Monday, January 29, 2018

The Treehouse


Once upon a time there were two little boys named Andrew and Frank. The two boys were friends and frequently played together in a park down the street. Andrew and Frank did not have many other friends; the other boys thought they were weird. While the other boys played sports, Andrew and Frank liked to paint and build models. The two boys bonded as outcasts.

One day Andrew had the idea of building a treehouse. Frank liked the idea and suggested they build it in the middle of the park, where there were a number of big trees linked together. The boys' parents got permission from the town and provided the boys with tools to get them started. Excited, the boys immediately set off to work.

It was a very difficult task, building a treehouse. Before they could actually make anything, the boys had to climb around the trees and survey the area. They had to use their savings and do odd jobs to make money for additional needed materials. It took them a long time to finally create a small floor built into a cluster of strong branches.

The work was hard, but the boys had fun. They laughed as they got sweaty and dirty hammering nails in the hot sun. They drew up elaborate plans for ways they could improve the treehouse over time, imagining multiple floors, game rooms, and other cool features. Once Andrew and Frank had gotten their first set of walls up, some of the other boys in the neighborhood took notice.

Other boys in the neighborhood began asking Andrew and Frank about their treehouse. Most were just curious, asking what the boys were planning. Some were mean, mocking Andrew and Frank or teasing them for being so focused on one thing. Andrew and Frank didn't mind; they were happy to share their interest with anyone who came by. A lot of the boys seemed interested.

The girls, however, just thought Andrew and Frank were weirdos.

After a few weeks of work, Andrew and Frank had several walls up and almost a full room complete. Now something interesting happened; a couple of boys offered to help Andrew and Frank build their treehouse. Andrew and Frank were delighted. “Of course you can help us!” they replied. These boys were named Tim and John, and they were ecstatic to be a part of Andrew and Frank's cool project.

The four boys had a great time together building the treehouse. They drank lemonade together and made salty jokes. They laughed at the bruises and cuts they earned from building and working with tools. They stayed out together late into the night, sanding and sawing and laboring away at their project. It was the happiest time in any of their lives.

By now a number of boys from the neighborhood had seen Andrew, Frank, Tim, and John hanging out up in their unfinished treehouse. They were all getting curious and a bit jealous. Boys from the neighborhood started asking if they too could go up and check out the treehouse. Frank was not sure about this at first. The treehouse had been just a private space for he and Andrew. They let in Tim and John because they had offered to help.

Andrew believed that this was the fairest way to let people use the treehouse. He told the boys that they could only go up in the treehouse if they agreed to help build it. Time spent toiling away making the treehouse would translate to time boys could play inside of it. Some of the boys didn't like this and went off to do something else. A number of boys, however, stayed.

The girls still just thought all of the treehouse-building boys were weird.

That first afternoon, there were seven boys building the treehouse. All took turns fixing up the newest room and adding supports to the infrastructure. The next afternoon, there were a dozen boys. The day after that, twenty. The treehouse was not strong enough to support all of them at once, but with all of the new help, it was growing fast.

It wasn't long before just about every boy in the neighborhood was spending time in the treehouse. Andrew, Frank, Tim, and John, enforced the rule that boys who played there had to help build and maintain it. By keeping to that standard, the treehouse continued to grow and expand. Any rough edges or loose screws were quickly dealt with.

Before long, the treehouse was a gorgeous, massive affair. It had four big rooms with chairs and tables. The boys started adding games and toys as well. They put up posters of action heroes and pretty girls. They played cowboys and Indians using the treehouse as a fort. They slept up there in sleeping bags and walked around in their underwear. They spat and cursed while they talked, joked, and argued about whatever they pleased. The treehouse became the most fun place to hangout in the entire neighborhood.

With the layout of the trees in the park, there was room to expand even more, and possibly add a second floor. One day, while Andrew was working on some plans in the treehouse's smallest room, he noticed a couple of boys playing with toys in an adjacent room. He had never seen them before. He introduced himself and asked the two boys to show him what part of the treehouse they had built.

“Oh, we didn't actually build anything. We're from out of town and Dan said it would be cool.” Andrew explained the rule to them and the boys frowned. They argued for a few minutes until Dan showed up. He took Andrew aside and apologized. “Look, I'm sorry for not telling you, but Tim said it would be cool so long as it was only for a little bit.” Andrew didn't like it but decided to let it slide. This created an unofficial policy of allowing boys into the treehouse even if they didn't contribute so long as it was “only for a little bit.”

Andrew and especially Frank did not really like this new policy. It led to a lot of boys taking advantage of the treehouse. People would bring friends up and leave a mess, break toys, eat up snacks, and not contribute anything in return. The boys gradually began informally policing themselves about guests, and it helped a bit. Still, a new paradigm had been established. Andrew and Frank tried to focus on building the second floor and adding other new features to the treehouse. They didn't want to get too bogged down in 'politics'. Besides, with the new policy, the treehouse was more popular than ever. Every boy hung out there. Boy scouts and sports teams met there. It became the coolest place in town.

The girls started to notice.

The girls in town were usually content to play separate from the boys. They had their own tea parties and social groups. They went on outings together and made a point of not inviting boys. Girls and boys only mixed at school or church. Aside from this, both groups were happy to leave each other alone. That is, until a few girls noticed just how popular the treehouse was.

One day a large group of girls got together for a birthday party. They had fun playing with their dolls and telling stories. Eventually they began talking about the boys and the treehouse. At first they laughed at how silly the boys were to spend so much time on it. Then, one girl named Sarah suggested that they should build a treehouse of their own. The other girls laughed at her and told her that her idea was 'stupid.' “I don't want to get all sweaty and dirty!” they said.

A few days later, Sarah decided to go to the treehouse. She met Tim outside and asked if she could go up. Tim was very surprised by this. There was no official rule about keeping girls out, but it was informally understood that girls were not welcome. He decided to tell her the rule about helping to build the treehouse, figuring this would discourage her.

“Sure, I'll help. What can I do?” Caught off guard by her response, Tim reluctantly showed Sarah some simple things that needed to be repaired. She struggled at first, not knowing how to properly sand down rough edges or hold a hammer. Still, she focused and took the time to learn. Tim, impressed with her enthusiasm, was patient, and taught her how to make a number of simple repairs. In a couple of hours, she had fixed a damaged part of a new room on her own.

She had earned her keep in the treehouse.

Other boys saw Sarah hanging around. At first they ignored her, unsure what to make of the intrusion. Some didn't mind and eventually made small talk with her. Others were more hostile. They talked about her in secret meetings. Andrew and Frank were divided. Frank thought that they should institute a strict 'no girls' policy. “The treehouse is a space for boys. Those girls make no bones about excluding us from their activities, why should we not do the same?” Andrew and many other boys felt differently. “Why don't we show them that we're better than them by being more open-minded? We just keep the same standard for allowing them to join.”

Sarah helped win the boys over to Andrew's side. She was a diligent worker; thanks to her, the boys finished the foundation for the second floor and got up a few walls. She wasn't afraid to do heavy lifting and get dirty. She cleaned up after herself and kept things organized. What's more, she adopted the boys' mannerisms and attitude. After a few weeks, she began dressing and talking like them, swearing and spitting alongside them. She laughed at their dirty jokes, played war games with them, and actually liked their posters of action heroes and sexy models.

The other girls thought Sarah was weird. Well, most of them did. Sarah's friends Michelle and Jenny were the only two girls that still talked to her. One day they saw Sarah with the other boys by the treehouse. They asked if they could go up and check it out. Sarah told them about the rule that they had to help build the treehouse in order to go up. When the two frowned at this, Tim mentioned the “only for a little bit.” part of the rule. They smiled at this, which encouraged Tim, and he led them up to look around.

Michelle and Jenny were very impressed with the inside of the treehouse. They admired Sarah's hard work and complimented her. They wanted to come and hang out at the treehouse more often. The two girls offered to tidy up and bring snacks instead of doing the more difficult labor. Sarah did not really like this idea, but she figured it was better than nothing. Andrew and Frank, trying to avoid conflicts, deferred to Sarah when it came to dealing with other girls. Michelle and Jenny became regulars at the treehouse, often bringing some other friends. The first few times they came, they made a big show of bringing lots of snacks and helping to clean.

Over time Michelle and Jenny started to bring lots of other girls into the treehouse. They reminded the boys of the “only for a little bit” rule. While Michelle and Jenny still tried to occasionally clean and make food for everyone, the girls they invited up did nothing. Like the first boys to take advantage of the “only for a little bit” rule, they left messes everywhere and would break things without fixing them.

The boys tried to police this behavior from the new girls but found it difficult. For one, a lot of the boys had crushes on some of the new girls, and so they felt bad about punishing them. What's more, the girls would always stick up for each other. If one of them did something bad, all of the others would make excuses for her. Sarah was the only exception to this, but even she struggled at times to fairly criticize the girls' bad behavior. The other girls constantly told her, “It's no big deal! Why get upset over such minor things?” She found herself silent often during meetings, wanting to stay out of 'politics' like Andrew and Frank.

One day John took a walk through the treehouse and was shocked at what he saw. The first floor had fallen into a state of general disrepair. The floor had a number of damaged boards with splinters, there were loose nails and broken hinges on doors, and there was mess in every room. By now there was at least one girl for every two boys going in and out of the treehouse, and very few of these people, boys and girls alike, contributed anything to maintain the space. These girls had also started inviting in new boys from different towns – many of them older, all of them uninterested in maintaining the treehouse.

John spoke with Andrew and Frank about this. The two boys agreed that there was a problem but did not know what to do. They wanted to focus on finishing the second floor. Their work kept getting postponed because of damage and hazards created by the irresponsible behavior on the first floor.

Andrew, Frank, Tim, John, and a few other boys, got together one day and kicked out the freeloaders. There was some pushing and shoving, but eventually, most of the freeloading boys left. The girls however did not go quietly. Andrew and Frank's group did not want to get rough with them. Even Sarah reluctantly intervened and tried to persuade the girls to either change their ways or go.

Led by Michelle and Jenny, the girls protested this, and complained to their parents. The parents got together and discussed the conflict. “I don't see why the boys can't share the space with those girls!” the mothers argued. “It's only fair that they should share it and try to make the girls comfortable. Give them a chance to be a part of the boys' world.” Most of the fathers simply looked at their feet. They didn't want to argue. They told Andrew and Frank to let the girls use the treehouse, and to be nice to them.

The boys reminded the parents of the rule about people having to help maintain the treehouse. The mothers replied, “Oh that's so old-fashioned. Why be so rigid? Besides, surely the treehouse is strong enough now that it doesn't need so much work.”

When a few other boys continued arguing, the mothers said “Why don't we have a vote?” All of the kids in the neighborhood, boys and girls, were allowed to decide on whether they wanted to keep the strict rules for using the treehouse, or make it open to everyone. Frank protested this; he believed it was wrong for kids who had done nothing to build or maintain the treehouse to have a say in how it was used.  However he was ultimately out-voted. The vast majority of the kids wanted there to be no restrictions.

In a few days, the treehouse was back to the crowded, hazardous squalor it had been before Andrew and his friends had kicked everyone out.

Emboldened by the parents' support, the girls began making more changes to the treehouse. They redecorated the rooms, taking down the posters the boys had liked. They criticized boys who didn't dress properly. They complained to their parents when the boys swore or told dirty jokes. When the boys complained, they were told they had to make the treehouse a “safe space for everyone.” Everyone had to feel safe and comfortable there, regardless of their contributions.

Many of the local boys who had helped build the treehouse began to grow frustrated. John was no exception. He wondered why the boys were being forced to let the girls dictate everything in their treehouse when the girls already had their own social events. He suggested that the boys should go to the girls' events and see how they like it. The girls (and several boys) made fun of him for this suggestion.

He asked his mother, “Why can't we go to their tea parties if they get to run our treehouse?” She replied,

“You want to go to tea parties now? What are you, a sissy? And besides, that wouldn't be fair. The girls need a safe space without any boys around. Sometimes they just want to be around other girls. What's so bad about that?”

“But what about us boys? How come we can't have a space just for us?”

“Oh come on, you boys can't handle having a few girls around? What kind of wimps are you guys!”

One day the floor collapsed in one of the treehouse's rooms. By then, no one respected (or even knew) the weight limits for the treehouse. It became crowded with kids roughhousing, teenage couples fooling around, older teens doing drugs at night, and occasionally smaller kids using it as a toilet. When the floor collapsed, it had three times as many people in it as was known to be safe.

One girl ended up breaking her leg. The parents of the neighborhood were very angry. They blamed Andrew and Frank for not properly taking care of the treehouse. Many parents refused to let their kids play there until it was fixed. Andrew and Frank's parents encouraged the boys to fix it.

Andrew agreed to try.

Frank refused.

For the rest of the school year, Andrew and a few other boys did what they could to fix the treehouse. Unfortunately, nothing stayed fixed. Once the floor was replaced, a large wall was destroyed by a group of out of town kids fighting. Once the wall was repaired, the unfinished upper floor got trashed one night after the girls threw a big party. Once the boys tore down the second floor and used the parts to patch up the first floor, an unsupervised little kid lit a match and accidentally burned down a large section of the treehouse.

Epilogue

The parents of the town blamed Andrew and Frank for the fire. They decided that the treehouse was a “staple of the community” and should be rebuilt, but without input from the two boys. Michelle and Jenny were put in charge of a committee to build a new treehouse for the whole community. They received a lot of money, attention from local media, and support from local businesses. After spending five times as much money and time as Frank and Andrew had, they managed to create one plain wide room up in the trees before heading off to college. Though it was not as complex as the previous treehouse, it became a popular community space. The parents created a 'Code of Conduct' for the treehouse and began using it for community events, and school functions.

Andrew did what he could to support the new community treehouse. Though some in the community were still upset with him, Michelle and Jenny relied on him a great deal. He eventually got a formal position with the town and a bit of money for his effort. He did not enjoy the work this time though. It just was not the same without his friends.

Frank, Tim, and John created a number of new projects together. They made go-karts, created a garden, and even built their own computers. They retained the spirit of the old treehouse meaning their activities were generally boys-only though they occasionally invited Sarah.