The Jane Goodall Reading Fort

Olivia is doing her 3rd grade biography project on Jane Goodall. There are really three inspirations for this choice.

The savior of the chimpanzees first inspired her when she was listed among 100 strong women in a book she received from her friend Lilly. Also, her other friend Shannon did her 2nd grade report on Jane, so she also wanted to do the same character. Oh, and finally, she wants us to buy her a stuffed chimp doll for the presentation.

I think the third reason may have been what pushed Dr. Jane to victory.

betsyLast year, Olivia did her report on Betsy Ross. For weeks, we lived Betsy Ross. We read about her, bought comic books dedicated to her, and even worked on a full outfit so she could stand in front of the classroom and pretend to be her for the presentation. To this day, Betsy still comes up in conversation because of all the time we spent in her Revolutionary Aura.

So, yesterday, it made sense when Olivia excitedly asked:

Oh! Daddy! Daddy! Can we build a reading fort for Jane Goodall like we did for Betsy Ross?

I smiled. Hand on her shoulder and with a dad gleam in my eye said, “You got it. We’ll build another reading fort just like we did for Betsy!”


With that, she ran into school all happy to welcome this fun concept that her daddy created back into our home. Hooray!

The only problem? I had no idea what the hell she was talking about.

What is a reading fort? My mind started to piece together memories of the flag lady’s month-long takeover of our evenings. I remembered reading it in her room. Was that it? Did I make a pillow fort? I remember taking turns reading chapters with her because the book was ridiculously long and age-inappropriate for a seven year old. I could even tell you about Betsy’s three husbands and the one who practically begged her to marry him (we still laugh about that). But, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember a reading fort.

I took Olivia to the library after school to get a good “chapter book” on Jane Goodall. On the way home, she asked me:

Are you all ready to make the reading fort?

Sure, uh. How do you want to make it?

Like last time.

Oh. OK. Yeah. We can do that. Say…what was your favorite part last time we made it?

I liked the blanket over the ottoman in the living room. Then we put the blanket on the chair…

legooj.jpgAt that point, it started coming back to me a bit like a dream. It sounded vaguely familiar. Still, I don’t really remember it. Reading fort. Gone. Zapped from my brain. At the time, she was most likely complaining about the length of Betsy’s bio and wanted any excuse to quit. So, I made a fort to distract her. I probably didn’t think twice about it.

But she did. This moment that I had written off as a throwaway had a profound effect on my daughter. I overlooked this small piece of a bigger picture in my haste to finish this project, but it meant the world to her. It was symbolic of so many things in life that we, as parents, forget.

There have been many times that Olivia has shocked me with a piece of knowledge. She’ll tell me she knows what opaque means or the difference between political parties and I will express both shock and pride…only to find out that she learned it from me. As an adult, I just blab on all day long – mostly to my children. People listen. I talk. Within minutes, I forget most of the things that come out of my mouth.

Kids, though, they don’t. Every moment is new and every memory is categorized. As they grow up, certain ones stay and other ones go. Some of the ones that mean something to them, like a reading fort, stay. Others, like a trip to a Lego exhibit at a Museum that you drove all the way to in freakin’ Pennsylvania, don’t. No matter how many times you say, “Seriously? You don’t remember that? Look at the picture. You’re right there with the giant Lego guy. Come on!”

Even Lucas, without speech, picks up things I never think twice about. Before his baths, I started singing a four word doo-wop song that goes, “Take a bath-bath-bath, bath-bath-bathy-bath-bath-bath…” I would swing my arms from side to side every time in weird 50s style hula dance. Pretty soon I could tell he knew what I meant. I thought “mission accomplished”. Now he’ll know when it’s bath time. That’s all I expected.

Little did I know that he would also get a big smile on his face and swing his arms the same way I did. Now when I sing the bath song, he comes right along with me and does the dance as he walk up the stairs. I didn’t even think he was watching me the whole time, but he was. He remembered.

It’s really a beautiful thing when you think about it. As a parent, it can feel pretty thankless doing the best you can as much as you can for people who will most likely forget most of it over the years. Times like these serve as a reminder that the memories that matter to our kids, not to us, are the ones that make a difference. Some may be good, some may be bad, but every day is a chance to make new ones.

You just won’t know which ones they are until you’ve made them.