July 20, 2006

A Meeting Place

During his first week of second grade, my son declared that he had joined the Cameron, Evan and Anthony club.

"It's called the CEA," he said, and it's all about selling robots and writing stories. He declared that they would be holding regular meetings at his treehouse...

His treehouse?

Yes, he explained, the club is going to build a treehouse, and then we're going to sell our robots there. And Dad, you can be in the club too. You can help us build the treehouse.


Dad Confronts the Unknown

My experience with power tools is strictly limited to drilling holes in furniture to make room for ethernet cables. I have a fear of splinters. I cringe at the sight of IKEA kits.

And so I wondered: is it even possible to build your own treehouse?

Curious and not thinking for a moment that I would ever build anything, I went to Amazon and bought several treehouse books. Some books, like this one, describe incredibly elaborate treehouses that you could live in. But other treehouse books, like this nice one by David Stiles, describe treehouses that are play structures for kids. It turns out that David Stiles is an expert at designing playgrounds.

Considering Prefab Living

Ah hah, playground equipment - I could deal with that. Lots of places sell playground kits. Maybe I could buy a kit for a treehouse.

But the problem with a treehouse is that it all depends on the tree. That means treehouses are unlike jungle gyms or toolsheds or swingsets. There are really no kits for treehouses you can put on a tree, because every tree is different. And worse yet, none of the treehouse books can have completely explicit instructions - because, depending on the tree, every treehouse has to be built differently.

For somebody like me, the idea of building something without a pre-tested plan is daunting.

So I investigated other alternatives. For example, Daniels Woodland sells whimsical hollowed-out redwood stumps with treehouses on top - no construction and no separate tree required. But buying your own redwood along with your treehouse turns out to be pretty expensive, and somehow a prefab treehouse shipped from California didn't really seem to fit with Anthony's concept of a treehouse built by the CEA.

What is a parent to do?

Parenting by Making Excuses

There are lots of treehouse-building web sites with tips and inspiration. Maybe a more energetic parent would be motivated by these stories.

But after reading everything I decided that it was all way over my head. We wouldn't be building a treehouse in 2005.

And so whenever Anthony asked about treehouses, I had an excuse ready.

"Not this weekend, we have a birthday party."

"No, not during the winter, you can't build in the snow."

"No, because dad doesn't have the tools you need to make a treehouse."

"We don't really have a good tree for treehouses in our yard."

And "you don't really want a treehouse, do you?"

Maybe eventually Anthony would forget about the treehouse and move on to other ideas. And in a way, he did. As the year went by, there were other activities. Instead of treehouses, we made pinewood derby cars. And in school the kids continued to learn and grow.

Empowered by Reading

Anthony is at the stage where he will pick up anything to read. It is funny to see him read junk mail and cereal boxes. And I love seeing him curl up with the Series of Unfortuate Events or the Narnia books.

But the thing about literacy is that once your children can read, they start to learn all sorts of things that you didn't tell them. It can be startling.

One day I noticed Anthony's nose buried in the David Stiles "Treehouses You Can Actually Build" book that I had stowed away in September. Where did he find that book? His eyes were wide open.

When I repeated my excuse that we didn't have any good trees for treehouses, Anthony marched me around the yard and pointed out several trees that would make good treehouse trees. "The book says that this tree is thick enough," measuring out the inches.

But don't we need two or three trees next to each other, Anthony? Just like the picture on the cover of the book?

"You can make a treehouse with just one tree," he informed me, "or even with no trees!"

Anthony could read. He was informed. There was no escape for Dad.

And so our project began.

Posted by David at July 20, 2006 07:27 AM

I made a bunch of different tree houses when I was little. You give some kids some nails, some hammers, and some spare wood, and you make sure they don't get too far off the ground, and it'll be fine. Making it yourself is most of the fun -- it doesn't need to look nice.

Posted by: Evan at July 21, 2006 10:40 AM

I think this is going to need some pictures.

Posted by: mapgirl at July 31, 2006 03:51 PM
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