Magic tree house

October 14,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

For a long time, one of L.'s favorite books has been Robert Ingpen's The Afternoon Treehouse. It's not the story that he finds so compelling, but instead the detailed plans and drawings in the book. Ever since he first read it (some three or four years ago), he's wanted a tree house of his own. Then we moved on to Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House books, and while L. wanted little to do with the magic side of things, he did really, really, really still want his own tree house--a place up high where he could retreat and look down on the world below. There's something undeniably magical about a house up high, surrounded by branches and leaves--every kid should have one, I think. So imagine L.'s joy and excitement when we arrived at my parents' house this past weekend and my dad announced: "We're going to build a tree house."

L. is a visionary; so is my dad. L.'s head is filled with designs and visions of various projects--some realistic and attainable, others not so much. But when he gets together with my dad, he can't contain himself: My dad has an uncanny way of bringing L.'s visions to life and L. watches, dancing from one foot to the other in anticipation, while my dad hammers and saws and measures and works his magic. I remember feeling that same excitement when I was younger. I'd accompany my dad to home improvement stores and to his workshop. I'd watch and help while my dad turned pieces of wood into a doghouse, picture frames, furniture, or wooden toys. When we first moved into my childhood home--the one where my parents still live today--there was a tree house in the backyard, in roughly the same spot where my dad and L. built the new one this weekend. But it was dismantled years ago by neighborhood kids--long before my brother and sister and I ever got to enjoy it. Still, standing in that same corner of the yard this past weekend, I had a sudden memory of the tree house--a blurry, half-formed memory of my being really small, and in awe of the tree house above me. Even at my small age I knew that it must be a big thing--a tree house. Something magical, unusual, and definitely for Big Kids.

So my dad and L. hammered and sawed and measured and drilled all day Friday, and in a few hours the tree house was done: a simple one, but with a broad and strong ladder. Later that day, L. proudly showed off the tree house to M., his younger cousin. In an instant, M. was up there, too, seated proudly next to L., his face glowing with the excitement of the experience. How amazing, I thought, to see my brother's son and my own son sitting close together in that golden and green fort, only a stone's throw from where the original tree house had stood, all those many, many years ago. I felt almost as if I had come full circle.

I love the tree house my dad and L. built together. I love the crooked nails L. hammered in, and the way the treehouse sways in the wind. I love how L. can stand at the top and shout and touch the golden and orange leaves around him. But most of all, I love what the tree house made me remember and experience this past weekend. Everybody always talks about what grandparents get out of being grandparents--how wonderful and joyous it is for them to experience children again, unfettered by the stress and challenges of the actual parenting part. And I know how much my kids get out of being with their grandparents--being doted on and spoiled (and allowed to watch--gasp!--commercial television while you slipped off to run an errand). But I never really thought about how much I would benefit from seeing my kids with my parents--that I would sit on the low wall by my dad's goldfish pond and feel that warm rush of emotion and gratitude. That I would see the years fly off my dad with every pound of his hammer, and that I'd catch a glimpse of the ghost of the little kid I was, there under the tree house.