Every night at bedtime, instead of trotting upstairs to bed, the two younger children meet at the kitchen door. They call Alice, and then, flashlight in hand, the three of them head out in the dark to their sleeping quarters: the clubhouse.
They’ve been sleeping out there for weeks now. In the beginning, my younger daughter had to do a bunch of bribing—sharing of birthday candy, promising to help with chores, and sometimes even making direct cash payments (not allowed)—to get her brother to accompany her. (The girl can hardly stand to turn off her bedroom light at night yet she’s fine sleeping outside in the pitch dark, go figure.) Even when the temps dipped into the low 30s and we’d all be toasting ourselves by the blazing fire, the younger kids would happily go running out to the cold, dark clubhouse, leaving my my husband and me shaking our heads in disbelief.
With the younger kids outside, the house feels more spacious. The rest of us can rattle about, playing music or visiting, without having to worry about inciting the younger ones’ jealousy. And in the mornings, the younger ones linger in their beds, undisturbed by our alarm clocks, creaking doors, and clattering breakfast dishes.
One particularly balmy, clear night, the two of them slept under the stars.
They spread a tarp on the ground and then the queen-sized foam mattress pad that we got second-hand from some friends who were moving (and that gets hauled everywhere), and then a pile of blankets and pillows. They even made a headboard from a piece of wood and set up lamps.
They wanted to keep the bedding out all day, but I said no way. I didn’t want the animals dragging it hither and yon. (The clubhouse floor is piled with blankets, but at least during the day the door stays shut against the pets.)
Now that my husband installed electricity and hung a little lantern by the door—so charming!—the after-dark clubhouse is looking ever cozier. For a little while after the kids go out, lamplight spills from the windows and we can hear their (muted, glory be!) bickering and chattering.
And then my husband goes out to tuck them in and turn off the lights, and we don’t see them again until morning.