Bad Parent: I took my son to Burning Man

Inside our tent, my three-year-old son ignored the sonic blur of twenty massive sound systems blaring techno. He cuddled his stuffed kangaroo. I read him Green Eggs and Ham. Then we fell asleep. Outside the tent, thousands of people in glittery costumes drove around in golf carts shaped like glowing lady bugs or blinky pirate ships, peeked at peep shows featuring flaming hula hoops, or funneled cheap, warm whiskey down their throats till the sun rose. 

We were at Burning Man.

Yes, that same Burning Man where teachers and stockbrokers are known to walk around wearing nothing but dabs of paint or a strategically placed taco shell, munching pot-laced Fruit Loops.

Burning Man is a convergence of people who value lavish, meticulously planned acts of creativity. In past years, I’d ridden on a life-size wooden replica of a sixteenth-century Spanish pirate ship. I’d felt the night warm up when a huge, steel dragon spat blue flames from its teeth. I’d played on artist-made seesaws and swing sets bigger and cooler than the ones in our local park. But it wasn’t just the spectacle I was into. (Though if you like spectacle, especially of the DIY, Disney – and – Pixar – would – never – have – thought – of – this variety, this is the place to find it.) I’d also seen at Burning Man a sense of neighborliness I’d never encountered elsewhere.

People bike instead of driving, and they go an entire week without buying or selling anything. In the absence of commuting and commerce (and cell-phone reception), people settle into a particularly congenial way of acting. These are people who believe so strongly in art and fun that they’re willing to haul a week’s worth of food, water, shelter, and silly clothing out to a barren lakebed in northern Nevada to share good times with 40,000 strangers.

Those are the things I wanted my son to see. But there was plenty to shield him from too, namely the skin-scorching dry heat and the prevalence of adult activity.

I wasn’t too worried about the heat. If you come from a humid climate, Nevada summer will make your nose bleed every few hours for the first couple days. We’re Nevadans, though, so we’re used to the surreal aridity. My son had already been camping in the Black Rock Desert a few times. Each time, he asked if we could stay longer.

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