Newsletter: What a Bay Area baby rave tells us about the pressures of millennial parenting

Ariel Harenburg, 10 months, center, attends a baby rave with her parents Carolyn Thamkul, left, and Bryce Harenburg, right, at the Oakland Masonic Center.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Oct. 17, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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My colleague Sonja Sharp just published a wonderful dispatch from Oakland about the rise of the Bay Area’s hottest dance party: a wildly popular daytime “rave” for children under 4. Baby Rave, as it’s known, is never advertised, but the monthly parties sell out in minutes. Think crazy lights, music and a crowd of 150-plus revelers (many of them with pacifiers in their mouths, and not in the club kid sense) in a commercial building in North Oakland.

It’s a wild story, with all the fun details that you would expect from something that could easily read as a parody of life in a 21st century American city. But as much as I came in wanting to make fun of the baby rave, I was caught off guard when I got to this part of the story:


“Many of the parents in attendance that Sunday were tech-sector workers, but others were artists, academics and Oakland public school teachers,” Sonja writes.

“While a few were ex-ravers, the majority were simply searching for something to do between breakfast and nap time. Amid skyrocketing rents and dizzying displacement, kids — and kids’ activities — are disappearing from the Bay Area. At local libraries, toddler story time competes for space with tenants rights workshops, adult coloring clubs and ‘yoga for success.’ Infant language classes and postpartum boot camps have replaced traditional playgroups for new parents with only a few weeks of leave after childbirth.”

At $7, the baby rave is relatively affordable — especially compared with the admission prices at many Bay Area museums that offer children’s programming. And in a pressure-cooker environment where it’s not unheard of to hear “STEM” and “toddlers” in the same sentence, a monthly hang with no educational component and nothing to accomplish but fun and camaraderie certainly has its charms. I spoke to Sonja about how she came to find herself at a morning baby rave, and what kind of a release it offers from the larger pressures of millennial parenting, particularly in a place like the Bay Area. Here’s what she had to say.

How did you hear about the Baby Rave?

I’m from the Bay Area and most of my family’s there. I was going up to see my sister and I texted some friends I knew from Berkeley. One of them, who has a kid about my son’s age, texted back and said, “What are you doing Sunday morning? Do you want to come to a baby rave?” I said, “What’s a baby rave?” And he’s like, “It’s a rave. For babies.” So, I said, yeah, absolutely. But I also have to write about it.

I’m also a millennial mom. I have an almost 4-year-old and I think one of the things that came through reporting this and editing it — particularly because my editor is also a mother, but of a different generation — is how little our peers who are not parents, and parents who are not of our generation, understand about the pressures of parenthood in major metropolitan areas where so many of us live for work on this generation, in particular.


Tell me more about that.

Have you looked at how much a two-bedroom apartment costs to rent in any of the big markets? Look, I am 33. My husband is 36. We both went to Berkeley and paid in-state tuition. Which is the thing that everybody says you’re supposed to do, right? Go to an excellent public school and pay in-state.

When my husband started in 2001, his fees were around $3,500 a year. By the time I graduated in 2008, the fees had doubled for the exact same degree.... Many of us are delaying a lot of life things because of that — because that pressure comes with everything else becoming more expensive, too.

Yes, the unemployment level is very low, but all of us know about the tenuousness of the jobs that are available. If you want to have a good job that you can actually make a life with, you have to live in a major metro area, and the price of living in a major metro has just gone up and up and up. Everybody knows that. But they don’t necessarily think of it as also happening in the context of a moment when student loans have ballooned so much and childcare costs have [skyrocketed.].

And because you have such a tiny amount of time with your child, that time is filled with anxiety. I should also add — caveat of caveats — that these are the pressures on professional parents. And obviously, the pressures are so much more intense on families who are being gentrified out of these neighborhoods.

But STEM for 6-month-olds doesn’t come out of a vacuum. It comes out of a very deep cultural anxiety about how our children are going to survive.


You are really making me see the appeal of a few hours spent dancing at a baby rave.

[Read the story: “Want in at the Bay Area’s hottest dance party? You’ll need to bring a baby” in the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Thousands of Californians could once again be without power in the coming days as Southern California Edison decides whether to shut off electricity in an attempt to avoid wildfires sparked by windblown power lines. Roughly 32,500 customers in Inyo, Mono, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, could lose power as early as today as wind picks up across the inland portion of the state. Los Angeles Times

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services will unveil an app created by UC Berkeley that will give all Californians the chance to get earthquake early warnings from any corner of the state on their phones. Authorities will also begin issuing quake early warnings through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, offering text message alerts even for people who have not downloaded the app. It comes on the 30th anniversary of the deadly Loma Prieta earthquake — and just in time for today’s Great ShakeOut drills. Los Angeles Times



Should Uber and Lyft drivers earn $30 per hour? Los Angeles will study a minimum wage. Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times has reached a tentative labor agreement with the guild that represents about 475 members of its newsroom. It’s a milestone for a newspaper that for generations was known as a bastion of anti-unionism. Los Angeles Times

More grit than glamour: Inside crime writer Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times

The surviving beach shacks of Los Angeles: In the era of multimillion-dollar mansions, the early days of beachfront housing sound too good to be true. Curbed LA


James Cameron’s answers are the best part of THR’s annual Hollywood power ranking. (Scroll down to No. 57 or Ctrl+F his name to find it). The Hollywood Reporter

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This travel fund helps lawyers fly to the border and help asylum seekers. The Project Corazon Travel Fund has more than 45 million air miles that immigration lawyers can use to fly to the U.S.-Mexico border. San Diego Union-Tribune


When California launches “its own damn satellite,” it may be named after Jerry Brown, the former governor who uttered the phrase. San Francisco Chronicle


A set of bills vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week earned him criticism from the left. Here’s a look at those bills and why his decisions disappointed some. Sacramento Bee

Political drama is boosting interest in San Francisco’s heated district attorney race: Four accomplished candidates were closing in on the finish line in the first race for district attorney without an incumbent in more than a century. Then the mayor appointed one of the four to serve as interim district attorney after George Gascón announced he was resigning. San Francisco Chronicle

A California prison agency spent $12,000 in public money on a retirement party for a longtime manager early this year, according to spending records. (See also: This Twitter thread about how the Bee reported out the story from an anonymous tip.) Sacramento Bee

Temporary seasonal farmworkers will see wages decrease if a visa rule change proposed by the Trump administration goes through, and labor advocates worry that it also could lead to pay cuts for other domestic farmworkers. CalMatters


Why was a mother charged with failure to protect her children when she had moved them away from her abusive partner and into a shelter? Capital & Main


A burglary crew stole more than $1.65 million from Contra Costa’s most affluent community, making off with fur coats, jewelry and cash. And so far, they’ve gotten away with it. Mercury News


The Alameda County Water District is considering shelling out $72 million for a 50,500-acre cattle ranch — touted as the largest potential land sale in the state — to preserve water quality, officials say. East Bay Times

Fuel storage facilities like the one run by NuStar Energy that exploded Tuesday have different regulations from those of refineries, and there’s no requirement to make sure they’re OK after an earthquake. (Officials are investigating whether the explosion was triggered by a magnitude 4.5 quake that struck Pleasant Hill the previous night, but it’s still “far too early” to know the cause.) San Francisco Chronicle


The Angels hired Joe Maddon as manager, returning the World Series-winning manager to Anaheim. Los Angeles Times


A Major League Soccer team coming to Sacramento? An announcement about “the future of soccer in Sacramento” will be made Monday by Republic FC and the city’s mayor. Sources with direct knowledge told the Sacramento Bee that the MLS is expected to formally announce an expansion franchise at that news conference. Sacramento Bee

Mammoth Mountain is auctioning off its summit sign. You have until next Wednesday at noon to make your (hefty) bid. KTLA

The largest Catholic church in the U.S. will be in Visalia. St. Charles Borromeo Church will seat more than 3,000 when it opens in spring 2021, giving it the largest seating capacity of any Catholic parish church in the United States. Fresno Bee

The shuttered Wildlife Waystation is on the market for $2.2 million. The longtime former sanctuary for lions, Bengal tigers, chimpanzees and other exotic animals is in the Angeles National Forest near Sylmar. Pasadena Star-News

Slushie maker Icee will exit Ontario for Tennessee, cutting 127 jobs. Icee is the third big Southern California company in recent months to announce such a move. Inland Daily Bulletin



Los Angeles: partly sunny, 77. San Diego: partly sunny, 71. San Francisco: windy, 67. San Jose: partly sunny, 69. Sacramento: partly sunny, 73. More weather is here.


“Careful now, we’re dealing here with a myth. This city is a point upon a map of fog; Lemuria in a city unknown. Like us, it doesn’t quite exist.”

— — Ambrose Bierce, on San Francisco

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.