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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C
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Opinion Should you bring your kids to music festivals?

I’m sure many looked at us and thought we were demented, possibly cruel, or just that we couldn’t get a babysitter. But that’s not the case.

BEFORE WE HAD kids we’d been to Electric Picnic a few times, but since our eldest son was due the weekend of the festival in 2008 we bowed out that year, and following years too. Then approaching his fourth birthday (and his small brother’s second) we made a spontaneous decision and booked family tickets. We’d give it a whirl. We weren’t sure what to expect. People, even those who hadn’t met our wild boys, thought we were mad.  A friend laughed and called me a hippy.

But we were resolute, other people did it, we’d seen them. We owned a three-wheeled buggy and our children had full rain gear and wellies, why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We wavered a couple of times but found ourselves in the family parking area on the Friday afternoon all the same. Kudos to Electric Picnic – families are looked after. If you’ve bought a family ticket you flash it at the Garda barriers and are directed to the designated Family Parking area, right next to the Family Camping area. There, you get to laugh with other families about how much luggage everyone has (while trying not to let on that you’re not actually camping, but staying in a nearby hotel, and you just don’t know how to pack light for a day out). There’s a jovial atmosphere.

Taking the plunge 

On our first year there with the kids, we jaunted together through the tree-lined avenue, expecting to meet a mouse and a Gruffalo at any moment, walked past the lake, looking at the swans, then over the bridge, through the woods and up an incredibly steep ramp –put there to accommodate buggies – and into the Walled Garden where the magic began at Soul Kids. No navigating through campsites, no encounters with drunken teenagers, all happy and safe, and the route was appreciated all the more that night as we made our exit the same quiet route back to the car park.

Once we extracted the kids from Soul Kids (it took some time and some bribes) we went exploring.

The grounds at Stradbally and the festival are set up provide lots of amusement, too. There are trees to swing out of, flagpoles to climb, people in fancy dress to point out, sculptures to scamper up or play peep around. We found acorns, and saw apples growing on trees.  The Body and Soul area was perfect to hang out in, run up and down hills and bop along to the music.

There was a circus are on site, but we didn’t go (we hardly had time), and a funfair where our almost-four-year-old was allowed on the helter skelter (“a twisty slide, like in Peppa!”) and was ecstatic. I enjoyed a cookery demo I got a text to let me know that my three boys were all on the Ferris wheel. The toddler was so thrilled by this that he would point excitedly at it every time that he saw it and tell me “Up, me, LOOK!” We listened to music and they swayed and clapped along, critiquing through their ear defenders. We could tell how much they liked it by how many snacks they requested.

The kids had an absolute ball

We managed to have three late nights, thanks to two very cooperative boys who watched for a bit and when the time came dozed in their double buggy, snug with fleece blankets and ear defenders. We listened to a gig on a picnic mat outside the Crawdaddy stage, drinking hot chocolate, buggy parked beside us, in a group of families.

I am sure many looked at us and thought that we were demented, possibly cruel, or just that we couldn’t get a babysitter but most of that is not true, and my Mam offered loads of times to take the boys for the weekend but we wanted to bring them along – once anyway. The kids had an absolute ball. The older fella was gutted that he slept through his favourite song by his favourite band and because we thought that this might happen we even tried to wake him for it but to no avail. He snored as the tunes were belted out all around him.

Other festival goers were so receptive to the kids, laughing at their luggage tags, cooing at the toddler’s froggy wellies, and one good-humoured soul pretended to be a tiger and approaching our picnic mat and played with the two for about ten minutes, them squealing with laughter.

We had a fantastic weekend, but I think the age of the kids played a big role in this. Ours were small enough to sit in the buggy and snooze when they needed to. Lots of parents with older kids seemed to be ferrying them around in wheelbarrow and, as it got later, there were a few miserable looking tweens around the place whose parents were still partying as if their kids weren’t there.

Like anything, bring kids and you’ll make compromises – but as most parents know, if your kids are happy then you’re happy too. Don’t think that it will be the same Electric Picnic as before but with a buggy, that’s not how life is. We had thought that we’d take it in turns to have a few drinks and drive but with the full on minding and entertaining of smallies we just weren’t inclined, and we had one drink each each day and didn’t seek out a second.

Would we bring the kids again? The tickets are bought, this time for five of us. If you see us there say hello!

Practical bits and pieces

Drinks: If your kids are small and don’t do fizzy bring big bottles of water or made up juice, stow in the buggy and refill their normal sippy cups.

Snacks: Parents of young kids rarely leave home without snacks so stock up. There’s lots of great food options at Electric Picnic but you won’t find much in the way of fruit so each day I brought raisins and apples and some fruit purees in pouches which I called smoothies and they were devoured. Naturally, if all else fails sweeties buy goodwill or distract at least.

Sitting: Bring a plastic backed picnic mat. Sit regularly and have “picnics” with the aforementioned snacks. We hung out near gigs that we wanted to hear and let the boys climb trees while we sat on that mat or they chilled on it.

Toilet stuff: There are changing facilities in the Soul Kids area, which is great, but there’s no way that you are going to trek the whole way there every time a bum needs changing. Bring something to lie your baby on and do it there in a quiet corner. Bring antibacterial handwash and toilet roll and obviously baby wipes. Explain the portaloos to the kids before you use them for the first time, mine were fascinated at seeing other people’s deposits and had so many questions on each visit.
Music/Noise: Ear defenders are essential for younger kids, but before you go. I didn’t see them for sale at the festival but loads of people asked us where we had got them. The boys wore them at gigs and happily slept with them on. And they looked pretty cool too.

Transport: There is a lot of walking so if there’s any chance that your child will sit in a buggy at all bring it, it’s useful for stowing all the snacks and drinks too.  Small wheels are no use though, in the festival fields of Stradbally three wheeled buggies are king. If your smallies are disposed to travelling in a sling bring it too.

Tag your kids: Kids get wristbands and security insist that you write your phone number on them in case your child gets lost but I also bought cheap luggage tags, put our phone numbers on the (but not the child’s name) and put them through the boys’ belt loops.

Sinéad Fox is a mum of three who spends her time commuting, cooking, wiping noses,  mopping up spills and ‘adventuring’. Then when they’re all asleep she writes about it on her blog Bumbles of RiceFind Sinéad on Twitter @Bumblesofrice and on Facebook

Read: 9 struggles everyone faces at an outdoor gig in Ireland

Read: Headliners, hot tubs, births & rebirths: 12 hours in the life of a music festival

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