Building Forts and Burning Our Hyperactive Boy’s Endless Energy

“If you build it, he will come.”

– Shoeless Joe Jackson

On the first morning of the new decade, our four-year-old entered our room bright and early. I pretended to play dead and hoped he’d go to the hubby. No luck. “Papa, I want you to play in the fort with me,” he said. I suggested he go see what his daddy was doing on the other side. His daddy quickly sent him back to me. And the ping pong game continued until one of us – the hubby – got up.

If you were to ask me to describe our T, one of the consistent answers I’d give is that he is in constant motion. From the second he gets up to the minutes before he goes to bed, he is in perpetual motion. To put it matter of factly, the kid does not fucking stop moving.

People used to tell me that being hyperactive is normal for boys T’s age. And I’d tell them: Spend a day alone with T and you’ll change your mind quickly! Getting him to sit is a challenge, because his brain is moving so fast. It continues to create challenges for him at school or when we’re out.

Hyperactivity is a common characteristic with kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), of which T has a prognosis of being at-risk for. Many FASD kids exhibit similar behaviours as children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – and it wouldn’t surprise me if T gets such a diagnosis in the near future – but the cause and the treatment for each are different.

And this is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting T. My hubby and I had no illusions that parenting was going to be a walk in the park. In the big picture, it is so incredibly rewarding. But dealing with some of T’s behaviours – intentional or unintentional – is a next level of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.

But we find and have a lot of fun in the chaos!

Parenting truly is a humbling process of trial and error. In the almost four years since we’ve adopted T, we’ve tried different ways to harness his endless energy. Some have worked better than others, but we always have fun and laughs – with tears and hair-pulling frustration mixed in.

We tried parent and tot gymnastics for a year. T had a lot of fun and he was so good at it when he could focus. Other parents would often praise him. However, my hubby and I would spend half the class chasing after him around the warehouse, because he’d easily get distracted and run off. I’d get more workout than T did and was a sweaty angry mess by the end of the class! Continuing gymnastics was not an option, because T would not be able to follow along without parental support, which was not an option for older kids. We’ve considered programs for kids with special needs, such as Kidnastics, but it’s something we’re not pursuing at the moment. We’re content with T trampolining and doing front rolls, back rolls and bum drops on his bed in the meantime.

We go for a lot of walks. When the weather is warmer, we go for walks after dinner. These simple moments of connection are ones I treasure the most and I look so forward to them, especially after a long day at work. Our walks help us come down from the day and help T transition to bedtime faster.

Our favourite hobby is to go swimming. We have amazing city-run facilities and there’s an indoor pool that we like to go to on Saturdays. He’s become so comfortable and awesome in the water and this summer, we will start him with private swimming lessons. Group lessons are likely not an option with this slippery dolphin – and I’ll probably drown and die by the end of the class from having to constantly swim after him – so I know one-on-one classes will be a good investment!

Unstructured and independent play is also important – for him and to give us downtime. And screen time warnings be damned, we use TV and Netflix mobile as a sanity saver for ourselves!

Let’s Build A Fort!

On New Year’s Eve, we built a fort, the first one T and I built together. It was one of those magical moments of desperate boredom and looking at the clock and realizing it was not even Noon when my body felt more like the midnight countdown.

T had received a foldable firetruck fabric toy from his grandparents for Christmas. It folds open into a boy-size firetruck that T could get into, complete with a pretend ladder and water hose. I joined him inside for a little picnic and then suggested that we put blankets over it to make a fort. Inside our hideout, we played board games, had a pretend picnic and played firemen with his myriad of toys.

Building forts was something I enjoyed doing as a kid. It was a great way to kill time, unleash my imagination, and create a private oasis for myself. It was one of the things I looked forward to doing with T and to experiencing through the eyes of a parent.

I thought for sure T would not sit still for long and would move on to the next shiny distraction. But something wonderful happened. T embraced the concept. He got very excited. He really got into the pretend play and went to get more of his toys to join in on the fun.

After a short lunch break, we tore down the fort and discussed plans to build Version 2.0, a larger fort held up on two sides by our family room couches. We used the same two blankets from Fort 1.0 – my hubby’s worn-down green blanket from university and my faded blue childhood blanket – and then T and I found a third blanket, as we had more space to cover. We then put in the Ikea mattress from T’s toddler bed that he no longer uses. Fort 2.0 was done and it was gloriously roomy and comfy.

T then brought out his Paw Patrol fire truck and jet toys and his 7 character toys – 6 pups and 1 Ryder – and we held a party inside the fort. He wanted me to be Skye and would communicate to me through Skye. Throughout the course of the afternoon, the family room became a water park, a forest, a mountain, the snowy landscape from Frozen 2, and various settings for rescue missions. We truly ventured… into the unknown!

And we also had chilled moments when we just sat and talked. Seeing T’s expressive language and imagination grow is one of the things I most enjoy on this journey with him and he was particularly descriptive and creative inside the quiet intimate calmness of our fort and as he engaged with his toys and with me through my Paw Patrol avatar.

We left the fort up until nighttime and returned to it after dinner. We turned off all the lights in the house and went inside the fort. He held my hand inside and we turned on the flashlight and pretended there were monsters and wolves outside. I could tell from his wide smile that although he was scared of the dark, he was also in on the pretend play with me, as I tried to scare him.

The little moments are always the biggest moments for me. And seeing him so engaged, imaginative, creative, expressive, and having fun … and focused! … was so wonderful and heart filling. He was having so much fun that he did not want to watch TV, when I tried to suggest it so I could catch a break!

And it turns out that my hubby also likes the fort. When I finally pulled myself out of bed on New Year’s Day, about an hour after my hubby got up with T, I found T playing in the living room. I walked around the house looking for my hubby – who had gone to bed at 2 a.m. – and I eventually found him passed out… inside the fort.

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