ask a teacher when the parade would start. “We’re just waiting on the band,” she responded.

The band?

As if on cue, a few police officers pulled up and waited with us. Drums started playing in the distance. Snare drums.

Before I knew what was happening, an entire high school band was marching toward us.

What I thought was a small walk around the block had turned into a full-blown parade.

For a daycare.

A miniature king and queen sat on an elaborate makeshift wagon float. Teachers held tiny krewe members’ hands, coaxing them to throw their beads to someone else – a novel idea for most New Orleans kids.

Class after class passed by, all dressed in costumes made by the teachers, modern-day super heroes for finding the time to make masks and other accessories while wrangling our children for eight hours a day.

The police escort blocked off St. Charles Avenue, stopping traffic and surprising the Chads camped out in the neutral ground.

The most surreal moment came when a firetruck came down St. Charles Avenue as the kids were in the middle of their run. Instead of asking the kids to move to the sidewalk, one of the police officers held up a hand and motioned to the driver in a way that said, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait.”

Parades are serious business.

In amazement, I turned to another parent whose child had recently joined the class.

“Did you know this was going to be this big?” I asked. “No idea,” he said.

My daughter, dressed like an elephant, eventually spotted my husband and me and asked to be carried for the rest of the parade. Tightly clutching a few strands of beads, she looked just as surprised as we did.

And as quickly as it had all started, it ended. The marching band continued past the end of the route, heading back to the school they came from. As we walked to our car, the rain started to fall.

Earlier in the season, I spent a lot of time contemplating which parades to make time for. Muses, for the shoes? Zulu, for the coconuts? Which parades have the most impressive floats?

In the end, the daycare parade was my favorite parade of the season.

I learned a lesson that day: Never underestimate a New Orleans parade, no matter how small you think it might be.

That, and leaving work early for anything Mardi Gras-related, especially when it involves your kid, is always worth it.

New Orleans, you never stop surprising me.