[Judes is the Burner mom of an 11-year old baby-Burner, and founder of Black Rock Scouts.]
Burning Man has been a family affair from the very beginning. When Jerry James and Larry Harvey burned the first Man in 1986, their 5-year old sons Robin and Trey built a Burning Dog alongside their dads.
Because the playa is a colossal day-glow playground, children feel right at home. Kids already live in make-believe worlds, so when they experience the magic of Black Rock City, it feels natural to the way they view the world. Tots know how to play and have fun without inhibition, hesitation or fear of judgment. Follow that Art car! As a parent, I know it’s really my reaction that colors my kid’s reaction to something. Us grownups can learn a few things from tiny folk and how they embrace the art and culture of Black Rock City.
TICKETS AND LOST CHILDREN
Burning Man enthusiastically welcomes children of all ages to Black Rock City, and kids 12 and younger don’t require a ticket. BRC’s infrastructure supports the presence of families, and has an excellent record in regard to the welfare of children. There have been no incidents of child abuse, abductions, molestations or serious injuries. Should a child be reported as missing, Black Rock Rangers initiate a Lost Child shutdown — an all-hands alert goes out to all law enforcement and infrastructural staff, citizen alerts are broadcast on BMIR, and the Gates are closed for all traffic until the child is located – usually, within minutes. A parent or guardian with a lost child should go to a Ranger right away. There are Ranger stations in Center Camp and at 3 and 9 o’clock Plazas, and Rangers rove the streets in their distinctive khaki costumes – they are there to help.
In 2001, Kidscamp (a family village) was established as a supportive haven for parents. Now known as Kidsville, the village has evolved into a space where families can happily live and play with other crusty little Burners. The village makes wristband ID’s for all their child campers, creates mini-theme camps with kid activities, and has its own in-house Ranger liaison. It is a place for families to support one another and share resources and kid-friendly good times. By 2011, the population of Kidsville swelled to over 600. Any family can camp at Kidsville so long as they have children with them. Contact TK to join the group or get advice about camping with kids. The entire radial area from 5:30-5:30 is designated “Family Friendly.”
WHO’S RESPONSIBILITY? PARENTS, OF COURSE!
Even with safety precautions and family areas in place, the ultimate responsibility is on parents to keep their children safe (it’s printed right on the ticket). Burner parents don’t plan to let their children wander freely on their own any more than they do back home — just because we are Burners, it doesn’t mean we take a week off from being responsible parents.
Communication is key – parenting is hard on the playa. Don’t kid yourself – we all become tired and cranky out there in the harsh desert. Think through your childcare choices – do you have an alternate for when you need a break, a nap, or a respite? Will your kid be able to sleep in a city where sound never really does? Not every child’s personality is suited for Burning Man, and parenting on the playa is not for every parent.
Make sure you have read the survival guide and are ready to take on camping in the desert. Dust is one of the biggest challenges of parenting on the playa. You need to make sure you and your little ones have goggles, wet naps, lip balm, face masks/bandanas, hats, sunscreen, water and heat-resistant snacks – every time you leave your camp, even for a trip to the bathroom. Dust will get into your tent, into your luggage, into every thing you bring.
Plan costumes as survival gear in a harsh place. Zippers may break (tip: lube them with a chapstick!) and feathers will definitely fly away (so don’t bring them!). Prepare for the dust and wind. Dust will dry up noses and crack your hands and bare feet. Skin care is important on the playa, so wipe your kid’s skin down every night with wet naps and apply healthy oils/moisturizers to the dry bits. White vinegar mixed with water will also cut the dust. Most Burners bring vinegar with them to clean – everything—before, during and after the event.
While survival skills are key, playa-cation doesn’t end with sunscreen and water bottles. As parents, we can teach our offspring about the Burning Man culture, compassion, responsibility, respect, self-reliance, courtesy and generosity. Although it’s fun to dress them in pink fur, children are not playa accessories. They are part of the community, and have the same responsibilities that adults do. At the same time, kids are citizens of Black Rock City; they bring freshness and diversity to the playa, and they deserve the same respect and radical inclusion as any adult Burner.
A word on gifts – your kid will likely get more gifts than you do! This can be one of the fun parts of being a child at Burning Man – many people appreciate seeing young people in our culture and may go out of their way to reach out to your family as you walk the streets, sometimes offering gifts or treats to express welcome. Black Rock City is a place where strangers are encouraged to meet, interact, and share openly with one another, but it’s important to acknowledge that it is still the real world, and to talk about personal safety. Kids should be reminded that in any gathering of this size, there can be people present who do not have our best interests in mind, and that just because gifting is one of our tenets that doesn’t mean you have to say yes to “candy from strangers” or stay in situations that don’t feel right.
THE ANTI-KID BURNER
There are some Burners who believe children do not belong on the playa. As a parent, I absolutely respect those opinions. Those I’ve spoken to have their reasons; some come to Burning Man to get away from their kids, some have grown kids and don’t want to deal with somebody else’s snotty-nose toddler and some simply don’t want to have to curb their behavior in front of children. It’s totally understandable.
The good news is, BRC is a big place. Respect goes both ways. There is plenty of room for every kind of experience, and for the most part, a parent can steer clear of adult activities with only a little planning and awareness. Over the years, when I’ve bumped into something I felt was inappropriate for my son, I simply went the other way. For me, those moments are opportunities to talk openly with my kid about taboo topics that might not otherwise come up between us. It has kept communication open between me and my son, in a really positive way.
BABY BURNERS ARE HERE TO STAY
The baby-Burner population continues to grow every year — and not just because babies are conceived on the playa. Even newbies are bringing their young. Still, the math is simple: Burners + Burners = homegrown organic free-range baby Burners. Burners naturally want to share their experience with their offspring, and have the rare opportunity to grow model-Burners from the ground up. What better way to assure our culture, integrity and principals will be instilled in the next generation?
A child-free Burner recently told me that she appreciates the difficult job that parents do. Kids are the future for us all… so breeders are not just raising their own kids, they are raising her kids too.
Below are some resources for families. We’d love to hear about yours!
Newsletter from Larry Harvey, on children
Advice for Burning Man with Kids