~ By Soo Young Lee
While exploring new environments, I love seeing the world through the eyes of my son Niko, a fiercely curious 3-year-old. So, I was delighted when PEPS invited us to attend the Northwest Family Festival, a family-friendly festival founded by the owner of The Perfect Push, who provides birthing and doula services, with the support of Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) and so many other sponsors.
As we walked into this festival in Redmond, bright yellow balloons caught Niko’s attention, but he quickly ran in the direction of the walking velociraptor instead. When he got close enough to touch the giant dinosaur, however, he started running the other way, shouting out in fear. Amidst the screams of excitement gathering around the dinosaur, one dad shared with me that he appreciated how the activities appealed to both his son and older daughter. “That’s a rare treat,” he told me.
I let Niko lead the way, and as soon as he’d crawled inside a bouncy house, he immediately jumped back out. “I don’t like it”, he announced. In Goldilocks-fashion, he tested out each of the bouncy houses until he found a good fit with the last one. As soon as he spotted the Moana and Maori characters, he grabbed my hand and pulled me towards them. Niko looked up at them in awe while hiding behind my legs with some trepidation.
We decided to explore by walking around to visit the tents, each featuring a different local organization that in some way supports families. It was heartwarming to witness the diversity of families on the Eastside, while children of all ages mingled and participated in activities and games together.
At the tents, we had the opportunity to sample natural energy chocolates, chat with a chiropractor offering services for kids, and met local dentists who gave Niko samples of toothpaste and floss to encourage dental health. There was an array of services that catered specifically to women’s wellness: breast pump services and birthing centers. Many other well-known family-oriented businesses were on site too, including Baby Diaper Service, ParentMap, Bright Horizons, Parent Trust, Booginhead, and WA529. Interacting with so many local services and businesses helped me to see that the festival was indeed living up to its motto of “For the community, by the community”. The conversations I shared with the vendors were both friendly and informative.
As the afternoon wore on and the sun began to heat up, Niko decided to cool down at the sprinkler park and danced along to the live music from the band. Many parents sat along the sidelines, enjoying some quieter moments while watching their kids squeal in delight each time the sprinkler came on. One woman I’d met had brought her grandson to the sprinkler park and was pleasantly surprised by the festival and planned to attend afterwards. One family who frequents the trails biked to the festival together. The dad of this family shared, “It is a great way to get some exercise and let the kids have some fun in the same trip.”
After pausing to eat lunch and play in the water, Niko seemed recharged – like one of the Superman characters at the festival. Giving it another try, Niko approached the dinosaur again, this time with more interest and less concern. He ran in front of the velociraptor and roared. He returned to the bouncy houses with revitalized vigor and Tigger-jumping power. Inside the bouncy house, Niko observed a young toddler, standing in the corner and looking overwhelmed. Niko held out a hand, offering to help him find his parents. He held his head high afterwards, feeling triumphant in his display of leadership, and showed his pride with a small smile.
Another mom was waiting for her children nearby and shared that her kids were enjoying the bouncy houses the most. They were loving the fact that they could try out all the different sizes and themes with the cost of only one ticket. “They are a hit and not overly crowded.”, she beamed. Another mom chimed in about appreciating the low entrance fee that covered a variety of games and activities for children. It felt good knowing that a 100% of the ticket sales were going towards directly supporting two organizations, the Seattle Union Gospel Mission Emergency Women’s Shelter and Special Delivery, local nonprofits that provide shelter and services to homeless young moms and other moms in crisis.
After two hours, I needed to convince Niko to leave because nap time was approaching. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t want to leave and persistently grabbed the grass to root himself in. Ultimately, we made our way back to the car with Niko in my arms and a few tears. As he slept in the car on the drive home, I reflected on the day.
Sometimes the excitement of being in a new place can be displaced by the fear of the unfamiliar. I noticed that certain conditions helped dispel that worry for him: sharing the experience with peers, being of help to others, and tapping into joy. Niko had found his center and unknowingly processed his initial fears of the sights and sounds by romping around with other kids, helping a younger child, and letting himself (literally) jump into the fun.
I realized that both PEPS and The Perfect Push bring families together in a similar fashion; connecting through the sharing of experiences, creating a warm and inclusive environment, while extending a supportive hand during a time of many highs and lows of pregnancy and parenting. With this kind of help and knowledge, it can make it easier to rest in the delights of parenting because each child is an unknown adventure waiting to unfold.
My own adventures with my son have taught me to be more present to what he is experiencing without expectations. I cannot force him to have fun even if that is the intention. I learn a great deal from witnessing the feelings and thoughts that come up for both of us. My son reminds me that sometimes a little fun can go a long way towards overcoming his anxiety.