The best fun I’ve had recently was building a fort with my five year old grandson, Indy. We went down to the family room in his house and gathered every available couch cushion, pillow, blanket, and chair. Then, we added a couple fabric tunnels belonging to his little brother, for an entrance and exit. Inside, we had a comforter, a little lamp, and of course, some snacks.
Indy decided we should pretend his big, plastic dinosaurs were trying to climb in from the top. I went outside the fort and began lowering them down on a piece of cord, making voices for them. Indy squealed with laughter. “Do that again, Grandma! Please!” We were on about our 50th go around, when I glanced at the top of the stairs and saw his daddy standing there, watching and smiling. We exchanged something unspoken in that moment, both having been taken back in time, to a day when the two of us were in a blanket fort, in our living room… some thirty five years ago.
Later that evening, he reminded me about the tree fort he and his brothers built in the woods behind our house. They spent hours there all summer long, never seeming to miss the television or other indoor diversions.
As we reminisced about his childhood, I was reminded of my own.
I was barely five and living in a two bedroom apartment in Chicago with my parents, as an only child. My bedroom had a huge, walk-in closet with a small window at one end. I remember the big, brown door had a glass door knob.
I took a lamp from my dresser and brought it inside, along with a little desk and chair, my pencils and crayons, a stack of drawing paper, and a basket of Little Golden Books. It was my secret place. Sometimes my dolls visited and I would sing to them. I remember my mother would always knock when it was time for lunch. It was a happy part of my childhood.
What is it, then, that makes a blanket tent, a fort, or secret place so appealing and so important to children? Is it a feeling of ownership… a sense of control of their own little world, when in the bigger world, they have almost none? Or, is it a desire to be apart, by themselves, in the quiet… away for just a little while, from the household clamor, siblings, or someone telling them what to do? Is it the same instinct that will, later on, drive them to move out on their own and get that first apartment?
But, maybe it’s not totally about isolation, because forts also provide opportunity for children to bond and share experiences and creativity.
I guess it might be a combination of many things, but mostly fun. I hope that those who remember just how much fun it was to build a fort will have the opportunity to share the experience with children… so someday, they can remember, too.