When Bianca Snyder gave birth to her son, Tage, she and her husband, Tad, didn’t think twice about bringing him to Burning Man.
“Our son is such an extension of our life, and Burning Man is a part of our life year-round,” says Snyder, a decade-long Burner and cannabis activist from Chicago. “It was never a discussion.”
Today, 3-year-old Tage has been to the infamous art-and-music gathering outside Reno, Nev., every summer of his life, including in utero. And he won’t be the odd kid out this Sunday, when the festival begins: Although a nine-day desert bacchanal rife with dust storms, psychedelic drugs and raves doesn’t exactly scream “family fun,” insiders estimate that anywhere from 500 to 2,000 children congregate at Burning Man every year. In the makeshift city — or playa, as it’s known — baby Burners can attend events like the Intergalactic Family Dance Party, do arts and crafts and enjoy some screen-free time with their parents under the desert sun.
Although Burner moms and dads swear it’s worth it, bringing Tage for the first time “was an adjustment,” Snyder says. The playa, she says, is scorching hot during the day and cold at night. Money is banned at the festival, so everything — food, shelter, water — must be planned ahead. And although her son can burn for free until he turns 12 (after that, admission is $390, like it is for adults), he comes with his own set of complications. Like diapers.
“We do a cloth diaper at home, but on the playa, we went for disposable ones,” says Snyder. Usually, that would make things more convenient — but you can’t exactly walk the trash out to the curb in the middle of the Nevada desert, and Burning Man has a strict “Leave No Trace” philosophy on garbage. So parents like Snyder bring extra plastic bags or, better yet, paint buckets with lids, to contain the stench until the diapers can be disposed of later.
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There’s also the issue of safety: How do you protect your kids from Transformer-like mutant vehicles roaming the “streets” and tech moguls tripping on mushrooms?
“Last year, we stayed at the Magic School Bus camp,” East Villager and five-time Burning Man attendee Samantha Zirkin tells The Post. It was the first time the startup founder had brought her daughter, Aerin, to Burning Man, and the campsite’s PG name made it sound wholesome. Unfortunately, upon arrival, Zirkin learned that the Magic School Bus “was not a kids-oriented camp” at all, but an LSD-themed community.
This year, the 40-year-old techie has planned more carefully. She’s bringing Aerin, now 11, and Jacob, 9, to Kidsville, a family-oriented campsite with activities like scavenger hunts and desert excursions. “The kids are given a camp experience, and the parents volunteer,” says Zirkin. (Her youngest, 3-year-old Ronen, will stay home.) Even after last year’s kerfuffle, she thinks it’s worth it. “It’s not for everyone . . . but Burning [with your kids] is a great bonding experience,” she says.
Michael Goetzman, a real estate executive from Cedarburg, Wis., is excited to experience that. He went to his first-ever Burning Man last year alone. “It was sort of a midlife crisis,” says the 36-year-old. But he had a great time staying at Sextant Camp — and got jealous when he saw Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, at the festival with his kid.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ” says Goetzman, who’s heading back to the festival this weekend with his wife and two children, 7-year-old Joe and 5-year-old Lexi. His sister is coming, too, to help babysit. Like Zirkin, they’ll be staying at Kidsville (Sextant was “one block away from the Orgy Dome,” says Goetzman.)
His kids are excited to dress up in crazy burner costumes with their parents — although some tough conversations were had in the process.
“They wanted to be Disney characters,” says Goetzman. “My little daughter wants to be Anna or Elsa from ‘Frozen.’ ” But dressing like a Disney princess doesn’t exactly gel with Burning Man’s strong, anti-corporate tenets. “We had to explain to them decommodification, and that we try not to have any company influence at Burning Man.” As a compromise, he’s letting Lexi hand out ice as a present to festivalgoers.
It’s not the only teachable moment at Burning Man for kids. Burner parents say the festival is a good opportunity for kids to get a little more independent and curious about a world outside their day-to-day existence.
“I’d like them to be exposed to some of the milder stuff [like nudity]. I’d rather them ask questions than be confused,” says Goetzman.
Snyder agrees. Although she makes a point of sticking to some routines — instead of bathtime, she and Tage do a full-body wipe-down with essential oils — “I don’t overparent,” she says. “He’s able to run around on his own. He can eat dirt if he wants to.” It’s hardly an exaggeration: He got so dirty crawling around the desert last year that she’s packing 30 pairs of pants for the tot.
After three years at Burning Man with a toddler, she knows one thing for sure: “You’re only going to stop him from so much.“