Monday, November 25, 2013

Potty Training? There’s an App For That…

Like most parents, we’ve had our struggles with potty training.  Luckily, our youngest gave up diapers earlier this year.  He still has the occasional accident, but he’s working on it.

If he hadn’t already ditched diapers, we would have had a new option, brought to consumers this holiday season by the twisted, lazy minds over at CTA Digital. 

You’ve heard of the electronic baby sitter.  Meet the electronic baby sh**ter: The iPotty.

This little number has rightly been nominated as one of the worst “toys” of the year – for good reason.  (It's been around for a few months, but is getting a big push this shopping season.  Get it? Big push.)

Not only does it prey on all the frustrated parents out there, leveraging the addiction to technology that so easily afflicts our kids.  But it ignores one of the most important aspects of potty training.  Kids need to know when they have to go, and then decide to go, and then control that urge until they are sitting on their potty.   

Doe it come in adult sizes?
Distracting them with electronics as they sit on a toilet, turning them into little Zombies until the tinkle or poo falls out of them only solves a small part of the problem.  In fact, it may even cause more problems later.

I certainly understand why some parents might like this idea.  Just getting little Jimmy to sit on the toilet can seem like half the problem.  It's not.  After that first "I did it" moment, you still have months of work ahead.   

Take it from a dad who’s seen it, even a well potty-trained toddler can have an accident when distracted.  In fact, that’s what causes most of our boy’s accidents these days: Distraction. I can only imagine how many more accidents he’d have if we’d used the iPotty to train him.  We’d essentially have programed him to pee or poop every time he’s distracted by electronics.  I can just imagine having to move a permanent potty seat into the living room so we can have family movie night without soiling the couch each time.

“I don’t know what’s come over him.  Every time we turn on a screen, he has to go to the bathroom.”
No thanks.
But this gift is offensive on so many other levels.  Sure many parents use television or other electronics on occasion to help control their kids – similar to how wardens use cable TV to keep the inmates calm.  That doesn’t mean we want to use technology at every turn to train their behavior.  Our use of the electronic babysitter is by necessity, not by design.  In fact, I believe we’d be better off training them not to be so dependent on technology.   Is there an app for that?
So now we have the iPotty as an option to help us hapless parents struggling with potty training.  What’s next, baby mobiles with iPhones dangling over the crib?  Strollers with built in DVDs?  Or maybe iPads attached to the ceiling over their beds to get them to go to sleep?

Hopefully, parents everywhere reject the iPotty, and this insulting idea ends up in the crapper -- where it belongs.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

7 Reasons to Put Numbers in Blog Headlines

Whether you’re a casual reader of internet content or a writer working every day to get articles published, you’ve likely noticed the abundance of headlines containing numbers. It seems everywhere you look there are this many points of advice, that many ways to do something, and so many tips for some special occasion. Even articles that could otherwise be boring straight stories are twisted into some form of a list and topped with a digit-infused, click-inviting catchy headline. And when adorned so, the public clicks it, reads it, and shares it.
As a writer or a reader of content, it’s important to know why having a number in a headline is so essential, because a reason exists. In fact, there are seven reasons.
1. People like numbers, and really love lists. Magazine editors have known this little factoid about readers for years. Just walk down the magazine aisle of the local book store---which is the last place you can still find magazines---and you’ll see. (Daddy, what’s a book store. Not now, child).

Blaring from the covers are titles like, “11 Ways to Stay Sexy,” “27 Holiday Deserts,” “5 Ab-Sculpting Excercises,” 15 Reasons Not To Buy Magazines. That last one was just an observation.  

Apparently, odd numbers are more effective than even numbers. But, even or odd, everyone loves a good list. Lists sell.
2. Numbers make an article seem more authoritative. Well-ordered lists give readers the impression that there has been some level of research. When you see an article titled, “100 Best Cities To Own a Pet,” you assume the author used quantifiable data to draw these conclusions – like access to dog parks, affordable dog food, availability of little plastic baggies to ease gathering of poo.

When you see a nice long list like that, you’d never imagine some struggling writer sitting at their home computer in their pajamas surrounded by groveling kids as he strains to think of one more city where potential readers might need a boost in their pet-owning confidence, giving them something else to talk about at the dog park later that day. And with a properly-numbed list, they will be able to speak with authority---“We’re the 27th best medium-sized city in which to own a pet… pretty cool, ay?” (Apparently, that city is in Canada).

People always respond well to a good list. 
For example, the15 Commandments. ...
Make that the Ten Commandments. 
3. Reading several funny things is more fun than reading just one funny thing. When’s the last time someone shared a link to the “Single funniest smart phone autocorrect.” It doesn’t happen. Multiple smart phone autocorrects are much, much funnier.

It works kind of like an evening comedy gala. Some autocorrects warm up the audience. Some aren’t quite as funny as the last one. Others kill it.  By the end of the list, there may be a few favorites. But would they have been as funny alone? Heck no.  

Writing a humorous list is better than writing one decent joke. Think about it, would we even know who David Letterman is if he had the nightly Top One List? (Daddy, who’s David Letterman? … Not now!).
4. Numbered lists are finite. That’s a fact more than a philosophical statement. And the finiteness of an article lets the reader know the level of investment needed to get through the piece. Readers especially like to know this when struggling to get through a boring article. When reading a magazine or a book, they can flip to the end to see how much longer you’ve got until you get closure on that thing. Anyone who's read an Atlantic Monthly article knows the feeling.

But, have you ever scrolled to the end of an internet article for the same reason? No. You usually just click away and check it off in your mind as, “I read that article.”

Of course, this problem could be corrected with better writing. But it’s far easier to just turn the whole thing into a numbered list. Then readers always know how much more they must endure. (Don’t worry, we’ve only got three more bullets).
5. Lists and numbers can increase “Page Views.” What is this "page view" thing you speak of? This one may be a bit cynical, but here goes. Research shows we are more likely to click on stories that have numbers in the headline. By research I mean any free web-based analytics service, not scholarly studies. But, we know people like lists, and numbers increase clicks. 

More importantly, articles written as numbered lists can be broken up into multiple internet "pages." That’s why website with the list of top colleges, or best places to retire, or the best dishes to make with zucchini always make you click on that “next” button to go to another page. You'll do just about anything to get rid of all that extra zucchini, right. So you click. And click. And click. One reader and one article can produce multiple page views.

Here comes the cynical part: Most commercial websites base ad rates and article success on page views. So, you click through one darn article and you might as well be ten readers. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.
6. Everbody’s Doing It. What kind of reason is that? It’s not really, except that new media trends tend to leave people in the dust if they fail to keep up. Calling lists the latest thing may be a bit of a stretch, since they’ve been around since the internet was on the top-five list of things Al Gore invented. But there is no doubt lists are especially hot now. Just look at your favorite website, or your Facebook feed.  You are guaranteed to find at least one numbered list there. Some of the most popular sites and most-shared articles are nothing but lists. Heck, BuzzFeed's whole thing is lists like “23 Truths About Living In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” And social media consumers eat that crap up. I love number 17, and I’ve never been to the U.P.

7. Seven. Seven? What was number seven? I was sure there was a seventh reason. I mean, I would have titled it “6 Reasons To Put Numbers In Headlines,” otherwise. Or even stopped at five. Then I wouldn’t have had to struggle through number six, which really didn’t say anything. And I would have kept it an odd number.  Hmm. How about one for the writers, rather than the readers? So here we go:  It makes your article more marketable.

By all accounts, magazine editors and web gatekeepers at the places every freelance web writer wants to get published are actually people. And people love lists, remember, especially editor-type people. See, I told you there were seven reasons.

So just remember. When writing an article, consider making it a list. And if writing a headline, think about what number fits. If you don't believe me, Google "How to write effective headlines." You'll find articles about the need to use numbers, and several article with numbers in their headlines. See, I told you so.
Now you should probably share this, being as it has a number in the headline and all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Kid Wants a Phone, And I Don't Know What To Do

We’ve resisted. And resisted. And resisted. Now, I don’t know what to think.

Our middle-schooler wants a cell phone. My first reaction was, “Are you effing kidding me!?”

I’m not a Luddite. Though some days, I do consider smashing all the electronics in the house -- except my laptop, of course. Don’t worry, sweet little laptop. Daddy’s not going to hurt you. 

I have to say that or it’ll give me the blue screen of death as I’m in the middle of typing the perfect sentence. On second thought, maybe I should smash the laptop, too. We all should, in order to restore our …

Sorry, had to reboot.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. My wife and I really don’t have anything against technology. Though, we’re certainly not technology junkies, either. We have just a few laptops, two working iPhones, an HD television, highspeed internet, WiFi throughout the house, a wireless printer – the usual. We’re not the type to wait in line and spend top dollar whenever a new iProduct comes out. And it’s safe to say you won’t find me sporting Google Glass eyewear anytime soon, even though I adore Geordi Laforge -- I really do. It’s just not me.

I consider myself a centrist on the issue of technology. And I’m fine with that.

But when my 5th grader asks for her own cellphone, I cringe. What the heck does a 5th grader need with a cell phone? I can just see her OMGing with her friends all day long, and well past bedtime, as the rest of her family orbits around her. I think of kids I’ve known who got cell phones too early. Isn’t that one of the first signs that you’ll end up on Sally Jesse Raphael? Or whatever show is filling that niche television market these days.
I think of all the parents out there who are losing the technology war with their kids. Not judging: us included. 

It starts when the baby sitter lets them play Angry Birds on their Ipod (blame the sitter, sure). Then you let the kids play with your phone whenever you need a moment's peace. Next the whole family gets addicted to Wii tennis. Before you know it, your tweener is in their own technology world: constantly texting friends, staring at their PSP handheld when the family’s out at a restaurant, and asking for Grand Theft Auto 5 for Christmas.

Whoa! Nobody is spending Christmas morning at my house shooting people over stolen cars! 

So the answer on the cell phone for the 5th grader has always been an emphatic no. I don’t care that everyone in her class has one. I don’t want to hear that most kids get cell phones when in middle school. Because, last I checked, about half of kids in the world go to bed hungry, not texting.

The truth is, I have no idea when a kid should get a cell phone. I’m sure it’s not the same as when I was a kid, because we didn’t have cell phones then. The answer was never; or, maybe when you’re 30. It just can’t be good for them, can it? 

Seeing this makes me ask, "Do you
have any flip phones in the back for sale?"
For comparison’s sake, I think of the kids I knew growing up who loved old-style video games a bit too much, like Legend of Zelda -- that's a game not a person I grew up with. Sure, some of the game junkies are now wealthy technology entrepreneurs, and others are highly-desirable computer programmers. But what kind of life is that? 

Maybe, I’m just wrong about my resistance to technology in my kids’ lives. Maybe it’s good for them. You know, it is truly amazing to see how quickly they pick up technology. When we visit the Apple store at the mall, even my 3-year-old grabs an iPad and gets to his favorite game in seconds, as the employees widen their eyes. I tell them, “Relax, he knows what he’s doing.”

It reminds me of how my parents always had one of us kids set the VCR to tape shows. Kids are just better at technology than grown-ups. I imagine it’s because, while the latest technology is new to us old farts, it’s just part of their world.

But their own cell phone? In 5th grade? Not in my house.

Then this happened: Our 5th grader stayed after school for a club meeting. Her school lets all the students stay after an extra hour for extra-curricular activities. They even have a “late bus” that takes all these kids home, if they don’t want to walk or arrange a ride. Usually, when our daughter plans to stay after she lets us know that morning, or she calls from the “school phone” or borrows a friend’s phone to tell us. She did none of these. 

When the regular bus came and she didn’t get off, we just figured she stayed after. She had to get back soon for dance class that evening, so we were concerned, but not all that worried.

An hour passed. Then another. Even if she took the late bus, she should’ve been home already. We began to worry. I got in the van and drove the route to and from school, several times. She was definitely going to be late for dance now. My wife called other moms. I spoke to a mom I saw on the route to school. They talked to their kids. Nobody knew where she was. More time passed. We got nervous. I got very nervous.

Just before I called the cops, my wife called the bus garage. They radioed the fleet. And yes there was one bus still making the rounds. It just so happened to have a girl on it who’d missed her stop and would have to wait until the bus was on its way back to the garage to get dropped off at home. It was our daughter.

When she finally walked in the door, we were so relieved from our wait and she was so distraught from riding the bus for two hours, we didn’t know whether to laugh, scream or cry. She chose to cry.

I held her and offered the only soothing words I could think to say, “Hey, at least now maybe you’ll get a cell phone.”

I still don’t know when a kid should get a cell phone. Is ten the right age? Or 12? Or 30? Is safety reason enough to get one? I don’t have an answer. But maybe it's time my kid got one. Maybe.

Though, no texting. Nope. Not in my house.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Boycott Black Thursday, or Kiss Thanksgiving Goodbye

I’m a guy who likes eating, watching football and taking naps, so it’s easy for me to say this, but having Black Friday start on Thanksgiving is an abomination.

Over the past decade, we’ve watched the slow creep as the shopping season began to threaten that other holiday -- the one where we all gather as families and give thanks. I wrote about it last year, when the shotgun start of year-end shopping encroached on Thanksgiving Day itself. Several national retail stores opened the evening of Thanksgiving, and after dinner at our gathering several family members scooted off to Kmart. 

Kmart!? You mean that crap hole with the cheap junk and dirty bathrooms that we hate to visit the rest of the year? Yes, that Kmart.

Photo taken November 11th at the mall.
Wonder if Santa is working on
Thanksgiving Day, too. 
At the time, many warned that last year's Black Friday infringement was just the beginning, including me. Now, they can all say, I told you so.  

This year, the full assault is on. Loads of stores are going to be open all day, starting at 6 a.m., forcing retail workers to give up their family traditions to keep their paychecks, and drawing shoppers away from their families throughout the day.

It makes me pine for the days when stores didn’t open until 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday; Opening stores on thanksgiving is unAmerican. There, I said it. I pulled out the old unAmerican card.  I've never played that one before. It felt kind of good.

As Americans, it’s time for all of us to speak up. And there’s only one way to do it. (Actually two ways).

First, we should all boycott the Thanksgiving shopping spree. Then on Friday, and for the rest of the month, we should only shop at stores that were not open on Thanksgiving. 

Of course, the best way to do that is to shop local. But it would be nice if the big stores that refused to open saw a bump in their bottom line -- because that's the only line any really care about. If we'd boycotted last year, none would be open this year. Maybe if we reward the few refusing to open on Thanksgiving this year, the others will pay attention.

So, here are some of the national stores that are refusing to open on Thanksgiving: Nordstrom, Costco, Burlington Coat Factory and American Girl.  That’s just a few. Sadly, many more are open all day.

I've got nothing against Christmas, or even Christmas shopping. Gifts rule. But we need to protect Thanksgiving from being swallowed up like this.  

Now, I’m not telling people what to do – especially my wife and mother-in-law.  It's just that we have to do something, or else when we’re older we’ll be able to say stuff like, “Remember when people used to gather around the table and eat dinner on Thanksgiving?”

When Thanksgiving Day arrives, I for one am going to do the following: Eat, Nap, and Chill.  I urge you to do the same.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tip of the Hat to Single Parents, and Thanks to My Backup

Apparently November has become the month of thanks, a fact we’re all reminded of as we scroll Facebook and see our more conscientious friends being thankful for things every damn day.
Surprisingly, I haven’t yet had the temptation to hide the incessant thanks from my newsfeed, like I do any vacation update posts from places I can’t afford to travel – which is pretty much everywhere except Allentown, Pa.
Of course, I’m also not inclined to start my own thanks-inspired daily thread, as I’m likely to forget something or someone, kicking off an interpersonal crisis akin to a bad Oscar acceptance speech, and then I’ll have to spend the next month apologizing to everyone.

Ever wonder how Goodnight Gorilla would've ended
if the wife was away on business that day.  It's not pretty.
But all the thanks on Facebook have made me more keenly aware of the things I should be more thankful for more often. One such thing is that I am not more frequently left alone to do bedtime with my children.

This week my wife is away on business. We both work out of the home, and each have to travel on occasion. Over the last few years, I’ve probably traveled more often, usually just long daytrips and overnights. When my wife goes away, it’s for multiple days. She left Tuesday morning for three days in Washington, D.C., leaving me at home alone with a wild band of pint-sized miscreants – a.k.a. our children.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and cherish any time I get with them. It’s just nice to have a partner in the process, someone who can temporarily relieve you from parenting duties when the little ones make you too frazzled, flustered or frustrated. Look there, I just used three “f” words talking about my kids without uttering the one I felt like screaming last night at bedtime.
I’ve vented here about our bedtime challenges before. Writing that was cathartic. And for some reason, I thought doing so would make bedtimes better. Yet, last night – with only their father home – the children conspired to have their worst bedtime ever.
I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say the first person to actually fall asleep – at 10:30 no less – was me. 
As planned, they were all in their beds by 7:30, except the older one who has a later bedtime. But then they proceeded to play, and fight, and run around, after which they were hungry, and scared, and “not tired.” I spent three hours dodging backing and forth between their rooms to read to them, to settle them down, to stop them from jumping on the bed, to coax them back under the covers, to bring them water, to check for monsters in the closet – they pulled out all the stops.

You could’ve set my routine to Benny Hill music, as I shuffled back and forth between rooms, closing doors, tucking kids in, making go to bed hand motions. I even ended up in a t-shirt and boxer shorts by the end.

(To hear Benny Hill theme, click play).

Among other things, I learned that there’s a reason they invented the lullaby. It’s because hollering “Just Go To Bed” at the top of your lungs for the umpteenth time is probably the least effective way to get a 3-your-old to sleep.
Eventually, I just shut all their doors, went into my room and collapsed. The boy followed me in a few minutes later, and when I woke with a start at midnight, he was out. Success. His sisters were asleep, too.
The evening was a tough one. And no doubt, late in the game, I could’ve used a relief pitcher. I was getting shelled, and the bullpen was empty.
I honestly don’t know how single parents do it. It’s so much harder when you don’t have the option to take a break and call for back up. It’s a lesson I’ve learned before, and will likely experience again. As a team, my wife and I may suffer through most of our bedtimes – despite all the effort we’ve put into getting better at it.  But there’s no doubt that it’s easier to do as a team.
So today, I am thankful that my wife will be home in just two more days. Now Go To Sleep!

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Crappy Husband Alert! Crappy Husband Alert!

Tomorrow is my wife’s birthday, and today I was reminded what a lousy husband I am. The reminder came from an unlikely source, which rules out my wife. In fact, it was a large, faceless corporation that told me, essentially, I suck at being a husband.

Today, I took a little time away from the home office to sneak over to one of my wife’s favorite stores to purchase an item she told me she wanted repeatedly over the last week. It’s not like she was walking around talking about the item, rather it came up in conversations that went something like this:

“Honey, want anything for your birthday?”

“No, I don’t need anything.”

I’m not falling for that trap, again.

“Come on, dear.  There must be something.”

“Well there is this one thing I saw …”
Years ago, I gave up trying to come up with my own ideas. Back when we first met, I considered myself a good gift giver, in that I came up with creative, romantic, original ideas. At least I thought I did.
As time went on, I began failing at the task more often than I found success by buying her gifts that were solely my idea, from clothes and shoes, to books and CDs, to household trinkets. I even failed times when I thought I’d succeeded, as she graciously accepted the gift and then days later asked if I had a gift receipt.

Note to Husbands:  Just because she
watched the movie instead of talking to
you, doesn't make it a good gift.  
It all started when we were on a vacation of sorts one Thanksgiving, long before the kids were born. My then-future wife chose to stay in the hotel room for a few hours watching “A Christmas Carol” – the semi-old version with George C. Scott – rather than explore the town with me. Not my favorite version of the tale; I always preferred Kermit as Bob Cratchit. But I figured she must like it. 

That Christmas, I bought her “A Christmas Carol” staring George C. Scott, thinking it would be the anchor piece of our future holiday movie collection. She laughed and told me she didn’t care for that movie at all. It left me confused as to why she watched it rather than hanging out with me that day, and began my steady descent into becoming a bad gift giver.
Experiences like that have made me a bit gun shy on gift ideas. Not just birthday gifts and holiday presents, but other gifts as well. Making matters worse, I’ve also never been the spontaneous gift kind of guy, which is the real offense here.  
I know that a better husband would just show up on occasion with a little something for his beloved. Apparently, I am not a better husband. My wife gets her allotted five gifts a year: Valentine's Day flowers, a Mothers' Day gift card for a manicure, an anniversary-appropriate something in yearly honor of our nuptials, and then some gift idea I coax out of her for her birthday and Christmas. Five. Which is more than twice as often as she gets dental cleanings. But, it's certainly not enough. And it's all my fault. Heck, my wife is lucky if I bring her a chai tea when I splurge on Starbucks for myself. Cue the “You don’t bring me flowers” music.
That brings me to the reminder I got today of just how much I suck.
As stated, I went to a store she loves and decided to get her that thing she told me about. It was a little pricey, but not that bad. We spend more on groceries at Wegmans twice a week. And, for goodness sake, she gave birth to all four of my children. She’s worth it.
When I got back to the car, after making the retail kill, I felt the vibration of my phone telling me I just got an e-mail.
It was from my bank – a security alert, from the anti-fraud department.
“We’ve noticed unusual and suspicious activity on your account,” the e-mail read.  I got worried. Was it identity theft? Have we been robbed? Should I take back the gift I bought to make sure we don’t bounce any checks?
The urgent message went on to state that the suspicious transaction occurred moments ago at … my wife’s favorite store.
Me buying something for my wife is so unusual that even the fraud department at our bank has noticed. I get it, bank, I should buy her more stuff, more often, for no reason.
In a split second, I went from feeling like I was a true king for getting my wife the gift she really wanted, to a total louse. Being married to me must suck.
Happy Birthday, dear. And I'm Sorry.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

What is it About a Fort That Brings a Child Joy?

Four walls made of pillows, or cardboard, or plywood, or snow; a roof of blankets, or branches, or open to the clouds; a secret entrance. There’s something about a fort that brings joy to every child.

In recent days, I found myself at home on a Friday night with just the boy. My wife and his older sisters were headed to the local high school drama clubs’ production of Alice In Wonderland, and my 3 year old was deemed too young to attend. Thank goodness.  

The second the door of the house swung shut – before my wife even put the van in reverse – he was asking to watch a show. 

“Can we watch Chuggington?”

For those without a male toddler at home, Chuggington is a hipper version of Thomas the Tank Engine. Wikipedia describes it as an animated show that “follows the adventures of six young novice railway anthropomorphic locomotives.” While it sounds riveting, I had little interest in spending a boys’ night at home watching talking trains -- adventurous ones or otherwise.

As I thought what else we could watch, I went to the corner of our living room where the computer desk settles up against the built-in window bench to grab a couple of couch blankets from the blanket basket. The boy saw me lift and open a blanket, and an idea was born.

“Dad, can we make a fort?” He asked.


Like any dad worth their salt, I’m something of a master fort builder. I should be, anyway, I’ve been studying the craft since I was about 8 years old myself. That’s … well, a lot of years, and a lot of forts. Tree forts, snow forts, indoor blanket forts. I was so into fort-building when I was 12 that I wanted to be an architect -- long before George Costanza made wanting to be an architect cool. It was a dream given up when math got in the way, but I never stopped building.

As a dad, I make mostly temporary indoor forts. But we have a tree fort, of sorts, connected to the swing set. And each winter I always make a snow fort.  My 5 year old and 7 year old daughters have been known to spend whole days out in the bitter cold, between their walls of snow, just pretending. We've had our share of frozen tea parties.

This latest fort was far easier than most. All the boy and I had to do was move the basket from the nook between the window seat and the computer desk, drape a few blankets over it, put a chair at the entrance with another blanket to connect to the roof, and, viola, instantly happy child. 

Two founding members of the Hotdog Club.  The club
has since folded, and been put back in the blanket basket.
There’s just something about a fort that captivates a kid's mind, lightens their heart and unleashes their imagination. I've seen a fort brighten the darkest room, tame the scariest woods or bring warmth to the coldest day. As I sat watching my boy revel in his new abode, I wondered why it’s so? Is it the feeling of ownership? The sense of security? The isolation?  

Is it some primal reaction, rooted in our days as cave dwellers? Do forts make kids and the rest of us feel safe, away from the danger of the world? Or is it the same instinct that drives us to seek our own apartment, or own our own home, or build a cottage, or to live in a cabin in the woods on a pond? Or maybe there is some deep psychological underpinnings, like a fort subconsciously reminds the child of the womb, the last dark, warm place where they felt fully secure. Or maybe a few couch cushions turned on their side with a blanket over top satisfy just enough of Pavlov’s hierarchy to bring a kid to a higher level of contentment.  It could be none of these things, or all of these things.

My son played in his corner fort the entire evening. By the next morning, he and two of his sisters had created a club associated with the collection of chairs and blankets, while their oldest sister slept in. The three of them made signs that read, “Welcome to the Hotdog Club,” and “Only 7 and Under Allowed.”   

They didn’t ask to watch a show once. And when their 10 year old sister awoke and joined the fun, the one sign mysteriously changed to read, “Only 10 and Under Allowed.” I was waiting for my wife to join the club and put up a sign that read, "No One Over 39 Allowed."

Maybe it’s not as simple as isolation. Maybe forts can also create a way for kids to work together, to bond with each other, inspiring secret passwords, and handshakes, and rituals. It seems to hold true for adults, too. What would the Dead Poets’ Society have been without a cave to call their own, after all? Just a bunch of squirrelly guys at a prep school, that’s what. They needed a place to become something. Just like the Hotdog Club, with a slightly more creative name.

With access to so many kids who had a new fort, I decided to stop wondering about why forts cause joy in kids and start asking -- for science, of course. 

Their answers touched on all the things I guessed at. The 7 year old said she liked “the quiet” most. Not surprising, knowing her. Her 10 year old sister’s reply went a little deeper.

“I kind of feel like I’m separated from the rest of the world. Almost. And I like it,” she said. She described it as a cave – without prompting – and a “little secure area.”

When asked why she liked feeling separated from the world, her response made me think of that cabin in the woods.

“It’s kind of nice to get away from all the more stressful stuff,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff we have to remember. We have to remember to do our homework, to get dressed, to go to bed. There’s a lot of stuff. “ 
Just wait, kid.

Crawling through the tunnel entrance
to Snow Fort 2013.  Frozen tea anyone?

One surprising thing about forts they all touched on came to light most in 5 year old response.

“It’s fun because it’s dark,” she said, clearly referring to indoor blanket forts, in particular.  
Reminded that darkness often made her scared, she replied, “It’s not dark like at night time. If it’s too dark, you can make it less dark.”

Maybe that's it. Maybe the answer is in the control. Not control of others, but control of their little world. We often forget that kids have almost no control over their lives; we decide where they go, what they do, what they eat, when they sleep – at least when they are supposed to sleep. Maybe when that fort becomes four walls, that world is suddenly theirs to control, to decide, to pretend, and to do whatever it is they want.
When I asked my three year old boy why he liked forts, he gave the answer I was looking for all along.
“Because.  Forts are fun,” he said.
There’s no doubt, for a kid, to have a fort is to be a master of a corner of the world, away from the danger, and the uncertainty, and the chores. And, there’s also no debating it, forts are fun.
Now, who wants to build a fort?

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