Fort Luz

Summer vacation just started for my children.

Which makes me think of my own summer vacations several decades ago. My sisters and I would sleep in til 7:30 (only 10 minutes later than we grudgingly awoke on school days), eager to suck the marrow out of all the daylight. We’d get dressed and chomp down some Count Chocula, sailing out the screen door with our pigtails flying behind us.

We’d start playing with these, making as much merriment noise as we could to get the other neighborhood kids to come out and join us. Soon Gaylee and Pam, Tyler and Greg and assorted other grade-schoolers poured out of their houses and into the street. We’d play kickball and kick the can and explore the woods on the edges of our neighborhood. More days than not we’d do our absolute favorite activity, building forts.

We’d head into someone’s backyard, usually ours because it was the flattest, and put all the webbed lawn furniture on its side. We’d grab towels and blankets from our moms and begin constructing our “homes.” Always the youngest girl would have to be the Clothespin Lady — often my sister Sheri until our sister Tami was old enough to take her place.

The Clothespin Lady’s job was to deliver one clothespin into the hands of whichever builder had called for her, and with the same precision that a surgeon expects of his instrument assistant. She was not permitted to arrange chairs or place blankets or even make suggestions. Her sole purpose was to serve up wooden clips to the master builders. When a new family with a younger child moved into the neighborhood, the Clothespin Lady was especially excited to be able to relinquish her position to the new kid.

Our forts were patchwork-y on the outside and cozy on the inside. We’d play house, the older kids as the moms and dads and the younger kids as the sons and daughters.

We built and played Forts for hours on end. Late afternoon we’d take a break and go inside to watch Zoom and have supper. We’d snarf it down and beg to be excused to re-congregate in the street for one last kickball game and to tear down the fort before the streetlights came on.

The other day I made a pit stop at WalM*rt. Now that I was grown up and understood concepts like weight and density and had more experience with drape-age, I knew that I’d be able to build a spectacular fort if I used lightweight sheets instead of the heavy blankets and towels of my childhood. And I’d thereby impress Tessa and Reed with my master building skills. They’d not yet discovered fort building and I would be the Awesome Mom who taught them how to build the best. fort. ever.

So I picked up a bag of clothespins and a king sized flat sheet. With those purchases, the children somehow guessed what we would be doing, even though they’ve never seen a clothespin in their lives (do you have any in your house?). When we got home we found a flat and shady place and configured our plastic chairs in something of  a circle. We floated the sheet over as a roof and covered the sides as necessary with old towels and blankets.

Reed later had the bright idea to poke a long stick in the ground in the center to tent the sheet and give us some more head room (he wanted me to tell you that). Tessa laid down a comforter to blanket the floor, along with some pillows. We brought in a few books and read together for a bit.

Then a spider ruined it all, having the nerve to crawl on top of the blanket rather than stay under the radar, heading straight toward the girl-child. Shrieks and a startled jump from one unnamed child tore down the fort in an instant, chairs splayed in a wide radius. The quippy child said to the freaked out one: “That spider’s the only thing that’s been attracted to you all year!”

We have not reconstructed the fort since that first day. Chair-henge remains on the lawn as evidence of our one-time project. To my dismay the kids have not, so far, proven as enchanted as my sisters and I were with fort building. It’s much less alluring than Wii and the rec center swimming pool and playdates with kids outside the neighborhood and watching DVDs while mom tries to work.

My sisters and I had access to none of those things — we solved our boredom only by being imaginative.

I didn’t start writing this post thinking it would be wistful, but as I compare my memories of childhood with their experiences today, I am sad for my children. Fort building, such a simple thing, brought us so much joy and fulfillment. Swimming and Wii and on-demand cinema seem to suck the spontaneity out of a summer.

To be fair, as I write both children are out with neighbor kids playing swords and house, so their imaginations are engaged in their own ways. And also to be fair, my recollections of my childhood summers could be drastically different from my mother’s accounts. It’s quite possible that to her, summers were full of us whining and bickering and her giving orders to “go outside and play already!”

Whatever the reality, in my memory building forts was one of the sweetest parts of summer.

What are your summer memories? What do you want summers to look like for your child(ren)?

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26 thoughts on “Fort Luz”

  1. My kids are avid fort builders….inside the house!

    The only problem that I see is that they won’t build the same tent….and won’t let each other in their tents.

    We need to work on sharing.

  2. We built forts inside when I was little. Maybe it was so special to you because it was something you came up with. I’m sure Reed and Tessa have special things they will remember from their summers.

    Although I grew up 20 minutes from the beach, my memories go back to crawling in the chest freezers in the summer. (Gasp!) No, it was not the old lock-when-closed death trap ones but it really helped kill some of the heat.

    I also remember walking barefoot on the hot asphault. My feet were the toughest and I could walk on sizzling blacktop for a minute to earn a popcicle or a buck.

  3. We didn’t build forts, but we had an old pop-up canvas camper that sat in our driveway. Dad would put that up for us at the beginning of summer vacation and we spend many nights in there and played during the day.

    We also spent time at Grandma & Grandpa’s house. They had an actual camping trailer that was parked in the backyard (or sometimes on the side of the house). We would play house in there too.

    For as much pretending in campers/trailers as we did as kids, you’d think I’d be more of a fan of camping now but NO. I’d rather stay in a motel!!!!

  4. I was slightly horrified to hear my SIL say that she had signed her kids up for all kinds of classes and camps because she didn’t want them sitting around the house complaining that they were bored all day. In my head, I was like “but..but..but..how are they supposed to develop their imaginations? How will they learn to entertain themselves?”

    We build forts inside too – fewer spiders…

  5. Oh, I’ve been having these same wistful thoughts! My childhood was spent riding bikes, collecting bugs and playing “Charlie’s Angels” on the mounds of dirt dropped on lots cleared for new houses being built. All the kids in the neighborhood knew each other and eagerly went door to door.

    For the first time in my daughter’s life, we live in a wonderful, safe neighborhood with SO many children and a park just 2 blocks away, but I she will not go outside. For her it’s “too embarrassing” to knock on someone’s door (or even call them!) and it’s always “too hot!” *sigh*

    So, I often feel like a cruise director coordinating play dates to the park or to go hiking in one of our many beautiful state parks here. Once it’s coordinated, my girl can go all day. I just wish she could take over the coordination effort and make it happen right here in our neighborhood!

    The spider story made me truly LOL. My daughter FREAKS at the sight of a spider! We’d have Chair-henge forever after that! :o)

  6. I do love a good fort, and I’m thrilled that my kids are as enchanted by them as I was (still am).

    Try offering to have lunch or a snack in the fort. Sometimes the simple pleasure of eating outside jazzes kids to no end.

    I do wish that my kids had a bit more desire to be outside. Many days in the summer, my mom had to almost force me to come inside long enough to eat lunch. Although, given the sweltering heat here in southern Georgia, I can hardly blame my kids for wanting to hibernate in the AC with their faces in various screens until the later hours when it cools off enough for them to want to venture outside.

  7. I voted!!!!!

    and I loved this post, while I worry what I will do with 2 little boys in summertime, I also know that trips to the swimming pool and days of playing Wii must be in my future. I always loved pool days as a kid and barbies, I was such a girl in every sense. so with my kiddos it will “on the job training”

  8. Having grown up in a place with no real seasons, summer was less distinct to me than to most. I am an only child, and wasn’t allowed to play outside, so mostly summer meant that I wasn’t at my beloved school and instead had to subsist on various camps, even more activities like sports and arts than during the school year, and summer schools (for voluntary academic enrichment like learning extra languages). Some kids define entertainment and leisure rather differently than everyone else does.

  9. So fun reading this, Lori! My MHM post tomorrow is in a similar vein, but silly me I forgot all about the electronics!! My kids are well trained not to ask for them if their just home with me (because an affirmative issdo rare) so I didn’t even think of it. :)

  10. Our neighbourhood wasn’t big on fort building, but we played all house hide-and-go-seek (meaning, you could be outside or in any of the houses on our street with only one tree designated as the “safe” zone). We biked and explored. We went to day camp for six weeks.

  11. We spent our summer riding bikes, running through sprinklers, playing in the woods, playing kick the can, playing Little League and swimming at the beach. I know my mom kicked us out of the house (away from the Atari and TV) on more than one occasion. There were many sleepovers with my BFF down the street too!

    These days, we live in a non-kid friendly “hood, so we have to plan a lot. But they do love sidewalk chalk, their scooters, and playing with rocket balloons.

  12. Oh, we used to have crazy summers. We would visit family, and number of cousins and their parents would tumble down to our place, and we spent the days squabbling, playing and doing mundane things. My parents always subscribed to special magazines during the summer for us, and there were movies, and rented video games, and crazy stuff going on. I have plucked guavas from the tree, and we have had mini adventures scouring and exploring areas in the campus and harassing fruit-laden trees.

    I want to be able to do atleast some of those things with my kids. I find it crazy that as soon as summer vacations are on, children these days get signed on to n-number of camps and activities, as if just playing would retard the development of a kid.

  13. Ok, I just remembered….I had a separate room, and I and my bro used to make Spiderman’s web in the room using wool, and on that whole criss cross, He-Man and Teela and whatnot would have to hang throughout the day, and it was some grand mission that they were on. That room could not be entered and traversed unless somebody was ready to bend and walk to the other corner.

  14. LOL, I am a tenderfoot too. I can’t walk around barefoot at all, unless it is absolutely necessary or I am having a shower.

  15. Voted!

    Thank God, we don’t remember the endless rants from our parents to “go outside and play” we remember the good fort building, house playing and running through the sprinkers. And our kiddos will too!

  16. LOVED this post! It reflects many of my own feelings…how will my daughter who doesn’t know life without video games, DirectTV, and computer/Internet ever learn the FUN of being outside and HAVING to create her own fun? Sighs!

    Growing up, my house was the 5th house in from the entrance to the neighborhood. My sister and I knew kids in all of the first 4 houses. We’d play hide-and-seek over a 5-yard span. SO fun.

    Sometimes we’d get permission to stay out late (9:30…oooh!) and we’d catch fireflies. Ahhh, the good ‘ole days. :)

  17. We built forts too, in exactly the same way. : ) I always remember spending the entire summer, or almost, at my grandparents’ house in smalltown NW Minnesota, although it was probably just a few weeks. We did watch our fair share of TV, because we lived with (GASP!) just ONE channel, & my grandpa could pull in four, sometimes six, with his rotary antenna. But we would also go out, read on the screened-in porch, Or set up the sprinkler & run through it with our bathing suits on. Sometimes we’d bring our bikes with us and ride all the way across town to the swimming pool & spend the afternoon there. Or walk uptown to the library & the Ben Franklin, where we’d buy all the cool American candy we couldn’t get at home in those days, like Sweetarts, M&Ms, Milky Ways & Butterfingers. And if it was early July, we’d go to the county fair, ride the midway, visit the 4-H exhibits & gorge on cotton candy. Largely without adult supervision. I kind of feel sorry for kids today who don’t have the same freedom that we did.

What say you?