Lightning in a Bottle is an outdoor camping and music festival that takes place once a year near Irvine Lake in Silverado, CA. It’s a green festival that focuses on sustainability, recycling, and leaving your environment in the same or better shape than when you arrived. It was our first experience camping with our daughters, and we expected it to be similar to Burning Man, but a lot more child-friendly. (I know that people take their kids to Burning Man, but I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s life while I’m there).
Child-friendly it was indeed. Family camp was on grass, unlike most of the other camps which were on rocky dirt. It was also on the other side of a big hill from any of the loud music stages, so it was quiet at night, except for the occasional small group of silly 20-something-year-olds who snuck into Family Camp and forgot, briefly, to behave. There were family-designated porta-potties, which was much appreciated. There were over 50 families, so there was no end to new friends, play time, running around, role playing, singing, and dancing. There was a Kids Zone where we got our face painted, watched a magic show and ventriloquist, hula-hooped, played with blocks and danced with fairies.
All the food was organic, natural, healthy, including things that my girls would eat. Anecdotally, one of the food vendors, Cajun Queen, trying to be different, was offering Cajun Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. We asked if they could make a couple without the Cajun spices, for our girls. Hearing this, other people in line asked for the same. The next day, when we came back, they had changed their menu to Regular Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, because everybody asked to skip the spices. Ha! The same vendor made the BEST crab cakes I have ever had!
There were many artists set up throughout the festival, with their easels and mediums, and we felt like good parents exposing our girls to art in progress. There was also interactive art! Our favorite was a piece by Jay Fedoruk, a light wall full of colorful recycled water bottles. The Lighting in a Bottle website calls it a giant Light Bright! We spent a good half hour there, while the girls rearranged the bottles over and over again. Thank you to photographer Dan Krauss for documenting our experience.
We even had a close encounter with fame, when film-maker Teddy Saunders showed up in our camp looking for kids to be in his new documentary. Teddy created the now-famous video “Oh, the Places You’ll Go at Burning Man!” and was hired to make a similar video for Lightning in a Bottle. He needed a 3-year-old to say into the camera “When I grow up I am going to follow my dreams!” He asked Cosima, my youngest – who is only 2 but looks older – if she could say that. She looked at him like he was being extra silly and giggled loudly “Nooooo…”
He then needed a 5-year-old to say “When I grow up I wanna be a doctor.” So he asked Saskia, my oldest, if she could say that. Saskia was shy, being put on the spot, so Teddy’s female assistant said “I have my makeup kit with me. If you say that into the camera, I will do your make up really pretty!” That sounded perfect to the little drama queen in her soul, so she agreed. But when we tried a test run and she was – literally – faced with the camera, like Ferdinand the Bull in front of the Matador, she was absolutely, categorically, and irrevocably not interested. I am sure she could feel that I was trying really hard to not push her, because I really wanted her to do it. And I am sure that made her feel even more insecure about it.
Teddy, alas, was not able to find his future stars in our camp, but he did find them in our neighbors. I really look forward to seeing his video. After he left, for the rest of the evening, all the little kids in our camp were running around shouting out loud: “When I grow up I am going to follow my DREAMS! When I grow UP, I am going to follow my doctor!”
My favorite part about the entire weekend is that we were all, parents and children, exposed to a vastly positive atmosphere. Everybody we met smiled; people complimented the girls constantly on their dancing, or their wings, or their modern haircuts (whereas at preschool, the kids make fun of their “boy” haircuts); spontaneous conversations and hugs with strangers were the norm; there was music everywhere, sometimes up-beat, sometimes relaxing (in the temple, or the yoga tent); everybody shared their food, their drinks, their toys, their glow sticks; love was in the air.
Since we returned, we all seem happier. Both girls – who can be stubborn, whiny, shrieking pterodactyls when they don’t get their way – are kinder, softer, more loving toward each other. The usual morning grumpiness has been replaced by morning smiles and hugs. I – usually on the go until I crash and start snapping at everybody – have somehow found my patience. I am able to focus on the moment, and enjoy it, whereas in the past I seemed to only focus on the future as a task, what do I have to do next.
I don’t know that Lightning in a Bottle has this affect on everybody, but it did on us, and I chalk this up as a successful first camping experience. I wonder, when we go camping in a more traditional setting, say in a forest, will the girls be expecting three concert stages, dance music, feather-wearing yoga masters and magic shows?