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 (and maybe for a few more after college, if they’re lucky), 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 send a kid packing—which ultimately, I guess, is the idea.
Only the luckiest kids get a tree house—a hideaway that allows them 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 and more than a little sweat later, I watch my kids with envy as they disappear into the thing.
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.
Evidently, it’s also a superhero headquarters. Noticing the ladder to the entrance missing one day, I inquired within. Seems it had been pulled up “to keep the villains out,” my son said.
At times, the tree house doubles as a museum. Some days it’s 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.
Michael T. Dolan is a West Chester-based writer and an occasional tree-house contractor. Read more of his work at conversari.com.