When I first mooted the idea of taking our two kids to the brand spanking new All Together Now festival, The Man (my husband) adopted the same tactic he always employs when he wants me to shut up about my latest batsh*t scheme, he ignored me.
I mentioned it in our ongoing weekly email thread (the one we have regarding family admin). No reply. I whatsapped him info from the website. Nothing. I tagged him on Instagram under posts about the festival, which is the brain child of the original creators of Electric Picnic and was purporting to be the most family-friendly festival of the summer. And nada. Eventually I abandoned Millennial modes of parental communication and cornered him in the kitchen. No small amount of wheedling later and he was reluctantly googling "family festival tips".
I totally get his reluctance. Nearly everyone I mentioned the scheme to, responded with the same kind of wincing face I had during my episiotomy.
And I've been going to festivals for a long time, I know what I'm getting myself into: Hell, essentially. Yet still a tiny part of me held out some modicum of hope that this would go... not terribly. And ya know what? I'm out the other side and I can categorically state that indeed festivalling with kids was NOT TERRIBLE. It was even verging on brilliant in parts.
In preparation for the weekend we made a couple of purchases that proved life-saving. The most important thing being The Trolley, a kind of industrial baby jail on wheels. It cost 90 quid and meant that our four-year-old and one-year-old could be carted around all day and all night – along with all the mountains of crap four-year-olds and one-year-olds require – with relative ease. The main downside of the trolley was the many, many comments from passing festival goers. "Can I've a lift." "Will you drag me around in that thing." It got extremely repetitive. In the end, in response I began fixing a look of pure mania upon the Quipper in question and saying "you can have the trolley, but you must take my children. Please. Take them. TAKE THEM." This was mainly fun for me, they just looked scared.
We also bought ear-defenders, partly to protect them from the volume at the gigs and partly to deflect judgment from people who believe festivals are no place for children. Of course, as a parent I am no stranger to the judgement of others. Sadly judgement is as much a symptom of procreating, as say, being vomited on semi-regularly, but I wasn't prepared for the feeling of being judged by a 20-something woman standing in a field drinking a naggin at 8am on a Sunday morning.
'Are festivals any place for kids?' is a fair question but All Together Now has fantastic children-focused elements and accommodates families in a totally separate campsite. As it happens, we camped very close to the main arena in an overflow area which meant that we were among the general population of the festival which made absolutely zero difference to our experience. It was loud for sure but it was more like a wall of sound that effectively soothed my kids – they were always fans of white noise. The proximity to the main stage was also a boon, in that after the kids went to sleep, myself and The Man were able to tag-team going to see some of the acts.
The festival en famille is worlds away from the old days. At no point did I have any idea what was going on in terms of the line up. I watched Jape from atop the Ferris Wheel, dancing with my older son who thought my singing "I was a man" was hysterical. We watched comedy while rocking the baby cage in a desperate bid to get the babies to sleep (it did not work fyi). On Sunday morning, while many were presumably in tents, marinating in a hangover, we were listening to The Three Little Pigs in a story-telling tent.
On the face of it, bringing kids to festivals should totally not work. However there are certain aspects of a festival that are in fact completely compatible with kids. In normal day to day life, we parents navigate a rigid societal structure with ever-present anxiety about what our adorable but volatile baby humans will do next to disrupt the environment and rain catastrophe and fluids down on us and all bystanders.
In a festival scenario however, the fabric of society is degraded sufficiently to match the erratic behaviour of our children. For the most part there's nothing precious to break or smear in excrement. They can utterly go to town in the toilets because they're portaloos. Happiest of all, any meltdowns or tantrums – usually fairly difficult to navigate in public – are pretty much absorbed by the wall of sound that is the festival soundtrack. Bedtime was looming large in my head as a potential NIGHTMARE but actually it was only about 22 percent more tricky than it is at home.
The fact is that after having kids standards of hygiene plummet and expectations regarding what does and does not constitute fun alter dramatically. For parents, a good day might just be NOT cleaning infant poo off a beaded handbag with a toothbrush (true story) so no matter how many tantrums or hairy portaloo moments there are, a bit of organised colourful chaos with our kids in a far-flung field is still, on the face of it, a pretty good time. (Though I never thought I'd consider a few moments relaxing in a portaloo "me-time", it did offer momentary respite from the intensity of family festival time).
The key to festivalling with kids? Keep expectations low. So long as I didn't get carried away believing that my four-year-old would actually give a shit about being brought to a festival, I was grand. If he appeared to be enjoying something – like the awesome animal sculptures in the forest – then I was great.
So leave your expectations at the car park, bring all the wet wipes and all the snacks. Oh and write your number on your kids in permanent marker.