Last year, I went to Burning Man for the first time with a close friend of mine and I learned a few lessons which I shared in this blog post. At the time, I thought I might not want to bring my kids back with me (but not for the reasons you probably think). However, Time, being what it is, erased some of the rough edges of my experiences of Burning Man from last year in the same way that Time erases, say, the rough edges of the memory of childbirth and allows for kids to have siblings. So this year, after a fabulous, adults-only day and night with the first-time, begrudgingly attending yet *mostly* fun-having Mr. Angela Daniels and friends, Mr. A.D. made the trek back out of Black Rock City to collect our little ones while I watched over our camp, put in time as a Greeter On Duty for Kidsville and did a little solo exploring. Once the kiddos arrived, we braved what truly were some gnarly dusty conditions and a few weird & wonderful things happened. So if you're thinking about taking your kids to Burning Man in the future, let me warn you about a few things that may happen:
1. Your usually overly-cautious 11 year-old may tear off on his bike, screaming over his shoulder that he's always wanted to find out what is like to be IN a dust devil. Yes, IN. And what can you do but remind yourself that you brought the kiddo to Burning Man to learn to explore a little and to experience what it's like to push himself outside of his comfort-zone? Your job is to make sure your little Burner has appropriate goggles and dust mask in place in the event that he successfully makes it into the center of the dust devil and is safe to bike, triumphantly, back to you.
2. Your 9 year-old may quickly reevaluate her position on what acceptable outfits are. There is no doubt that your kid will see nudity at Burning Man. Even if you are at the wonderfully staffed (by parent volunteers) Kidsville camp which allows no adult nudity, you can't avoid seeing the occasional, random naked Burner. Some are painted, some have elaborate accessories accompanying their mostly naked selves but they are undeniably nude. As my older kiddo pointed out, "Yes, but so many of the naked people I saw were European and they're much more comfortable about nudity so it's no big deal." So, while your own ideas of morality may be traced back to the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock (like mine surely can be), your kids are developing much more flexibility in accepting how other people choose to express themselves. Which is, of course, what you may have hoped for them to learn.
3. With over 5 square miles to explore, including over 300 pieces of art (many of them interactive) and over 600 registered Mutant Art Cars, naturally your children will want to spend all day in the kid-friendly Kidsville camp making friends and jumping on one of the many trampolines instead. You might find yourself saying, "But don't you want to bike over to that giant octopus that is shooting out fire first?" Luckily, Kidsville is a favorite destination of many of the most outrageous art cars so many times, the best of Black Rock City comes to Kidsville.
4. If your kid says, "Can we hitch a ride on an art car?" and you say "yes," be ready to immediately sprint down the Playa (camera bag and backpacks smacking against your back) to catch up with him as he jumps up a ladder of a double decker art bus that is driving farther and farther away from you. You might age a little faster as you worry you might not make it but you will (and you'll realize you were much closer than your panic-stricken mind thought) and you'll have the ride of your life once you're safely on-board with your (formerly) overly-cautious child.
5. In the middle of an unplanned Burning Man adventure (and really, those are the only kind of adventures you'll have), you might find yourself far away from your bikes and camp and worry that your little one is hungry. Just keep your eyes out for the fabulous PB&J cart. We happened upon it when we suddenly found ourselves far away from camp after an impromptu trip on an art car. It was an oasis in the desert. We heart that cart. I hope they do another Kickstarter campaign next year. I want to contribute some P B and/ or J.
6. No matter how much you say you want your kids to be peace-loving and non-violent, you might just find yourself cheering for your little one in the Kidsville Thunderdome. It's like the awesome big Thunderdome on the Playa at Burning Man but scaled down. Most awesomely, the Thunderdome people may show up and actually referee the kid matches and, even though you try to be cool about it, you might be sheepishly proud of your little girl if she wins her match.
7. Your kids will be getting more gifts than you. Black Rock City operates on a gifting economy. This means people just, well, give you things if the mood strikes them. If you have your kiddos with you, they are guaranteed to bring out the gifting nature of the people around them. While my goal was to be as respectful to all the kid-free Burners as possible, we had countless people approach us and give stickers and jewelry to our kiddos because they missed their own kids back at home.
8. There are really too many things to mention that might happen if you bring your kids to Burning Man to list. Each family will have experiences unique to them. So, if you can brave potentially helacious dust conditions, a lot of heat and you can be open-minded and realize that Burning Man isn't what you thought it was, you might just enjoy a quality family vacation. A slightly weird but wonderful family vacation. We did.
(make sure to read the Burning Man Survivial Guide (http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/) and the Kids at Burning Man info (http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/kids_at_bm.html) when making your decision. Burning Man is not a casual weekend event and is definitely not a fit for every family. Make sure you have read up on all that it entails).