At the end of a long school week, when the kids are tuckered and dragging their backpacks and the remaining heat of summer is luring them outside, skip the scheduled piano lesson and give them a marvelous surprise instead — build a cardboard-box fort in the backyard.
Pick your little ones up at the bus stop, jump into the car, and spin across town to Galvin Appliance for a free appliance box — refrigerator boxes are the biggest — then turn tail back home to start construction on your fort.
As with imaginary play in general, the creation of cardboard structures relies on creative vision and needs no plan or blueprint. The joy is found in the conception and execution and there’s no right way to build. A good Sharpie pen for drawing out the openings and a good sharp knife (wielded by a fairly sharp parent) are all you need to begin. Let youngsters relish the pleasure of possibility as they design round windows, hobbit doors, or skylights. Watch their small bodies
lighten and relax as they hop and scamper around, circling the box while contemplating new architectural ideas and flitting inside and back out again to check that it’s just to their liking.
Then, after the initial construction is finished, pass out the popsicles and watch as they add the finishing decorative touches. Markers, paint, and a roll of duct tape are helpful to have on hand but, with cardboard-box forts, the backyard detritus — mud, water, flowers, berries, and leaves — works equally well and there’s nothing to keep track of, wash off, or bring back inside.
So pick an autumn afternoon when the amber light of October is pressing low across the Bay Area, and time is ticking down at a slower pace. Pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade, sit on the stairs, and watch as your kids enjoy the sweet pleasure of playtime in the backyard and playing inside of their very own cardboard-box fort.
Many thanks to Jeanne Gray Loughman, who was born and raised on Sacramento Street and works at Saint Mary’s High, for today's "Cheap Thrill" idea.