A Chicago dad’s fall fest survival guide

For as much I dislike autumn and its frumpy sweaters, concussion-inducing athletics, and mealy apples, (Oh, apples, you’re just shy of honeydew on the spectrum of garbage fruits.) one thing can be said… there is no shortage of festivals! You have harvest fests, Oktoberfests, and Halloween fests! Sure it’s colder and browner and the beer all tastes like the brewmaster bumped into a spice rack, but between hay rides and zombie walks and Oom-pah bands, your evening and weekends will at least be full of activity and whimsy! (Need to help sort your All-Hallows plans? We’ve got a clearinghouse for you here).  

You shouldn’t just dive into these seasonal shindigs without a plan, though. The days are long and the wind is cold and without making a few simple moves to improve the chances for both you and the family to fully enjoy the day, you’ll just end up a grumpy beast of burden with a runny nose and a stomach full of pumpkin pie filling (which is on that garbage fruit pyramid with apples and honeydew).

So, here is my field-tested advice on what to prepare before you head out to the pony rides and bobbing for second-rate fruit:

Put low maintenance footwear on your child.

Bouncy houses, corn pools, big slides… they all require stocking feet. You know in the summer when you forget to bring socks to festivals and then your child takes off their sandals to go on a bungee run and they’re not allowed because they’re barefoot? Lace-up boots is the fall version of this problem. Sure your daughter makes a more accurate “Squirrel Girl” with lace-up boots, but if you have to take them on and off eight times at one festival, you’re going to wish it was a slip-on.

Wear bathroom-friendly costumes and clothing.

Star Wars Stormtrooper jumpsuits and smocks are a Halloween staple. Overalls make for both an adorable fall outfit and a great Mario costume. (Or a Luigi costume if you are the less-loved sibling.) Kids will hit the potty, however, and when it comes to functioning in a crowded bathroom or horrifying Port-a-John, pants or a skirt are much more user-friendly. Sure, dressing your child like Belle means she may grow up to fall in love with a waltzing buffalo who kidnaps her, but at least she can hike up her hoop skirt to pee.

Bring a bag with space.

You probably already head out with a backpack or messenger bag to carry snacks and changes of clothing and thermoses of suspicious coffee. Make sure that bag has extra room! Why? Fall fests result in goody bags, candy giveaways, pumpkin painting, craft spiders made of black solo cups and pipe cleaners, etc. etc. etc. If you don’t want to walk to your car looking like a “Don’t Tip the Waiter” game holding two kids dressed as Avengers, two pumpkins covered in wet paint and five pounds of Tootsie Rolls, then bring an empty backpack. Like a conscientious hiker, you’ll be carrying out more than you carried in.

An ounce of allergy prevention…

…beats a night of sneezing. Hay rides? Petting zoos? Corn mazes? You and the kids are going to breathe in enough spores, dander and agricultural biomass to make a tank full of ethanol in your sinuses. Make sure any of you with allergies Zyrtec it up (or whatever may be your drug of choice) before you’re stroking goats and throwing straw at one another.

Shake it off (the corn kernels, that is).

This last tip is meant to be executed before you head home. It may be fun to go neck deep in a corn pool like Scrooge McDuck swimming in coins, and it’s always a blast to get lost in a hay bale labyrinth, but those corn kernels and tassles and leaves and bugs tend to find their way home inside the lace-up boots and Stormtrooper smocks. All that grain and all those burrs and stalks follow you back like the Grudge. If you don’t want to give your hardwood floors a maze patina, try to dump out the shoes, bags, cuffs, collars and folds before you head back to sleep off your Halloween adventures (and all those gross apples you ate).

Follow Matt at The Paternity Test Comedy Podcast.

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