When my sister asked to take my kids to an event being held by the Society for Creative Anachronism (which is a little difficult to explain but whereas a Ren Faire or Medieval Times are amusements for people to go and see actors (or “actors”) pretending to be existing in another century for the purpose of making money, SCA events are members-only events where people get together and pretend to be in another century because they find it fun).
So, you know...nerds.
I figured my kids would love it. My sister made Bunny a period gown of purple silk…without a pattern…because she can do that kind of thing. Bunny was sold.
Pip got into his head that he would be swordfighting other children. The veracity of this was questionable but he was certain of it and was also sold.
I was told I could find an internet café or hang out at a nearby hotel and wait for them so I was perfectly sold as well.
Of course, what ended up happening is that Bunny begged me to come with them and there was some question as to whether or not Pip would be able to hang out in period garb all day once he discovered he would not be pummeling other children with swords, and so it was decided I would be loaned a dress and I would go along. I faced this with some amount of dread. It is not my thing. But the dread was tempered by the desire to see my kids running around in costumes and having fun so, you know, give and take. I figured I’d get a blog entry from it. And I was right - though it will be a very different blog than I expected to write.
I felt like an idiot in that dress but Bunny looked INCREDIBLE and Pip looked hilarious and adorable in his authentic Flynn Rider doublet my sister made him when he was three that just barely fits and his bright red sports glasses that transition into shades in the sun. During the first hour or so, I eavesdropped on conversations and snickered. I had been expecting a bunch of extremely nerdy folks who use this society as a means of feeling important and superior and I was totally right. An opportunity for non-athletic men to feel athletic for a weekend. A chance for men who would never be considered tough or dangerous to wield weapons and wear homemade armor and feel like warriors. A weekend where women of all ages, shapes, and sizes can wear gowns and hats or wreaths of flowers in their hair and feel gorgeous OR can put on some armor and boots and do combat with large, sweaty men.
And, you know what? That’s EXACTLY what it was. And what’s wrong with that? Once I got past my discomfort in the dress and my initial snobbery at not being someone who seeks out this sort of society, I kinda fell in love with it.
It was a beautiful thing to see men get all sweaty and feel tough and important in a place where they knew that not a single person would judge the parts of their tummies that were hanging over their scabbards. I saw a woman of extremely large stature in a lovely purple gown and long hair full of flowers flitter across a room to flirt with a man who was returning from battle. She was light as air and clearly felt gorgeous. And she was. She was glowing. She was in her element. And the perfect thing is - in a place where everyone is accepted, it's pretty easy to be in your element. Who WOULDN'T seek that out?
And everyone was so very nice.
A man in a kilt offered me and Pip a ride to the battlefield when we arrived. In Chicago, you always have to refuse free rides from strangers in kilts but at an SCA event, it is, apparently, pretty standard.
Bunny was interested in shooting arrows at a target like Merida so three different strangers worked together to find her the right sized bow and teach her to shoot it.
Two very kind, patient, brave men taught the kids to throw axes.
A woman gave Pip a bunch of gourmet olives which, apparently, he loves. Who knew?
Bunny got to hold someone’s baby which is one of her favorite pastimes.
There was a moment of lull in the festivities and my children got bored so my sister pulled out her bocce set and we taught the kids to play bocce ball. (You guys, this just in: I’m a really good bocce player. Just a side note. Thanks for your time) We saw some little girls experiencing the same lull and Bunny invited them to play. They all accepted and she made instant friends who played bocce and giggled and ran about in a field…in gowns. So lovely.
My sister took Pip to a play area and he also made instant friends and they played a made-up zombie game. Medieval Zombies!
My children got to participate in court – standing guard for the queen (didn’t hurt that their uncle was in charge of that piece of business). They were applauded for being at their first event and then called up before the queen and given gifts. She gave them each a handmade ring. The kids were very proud. She’s real royalty to them.
But the best part of it was this: as we were packing up to go, the kids joined up with a group of other children who ranged in age from around 6 to 19 – mostly teens. In other circumstances, one might worry about that dynamic – and my sister and I did at first – we watched and eavesdropped a little. Darned if they didn’t start a rousing game of Duck, Duck, Goose. I’m not kidding. And they didn’t do it to appease my little children – the teens were not reluctant participants – nor were they being ironic. They all were having a wonderful running, falling, giggling good time. They played for more than an hour as the sun completely vanished and the fireflies came out. At this gorgeous campground with no lights that flick on after dusk, the kids became shadows. The game became tag – made exotic and exciting by the darkness. It wasn’t easy to extricate Bunny and Pip from the joy of that moment and, had we not needed to drive to a hotel, I would’ve let them play until they dropped.
My sister asked them if they’d had a “Magical Moment” – a society term for a split second in time where you can’t see anything modern and it feels – just for that moment – like you could actually be in the 15th century. She asked if playing period games in costume in lighting so dark that they couldn’t see the cars or the modern tents, made them feel for a moment as if they had gone back in time. They both shrugged off the question and continued to excitedly tell us about their new friends and the games they played, rapid-fire, finishing each other’s sentences.
I can guarantee you that they had a magical moment – even if not by the same definition. They had a magical day. They had a day where everyone was kind, generous, and welcoming, where every child is happy to play with you, where everyone is polite and is “pleased to make your acquaintance” and honors you just for being you and showing up and accepts you just as you are. They had one of those magical summer nights where you stay up past your bedtime and play until you’re exhausted and you feel happy and safe and perfect.
That’s not always so easy to find in a 21st century city. Maybe the SCA is really on to something.
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