Third Birthday: Building a Cardboard Fort, Part 1

I previously wrote about plans to hold my daughter’s third birthday party in the dark, illuminated by glow-in-the-dark fun. Then I had a revelation, a vision, a picture in my head, a picture of this:

Photo of a fan-made flux capacitor. Photo by Gary Weaver II.

No, wait, not a flux capacitor, although if you want to build one, here are the instructions.

Two words appeared to me in a hail of glory: cardboard fort. It’s a party in a box. Literally. We could still do the glow-in-the-dark idea just by closing our window curtains. Forts are already pretty dark places. Forget my silly little idea of plastering the windows with aluminum foil.

Oh, but how to proceed?

Step 1: Acquire a bunch of unwanted refrigerator shipping boxes.

Step 2: Burn all of our furniture in a backyard bonfire to make room for the indoor fort.

Step 3: Construct a cardboard tunnel complete with its own rooms and alcoves running throughout our home, so massive it creates a gravity well that no toddler can escape.

Step 4: Fun.

Alas, dreams are not so easily brought to reality.

Photo of a mangled fridge box, futon box and other boxes stacked inside my home. Our white cat is sitting inside the horizontal fridge box.

That’s White, one of our cats enjoying a haggard refrigerator box. By the way, “White” and “Brown” are my cats’ pseudonyms. They requested I respect their privacy.

Step 1: Have Costco tell you it immediately breaks down and bales its cardboard. You can’t have fridge boxes or any type of box.

Step 2: Have Sears tell you it sells its baled fridge boxes. You can’t have them. What? You only want 30.

Step 3: Plead your case before independent appliance stores. Sorry, they de-box merchandise and dump or recycle on the spot. Get rejected in all but one case.

Step 4: Learn that the one case means a 30 mile round trip to look in a dumpster, only to realize on the third trip that exquisitely huge boxes get cut into six or more separate pieces before being thrown away. Walk out of earshot of your family and invent several new curse words.

Step 5. Covetously eye the giant circular cardboard bins that hold watermelons at the grocery store. Skip inquiring about them because you know the answer.

Step 6: Admit to yourself that your super-massive fort dream is dead.

Step 7: In a fit of depression, visit a garbage dump where people recycle their cardboard by throwing it onto a pile where a bulldozer eventually scoops it up for baling. See only small boxes.

Step 8: Launch a revised dream of a one-room freakishly hobbled-together Frankenstein fort.

Step 9: Request boxes from local folks on the Freecycle mailing list and Craigslist message boards. Acquire two garment boxes and a couple other boxes that might serve some as yet undetermined purpose.

Step 10: Acquire one refrigerator box from a friend who bought a fridge and let her two kids and their chums roll inside the box down a hill every day for a week. It’s seriously mangled and has, ummm, ventilation holes.

Step 11: Recall that Avis Budget Group advertised on your blog twice in the past year. E-mail a pitch to Budget’s marketing representative about donating some wardrobe boxes (sold through Budget Truck Rental). You could pick the boxes up from a local franchise in exchange for a free lengthy advertising run on the blog and praise for being a mega corporation with a heart of gold. Receive no reply. Update: Budget is sending wardrobe boxes after all… too late for the party, but not too late for fun! Look for a new fort article in the coming weeks.

Step 12: Broaden your search to include furniture stores, this time e-mailing store owners because you’ve already spent a fortune on gas. Get ignored some more.

Step 13: Have Gene Joyce, owner of Arcata Exchange Furniture on the Plaza, agree to give you boxes without batting an eye. Instead of tossing them in his recycling dumpster, he actually stores them in his warehouse and calls you on your cell when they become available. Oh, yes, you know he has kids of his own.

Step 14: Revise the Frankenstein fort idea yet again. Gene sells a lot of futons (you own two yourself). Wood furniture often ships disassembled in small boxes. Most of the boxes aren’t tunnel-worthy, but could be made into walls, maybe, somehow.

I’ve survived almost three years as a father. This should be easy by comparison. I own duct tape. The world is my oyster, right?

Follow this riveting tale sometime later this week in Part 2 of our continuing series: How to Drive Yourself Insane Planning a Party for a Three-Year-Old Who Won’t Remember Anything About Your Efforts Two Years from Now.


5 Responses to “Third Birthday: Building a Cardboard Fort, Part 1”

  1. Ryan Meyers says:

    This is one of the coolest sites on the whole interweb:

    There are tons of plans for cardboard forts, as well as a compelling argument to use “rivets” to build with.

    Love the blog! I’m a new subscriber, and am really enjoying it! I keep saying I’m going to start a daddyblog, but it still hasn’t happened… One day…

    June 3rd, 2007 at 5:39 pm

  2. Ryan Meyers says:

    Should have linked here:

    The guy says that finding the guys who DELIVER the refrigerators is the key to getting your boxes!

    June 3rd, 2007 at 5:40 pm

  3. AJ says:

    Yep, I bought some box rivets and will be writing a review. (The boxes are still sitting in the corner of our living room as seen in the photo, so I can’t say more yet.)

    I was unable to obtain boxes from delivery people for a simple reason I’ll cover in the review.

    June 3rd, 2007 at 5:51 pm

  4. Mr. McGroovy says:

    Hey AJ! I saw the referrals from your site. I’m a father of two small boys, and can really appreciate this blog! Here’s what you do…call Home Depot or Lowe’s (whichever is in your town) and ask for the appliances department. When you get them on the line, ask for the name of the local company they use for deliveries. Sometimes they give you an 800 for G.E. Don’t waste your time trying to call G.E. Call Lowe’s back during the day (when the full-time people are there), or else ask for the delivery department. Someone at Lowe’s knows the name of the local delivery contractor, you just have to find that person. Once you know the name of the local company, it’s generally pretty easy from there. Good luck. Email me if you have other questions or it you need more help finding boxes.

    Andy McGrew
    a.k.a. Mr. McGroovy

    June 5th, 2007 at 2:28 am

  5. Kelly says:

    HEY! I left you a link to Mr. McGroovy’s in the comments for that post about the glowparty idea…but I used the word “playhouse” not “cardboard fort” I now in a position to be blamed if you don’t pull this off or is a this random weird confluence of like-mindedness?

    June 6th, 2007 at 8:37 pm