Kids Come Before Art, Creativity, Bohemia

Oakland fire a tragic reminder that children matter more than alternative lifestyle choices — or should

Parents owe their kids a safe, stable childhood — even if it means putting aside creative passions, a preferred lifestyle, or even career dreams in order to pay the rent. It’s called being a grown-up.

For some, this is clearly not easy. The lure of self-expression and success in the arts — or maybe an off-the-grid, bohemian lifestyle — is strong.

“I wanted to be an actress, and I did the whole ‘waitress in the city’ thing,” one Austin, Texas, mom of three told LifeZette. “Then I married and had the girls, and my dreams changed. Do I ever wonder what would have happened if I had become a working actress? Yes, but I wanted a family — and that means sacrifice. Some day, community theater will allow me to express myself, as well as provide a stable life for the girls.”

The “Ghost Ship” fire in Oakland, California, last Friday — one of the largest fires in recent Oakland history — is a tragic reminder of how things can go wrong. Turns out, children had been living in this unsafe artists’ enclave. Some kids had been removed from the home several times by Child Protective Services; authorities allegedly feared for the children’s safety.

Derick Alemany and his partner, Micah Allison, apparently regained custody of their kids in June of this year after losing them in February 2015, according to the East Bay Express. Since then, the couple and their three kids had resided at Ghost Ship, which went up in flames on Friday, resulting in 36 deaths.

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Alemany, Allison, and their children were not present when the deadly fire broke out — and their current whereabouts are unknown. And late Wednesday night, The Los Angeles Times reported that no building code enforcement inspector had been inside the warehouse in at least 30 years — “raising new questions about government oversight of the property,” the publication said.

Visitors described a cluttered maze of old furniture and artwork, ladders that led to lofts, and rooms partitioned only by curtains, an article in CNN noted. Residents said the building had just two staircases, one made of wooden pallets. What parent, striving to provide for his or her children, doesn’t run out and get a full-time job somewhere, anywhere, to put food on the table and a safe roof over the kids’ heads? Did so many risks need to be taken?

“It was a beautiful space that allowed artistic gatherings to happen,” Bay Area artist Chris Dunn told CNN.

What happened last week was horrible and tragic. Yet children need order, safety, and protection.

“If my parents had walked in, they probably would have been in total shock at the total disarray and the fact that people actually lived there,” 24-year-old Diego Aguilar-Canabal, a freelance writer and musician from Berkeley, told CNN. “But for me it felt just a little more cluttered than average.”

Related: How to Be A ‘Big Picture’ Mom

“Bohemia is the ultimate hoop dream; most independent creators fail to find real financial stability during their lifetimes as a result of their creative work,” wrote Garance Franke Ruta in an essay in The Atlantic.

This writer has a college friend who grew up in a commune in upstate New York. “Was it fun?” I asked him back at school, fascinated by his alternative childhood.

“It was,” he answered. “But it was hard, too. It was unstable at times and isolating. No other kids at school were living like I was.”

Last summer, British parents Adele and Matt Allen asked the public for over $125,000 to buy plane tickets to Costa Rica as well as some land there. Why? So they could live their bohemian family dreams. Their plea for strangers’ money read: “We firmly believe that there are alternative parenting ways and you don’t have to conform to what’s expected.” But it was OK for them to expect others to fund their dreams.

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Artists are seeing the finest living expression of creation right in front of them: their children. For those seeking wildness and adventure through the bohemian lifestyle, there is nothing more adventurous or fulfilling than raising kids.

“To be a good father and mother requires that the parents defer many of their own needs and desires in favor of the needs of their children,” religious leader, lawyer, and politician James E. Faust once wrote. “As a consequence of this sacrifice, conscientious parents develop a nobility of character and learn to put into practice the selfless truths taught by the Savior Himself.”

Growing up, my mom had a poster hanging in our kitchen. It showed a kitten curled up sleeping in a potted geranium. The words under the picture read, “When you are at peace with yourself, any place is home.” For parents —”peace” should mean a safe and stable life for their beloved children.

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