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Forts (from the Momplex Blog archives)

“Mom, can you help me build a fort?”

Ugh. At least once every week, one of the kids asks me this question. Whether I say yes or no, what I’m usually thinking is Here we go making my living room look like a Mumbai slum again. They usually ask after I’ve just cleaned, because as any parent can attest, there’s nothing like a clean house to spark little kids’ imagination. And by “imagination,” I mean the metaphorical taking of a toy-dump.

“Sure, honey, take a nap,” hubby said.
Same room, when I woke up an hour later. “Mom, we made a tea house!”

My husband is the fort god. He creates kick-ass multiplexes of blankets and pillows and cushions and chairs and heavy anchors that may or may not result in concussions if pulled down. The kids spend hours playing in these forts, dragging in collections of books and stuffed animals. They always have to eat in the forts, so they sneak in snack-cups full of perishables, such as applesauce or pretty much anything that can roll away. (Our holidays wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t find a petrified baby carrot while rearranging furniture for our Christmas tree each year.)

Dining room table, moved into corner and re-imagined as a roof, walls of blankets. See the child engrossed in a book inside the belly of this fabric condo?

I do not build awesome forts. I suck at them on purpose. I suck because I want them to be easy for lazy American children to clean up:


Honestly, last week my 9-year-old said the worst part of her day was having to go up and down the stairs not once but TWICE while getting ready for bed. She made sure I read the exhaustion all over her face, and my response—indignant laughter—totally puzzled her. For a kid who often makes our living room look like scenes from Slumdog Millionaire, she shouldn’t need me to point out the first-world luxury of having a house let alone one that requires a staircase.

My husband’s and my differing philosophies about forts are telling about the dynamic in our house. He’s helpful and patient and laid-back with the kids. He lets them climb all over his back like spider monkeys despite his herniated disk, and can be easily badgered into playing a loud game of chase in the house, a game in which he howls like a hyena and takes two steps at a time to seize his deliriously willing victims. Me? I’m the one always spoiling movie night by forbidding popcorn in the living room; the one who burns up over Jackson Pollack toothpaste scenes on the bathroom counter; the one who doesn’t tolerate so much as a smidge of backtalk or an ounce of sass. In other words, I’m the bad guy.

Before you give me an amen, before you dwell now on the times your husband indulged in being happy-fun parent while you toiled over dinner dishes and shouted at the kids to put on their jammies, just let me finish. I’m actually not complaining. Sure I’ve done my share of that, but in my heart, I’ve grown to feel yin-yang parenting is actually quite good for the kids. As long as Mom and Dad are a solid front on the big stuff, the yin-yang approach means the kids always have discipline and structure but also have a soft place to land. Besides, what comes with being the “bad guy” is that I’m also the one the kids tend to run to when they’ve had a bad day and need security. I’m honestly the goofier, wilder one in my marriage, but in our parenting life, even though I’m easily up for a fart-off or booger jokes, I think I just might be their rock. And it’s me who’s cast myself in this more serious role, because I’m wired to play it, not because my husband made me.

This isn’t about an imbalance in our responsibilities. My husband hasn’t shirked anything. I’m not picking up parental slack. It’s not a competition, and I’m not jockeying for first in a game of who’s-the-favorite. We’re being the parents we’re wired to be, and fortunately it creates balance. My kids just get different needs fulfilled by their two different parents’ very different natures. Yeah, they need to slum it with daddy, but they need their mean old mom, too.

16 thoughts on “Forts (from the Momplex Blog archives)

  1. P.S. I hate forts too- dragging everything around, getting them to stay up without killing anyone with an imbalanced kitchen chair, the fight to clean up, the fact that they must drag 37 things into them and decide 3 minutes later they’re “all done.” I bought a “fort kit” for our house. It included clothes pins, extra sheets, string and safety pins. I though it was brillaint- the best bag o’ supplies ever! My kid said it took the fun out of trying to use household stuff to make it work. Of course it’s “fun” to them. They sit there while I do all the work! Silly kids!

    1. Oh, I remember seeing one of those kits and thinking it would be perfect! And then I wondered if my kids would even use it, because I guess it does take some of the imagination/invention out of the whole thing. Sort of the same as when my husband built them a fantastic wooden fort with a slide and window and door in the back yard, and they hardly ever use it but will knock themselves out playing with a cardboard box. :/

  2. Your fort seriously cracked me up. I love how there is a pillow holding up the blanket. The differences between you and your hubby sound a lot like me and mine. I’m often referred to as the “fun governer” in our house. LOL

  3. My first comment didn’t take: sorry!

    I love that you recongnize the benefits of Dad! So many women crinkle their nose at the goffy antics or roll their eyes at the messes made or, worse yet, build up resentment for the bedtime that was just minutes away from being completed has been thwarted. The truth is, our kids NEED those things. The belly laughs and abandoned plans are what teach our kids to be silly and flexible and spontaneous! Sure it can be frustrating and if you have a spouse who does it to undermind your authority, that’s a problem. But if you simply have a spuose who wants to laugh and love and be silly.. embrace it!

    i almost spit my coffee when you described how you “really are.” The more fun one, etc. I feel the same way. But the truth is, I’m also wired to be the more organized and on top of things. That doesn’t make me the bad guy- it’s the role I was made to play. My husband says to anyone and everyone he can that if it wasn’t for me our house would fall apart. He’s not patronizing me. He really believes it. And he’s right. I have the gift of organization and multi-tasking, he does not. But between the two of us we created a fun, silly, crazy, happy family with clean teeth, good manners, who arrive on time to everything. That’s a pretty great family, in my opinion!
    P.S. Thank you for honoring your husband for who he IS! It’s a rarity these days but needs to happen WAAAAAY more often!

    1. Agree! I figuree I have no business ripping on my husband in the parenting department, because he is truly an awesome daddy, and piggyback rides, forts, and daddy-chases aren’t anything to sneeze at! He can lay down the law when need be, but my patience threshold is MUCH lower than his, and therefore we too have a family like you described — and I LOVE the way you described it…”fun, silly…clean teeth, good manners…” Balance. 🙂

  4. Yep, fort building sucks for moms. My forts look like yours, and my husband is “the fun one”.

    Truth be told, I’d rather clean and have him keep the kids occupied…but don’t tell him that 😉

  5. Fort building is not for the faint hearted. It’s an interesting dichotomy…. spending endless hours building an elaborate place to relax is an inherited trait, determined by matrilineal DNA for the most part. Enjoy watching the satisfaction on their faces when they finally settle in, and let them spend the night if they want to. Forts are where dreams are made. xoxo

    1. I love the “matrilineal DNA” part! 🙂 They actually slept the whole night in the last one — a first! They’ve tried in the past, but it always ends up with a fight and tears when the little guy won’t stop wriggling and poking and moving things.

  6. Ugh, I used to hate the fort-building so much, too. Well, I guess it was a love-hate thing really. Finally I made a thing as a Christmas present for my youngest (the older kids had outgrown forts by this time). I stuck adhesive velcro to the inside underneath surface of the dining room table, and cut pieces of fabric (also with velcro) that he could just velcro to the table. Nothing had to be removed from the table when he wanted to make a fort, no “concussion-inducing” anchors needed, and pretty easy clean-up. Any work spent making these pieces was well worth it in the long run.

    Loved this post!

  7. Yes. This is my life. I’ve been crouched under an erected card table all day with a blanket over it pretending it doesn’t bother me that it’s sitting in the middle of the living room. But it totally does.

    1. I feel your pain! I didn’t even go into it in this blog, the part about having to not only tolerate the mess but also take residence in the mess and pretend you’re having a grand old time.i hope you’re out from under that table by now!

  8. It sounds like you and your husband have the perfect balance between you! I love your fort lol… and the tea house is certainly out of Alice in Wonderland xx

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