I recently spent a chilly, wet afternoon in a blanket fort, and it blew my mind.
My son had the idea to build it, but the construction was all mine. Strung between his bed and an armchair, I slid over the hamper to expand the reach of its walls. The thing was so tall, Felix, almost four, could stand beneath it in the center. But who’d want to? We lined the floor with a plush quilt so he could flip through books and bed down with his “guys,” as he calls his Toy Story toys, along with a smattering of trucks.
Ah, the best laid plans. Felix found the confines of the fort, with its shadowy ambiance and stuffy, warm atmosphere, well… confining. And more than a little scary. Within minutes he appeared at my heels in the bathroom, where I was scrubbing away the many stains surrounding the toilet. (Having never had to clean a toilet, Felix has no appreciation for good aim.)
When I finished my chore, I tried convincing him to play in his fort by diving in myself, and that’s where I stayed. Felix took up position outside, using magnet tiles to construct “presents” for me, boxes which I would then unwrap, reconstruct with a new surprise inside, and send back out to him.
After getting over some initial frustration – this fort was for you, kid, so that I could get some housework done! – I settled into a meditative calm. Maybe the close quarters and stale air lowered my heart rate, inducing tranquility. Perhaps it was watching my son deconstruct his gifts with glee, discovery dawning on his face when he uncovered whatever toy I had stashed inside it. Sharing a quiet moment of play with a child is always a joy. Or maybe it was reliving memories of hiding out in similar structures as a kid, reading by flashlight, delving into the soft nooks and crannies with my own stuffed animals and favorite toys, that brought me into a dream-like state. Because that’s what it felt like – entering a twilight stage, slipping into the kind of peacefulness that comes right before sleep at the end of a good day.
Whatever the case, my mind wandered and soared. I noted a few things I had to do in the real world, but without any urgency. I’d get to them when I left the fort. Under its blue sheet roof, nothing needed doing at all. I experienced only bliss, and stillness.
Why do we stop making blanket forts? At what point do we think we’re too big for their charms, or too busy? One semester in college, my roommate and I carved our small room into even tinier boxes. We threw our mattresses onto the floor and walled them off with bookshelves, creating nests for our slumber. Later, we bunked the beds and hung tapestries to produce private cells for each of us, lit gently by incandescent string lights. But at some point, blanket forts went the way of doodling in the margins of notebooks. I stopped spending the time to make them; I had more “important” things to do.
I resolve to change that, to get back to the simple pleasure of stretching fabric over furniture and making a familiar room uncanny. Curling into the semi-dark with a book or a notebook and pen, perhaps some good music, or else the easygoing company of the tot in a nice mood; giving myself permission to occupy a liminal space, between real life and dream, the grown up world and kid-dom; burrowing inward to recharge my batteries – blanket forts provide a comfort both great and fundamental.