Tuck: "YAY! King Cake! But no baby...right?"
Me: "Right, Tuck, we won't put a baby in the cake."
Tuck: "'Cause we don't bake babies in cakes...plastic ones or real ones."
Yep, every year I check and every year he is still scarred from my first explanation of the baby hidden in the King Cake. Picture it, Northern Virginia, 2008. I was trying to feed Mags her bottle and I mentioned to a three-year-old Tuck that we were going to be making a delicious cake for Mardi Gras. He was psyched. I went on to tell him that there was something special about the cake. I remember saying, "We bake a baby inside! How fun is that?" Then his face dropped. He stared at Mags in my arms and began to cry. I realized my frazzled, sleep deprived, epic FAIL at that point. There was no smooth recovery. To be honest, there was no recovery at all. No matter how many ways I explained that it wasn't real, that it was plastic, that if he got it in his piece he WON, (he loves winning) there was no convincing him it was a good idea. From that moment on all babies, real or plastic, were officially banned to be baked in our King Cake. Heaven forbid we ever visit New Orleans and the boy bites into a plastic baby in a piece of King Cake. He may have a nervous breakdown.
We have made King Cake, or should I say, I have attempted to make King Cake ever since my first year of teaching in NOVA...thirteen years ago. I know, I know...I'm not for New Orleans and to be honest I never celebrated Mardi Gras until then. Sometimes you meet people that start traditions for you...that make them something you look forward to and treasure. That person for us was Preston.
Preston was the very first principal that Chris and I ever taught for. Preston has a big southern accent and a big daddy type of laugh. You cannot help but smile when you are around this man. He was the kind of principal that made you want to do the best job you could do at all times. He knew every student's name along with their parents and sometimes extended family.
Preston was originally from New Orleans. He always teased me about my "Bahston accent" and I teased him that he was from "Nawlins". He was proud of his traditions and his home city. You were automatically an LSU fan the second you walked through the doors of his school. Yellow and purple were your new favorite colors. Here. Have a shirt.
Mardi Gras was another big time in the school. I was a new classroom teacher so I began to hear the buzz from veteran teachers about a school wide parade WEEKS prior to the event. It was a really big deal. Each year as principal, Preston threw a Mardi Gras parade down the halls of the school. You had to see it to believe it!
You were given a photocopy of masks the week before and told to copy enough for each child in your class. You were then instructed to have them all decorated by Fat Tuesday...it was part of your lesson plans for the week. Once Fat Tuesday came around, you would take your students out to the hallway. Everyone was in masks. We all stood there, waiting. Anticipating. Then he would come out! Mask on, beads in hand and music playing over the intercom. The staff and kids would all yell, "Throw me some beads, Mister". Beads would fly, laughter would be plentiful and screams of delight would be heard around the school. Every kid ended up with multiple kinds of beads. As if that was not fun enough, we were all given King Cake that was made from scratch by Barb, who was the head chef in the cafeteria.
So, in making our own tradition, Chris and I began to celebrate Mardi Gras in honor of Preston. We would decorate our humble abode each year and make a King Cake. When our kids came along we were excited to share our little tradition with them. I send a picture of the kids dressed in Mardi Gras garb every year to Preston and he says, "Good to see you're raising your kids right!"
So, here's to you, Preston! Thank you for sharing your own tradition with us to help us start one of our own. As you like to say:
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Let the good times roll!
HAPPY MARDI GRAS!