20 Jun

A Tree House All Their Own

Treehouse

“The Tree House: Every Child’s Home Away from Home” in Main Line Today (July, 2013).

Moms have their kitchens, dining rooms and living room—their porches, gardens and bedrooms. Truth be told, they have the whole house.

Dads have their garages and basements, or so they think. Such areas are really on loan from their spouses, giving wives time away from their husbands under the false pretense that we’re escaping them. Well played, moms, well played.

Children, however, can claim almost nothing as an exclusive domain. Theirs for 18 years, a bedroom comes with as many contractual obligations as a lease: Make your bed; wear clean underwear every day; don’t climb out the window or throw your sister’s dolls from it; no boogers on the walls. It’s enough to drive a child out of the house – which ultimately, I guess, is the idea. But if they’re lucky, outside of mom’s house children can escape to their very own space – the tree house.

Such a hideaway spot allows children to discover the world on their own terms. It fosters imagination, promotes independence and acts as a sanctuary from those dangerous creatures on the ground (moms and dads).

My children’s own sanctuary in the trees took shape over the course of the past year or two. Salvaged timbers, windows and stockade fencing were plucked from trash heaps and reassembled into an elevated 10-by-10-foot fort. Thousands of nails later, I watch my kids with envy as they disappear into their tree house.

One day, it’s a quiet spot to read a book or watch birds feast at the feeder dangling outside its window. The next, it’s a venue for a club meeting, accompanied by Popsicles and top-secret plans and adventures.

It is also equal parts hideout and headquarters for neighborhood superheroes. Noticing the ladder to the entrance missing one day, I inquired within. Seems it had been pulled up into the tree house.

“To keep the villains out,” my son explained.

Naturally.

When not playing host to a club meeting or the neighborhood’s pint-sized Justice League, the tree house often turns into a museum. Some days it houses a natural history exhibit of collected sticks, rocks and flowers. Other times, it’s full of paintings, drawings and colorings by aspiring artists. It is, by all accounts, a tree house all their own.

Like the American flag hanging from it, the tree house symbolizes freedom and independence. Me, I often look over at the fort and sigh. I have no basement. The garage is a mess.

Look out, kids! I’m moving in.