Well, the high school marching band just started practicing in our neighborhood, so I know it’s Apple Blossom! My kids were thrilled by this unique sound of spring in Wenatchee, sensing the rumble of the drums with wide eyes and rushing out the door to follow them along the sidewalk. I felt warm, despite the slight chill in the air. Looking around at the green velvet hills around this beautiful valley, I felt it again. This festival is an epic part of Wenatchee life; something that brings community together for celebration as we anticipate the hard work of harvest ahead. BBQs are already being planned, and chairs are being strung up in a row to claim a spot for the parade. For those who were raised here, the enjoyment of this tradition is definitely something to come home for.

Crowds and community can be a great combination at times; lots of people focused on having fun, and best of all, watching out for each other. But the bustle and the excitement brings in a lot of other stuff, too. People who are rushing around, tired from walking around, or arguing, or eating too much sugar, sometimes even a bit tipsy. Our kids are distracted by it all; a recipe for confusion and getting lost.

Once upon a time, Apple Blossom used to mean more strangers, heavy partying, and increased arrests. When I moved here in 2006, even though I never saw any problems, some still whispered a quick reminder to lock my doors. Thanks to our community’s thoughtful planning and collaboration with authorities, there has been a HUGE decline in crime during the festival, even since 2008. The cultural change effort in this town is truly something to be applauded!

Apple Blossom is definitely a time to relax and have fun. Just the smell of funnel cake makes me feel a little more laid back! However, no time is ever a good time to throw caution to the wind when it comes to our kids. If no one ever lost track of their child in a crowd, then this blog post wouldn’t even be necessary. But we all know that isn’t our reality. Teaching our children situational awareness (and practicing it ourselves) is critical, and Apple Blossom is an excellent season to guide them in such lessons safely.

I brainstormed with Wenatchee Mom Bloggers, local authorities and festival staff to compile the following safety tips:

  • Make a plan. Ahead of time. The festival may be virtually in our backyard, but it’s still important to get there happy and in one piece! Give yourself some wiggle time, too. Last year, I completely missed the kiddy parade because I was wrangling two kids and a baby, I discovered last minute that stroller had a flat tire, and my oldest didn’t feel like walking. *sniffle* But seriously, whether you’re going to the food fair, the parade, the carnival, or Classy Chassis, it’s good to talk it all through, step by step. Kids (even babies and toddlers) do a lot better when they know (explicitly) what’s coming, and they’d benefit from hearing it repeated a few times.
  • Set boundaries and ground rules. This discussion goes hand in hand with knowing what to expect, and it’s good to have the conversation before you get there. Depending on the age of your child(ren), this will look and sound different. For Littles: please stay next to the stroller at all times, and hold my hand whenever we cross the street or enter the park (who am I kidding? You may want a kid-leash). For teens, well, this is uncharted territory for me; but you may want to discuss ahead of time what they’ll be allowed (or not allowed) to do if they run into a bestie at the parade. Dependable buddy systems are very important to establish. Remind them that everyone will be milling about occupied with their own “people” that they will truly need to be aware for themselves. Definitely set some “check in” rules with confidence, even if you’re normally a relaxed mom. Even if you totally trust your kid. If they don’t feel prepared for that, then they need to stay by you. Don’t forget to get some cash and have that money discussion, too. Apple Blossom can be dangerous for spenders, teens, and those with a sweet tooth!
  • Identify a meeting place. ALWAYS Identify a safe spot to reunite if you get separated. The carnival is at the Town Toyota Center for the first time, so you’ll have to figure out a new meeting spot this year; such as a favorite ride, an entrance, or a ticket booth. You’ll find the Apple Blossom booth across from the stage, right next to the beer garden. In addition, if needed, the Apple Blossom Festival building situated on the Chelan, Douglas, and Palouse corner of Memorial Park across from the library, will also be staffed during this time.
  • People in uniform = HELP. Please take this opportunity to reinforce the belief that police, firefighters, EMTs, and Apple Blossom staff/volunteers (they’ll be wearing a name badge) are the right people to go to for help. Model your own confidence in them by introducing yourself and/or your child, or at least pointing them out and smiling, or waving as you walk around. Ambulances are scattered throughout the parade route (Apple Bowl, Triangle Park at the intersection of Cherry and Orondo, at the courthouse, the intersection of Cherry and Orondo, and at on the Ave. at 3rd street. You’ll see one at Memorial park on parade days, as well.
  • Plan for distraction and forgetfulness. For your kids and you! The night before, you may want to set out what your child should wear, including an extra layer or change of clothes (if she’s potty training like mine), just in case. Verbalize and memorize what everyone is wearing. Something distinctive, like a special hat or colorful shoes, will help your child focus on YOU in the midst of the crowd. I remember the fear I felt as a youngster when I hugged the leg of a man who wore the same khaki pants as my father that day. Thankfully, Dad was close by, watching, and came to my rescue. Little people can easily get caught up in the crowd and begin following someone that looks like mom from behind, only to find themselves lost and confused in unfamiliar company. They sometimes forget their address, phone number, or even their mommy’s name if they are upset. You might want to put a little card with important info into their pocket and tell them to give it to the person in the uniform if they feel confused. I rehearse this with my daughter pretty often by singing a little song we made up.
  • Learning what’s appropriate helps us understand what’s NOT. Helping them grow into good “Apple Blossomers” means helping them understand situations and how to behave appropriately in each one. It’s important to explain to children the general unspoken social rules in areas like the food fair (we walk on the right side just like cars, and watch your step, there are electrical cords down there on the grass. What where you’re walking!), the port-a-potty (we stand over here and look for a green door knob and that means we can go in that one. If it’s red, that means someone has shut the door and they’re using it. We wash our hands, and then we quickly leave so that other people can have a turn. Yes it’s stinky. This is why we don’t hang out here, and we don’t talk to strangers much. This is still private, just like the bathrooms at home.), the craft booths (we keep our hands down and look with our eyes. We can point and talk about what we like, but we don’t touch because if we break it, we buy it), and more…This could help them be safer, because when children know how to behave, they notice it when others are behaving inappropriately.
    Affirm to your kids that they can walk away, go to a safer place, and find someone to tell about it. I’ll never forget the time at the Gilroy Garlic Festival when I was twelve or so. A jolly man I barely knew called me over to the edge of the beer garden, and pressured me to sing broadway hits for his new pals. Serious. I was so embarrassed! Yes, it could have been worse, but I still wish I had walked away…or tossed him a bottled water, which brings me to the next point.
  • Avoid dehydration. Last year’s Apple Blossom was a doozy, sitting out in the glaring sun in the upper 90s! I had a baby on my chest and despite the water I drank and the rest that I soaked the muslin blanket with to keep her cooler, we were both uncomfortable and sweating buckets. Thankfully, this year we’re expecting more moderate weather, with temps in the 60s. But remember how hot it can get when we’re walking around in crowds in the middle of the day? As our mom blog’s own Clara Field shared in her upbeat Apple Blossom post last year, we should make sure to bring a cooler with lots of water. A camel back might be handy-hands-free, too. Coconut water or lemon water with some maple syrup and salt for electrolytes are also good healthy options. Remember, caffeine is a diuretic, so if you’re sucking down cola all day, you may end up loosing more water than you ingested. And clothes matter, too. Wear light colored, billowy clothing to stay cool. Bring a fan. Wear a hat. A bandanna in the back pocket can be wet and used for any number of important functions like a neck cooler or a face freshener.
  • Allergy awareness. So, if you’re anything like our family, this deserves it’s own section. It’s spring. There are bees coming out. They like sweet stuff. Need I say more? Bee prepared. Keep your eye out for the first aid booth or ambulances nearby. Also, if your kids have any food allergies or intolerances, help them out when it comes to the food fair. Wheat, peanut oil, dairy…It’s horrible not to be able to eat 90 percent of the stuff, but it’s worth it to help them stay safe and feeling good during Apple Blossom. Pack your own treats and lunch if you must, and save your cash for a special non-food item at the parade or a craft booth.
  • Field trips. The schools sometimes plan walking field trips to the food fair this week. There are performances your kids are participating in with their various groups. Some are walking in the parade and will need to get picked up at the end of the route. This usually means only a few adults with a whole gaggle of kids wanting to explore, have fun, and eat ice cream. I am glad I don’t have older kids yet, because I don’t know if I could find it in my heart to sign the permission slip! But if you are cool with it, sign it. And make sure you help them get it turned in on time, because it would be horrible to sit in the library while everyone else is eating corn dogs and mountains of cheese-y fries. I’d probably coach my kid a little bit before signing. I’d want them to know where, review how to make good food purchases (as I mentioned, we have allergies to consider). Honestly, I’d probably embarrass them and chaperone. At least their friends would probably like me!

What other safety tips would you provide to your fellow mom and her kids?

Here’s to a safe, enjoyable Apple Blossom Festival!

(Wenatchee World file photos. Top: Mike Bonnicksen photo. Kids ride the Dragon Wagon at the Funtastic Shows Carnival last year. Second: Don Seabrook photo. Daisy Campos, 4, Wenatchee, tries to keep up with the drips from her strawberry ice cream cone at the 2013 food fair. Last: Mike Bonnicksen. Kids from Kristi’s Happy Home Wee-Care Daycare Pre-School sing and wave to the crowd during the Keyes Fibre Youth Parade last year.)