My oldest daughter was practically born on the grounds of the Mission Folk Music Festival under a full-moon on a Saturday night more than 20 years ago this week.
And she’s danced her heart out at the same festival every summer since.
The place defines her.
In those early years, she’d fall asleep in the arms of her father while they both swayed to some new beat late into the warm evenings.
Eventually, this family-oriented festival is where she learned to spread her wings and grow into womanhood as a rabble-rouser who thought that it was normal for women of all ages to take to the stage with something to say.
But she didn’t just learn about the power of strong women and strong music. She also learned how to be a participant in her wider world.
She learned about self-expression and group dynamics. She learned when to lead and when to follow.
For me, the most important thing she learned from this, and other festivals, was the value of community.
She learned there are plenty of adults you can trust out there in the world.
And she learned to spot the ones you can’t. All while feeling free – despite her mother never being beyond arms reach from her bouncing body.
From the time she was a toddler, she watched older people – mostly women – dance and sway with absolutely no inhibitions.
So, she did, too.
Unlike her mother, she still has no problem jumping up to start the dancing wherever she is.
She and her sister have been occasionally nicknamed ‘the dancing sisters’ on both coasts – something their two-left-footed mother couldn’t have imagined before they were born.
Most of all, this hanging out at community events and festivals meant they learned about joy.
We never planned this part. Never mapped out this path for our girls.
So, I am thankful for the musical community who gave my girls the freedom to grow into themselves.
And I can’t say enough about how local festivals and open-space events can help parents experience this inclusion and the power of belonging.
Try it if you get a chance this summer. Hang out for a few hours at the upcoming Maple Ridge Caribbean Festival or any of the Music on the Wharf series that celebrate local talent in a gorgeous setting.
It doesn’t have to be music to help your little ones understand how they are part of a larger community.
Take in the Haney Farmers Market or the Movie Night in the Park. Even for just a short time, before the tiredness and the tears kick in.
You might be surprised, as I was, just how much these few hours can fill up your family’s well of joy.
For the first time in their lives, my two dancers were not at the folk festival this year. They are off dancing on other continents to new music in new languages.
So, I did a lot of watching young children sway in the arms of the parents. I watched them as they wandered just out of reach to taste new-found freedom in the rhythm of a stranger’s song. And all I could think about was everything I didn’t know back when I almost gave birth on the festival grounds.
Our kids will find their own music. They will find their own beats to dance to and their own rhythm to follow.
But as parents, we can help them find their groove by making the trek to summer gatherings and festivals to create space, safety, and freedom for them to express themselves without fear of rejection or judgement.
Then we can sit back in our lawn chair and watch them turn up the volume on their joy – and our own.
Lynn Easton writes for the Ridge Meadows Early Childhood