So, you want to take your toddler to medieval reenactments? Congratulations! Reenacting is a very family-friendly activity which will help history come alive for your children. They’ll learn amazing skills that can’t be found in a school setting and gain wonderful experiences. The best part? They’ll have so much fun they won’t even realize how educational it all is.
That said (and in all honesty), I am personally not the medievalist-mother I imagined I would be when I was new to the hobby and watching my friends raise their offspring. Therefore, I’m actually not the Lady Mother with adorable stories to share. Instead this article is intended as encouragement in the event that your experience as a medievalist parent should resemble mine. Know now that you are not in any way lacking as a parent! My experience has not run according to my plans, but my medievalist life (while slightly limited) has not ended, nor have I given up hope for the future.
Unfortunately, rather than schlepping my beautifully dressed son to all the events on the calendar and watching him gallantly play with the other children while still dutifully minding me, as I had always dreamt, I have found that the few events I have attended were selected because they allow for my son to stay with his Grandma and Papa while my Lord Husband and I spent a modicum of time catching up with our friends, and I had the opportunity to actually engage in intellectual and artistic pursuits rather than chase a toddler all day. We would leave the event early, if we could and, once I was home holding my sweet son in my arms again, I would feel terrible for having left him in the first place.
Alternatively, on the occasions that I do take my son to an SCA event, I end the day feeling guilty for putting both of us through the ordeal. Spending several hours being corralled from the list field, the merchant’s booths (it seems that potters are at every event!), and other people’s armor, all while being too excited to eat lunch and too stimulated to take a nap, are horrible for my little boy and, consequently, his Lady Mother. Also, I’m a fighter’s wife and my beloved is a member of three polling orders, so even if I’m not single-mothering at an event due to the fact he’s on the list field, I have had to cope with my Lord Husband and co-parent being preoccupied with meetings. By the end of the event, my arms are killing me from either carrying my toddler or holding onto his makeshift leash, I haven’t spent any real time with friends, all three of us are miserable, and my autoimmune is completely inflamed by the next day.
Could I do some things differently as a parent? Certainly, and I will elaborate further on in this article, but first of all, as a parent, it is important to address the plain truth that my son is a human being with needs and the difficulties his Lord Father and I have encountered in taking him to events are his expression of those needs. (As I write this, he’s only recently become fully conversational.) This is true for all children and it’s important to start your journey as a re-enacting parent with grace for both of you in this regard. Before I became a parent, I imagined that my children would fit into my lifestyle and routines, but when my little bundle was born, I discovered that, often, children come in and completely upend your plans.
To be sure, not all children do: many of my friends turn their adorable children loose at events and they come back with Queen’s Chalices, etc. (The amount of parental supervision required appears to have varied from child to child.) Their children fall asleep to the sound of post revel singing and collapse to nap on sheepskins anywhere on site. I envy them their experience, but I also understand that each child requires different adjustments. My firstborn happened to require a bit (or maybe a lot) more than others.
I think I was aware of that when I discovered that he wouldn’t sleep for more than fifteen minutes unless he was by my side, that he hated playing “pass the baby” (why other adults never seemed to care about his feelings on the matter continues to baffle me), or that, rather than sleeping peacefully like most babies in the car, he would scream so much that a fifteen minute trip for errands would turn into an hour-long odyssey of comforting, soothing, and nursing. (Honestly, how my milk-supply remained so abundant in the midst of such constant stress I can attribute to naught but the elixir of a physician named Pepper!)
Unlike the majority of my medievalist friends, I lacked the means, garb, and stomach to attend events in the early months following his birth, so we didn’t go to his first event until he was eight months old. As you can imagine, my child, who was afraid of my best friend’s father because he didn’t want a stranger to hold him, was even less at ease when surrounded by people in funny clothes. This made acclimating him to the environment even more difficult.
That’s not to say that every re-enactment experience with my son was a failure. In fact, before he was weaned, I feel that we got into a decent if not ideal stride. However, being able to contain your child in a sling and have them fall asleep on your chest while you walk around site makes a world of difference. The toddler stage, for me, has proven the most awkward when it comes to taking my little one to events: he’s too old to be contented with a bag of Cheerios or calmed with the breast, and too curious to be contained in a sling. Also, sadly, he’s been too young to engage in the Ministry of Youth Activities, assuming the MoY was able to have a presence at the event we were attending.
As a parent, I’ve had to meet him where he is and ignore the comment from other mothers of, “Well, I have my kid here,” when I respond to queries of why my little one isn’t present.
It’s important as a parent not to feel that you’re somehow missing the mark when you’re friends are participating with their children and your child is at Camp Grandma. I personally enjoy the spectacle because there’s nothing more adorable than seeing children running around in garb, but I also have to remember that’s their child, not mine. Our children are individuals like their parents and what works for my friend and her child doesn’t work for me and mine. As my child’s Lady Mother, I’ve had to learn both his limits and my own. After all, why should I spend the time and money going to an event if I’m not going to engage in anything medieval or academic at all? Where, then, was the point of disrupting his routine or in putting both of us through the ordeal in the first place?
There are also other considerations to be made in regards to his wellbeing. First of all, my son has terrible allergies, so if he spends a day outside, he wakes up the next morning coughing and hoarse. His Lord Father and I cannot bring ourselves to make him to endure heat above 90F unless we’re going to be in a pool and, even then, I watch over him like a hawk. (He only just turned three, after all, and will often decide he doesn’t want to drink water even though he’s sweating profusely.) In the cooler months, there is also the worry about him getting ill. All of these are valid reasons that cause my Lord Husband and I to adjust our plans to fit his needs. He’s still developing, so it’s not as though we face a life-sentence of curtailed medieval revelry; it’s just a season and, like anything with raising children, it will be over before we know it.
Therefore, (and by all means!), don’t blame yourself if your experience as a parent and medievalist is not as you imagined or even comparable to that of your friends. Also, just because it’s not working out during your child’s current stage of development does not mean you haven’t got a future-medievalist on your hands. Don’t force your hobby on your child of course because that never works, but keep trying to introduce and reintroduce it to them. I feel confident that my son will love re-enacting once he’s old enough to participate in youth activities, especially the boffer fighting we have in the SCA. Also, as he’s matured and developed in his ability to communicate his needs and listen to me, I feel much more positive about re-attempting to take him with us in the near-future than I did when he was in the awkward stage of being too young to engage in youth activities and too old to hang out in a sling.
Now, there are a number of things that either didn’t occur to me during my earlier years as a Lady Mother or I wasn’t able to do them due to lack of means, time, etc. With my upcoming child (due in September) and future children, I hope to have a much easier experience due to early exposure, learning from the pitfalls of my previous experience, and having the added entertainment of wonderful big brother with whom they can play.
START THEM EARLY
PLEASE wait until you’re sufficiently recovered from childbirth and your baby’s pediatrician says it’s safe for him or her to be around groups of people before attending your first post-partum event with a new baby; however, accustoming little ones to the atmosphere at a young age helps quite a bit. This will still require you to change the way you play, especially in the beginning. I don’t advise jumping back in to help with organizing, teaching, retinue, etc, because I’ve seen that lead to burn out and quitting all together for some new parents. Give yourself some time to figure out what your little family needs and how reenacting has changed (and remained the same) for you.
DRESS THEM UP YOUNG
My son would cry for ages when I put him in garb, so, even if you can’t go to events for the first couple of months, I recommend dressing your baby in the cute little tunics and caps you’ve been given and have been making. (Just think of the pictures!) Also, I like caps in general as a mother because they protect delicate ears from the wind. My little one actually wore modern, knit-woven caps (which, coincidentally, were patterned just like medieval coifs) whenever he went outside during the first winter and spring of his life in order to protect against earaches. I plan to keep my next child in caps for the majority of his first year to protect him from the elements.
One way to get my toddler to wear almost anything mundanely is to say, “Like Papa’s” or “Like Daddy’s.” More often than not, he’ll see the resemblance on his own and point it out without being prompted. Making your child garb that matches yours or your lord husband’s is a good way to make wearing garb more appealing for your youngster. (It also helps others to identify them as yours should your little one stray from you.) Last year, my Lord Husband and Lady Mother made my halfling two boffer swords and a shield from a boogie board, and I bought him a plastic helmet so he can be “like Daddy” when he plays. (It didn’t curb his interest in our friend’s early fifteenth century helm that weighs as much as he does, but still!)
WEARING BABIES IS A MEDIEVAL PRACTICE
Baby-carriers are your friend! Not only do they spare your arms, they usually help to prevent games of pass-the-baby, should you want to avoid them. (Note: your baby is a person, not a football, do not feel at all obligated to let others hold him or her just to spare their feelings.) Be sure to also have a carrier for your lord husband (or the friend acting as co-parent for the event!) to wear to make it easier to hand the baby over when you need a break. Also, I personally recommend Moby Wraps and Balboa Slings, both of which can easily be replicated with linen fabric.
Word to the wise:
Ignore the people who to tell you that your baby is too old for a carrier once he or she is a toddler. (I wish I had!) As long as they don’t exceed the weight limit, don’t worry about it. Also, keep your child facing you in the carrier because, when they’re younger, they lack the neck support and get overstimulated, and, even when they’re older, you want to have them facing your chest should they fall asleep.
Another thing that is a life-saver? Leashes. People have been putting their offspring on leashes for ages because they’re faster than you’d ever imagine and keeping them out of trouble is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. Consider it a way of “environment-proof” your child. (Fun note: In the 18th century, parents would put padded caps on their toddler’s heads called ‘puddings.’ It’s admittedly post-period, but I can’t say I haven’t been tempted to use one mundanely!)
ESTABLISH “HOME BASE.”
Try to create a space for your baby at events. Take your Moses basket and/or pack’n’play so he or she has a safe sleeping and playing environment that helps to cancel out the stimulation of the event. Another good idea is to pad out a wagon so they have a bed/play area on wheels at outdoor events. (I know many a Lady Mother who swears by them.)
To be perfectly honest, I still find myself unable to create a space for my family at events, so I can’t say that I’ve been able to practice what I preach in this regard. This is likely due to the fact that we tend to arrive on site too late to stake out a corner for chairs, etc. Also, using a pack’n’play absolutely did not work for me with my son because he refused to spend any amount of time in it for the first eighteen months of his life. Now he can climb out of it and any other restraint system as fast as lightening. An important part of parenting in any circumstance is being able to go with the flow.
Another reason I didn’t like to take the pack’n’play to reenacting events is that they’re glaringly modern and I’m certainly one of those people who dislike anything distracting from their medieval atmosphere. If your group is really strict, like the re-enactment groups in Europe, you won’t be able to get by with this, but if you’re in the SCA, it’s no problem. Moreover, I think I’ve contrived a way to make a medieval-looking cover, but I will have to get back later once I’ve attempted to make it.
Learn from my mistakes:
When I was pregnant with my first child, I desperately wanted a Moses basket, but I got so hung up on the negative reviews (which were actually related to the stand), that I gave up. During my current pregnancy, I bought a Moses basket as soon as I could and I can’t wait to lay my sleeping baby in it!
TAKE A BREAK
If necessary, leave site for lunch or nap time. Unfortunately, this means either you or your Lord Husband will have to stay in the car if the halfling falls asleep, but minding little ones is hard work and you may find the rest will do you good as well. Sometimes the change of scenery helps bring about a reset and enables your family to regroup. (It’s been a godsend for my family.) It may also be necessary to skip later activities like court and feast in the toddler years when you can’t simply nurse or lull an excitable child to sleep. I’ve brought snacks, etc, for my little one to munch on during court, but it is difficult for some adults to sit through court, much less a two-year-old. (In other words, my efforts failed.) You might also try joining “the bad kids” at the back of court, but, again, be patient with yourself and your offspring. At the end of a long day, your child is going to be antsy and possibly a little moody. Some times it is better to save yourself the trouble and go get dinner!
I’ve been around child reenactors for nearly a decade now, both including my seven years as a medievalist and three years working at a 19th Century Living History museum, so I’m not merely speaking as a hobbyist. I’ve seen history become tangible for school children that are given the opportunity to try their hand at butter churning or washing clothes by hand, much less those that are given the chance to learn weaving or even carpentry or metalworking. I think it’s important to close by reiterating how wonderful it is for children to be able to participate in these kind of activities and gain so much experience and first-hand knowledge. For most parents, it’s actually a dream come true. If your experience is more like mine than other’s, please keep trying and be patient with yourself and your future-medievalist. It’s worth it!