Four walls made of pillows, or cardboard, or plywood, or snow; a roof of blankets, or branches, or open to the clouds; a secret entrance. There’s something about a fort that brings joy to every child.
In recent days, I found myself at home on a Friday night with just the boy. My wife and his older sisters were headed to the local high school drama clubs’ production of Alice In Wonderland, and my 3 year old was deemed too young to attend. Thank goodness.
“Can we watch Chuggington?”
“Dad, can we make a fort?” He asked.
Like any dad worth their salt, I’m something of a master fort builder. I should be, anyway, I’ve been studying the craft since I was about 8 years old myself. That’s … well, a lot of years, and a lot of forts. Tree forts, snow forts, indoor blanket forts. I was so into fort-building when I was 12 that I wanted to be an architect — long before George Costanza made wanting to be an architect cool. It was a dream given up when math got in the way, but I never stopped building.
As a dad, I make mostly temporary indoor forts. But we have a tree fort, of sorts, connected to the swing set. And each winter I always make a snow fort. My 5-year-old and 7-year-old daughters have been known to spend whole days out in the bitter cold, between their walls of snow, just pretending. We’ve had our share of frozen tea parties.
This latest fort was far easier than most. All the boy and I had to do was move the basket from the nook between the window seat and the computer desk, drape a few blankets over it, put a chair at the entrance with another blanket to connect to the roof, and, viola, instantly happy child.
They didn’t ask to watch a show once. And when their 10 year old sister awoke and joined the fun, the one sign mysteriously changed to read, “Only 10 and Under Allowed.” I was waiting for my wife to join the club and put up a sign that read, “No One Over 39 Allowed.”
“I kind of feel like I’m separated from the rest of the world. Almost. And I like it,” she said. She described it as a cave — without prompting — and a “little secure area.”
When asked why she liked feeling separated from the world, her response made me think of that cabin in the woods.
One surprising thing about forts they all touched on came to light most in 5 year old response.
“It’s fun because it’s dark,” she said, clearly referring to indoor blanket forts, in particular.
Reminded that darkness often made her scared, she replied, “It’s not dark like at night time. If it’s too dark, you can make it less dark.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe the answer is in the control. Not control of others, but control of their little world. We often forget that kids have almost no control over their lives; we decide where they go, what they do, what they eat, when they sleep — at least when they are supposed to sleep. Maybe when that fort becomes four walls, that world is suddenly theirs to control, to decide, to pretend, and to do whatever it is they want.
When I asked my three year old boy why he liked forts, he gave the answer I was looking for all along.
“Because.Forts are fun,” he said.