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My then-shaggy boys in the Mojave desert where I grew up, December 2014

Sometimes I fear that I’m doing my kids’ childhood all wrong.
Not enough forts, for instance.

When I was a kid, we had a corner of the living room devoted frequently to forts. There was a living and a family room. Plenty of space for forts.

Our house here in Berkeley is little. We make forts, though we haven’t made one in a while. The giant camo blanket, lightweight with strings sewn into the edges, is perfect for fort-making. We tie the strings to chairs and the iron handles on the heavy bench that used to be the shoe bench and now is the coffee table.

I’m sure my mother worried sometimes that she was not doing our childhood right. It must have been so different from how she grew up, in a small town just outside Newark, shouting distance from the airport I’ve been flying into since childhood. She and my dad both grew up in the same town, Hillside, one mile square. I was born in upstate New York, land of gray sky, and then they moved to the desert and raised my sister and me in a place where it hardly ever rains.

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Another mom and I are talking about our small Berkeley houses in this age of Pinterest and Instagram, unlimited images of household perfection available all the time. I think of the mug I saw – I will not compare myself to strangers on the Internet. We talk about how our kids share rooms. My sister and I did not share a room. We grew up in the middle of nowhere, land of Joshua trees and desert tortoises. Space was something we had plenty of.

“My grandfather grew up sleeping on a pool table,” I say to my friend. “I’m not going to worry about bunk beds.”

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“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” That was the sing-song theme that Roxana used to chime as she handed out mini popsicles at Elan’s daycare. He was 2, and then 3. The kids looked at their color, guessing which flavor they got. Some cried, still. Some didn’t.

I could raise my kids in the country and worry about the lack of cultural opportunities. I could raise them in the desert and lament the absence of green. I could raise them in New Jersey and sweat over the importance of an expensive Bar Mitzvah. I could raise them in the mountains and bemoan how they don’t get to splash in the waves. I could raise them by the ocean and wish they could make fairy forts in the forest. Nothing’s perfect. Houses are small and get cluttered and dirty quickly. Houses are large and can feel lonely, the space amplifying all that is needed to fill it.

I think this afternoon we’ll build a fort in the living room. Lay on our backs and construct castles and airports and Joshua trees from our imaginations, paper the walls of our small home with memory and what is possible and the laws of love, well-meaning and brave.


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