Treehouse Master

I don’t know if it was four years ago or five that Jack first started asking for a treehouse in the backyard. To my surprise, Alex was all, “Sure, Jack! I can build one for you!” He also said a lot of things about getting it done in a weekend, but the fact that he agreed to make one at all was the truly astonishing thing.

Then we waited and waited and waited and Jack kept asking and Alex kept insisting that he was going to build one and then we moved and we were glad that we didn’t build one at the old house and then every time we drove past a treehouse, Jack would say, “Why do they get a treehouse and we don’t?” and then we waited a little more.

Finally, late this past summer, Alex announced that it was finally time. He made a shopping list, stuffed us all into our van, and dragged us out to the first of many trips to Home Depot to buy lumber.

Photo of Alex and Sam putting a long 4x4 piece of wood on a cart.

We had a very strict Home Depot separation of labor: Alex and Sam did most of the heavy lifting, Jack sat on the cart, Quinn laid on the floor, and I took photos. That’s me, always sacrificing for the greater good.

It was fun to get started buying our supplies as a family. There was a wrinkle though.

Guess how many people can fit in a Chrysler Town & Country filled with a bunch of six- to 12-foot pieces of lumber?

Answer: two.

Guess how many people are in my family?

Answer: three more than two.

Guess which of us had to sit in the nearby Five Guys and grumble at each other while the other two took the lumber home?

Answer: Those of us not involved in most of the heavy lifting.

Alex had a plan to build the treehouse and fasten it to the tree. He started by attaching a brace to the tree and constructing a base. I helped nail the base together. Then Alex took out my crooked nails and re-hammered them in correctly.

Photo of Alex standing next to a tree. There is a triangle of wood attached to the tree and the frame of a base on the ground next to him. He looks vaguely annoyed.

See that vaguely annoyed look on his face? He wore that for the next week, especially when I said things like, “Are you sure this is how we’re supposed to do it?” and “Maybe we should have used a different screw,” and “Are treehouses supposed to be that wobbly?”

Even though Alex had the worst, fair-weather assistants in me and the munchkins, he still managed to maintain his sense of humor.

Alex standing at the tree, using a measuring tape to measure from the ground to the top of the brace on the tree.

Alex, measuring what needs to be a pretty precise measurement: “This is a cubit.” Not everyone can build a treehouse using cubits and smidgens.

Building the base was all well and good, except you have to build it on the ground, then position it in its spot in the tree to figure out where to dig your post holes. That means you have to figure out a way to hold the base in the tree without posts while you’re figuring out where those posts go. And that base is heeeeaaaavy.

Our treehouse plans suggested you have three people hold up the base while another person figures out where the posts go. Looking at our little family, we just couldn’t make that math work. So Alex and I recruited a slightly too short ladder to act as one of our people, forced Sam to help, and tried to move as fast as possible.

Once we figured out where we wanted the post holes, we rested the base on the ladder as we used every tool we could find to dig in the hard, hard ground.

Photo of treehouse base propped in a tree by resting on a ladder. Alex is digging a post hole. Sam is walking underneath in a cringing fashion.

There was a lot of screeching of “DO NOT WALK UNDER THE TREEHOUSE!!!!!!!”

Once the base was attached to the posts, things got easier. I mean, not in terms of our marriage suffering from me insisting that the structure was too wobbly and him insisting that I just shut the fuck up already. (He turned out to be right. Go figure.)

The whole family helped build the treehouse. Some helped more than others.

Photo of Jack digging with a shovel and Quinn chipping at a rock with a pickaxe.

Good job digging random holes in the yard, Jack and Quinn.

Actually, Jack was really into the whole thing and helped quite a bit. Quinn, less so. He really enjoyed that pickax though.

I won’t bore you with all the details of our exact process and our million trips to Home Depot and all of the curse words we used, but suffice it to say, we eventually ended up with a house-shaped structure attached to a tree.

Alex standing in front of the frame of a treehouse in the tree.

It is just a skeleton, but it is a treehouse skeleton.

Not everyone in the house understood why we were doing what we were doing.

Photo from outside the house of two kittens inside a sliding glass door looking outside at the saws and wood on the back porch.

Kittens: “We have a perfectly cromulent house already standing. Why are you doing all this work to build that tiny house in a tree?”

It got a little sketchy when Alex had to climb to the very top of a tall ladder to hammer in some of the siding and to put the shingles on the roof.

Photo of Alex on a ladder using a hammer. He looks worried.

I took this photo from my safe vantage point in the treehouse. He was in a much sketchier position on a ladder fifteen feet in the air. That’s his “I don’t want to die” face.

Photo of Alex at the bottom of a tall ladder. He is making a grouchy face at me.

This is Alex’s “stop making jokes about my imminent death” face.

I gotta tell you, building a treehouse is a tremendous amount of work. And it turns out that all the lumber is super pricey. AND you might end up near divorce if you try to build one. But you just might make your inspiration for building the damn thing super happy.

Photo of Jack giving a thumbs up while standing inside the treehouse.

That thumbs up was five years in the making.

It turns out that even though I took seventeen million photos of the building of the treehouse, I neglected to take one from the outside once it was done and it’s dark right now and I don’t want to go outside to take one, so I have to use this one that my mom took as we were finishing up the roof.

Photo of the treehouse with railings and stairs. Alex is on the balcony on a ladder nailing shingles to the roof. I am sitting on the stairs looking at my phone.

And, yes, I do mean WE. Sure, Alex is doing the heavy lifting here, but I was making sure everyone on Facebook knew of our progress, which was almost as important.

We’re Team Stimey, so we had to christen the thing with doughnut breakfast.

Three photos of us in the treehouse eating doughnuts. One is of Sam in the doorway, one is a selfie of me and Jack, and one is a photo of Quinn.

Not only is the treehouse stable, but it can fit a surprising number of people.

Sadly, we had said christening while Alex was at work. Being the dad can be a thankless job. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank him.

Photo taken from the treehouse platform of Alex on the ground. He is waving. He looks adorable.

Thank you, Alex. You did SO much work. The treehouse is amazing. Our kids are so lucky. I hope they truly understand that. Excellent job, sir. Thank you.

Risk, Accomplishment, and One Total Badass

There is a certain terror to being a parent. You want to protect your kids from all the pains and embarrassments and dangers of being a person at the same time that you know you absolutely cannot. You wish you could bear the weight of their heartaches rather than making them go through it themselves at the same time that you know that weight is what makes them grow into the person they are meant to become. You want to hold them back from risk at the same time that you accept that it is only through risk that they have accomplishment.


This afternoon I got a call from Jack’s teacher. Because he was staying after school for drama club, she said, she wanted to make sure he had a ride home.

That was the first I’d heard of drama club, but I was stoked because I love theater and I love acting and I love drama kids and I was super excited that Jack decided he wanted to do drama club as an extracurricular activity instead of his semi-disastrous foray into the Science Olympiad last year.

His teacher had told me the club would be over at 4:15, so I showed up then, but he was nowhere to be seen. I hung out for a while, reading papers on the bulletin boards. On one such bulletin board was a notice about auditions for the fall play and how they were TODAY and they were being held from 3 to 6 and how if you were going to audition, you needed to have a 1-2 minute memorized monologue prepared and I realized that this is where Jack was and I started to worry a little bit because, monologue? He hasn’t prepared a monologue. Oh shit.

I wandered down to the stage and opened a door that led to a hall backstage and heard Jack’s voice say, “Hi, Mom.”

He was sitting quietly by himself eating his lunch leftovers. After I had a little panic that he’d been ousted to the hallway, I realized that food wasn’t allowed in the auditorium and he was just taking a break. So I said hi and asked him if he’d auditioned yet and then I asked him what monologue he was doing and he was all, “One I made up myself,” and that terror that I talked about up above, that fear of risk, reared up inside me as I thought about all the other kids auditioning who had been preparing for the past two weeks.

Jack and I waited until the next audition was done, then he stood up and went into the auditorium and talked quietly to the teachers running the audition. There were probably about fifty kids sitting in groups around on the floor watching the stage. I could tell he was telling the teachers that his mom was here and could he audition soon. It was clear that they were adding him in even though he hadn’t signed up in advance, which was lovely of them.

During all this, my body got ice cold. My chest began to hollow out. I was sure he was in over his head. I had no idea what was going to happen when his name was called.

I didn’t have to wait long. They called his name and he went on stage. I was standing far away against the wall, so I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, but he introduced himself and then performed his monologue which he told me later was about “my character and his brother’s mysterious death.” He spoke smoothly, he emoted through body movement, he was very melancholy, and he was fucking beautiful on that stage.

Photo of Jack walking down a set of stairs from the stage after his performance.


I am so proud of that kid. He is fearless. He made a decision that he wanted to try out and then he performed a monologue that he wrote himself in front of an audience like it was no big thing. I don’t know what the results of the audition will be, but what I do know is that Jack is a total badass.


There is a certain state of amazement that comes with being a parent. When you get to watch your kid be brave, when you see him take a risk, when you see him look his nerves in the face and walk straight past them, well, that is something special. That’s when you pretend that those aren’t tears in your eyes. That is when you feel a joy and a pride and a love that is bigger than anything imaginable. Sometimes it’s a small thing that brings on that amazement.

Sometimes all it takes is 1-2 minutes.


I found the greatest product and thought some of you might be interested in it. It is a lycra bed sheet, but my family calls it a burrito. Quinn’s OT sent me a link to it because he loves OT swings and tools made out of similar materials and thought he might like it.

She. Was. Right.

Photo of Quinn in bed. He is under a sheet that is wrapped around his mattress. There is a cat on the floor by the side of his bed.

Quinn gave me the okay to post this photo because he thinks this might help other people. Also because you can see his cat who sleeps with him every night.

Basically, the sheet is a tube top for your mattress. When no one is under it, it lies completely flat, so when there is someone in it, it gives constant pressure, but it isn’t too hot or too heavy. It is a brilliant product.

Jack was immediately jealous so I got one for him too.

Jack under his black burrito sheet, pulled up to his chin. He has a huge grin on his face.

Jack looks a tiny bit happy, doesn’t he?

I love these. My kids love these. It totally fills a space in our home that was much needed. They come in lots of colors and, at $25 for twin size, it’s totally reasonable. I do have to say that when Jack’s came, it reeked of cigarette smoke, which makes me think that someone makes these in a smoking house. It was kinda gross. I just washed it before I put it on his bed and it’s 100% fine, but, still, kinda ick. You can always Google “lycra bed sheets” and find other places that sell them.

Sweet dreams!


School went very well today. I am super proud of all three of my kids.

Here is where I would normally post photos of them on the first day, but I forgot (FORGOT!) to take photos, so instead I’m going to give you some drawings. I gave my kids a daily schedule when I worked this summer—a schedule that included art time. I have a whole series of blog posts planned featuring the art created then, and today I will start with what I had them draw the last day Sam babysat for me over the summer.

I told them to draw pictures of themselves at school.

The fact that they’d been doing art all summer and were tired of it may have something to do with the haphazard writing and drawing, but they still pretty accurately capture what my kids think of school.

For example, Sam considers school to be little other than a venue to create music.

A drawing labeled "practice room." It is a crudely drawn stick figure playing a bassoon that is taller than himself.

I like that the bassoon is 18 feet tall.

Quinn, quite obviously, was in denial about the whole thing,

Photo of a giant cat head next to a small stick figure labeled "me." The caption says "cat school.'

Welcome to the terrifying school of enormous cats. Quinn is apparently the dean.

My kids evidently have some difficulty with drawing to scale.

Aaaand then there is Jack. Jack’s art made me worried that he is planning some sort of shenanigans at his school.

Photo of a school building. A boot is sticking out of the door, kicking a person, presumably Jack, out of the door.

Let’s hope that Jack’s vision of being kicked out of school is aspirational rather than prophetic.

Reality may be nothing like their drawings (except in Sam’s case), but so far, so good.



Photo of Sam standing in the school supplies section of Target. There is a pencil-shaped sign above his head that says "school shop."I am writing this the day before I send my kids back to school. We just put them in bed. Alex literally just said to Sam, “You can read 30 minutes of Euclid before you have to turn out your light.” I don’t understand either of those gentlemen. The other two are discussing Super Mario. Them, I get.

So, school. On the one hand, I am going to miss my kids when they’re at school. We had a lot of fun this summer and I’ve really enjoyed getting mass quantities of time with them. On the other, more important hand, I am going to have two days at home every single week without ANYONE to ask me for stuff, to drag along on errands, or to break up fights between.

I was a little worried about the start of school, especially for Quinn, because about halfway through summer he started dropping to the ground and erupting in sobs anytime I mentioned it, but I spent a couple of weeks supersaturating him in the idea of school in an effort to desensitize him to his distress. It seems to be working. KNOCK ON WOOD.

We did the bulk of our school shopping last week, when I dragged the munchkins to the mall for shoes, pants, and school supplies shopping. In retrospect, it might have been a mistake to try to do everything in one trip.

Photo of my three kids at the casheir in Target. Sam, in the background, looks pained. Jack is staring off into space. Qunn is in the foreground, collapsed onto the counter.

I posted this photo on Facebook and it turns out that we weren’t the only family to be entirely undone by back-to-school shopping.

Since then, we’ve been doing things to prepare for tomorrow, but it all really kicked into gear today because we are nothing if not procrastinators. I spent some time with each kid today setting up their binders for school.

Photo of Sam drawing a cat on the outside of his binder.

Part of this was the important task of decorating said binders, mostly with photos and drawings of cats.

Did I mention that we are procrastinators? We also spent part of the day finishing up summer homework packets.

Photo of Jack writing on a worksheet.

This is Jack writing about what her learned from his 300-page, adult-level chapter book that he finished last week. Like a boss.

Sharky helped us with our work.

Photo of Sharky the cat sitting on the table in a pile of school supply packaging. He's chewing on some paper.

And by “helped,” I mean, “caused as much trouble as possible.”

I also had to complete a project for Quinn. Quinn and I went to visit his school last Thursday to meet his teachers before open house. (We also went back on Friday for open house. See: supersaturation) When we were there, we discovered that both of his teachers are cat people. One of them showed us a photo of her late cat, which she’d made into a magnet.

*bing!* *lightbulb!*

As you may have noticed, Quinn’s cats are very comforting to him. Last year I put photos of his cats in his binder. But, for some bizarre reason, Quinn has a locker this year (he’s in 5th grade). After seeing his teacher’s cat magnet and the metal lockers, one of which he will be assigned, Quinn and I agreed that we’d make magnets of his cats.

Thus began the search for suitable photos, followed by printing, cutting, laminating, cutting, gluing, cutting, and eventually showing Quinn the finished product, which, if I do say so myself, is fucking amazing.

Photo of magnets on a fridge. Five are of cats and one is of Quinn.

I made a Quinn magnet, so he could be surrounded by his furry buddies.

We’ve bought lunch food and written down bus route numbers, we’ve attached emergency house keys to backpacks, and I have bravery M&Ms on standby in case Quinn needs some encouragement to get on the bus.

Let’s hope things go well and that the three munchkins have a good start to the school year.

Once a Cheetah, Always a Cheetah

Photo of a hockey helmet on top of a hockey bag. There is masking tape on the helmet with the name "Jack" written on it.I had to send a really sad email today. Jack has decided to take a break from hockey this year. After much (much) inner-family discussion on the topic, it was time to tell his coaches.

They were wonderful. Once a Cheetah, always a Cheetah, one said. Jack has been a central part of the Cheetahs, another said.

Jack is welcome back anytime, both of them declared.

I am going to miss that team, I tell you. I’m hoping that Jack will change his mind and want to go back next year or the year after. I told him about what his coaches had said and I swear I saw his eyes get a little watery. When I asked him if he might want to go back in a year or two, he said he might and he looked happy at the thought.

I hope he does. After Jack’s diagnosis, the Cheetahs were our first real-life safe space among other families who understood us. The kindness of the coaches, the support of the other parents, and the leadership of Jack’s older teammates meant the world to us at a time when we needed it so very badly.

Those of you who have been here for a while know how much the Cheetahs mean to us. The tournament trips Jack and I took with the team were like nothing else I’ve experienced. The friends I’ve made rink-side and in the locker rooms are very dear to me. Watching Jack connect with his coaches and teammates and loving to skate has been priceless.

No matter what happens in the future, I am so grateful for this team and all the people involved in it—athletes, coaches, parents, mentors, everyone. Thank you. We love you.

Everyone Learned Something

School starts in less than two weeks, so it seemed like it was time to start work on my kiddos’ summer work packets. We are aaaaaalmost done with Jack’s math assessment test that he is supposed to do before he continues on to complete an hour of math each week during the summer through his school’s online math service.

God, we are losers.

Quinn is done. He didn’t have a lot. Or I didn’t see that he had a lot. Either way, really done or not, he is done done.

I think Sam is done with his math. Frankly, I’m too dumb to help him with it, so you’d have to ask Alex about that. I do know that he is still working on his reading stuff. He has to read two books and write about one of them. I know he’s still working on it because for the first book, he read the same book I just finished. Now, I’m reading a young adult book and he’s reading The Iliad for his second one. Showoff.

Jack had to read a fiction and a nonfiction book this summer. This posed a challenge. He enjoys reading, but he’s never been a chapter book reader, preferring comic books and other books with lots of graphics. I’ve spent the past four years buying every Diary of a Wimpy Kid-esque book I could find because he would deign to read (some of) them.

I’ve been working on coming to terms with him not being a voracious reader like his brothers. Books are a big deal in my life, so it is weird to me that there are people who just don’t love to read. I’m married to one, so I know you can grow up to be a happy, successful, non-pleasure reading person, but c’mon, books are our friends.

I can’t even count the number of books I’ve put in front of Jack, hoping that he’d love to read it only to have him get through one chapter and say, “But I don’t want to read Harry Potter/The Hunger Games/Danny, Champion of the World/The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Finding books for Jack’s summer reading seemed daunting. He and I did a lot of negotiating before he agreed to read the first Warriors book for his fiction book. Each day, I made him sit down and read a couple of chapters. He absolutely loved it—although when I asked him if he wanted to read the next one in the series, he was all, “no thanks!”

Getting him through that book wasn’t easy though. I’d have to remind him to read it and he’d ask for a break after every chapter. Considering this was a fiction book about cats, I was worried that he’d balk at the biography of John Adams I’d picked out as his nonfiction book.

I kid. But really I had no idea what to suggest. He doesn’t read nonfiction books.

But then I remembered. I remembered that he does read nonfiction. He reads it on the internet every single day when he pores over wikis about Mario and Luigi and various other Nintendo things. I searched online for books about video game history and found some. After consulting with him, I got him an adult-level chapter book and, without consulting with him, I also got him an illustrated history of video games.

I figured if he couldn’t hack the first book, I’d let him read the second book. If he liked the first book, I’d give him the second for Christmas. When Jack finished his fiction book, I almost didn’t even ask him to read the chapter book, considering jumping straight to the illustrated history.

But Jack remembered me asking him about the chapter book and when I told him he needed to start the nonfiction book, he said, “The Mario one? Can— I mean, do I have to read now?”

Then he sat down and read happily an for a long time.

Photo of Jack curled up in an armchair, reading a book.He’s been reading that book for three days and he’s on page 140. This is unprecedented.

Huh. I guess this is his way of telling me that he doesn’t want to read the stack of books *I* think he should read, but he would like to read something he’s actually fucking interested in, thank you very much, and I should (a) stop underestimating him and (b) offer him books of interest to him.

Well. It looks like I got my summer learning as well.