By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
My kids did something last week that convinced me they’re not all that different than kids were several generations ago. With free time on their hands and a house full of toys, games and electronics, they shunned all the fancy stuff and built a fort.
Their fort-building enthusiasm made me question why we bother with apps and expensive game consoles when so much fun can be crafted from a king-sized bed sheet, wooden clothespins and a few chairs. The kids fortified their cozy castle with pillows dragged in from bedrooms, favorite Superman blankets and flashlights. Then they disappeared into the fort and played the rest of the afternoon.
After hearing hours of giggles from behind the linen walls, I couldn’t resist crawling in to have a look around. Our Beagle Charlie followed me in, wriggling excitedly as if he’d been let in on a secret.
Once inside the fort, three decades of time fell away and suddenly I was young again, too. I remembered crawling under my aunt’s coffee table on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid – pretending it was my own special hideaway. I’d lie on my belly and prop myself up on my elbows, sipping on a straw stuck into a cold can of Nestea. The air conditioning vent was right under the old coffee table and I’d eventually fall asleep there enveloped by cool air.
When grown-ups build houses, we want soaring ceiling heights and expansive windows – wide open spaces and rooms that flow into each other. But sometimes, especially during the heat of summer or the bitter winter, what feels best is a cozy, darkened space lit only by the flickering of a movie on television or lamplight shining on a great book. The so-called “man cave” which has become so popular in recent years is nothing more than a glorified fort of our childhood, complete with big screen T.V. and nachos.
At the end of the day, the practical parent in me almost made the kids clean up the mess – put away those pillows and fold up the bed sheets. But the kid in me didn’t want the magical fort to disintegrate into boring household things again. Under the big top of the kids’ imaginations, those sheets house adventures and whispered stories. They become the corner café serving up fruit chews and juice boxes to all who enter.
So we’ve left the bed sheet fort in place for the summer. It’s their home away from home inside our home. It’s a cool refuge on a blistering hot day. When their friends come over to play, it’s the first place they’re invited into, and the visitors always say the same thing once they’re inside: “Cool! Let’s pretend it’s a …” And then the pretended scenarios are as different as the kids themselves.
Just when you think today’s kids are all about texting and Xbox and Nintendo and growing up at a million miles per hour, they surprise you. They go and build an indoor fort and are thrilled with their efforts. They remind you that, at their core, kids are creators and the simplest building blocks are often the best.
By grown-up standards, our bonus room upstairs is a real mess– overtaken by fort construction and games, toys and books pulled in and out of those billowy walls. But every time I walk by it, my inner kid is delighted that some things never change. And it always makes me thirsty for a can of Nestea, nostalgic for a coloring book and eager for a cool summer nap in a hideaway all my own.