Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Providence WaterFire

Dear Em,
I was in college when I went to my first Providence WaterFire. It was magical. Although after dark, the city came alive with music while over 80 crackling bonfires burned in three of downtown Providence's rivers. It was beautiful. It took my breath away.

WaterFire was fun too. There used to be dance lessons before the fires were lit followed by an evening of dancing. One time Daddy & I & friends enjoyed a night of laughter & swing dancing. There are also people who pose as sculptures & yummy food.

Your daddy & I moved away from Rhode Island for a time, & it was a few years that we didn't get to enjoy any WaterFires at all. Then we had you, & the thought of navigating you in a stroller through the packed crowds of people made my head spin. But then my family came to visit, & I was so anxious to share the magic with them all. So, with a little hesitation, we took you to your very first WaterFire when you were just 1 1/2.

We didn't bring a stroller. I get claustrophobic enough in the sea of thousands of people. Maneuvering a stroller through it all (& up stairs) would have surely given me a panic attack. Luckily, my family is large & we had lots of helpers to carry you. Taking a 1 1/2 year old to WaterFire wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, it was really amazing. My family became just as enchanted with WaterFire as I did my first did you.

There are 13 WaterFire lightings each season. Sadly, last year we missed them all, but I couldn't wait to take Nonnie with us again this year. This time you were two years older. You're a great walker & wouldn't require a stroller or carrying. Plus, I was a WaterFire-with-a-child veteran. I wasn't as intimidated this year. I was so confident with my WaterFire-with-a-child abilities, I thought "why not take two kids?!" So, you, Nonnie, & I headed to WaterFire with your best friend S. 

I was feeling like a pretty awesome Mommy. I even had the great insight to stop at Job Lot to buy cheap glow necklaces & bracelets. How fun would that be once the sun set?! This was going to be the best night ever...or maybe not exactly. Here's how things actually went.

7pm: Arrive at Providence Convention parking lot. Walk 15 minutes with two kids to the WaterFire area.

7:15pm: Find the perfect spot to wait for the WaterFire lighting. A spot that might not be the best view but provides room for you & S to dance & spin around without knocking people over or falling into the river. 

7:20pm: Buy everyone Dels.

7:30pm: Realize I forgot the fricking glow sticks in the car, run (like for real run) back to the parking garage, & run back to the perfect spot where you, S, & Nonnie are waiting for me. Frick! Frick! Frick!

7:50pm: Return to our perfect spot sweating profusely & realize that our perfect spot has become a lot more crowded than when I first decided it was a perfect spot & there really is no view of the fires. Search for a better perfect spot.

8pm: Sit down at the new perfect spot...sniff...sniff...Is that poop?! OMG, you've got to be freaking kidding me!

8:05pm: Feel lucky that none of us actually touched the poop, although feel like we had gotten too close for comfort. Find a new perfect spot that is dangerously close to the river but hope that we can keep you from falling underneath the railing. Watch Nonnie have 13,000 panic attacks about you falling into the river. Watch S sit safely & maturely & wonder if it is even possible for you to sit still for 30 seconds?! Look at the dirty river water & contemplate if I would jump in after you if you fell. Ultimately decide that I would but that it would probably be awful.

8:15pm: When is the freaking sun going to set so they can light the fires?! Crack open the glow sticks & bracelets to distract you from trying to slide underneath the railing & falling into the river.

8:21pm: They've started lighting the fires, but it goes ever so slowly. When the fires in front of us are finally lit, take in the beauty. Look down at you. You are BORED. "Is this it? Can we do something now," you ask impatiently.

8:35pm: Decide to walk around. "I don't want my glow necklaces," you whine. Give them all to little S. She now has 8 glow necklaces around her neck & is lit up like a Christmas tree.

8:40pm: A woman passing by asks where we got the glow necklaces from. I explained to her that we got them at Job Lot & not the event. Then I think, "What the heck, S has 8," & hand her the top two glow necklaces from S's neck for her to have. Feel pretty good about helping out a stranger.

8:41pm: You ask me why I gave glow necklaces to a lady we don't know. I explain to you that it is nice to do things for others. You begin to cry about me giving away the two glow necklaces you can't live without (even though you didn't want them originally).

8:45pm: People are staring at us. You're still crying, which doesn't really go with the peaceful music that is playing. I am wondering why I didn't leave you at home with Daddy. Nonnie is desperate to get you to stop & convinces S to give you her pink glow necklace, even though it is also her favorite color. You stop crying.

8:50pm: You're crying again. Apparently this time it's because you saw someone holding popcorn & you realized you might die if you don't get some in your belly NOW. Nonnie says she is happy to treat us all to some popcorn. The popcorn search begins.

9:20pm: We walked what seemed like miles through small areas packed with thousands of people, but we finally find what actually might be the World's Best Popcorn! It seems as though you will live. You are happy again. Nonnie & S are happy. I just want to find a uncrowded spot to sit quietly & take in the beauty of the music & bonfires.

9:30pm: I find my quiet, perfect spot. You look at me. "Mommy, I have to go potty." Augh! There are no bathrooms that I know of nearby. I think for a second about trying to get you to pee in the river. Not a good choice. All he bathrooms I know of are back near the parking garage. "Let's just find a bathroom & head home."

9:40pm: I notice a guy standing next to you in the crowd holding a red solo cup filled with some type of mysterious liquid. I instruct you to watch out, not wanting you to have said liquid spilled all over you. "Watch out for what guy?!" you ask me. It was then I realize that at your height, you can't see anything other than a sea of people's legs. I realize that your WaterFire experience vastly differs from mine. 

10pm: The bathrooms weren't where we thought, & after walking for forever we end up in a dirty Macy's bathroom. I think we all just feel lucky you didn't have an accident before we got there. Except then you accidentally pee on your shorts in the bathroom stall. We wrap your shorts & underwear in paper towels & head to the car.

10:15pm: Made it back to the car. Have you & S change into PJs before strapping you into your car seats. Watch you both fall asleep before we even leave the parking garage.

10:45pm: Arrive home. You & S are so exhausted you don't even wake as we take you out of the car & up the stairs to bed. I feel just as exhausted & collapse in my own bed immediately after tucking you in.

The next WaterFire is this Saturday. As magical as it is, I think we will make our own magical firepit at home this time.

I love you so,


  1. Thanks for the fun report of your experience at WaterFire.

    As a dad of two young children, I know how challenging popular public events like WaterFire can be. We work hard at making the event family friendly and appealing to all ages. Of course, everyone's experience with the artwork and event is different.

    Your post has made us think about how we might be able to help families with young children have the best time possible at WaterFire by creating a downloadable "cheat sheet" with tips on parking, bathroom location, viewing options, etc.

    Later today we are launching a new webiste called which is designed to help visitors discover some of the other amazing arts and culture activities and events on WaterFire weekends in an around the city. Look for a post in the future with recommendations for families. Maybe we can even get you and Em back to WaterFire and do a guest post on

    Thanks for coming to WaterFire and thanks also for sharing your experience.

    Peter A. Mello, managing director
    WaterFire Providence
    401.273.1155 x130

  2. Thanks Peter! That cheat sheet sounds excellent! It's great to know that you are trying to make the event as family friendly as possible. We would love to do a guest post :)


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