Category Archives: Crazy, wandering thoughts

The Great Tree House Project

Phase 1:

It seemed like an easy enough question for a parent to handle.  The kind that gets asked all the time, knowing full well that the answer will be ‘no,’ but gets asked anyway.  “Can we build a tree house?” 

I assumed that without a hesitation my husband would step in and deny the 10-year old’s request, divert his attention to all the cool things we already have, then pick a fight about eating vegetables to ensure the subject was changed for good.  But my ears heard something else.

“Maybe.”  And he stared out of the window into the back yard, eyeing up the oak tree.  That was the beginning of what I have come to call the Great Tree House Project.  The next day the two of them surveyed the back yard, pacing and looking, and making notes in a tablet.  They come inside to give me the synopsis of the new plan:  to move an existing structure in our back yard next to the tree, and add on to it to make it a proper tree  house. 

The existing structure I’m referring to is what we call the “fort” in our back yard.  A decade ago, it was the main part of a big play set that we built when we moved to this house.  It had a center structure, with monkey bars, swings, and (I think) at one time a slide.  Hurricane Katrina did a number on the wings coming off of the fort, leaving only the small center structure.  It gets climbed on occasionally, but for the most part just sits there, reminding me of a time when my kids were younger and our back yard got a lot more action.

Over the next few days, my husband started sketching.  He’d sketch for a while, then walk around the tree and the fort, then sketch some more.  Now, my guy’s a wonderful guy, and an amazing father, but in the 28 years I’ve known him, I’ve never really fancied him an architect.  Or a contractor.  But that was before.  Something in him had either snapped – or awakened.

We collaborated a bit to get an idea of how to proceed, and broke the project up into two phases:  Phase 1 would be to move the fort across the yard to the tree, and Phase 2 would entail the addition of the second floor deck that would wrap around the tree trunk, qualifying the structure as a tree house.  After MUCH discussion about whether the second floor should be enclosed and covered, we decided to call that Phase 3, and reserve our decision for that part until later.

Knowing how little spare time we have these days, we were hoping to get Phase 1 (relocation) done in one weekend, then give ourselves some time (a month or so) to work on the rest.  We made our first haul to Home Depot, and a couple of Saturdays ago, and The Great Tree House Project began.

I was really impressed with our technique for moving the fort across the yard.  Using simple levers and a set of PVC pipes, we lifted it off of the ground and put the “rollers” underneath.  Then using the levers we inched it toward the tree, moving the pipes from back to front as it moved forward.  It’s simplicity was beautiful.  (The mom in me seized the opportunity to remind my kids of the simple machines they’d learned about in school, and to point out that there was a time when all buildings were made this way.)  In less than an hour we’d moved the behemoth across the yard and turned it to nestle in the tree trunk. We were quite pleased with ourselves!


Dad immediately got to work on the frame for the upper deck, with the little guy’s help.  Usually, when we’ve got a project to get done, and the kids want to help, we indulge them for a few minutes, then shoo them off so we can get the work moving.  But since it was “his idea” he engaged the little guy fully.  I hovered nearby assisting when needed, but mostly eavesdropping on the two of them in their discussions about what the tree house would become.  I can definitely see this becoming the social hub of my guys’ world – all of them.  They’ve got some grand plans.

Now, I learned some things about my husband that afternoon.  Evidently he always wanted a tree house, but never got one.  (We had one when I was a kid.  My most vivid memory of it is of my brother dropping a hammer on a neighbor kid’s head, and the resulting trip to the emergency room and stitches.  After that, the tree house came down.)  But as I saw him in action I realized he still had some childhood left to live out, and he was ready to do it.

So every spare minute of daylight has been spent working on this thing.  The first weekend we got it moved, and the framing for the upper deck in place.  A couple more trips to Home Depot for supplies, and it’s starting to take shape.

More on Phase 2 soon!

The best laid plans…

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is just what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans.

— John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”

Last week was a blur.  The boys had exams, we had elder care issues, and just a generally busy week.  When it came to its end, I pondered how the coming week would be a “break.”  The start of a new grading period at school usually means lighter homework for a few days, the laundry was caught up, the house relatively clean, the weather nice and the universe seemed in harmony.  While I knew it wouldn’t last long, I was looking forward to a comfortable week, and making plans to get ahead on a few things.  God must have laughed.

I’m not really sure why I thought it was going to be an easy week.  Lacrosse practice begins today for the middle son, which complicates things in many ways.  First, the gear required for this sport is bulky, heavy, and smelly.  It can’t be lugged around all day at school, and it smells too bad to leave it in the car.  (For those of you with sons who haven’t yet gone through puberty, get ready for the smell.  It arrives one day like an unexpected houseguest with rotten luggage, and doesn’t leave.  But I digress.)  Practice is not at school, so it requires a drive across town to pick up the player from school and drive him to City Park, where they practice.  Then another pick-up two hours later when practice is over.  We try really hard to work out carpools and reciprocal arrangements with other parents, but I live the farthest away, so there aren’t a lot of options for me.  And since no two families have similar lives any more, it’s really hard to get into a groove with this.  My husband and I juggle the tasks of picking up and hauling gear, but we never really manage to get a system in place until the season is practically over.  We always figure it out, though, and our kids are the better for it.

My little guy is in dress rehearsal this week for the school play.  It’s his first big speaking role, and he’s working really hard on his lines, his cues, and his performance.  This week he has rehearsal every day after school until 6:00 P.M., which makes for really long days for him.  We’re still working on the research project (due next week…) and the regular load of 5th grade homework for a child with dyslexia is a major undertaking without all the add-ons.  (Proud Mom alert:  He did really well on his first-ever exams last week!!)  But I felt confident we could handle it.

My college-boy is coming home this weekend.  He has Fall Break, and is coming in to see his brother’s play.  I’m resisting the urge to have a list of chores ready for him when he gets here, because I know that will cause a further delay in his next visit home.  He will have some big brother duties, as we are planning an adult night out on Saturday.  He’ll be in charge of transportation for the performance that night, as well as the cast party afterwards, but he knows that in advance, so it can’t be used against me.

Knowing what kind of schedule we’d have got me thinking ahead.  I planned a few meals, got out my old friend Crock Pot, and was ready.  Then, Monday morning, I heard the dreaded words, “I don’t feel good.”  The little guy is prone to sore throats, so I don’t overreact when he says he feels bad.  I gave him some Tylenol and got him to school on time.  But by last night he was full-blown sick, with the sore throat, fever and body aches.  The thought of having the flu in the house this early in the season made me want to cry, so I was relieved when his fever came down with more Tylenol.  He fell asleep in his favorite chair, and Dad carried him upstairs to his bed, where we hoped aloud he’s stay for the night.  God laughed again.  He lasted a few hours, and the restlessness that precedes the throwing up started about midnight.  We heard the call, but got to his room about 10 seconds too late.  (Readers without kids or with weak constitutions are warned:  I’m going to talk about puking.)

There’s an interesting dynamic between me and my husband.  We can be stressed out, disagreeing, or in other states of discord, but when one of our kids needs us, we are a terrific team.  We instantly went to work in tandem, without even realizing it.  I started comforting the child, holding his head up, dad grabbed a garbage can and some towels.  Once the episode was over, I stripped the bed, changed pajamas and got clean sheets ready.  Dad got the fun job of cleaning the carpet, which he did without complaint.  In about a half hour, we were ready to try to go back to sleep.  After a few hours, round two ensued — but being better prepared, there was less mess to clean up, and we managed to have our heads back on the pillows after about 15 minutes.

When the 5:30 alarm clock sounded to begin our day, we played our game, “Who’s more pathetic than whom…” to see who’d get cut the slack.  I won.  So I got to sleep for a little longer, while my soul mate started the process of beginning another day.  Instead of attending the leadership workshop that has been on the calendar for months, I’m spending the day serving popsicles to my little guy.  Of course he’s feeling better now, so he’s ready to watch TV and play Wii, while I’m trying to be the responsible adult, and hold my eyes open a little longer.

Having one grown-up son, and one almost grown-up, I don’t get to feel “needed” very often any more.  In fact, about the only time they want me in touching proximity is when they’re sick.  So I think I’ll sit on the couch and share a popsicle with him, and doze off while he watches his favorite episode of Sponge Bob for the millionth time.  I’ll make a few phone calls, rearrange my duties for today, and try to figure out how we’re going to tackle tomorrow.  I’ll do it quietly, though, because I don’t want to make God laugh.