The Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel recently reported how the city ordered that a treehouse conform to code. The story interested me because it was purportedly built by a 12-year-old with some help from siblings. He followed instructions via YouTube videos.

The boy in the article “was sheltered at home because of COVID-19 as his science camp class trip was canceled. Then, his fifth-grade graduation was canceled. Finally, the sports team he trained to try out for was canceled,” according to the Sentinel.

Initially he got an audible “aww” from me. You see, as kids we built our clubhouses first too and asked for forgiveness later. Ultimately, though, every one of them was demolished. It was pathetic, and we weren’t even in the middle of a pandemic.

The reporter kind of played the boy up as a victim of City Hall. I got a little heated when I read that his mother said she will fight the compliance complaint, which apparently was instigated by a neighbor concerned about public safety as it hung near a sidewalk. The neighbor was later vilified by a letter-writer who suggested that person “get a life and let kids be kids.”

How about we call on adults to be adults? The grownups in that household should have ensured the construction followed code. And when they didn’t, the last thing they should have done is whine about the order and squander a perfect opportunity to impart a critical life lesson: rules are rules. As another letter writer told the Sentinel, “The parents in this case threw the children under the bus and then asked the community not to run over them.”

Our first clubhouse was an old wooden shack next door that was demolished by our neighbor, who was concerned about a bunch of little kids playing there and because it was a fire hazard next to a tall stand of bamboo. We were crushed, but deep – way deep – down, we understood why she did it and that it was her property, after all.

The next “fort” we played on as children was fantastical. It was built beneath a tall wooden stairwell at our neighbor’s house. The support structure of the stairwell was designed so that we could extend plywood or planks for floors on three levels. One day, our cousin Matthew fell out of the second floor and got knocked out. We thought he was dead for a few horrifying moments. Our neighbor decided it had to go.

With the shack gone, the bamboo spread thick into that part of the neighbor’s yard so we carved out some “hallways” and cleared out a couple of “rooms.” We used to hang out there between stick ball games, dove hunting with slingshots, chasing feral cats, and a host of other activities common among kids those days. Then, the neighbor had the bamboo cut down. Again, with good reason. It could have been torched (we did start that fire in their garage that one time). Also, it housed a number of excitable insects like scorpions and centipedes.

Finally, a gardener hired by the neighbor took pity and helped us build a structure out of wood, bamboo and cardboard. That didn’t last long – and neither did the gardener.

Eventually, we grew out of it, but not once during that clubhouse phase did our parents intervene to complain to the neighbor on our behalf and we were smart enough not to even bring it up. It would not have ended well for us.

We learned a few lessons. Even though the neighbor was kind enough to allow us to play in her yard, she had limits, just as there are in Santa Cruz or any other community.

(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. Contact him at

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