There’s something special about creating a space all to yourself, or maybe just a select few friends, using only immediately available resources, and a little imagination.
I have vivid memories of this growing up. I remember the grey couches in our basement, or more accurately, I remember flipping them over as a starting point; a foundation for my palace. I also recall pulling apart the bedding, yanking pillows from every available room in the house, collecting blankets, and rearranging all of the furniture to create and build a structure that, at the time, I thought to be more elaborate than the great pyramid of Giza. I had tunnels, alcoves, spy-towers and treasure troves hidden through my complex creation and I would fill it with books, snacks, flashlights and, of course, a defence system made up primarily of Nerf guns; within the walls of my fort, I was king. I was also creating a space for me to collect my own thoughts and, well, just be alone once in a while.
But, the years went on, I grew older, and not only could I no longer fit into those wonderfully tight spaces, I was losing my vision of becoming a master builder and I could no longer see the couch as a bunker. I had, at some point during my tenure on this Earth, departed Neverland, and that couch in the basement of my childhood home became, sadly, just a couch. My fort building days had come to their end…or so I thought.
Some years later, and an old friend of mine inspired me during one fateful morning car ride to once again stack up the cushions in the living room and teach our girls the art of pillow-engineering. As she described to me her own recent experience in converting their living room into a fortress of solitude, my mind sprung ahead to returning home that evening; my thoughts racing as I visualized the materials we had available and I couldn’t wait to dive-in. Our first attempt was perhaps not the most impressive, but it was a learning experience and, what I would soon come to realize, a lesson in how to tear apart the house with complete permission. The girls were, perhaps more-so than being impressed by the structure coming together, in awe at what we were doing to our furniture. The things we’d instilled in them not to do, we were suddenly carrying on with reckless abandon. We were, respectfully, breaking some rules and having fun. The art of “putting things back where you found them” would have to come later.
That was 3-years ago, and as time has gone by we’ve learned new ways to build our shelters, incorporating various elements form around the home, just as I had done in that basement back home; building equal parts a tremendous fort, and beautiful memories. When our strongholds are all finished, the girls can spend days coming up with games and activities to play within their walls. I love hearing their imaginations go wild throughout the planning stages and the countless hours of free play that follow. It’s a great space to read books, watch movies, play with their dolls, cars, lego and flashlights, and, it should go without saying, have an overnight campout.
Of course, our experience in building pillow forts indoors is only a small portion of how we like to go about the business of creative construction. I’ve spoken before on the subject of snow forts, but our building abilities have extended to other areas and mediums that I am really quite proud of. We’ve created fortresses from fallen logs and rocks along various trails, we have stretched our imaginations into the deepest parts of space using cardboard boxes and a ‘little bit’ of tape, and we’ve even transformed the closet space in Audrey’s room into a starry oasis, filled to the brim with stuffies, blankets and books; an ideal space to cozy up and get away. Yes, forts and hideouts have become a staple within the Bean family household, but there’s one structure that I am proud of perhaps more than any other. Not just because it was assembled for the girls to grow up with, but because I built it with my dad.
We had a giant oak tree in our backyard growing up, and while it may have been a pain to rake up in the fall, it eventually became the location of one epic treehouse, built at the hands of my father and brother. There are so many memories of that rope ladder, the zipline down to the house and the shelter it provided during many late night rounds of Manhunt. What was particularly impressive about it, however, was the fact that not a single nail or screw found its way into the tree; it was built with care and respect for the medium in which it lived. Though I didn’t personally partake in its construction, I do remember watching in awe as the two of them worked together on that palace in the sky and I knew I wanted to share that experience some day. So when we moved into our current home, had a yard space to play in, and discovered we would soon be parents, it was only a matter of time before I would ask my father to help build a playhouse.
The time we spent in the summer of 2017 building the backyard Wendy house is time that I not only cherish and value, but is time that I am reminded of on every occasion that the girls open the door and start their various games of ‘schoolhouse’, ‘ice cream shop’ or ‘Elsa and Anna’. I am proud that my dad and I, from the ground up, measured, cut, pieced together and carefully considered each and every element that went into it. I am both proud and grateful that I got to share time with my Dad doing something that, based on everything I observed and learned growing up, he truly enjoys doing. We have done other projects since (the chicken coop is pretty awesome), and I look forward to even more coming (heads up, Dad…I’ve still got a few more projects for us to tackle ). I am also proud that the girls both know and appreciate exactly where it came from and what it represents. I have watched them grow up for the past five years, evolving their interactions with the space, and becoming more and more creative with how they utilize it. While it may not reside at the top of an old oak tree, it is still rooted in love, care and exploration. Thank you, Dad, for continuing to build memories all these years later.
Be it a pile of pillows, a fortress in the forest, a tower in a tree or bunker in the backyard, for me, all of these creative structures seem to house the same things in common: fun, imagination and a reminder to view this World and the things that reside within it in different and unique ways; a couch doesn’t always need to be a couch. So, if you’re looking for something different to do on this long weekend, my suggestion would be to break a few rules, tear apart the linen closet and make yourselves a humble hideaway while you await the arrival of those tasty chocolate eggs and marshmallow goodies, there will be plenty of time to grow up later.
Happy Easter, and happy building!