Make a blanket fort and watch Stranger Things

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Friday night I decided I just couldn’t take it anymore. Between the unnecessary stress of my new office environment (yes they moved my office again), the political and social unrest that now confronts us daily I knew I needed a big break from reality. My escape plan including disconnecting from social media, grabbing my current read Mary Beard’s SPQR, and curling up on the couch for the weekend. I even thought about constructing a blanket fort to hide in but the weekend temperatures were to damn high.

By Saturday afternoon it became clear that even all of this wasn’t enough to shut my brain off so I turned my attention to Netflix. I’d read some Internet buzz about a new Netflix series called Stranger Things that promised to be highly addicting and fun. Depending on which review one read it was either a mash-up of every 80’s sci-fi and Steven King movie or X-Files meets The Goonies. Someone even wrote, “Imagine if Stephen King wrote E.T. and Steven Spielberg directed it”. One thing that everyone agreed on was that the show is the best thing Netflix has ever done. Two reviewers thought it was the best thing they’d ever seen, period.

I’m usually skeptical of anything that makes such hyperbolic claims; I find most things do not live up to this kind of hype. But, what the hell, I thought. I would try it for myself and if I didn’t like it, I could always build that fort since the weather was cooling off.

I noted in my review of The World of Poo that it is rare for anything to hearken me back to my childhood. There are not a lot, sadly, that stir up feelings of childhood for me. I am not one who feels nostalgic upon hearing an old song, or looking at pictures. Oh sure, memories come flooding back from time to time, but the emotions that usually accompany memories are dulled. The past seems too quiet for me to hear . So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself almost crying at the end of the series (yes I binged watched all 8 episodes) and wishing I had my childhood back.

I’m not the only one who felt this way. My good friend Jason posted this on Facebook after binge watching it too, “I am 35 years old. I will never not want to chat with friends on our walkie talkies, then jump on my bike to meet them for adventures.” This was his emotional response to the series. His sentiments were met with positive responses, it was clear this show had made an impact on many people.

The funny thing is, Jason is 35, I’m 52. We did not share a childhood but we do share the same feelings about our childhood that this series conjures up. The series is pure magic.

How to even begin to talk about this show without giving too much away? I will stay away from the plot details and instead just talk about why it worked and what to watch for.

When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl (Netflix blurb)

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True Stephen King fans will feel the hairs on their arms rise up as the title loads on the screen. Stranger Things contains the same type font as Kings early Double Day books. In fact, for a second I thought it said Needful Things, one of his older book titles. This is no coincidence as the show is a nod to all things King. A good eye will spot an officer reading a King book. By the look of the back jacket I’m sure the title is It. This too is no coincidence as the story revolves around its own “losers club” that is caught up in the search for the missing boy. Fans of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. will find elements of the movie, if not the over all theme, running throughout the series. In fact, it you don’t think E.T while watching, you may be missing the point. One of the show’s emotional hits for me was the sudden reminder that E.T. was the last movie my mom and I saw together before I moved out of the house. For some reason the biohazard scene in E.T really got to me and I turned to my mom for comfort. The scene is not repeated in Stranger Things, but does come close enough that some old discomfort started to arise and I had to take a moment to process why this was.

It also felt so much like Stand by Me, that one would be forgiven if they thought King wrote at least one or two episodes. He didn’t, but even King, posting on his Facebook page, had nothing but praise for the series.

How the producers, the Duffer brothers managed to pulls this off is beyond me; kudos to them for giving viewers everything that was great about Spielberg’s early work along with King and other 80’s cult classics. You’d think trying to fit this much pop-culture into one show would make it choppy or campy, yet the brothers were able to give us a fully polished gem.

That the series is set in 1983 is beside the point. Yes, the props and styles are as 80’s as you get, but the characters could be set in any time, any town. This is why my younger friend and I shared the same emotions. It didn’t matter that it was set in the 80’s, but as someone who was a teen in the early 80’s I appreciated the setting. I laughed when one of the teens tries to impress a girl by reminding her that all the other girls thinks he looks like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

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Beyond the supernatural and sci-fi elements, this is a series about the bonds of friendship; how they are forged and the lengths we will go to keep them. The series is dead set on reminding us that our childhood friendships once upon a time seemed to be the most important relationships we’d ever have. So much so that it deliberately plays on the disconnect between the adults and the children who are all affected by the disappearance of the boy. This disconnect applies to the adults too; it is uncomfortable to realize the father of one of the missing boy’s friends does not offer to join the search party until you recognize the theme of disconnection. The adults are not there for each other, and in one case, have no clue as to what goes on in their own house.

Maybe this is why the series works on such an emotional level. As a viewer I was never fully engaged with the adults, though I did feel for the mother of the missing boy, (played rather adeptly by 80’s star Winona Ryder). The connection is with the kids; you feel for them and by the end, want to be one of them.

Do yourself a favor; take a break from adulthood. Make yourself a blanket fort, grab some Eggos watch the series, and then let me know if you want to go bike riding. I’ve got the walkies-talkies.

Medieval Children

I have a good friend who designs sets for the local playhouse. I’m her go-to guide to all things medieval. She called this afternoon looking for some pictures for costume ideas for an upcoming production of “The Princess and the Pea”. She has to make costumes for children and adults.We started talking about medieval children; what they wore and how they lived. As we sat chatting in my kitchen, it occurred to me that there are a lot of misconceptions about medieval childhood. We tend to see them as hard working miniature adults, never able to laugh and play. Popular myth tells us for them, childhood ended at the age of 6.

This was a subject I found frustrating when I first started studying the medieval period. Oh I found many books on medieval life, but often these books excluded any mention of children ,as if they were mere shadows of adults, hiding from sight until they became old enough to marry. Did we know anything at all about medieval children?

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A few years back another friend sent me Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children for Christmas. It has been a favorite ever since. I pulled this out along with Marjorie Rowling’s Life in Medieval Times so I can give you:

Things you may not know about medieval Children

The Nuclear Family

We often think of medieval peasants as having many children due to lack of birth control and wanting many hands to help in the fields. This is not the case. Medieval families had the same amount of children we see today. The average family had three living children. The number of “stillbirths” would have been around 6.

Medieval families consisted of parents and their offspring. We think of medieval families of consisting of grandparents, parents and children, but again, they lived as we do, with grandparents close by if they were lucky enough to live to see grandchildren.

Pregnancy

Much of what we know of medieval understanding of pregnancy comes from the Franciscan friar Bartholomew the Englishman. What he knew came from Aristotle.

Medieval medicine said a child is formed from the father’s seed and some “matter” from the mother. An embryo growing on the right side of the womb would become a boy, on the left a girl. Medieval philosophy said the dominating characteristics of the parents determined the future child’s character. If a male child was nothing like his father, paternity was questioned. No wonder King Henry IV was so devastated by Prince Hal’s wanton ways and wondered if he and Henry Percy were switched at birth.

Medieval medicine said gestation time varied from 8 to 10 months. Girls took longer to form, as the elements that formed boys were hotter. Boys apparently “cooked” at higher temperatures and in less time.

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Birth

Giving birth was seen as a life-threatening ordeal. So much so, that women were encouraged to give confession just as labor set in. Women, seeking divine assurance that all would be well, would have Church relics tied to their skirts or laid out on the bed. For those who could not afford them or were not near a Church had parchments of Biblical sayings tied to their skirts. Sometimes mineral stones would do the trick. Midwives assisted with labor, as it was unseemly work for a man to assist with childbirth. A Midwife were supposed to register with the local Church so as not to be seen as a witch.

I will spare you all the gory details of what could go wrong (and often did) due to misconceptions and lack of medical training. What is interesting to note, is that if a women died while in childbirth the Church ruled that a caesarian operation could be performed to save the child. Because girls married at a young age and gave birth in their early teens, they were the ones who often died.

Dangers and Death

Just because a child was successfully delivered does not mean it would live to adulthood. Orme reminds us of the many perils medieval children faced. The list is long and not very kind. I give you the three most common.

Infanticide and or abuse may occur when a parent is cold, shamed, indifferent or suffer from mental illness. If a child is deemed to be deformed, either mentally or physically, it may be killed or abandoned at the local Church.

Childhood diseases were the number 1 killers of children followed by accidents. Remember this was a time when a simple cut could lead to gangrene or other types of life ending infections.

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Play

Medieval children who escaped death had their playtime. In fact play was seen as the dividing line between child and adulthood. Youth was seen as wild, fearless and inconsistent. This was a time when young people could act in reckless abandon and innocently enjoy life. The games they played were varied but as with all things in medieval life, had laws and rules issued by the ruling authorities. Some games you would find medieval children playing would be familiar to us.

Closh (a kind of Croquet)

Camping (a type of football or hocky)

Tables (Backgammon)

Quck (like checkers)

Dice

Chess

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Children were encouraged to play during festivals and market days. You may be surprised to learn that during religious holidays, market days and fairs, children in large groups could be found playing any number of games. Socialization was important to medieval culture. The children were not just playing; they were learning to act as a group. In this way they were learning social skills and cultural norms. Boys especially were encouraged to play rough games as this they were seen as the first step towards combat skills. Schoolmasters and Church leaders observed boys at play and assessed which would be most suited to the religious life and who would be valued as soldiers.

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Toys

There is no better argument for a medieval childhood than a list of toys. Toys are the symbol of the celebration of childhood. Even when we cannot afford them we would rather go hungry than deny a child a toy. It a parents “sacrificial” gesture, made solely to please a child. Medieval children were given handmade toys, yet they are not much different than what modern parents buy today.

Rattles

Child’s Bell (a noise maker)

Wooden tops

Windmills (we call them spinners)

Wooden swords

Dolls

Puppets

Kites

Miniature houses

As you can see all of this shows us there was much to medieval childhood and I haven’t hit on the stories, songs and lullabies medieval children would have heard. For more I suggest picking up Medieval Children by Nicholas Orme.

This is a mass produced toy knight from the 1300.
This is a mass produced toy knight from the 1300.