Friday morning I set about frantically preparing three of my four teenagers for whatever lay ahead; rain, sun, mud, cold nights and more rain. The fourth and eldest child is going too but it seems she has an element of efficiency that the other three clearly lack. Having been a festival goer myself over the years I felt well equipped for what was required. How very naive of me!
It started at 9 am with one son saying to the other “Do you think we should get a mattress or something to sleep on?” Given they have all had camping tickets for two months, I wrongly assumed there may have been some forethought on this one. Is it at this point that I mention they are 17, 18 and 19 years old. Young Adults!
Holding back my impending neurosis I gently respond with “Are you serious? You have nothing prepared? No tent? Sleeping bags? Nothing At all?”
Three deadpan faces stare back at me.
“Have you at least printed your tickets?”
And there’s the stare again. “Food?”
I could seriously go on as it got beyond ridiculous. Now some may argue that you should stop doing things for your kids but if I am to sleep for the next three nights I have to know that they have food, shelter, water and they’re relatively dry. Trust me, there is enough to worry about when four of your children are at a music festival with 30,000 other overexcited revellers.
And, so the madness began. Raiding friends and neighbours for tents, bedding, backpacks, waterproof jackets and most importantly, gumboots. A quick dash to the supermarket for staples, print off tickets and we’re good to go. Numerous people I bumped into made the flippant comment “Well, that’s what Mum’s do.” As wonderful as my Mother was I don’t ever recall her helping me prepare for a festival or big day out. It just didn’t happen that way back then.
Naturally, to top it off, my three unorganized muppets missed the last shuttle bus so the car was loaded and off we went. This gave me more time to argue with my 18 year old daughter who appeared to be wearing a rainbow colored, crocheted handkerchief as a top. I was promptly reminded that they all dress like this now; my least favorite saying. I was determined not to sound like my Mother by responding with “I don’t care what they’re ‘all ‘doing. I’m not their Mother.” I took a deep breathe and let it go.
Needless to say any plans I had for the day had well and truly gone out the door. As we drove through Byron I chuckled quietly to myself. All of the girls in their individuality looked like human dream catchers or wind chimes. They ethereally floated down the street clad with feathers, gold tattoos, white fringed dresses and floppy felt hats. For the guys it was the ‘hipster’ or the ‘bogan’.
The drive gave me the opportunity to have, yet again, the drug discussion. I long ago gave up saying that ‘my child would never do that’. I have been to these festivals and trying to find one who is not doing it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I decided to take the harm minimization approach all the while letting them know that I, at no time, supported the use of drugs. I am however well informed on recent trends and have seen enough in my line of work to know my stuff. We discussed what was the most common drugs on offer, how they affect you and how to make wise choices. I then took it to the next step. I talked about the early warning signs that tell you someone has had too much; of anything. I went on to discuss the fine line between this state and death and what they, as young adults would have to do to avoid a possible disaster. I tried to instill in them, not only a sense of responsibility for one another but for all those around them. I had no idea how powerful this approach was until I saw it in action.
I had decided to attend the festival on the Saturday, the half way mark. This gave me an opportunity to check in and, in all honesty, have a hoot with my kids to some great music. I arrived to a scene that is hard to describe adequately. There was ankle deep mud throughout the whole site and the hills and ampitheatres were just mudslides. The dreamcatchers were no longer and absolutely everyone was covered in mud. The kids and I set about trudging along to see some acts that we loved and boogied in a few DJ tents.
As the night wore on, those who had overindulged started dropping. To be fair, these were the vast minority and the behavior of the masses was fantastic. At about 10pm we headed over to see the lead act. On the way we came across several young girls and guys who were not in good shape. I stood in awe as my boys, 17 and 18 went into action. They spotted the signs, headed over to ask if they were okay, took a few to the medical tent, fetched water and alerted the medics of another. In all honesty, I tear up while I write, this would have to be one of the proudest parenting moments of my life.
Little did I know that when I gave them that talk in the car, I had instilled in them a sense of responsibility that they could not ignore. They both commented to me that they could really spot the early trouble signs now and felt obligated to do something. Furthermore I could see the sense of pride they had in themselves each time they helped a fellow festival goer calling themselves the ‘Renegade Red Frog Team’. For those who don’t know the ‘Red Frogs’ are a group of volunteers that help young people in these situations.
My boys have by no means been angels but I have always believed, even when they were young that if you give the more ‘spirited’ ones a sense of leadership and responsibility they shine. It appears there is no used by date on that theory. I’m going to indulge in this proud parenting moment as the festival is not yet over and I am well aware that this could all come crashing down around me with one simple phone call.
Imagery from Instagram courtesy of Deanna Gerlach