Friday, July 21, 2017

My Journey Through Hating, and Maybe Loving, Cottage Life

I am a little amazed at myself...or perhaps it's that I'm amazed by how circumstances can change one's outlook on things.

I mentioned the other day that we'd recently bought my parents' cottage. This fact, for those who know me well, is an irony, because I've always hated the cottage. And I do mean that I hated it. Shudder. And yet here I am...cottage owner and, once again, mortgage holder.

My parents bought this cottage when I was 18, about a year after high school, as I age/time of life when I had no interest in being anywhere but in the city with my friends. I was fairly peer attached at the time, I'd say. But to the cottage we went, pretty much every d--- (read: darn) weekend, as my Dad spent the next five years gutting and re-building the cottage and doubling its size. So not only was I away from my friends pretty much every weekend, but those days were filled with nostril-clogging sawdust, the inconveniences of a cottage incomplete, and chores. So many chores. As I look around even now at the cottage walls that surround me, I know precisely which walls I was responsible for staining in 30C heat. I know every room in which I stood on a ladder with the upper half of my body swallowed by the ceiling as my brother passed up big rectangles of insulation to stuff into the ceiling; insulation dust rained over my hair and face and when I wiped sweaty cheeks with the backs of encrusted hands, my eyes would water and sting. 

These are amongst the early memories I have of this place. And while today I can appreciate the meticulous and detailed job that my Dad did as he rebuilt the cottage, all I remember of those early cottaging days was that while my friends were partying, visiting, and enjoying countless hours together in the city, I was stuck out here - miserable and bored and hot and resentful. The only thing, the only thing I liked about the cottage in those days was the ceiling of my bedroom, which was half old cottage and half new cottage and which angled in different directions as a result. I used to lie in bed and count the number of knots in each pine board that my father had perfectly tongue-and-grooved into place. I could probably still remember how many knots many of those boards have.

Fast forward a few years and I moved away...and I was gone for about fifteen years as I studied, married, worked, and became a mother in London (Ontario), Toronto and Vancouver. And during most, if not all, of those years, when we'd travel back to mecca to visit the fam, we'd invariably head to the cottage for a weekend or two, where I would re-live the intensity of my dislike on repeat.

To add to the complexity, I don't know that two women should ever co-exist in one domain...mainly the kitchen. My mom, much as I love her, was not the easiest person to be with at the cottage...and I'm sure I was no picnic either! Meals were on her schedule; rules were tight about what we could/couldn't do; I wasn't allowed to clean out the desperately packed kitchen cupboards; we had to count cutlery (yes, truly) before we left the cottage for fear that an (ugly) piece of cutlery had ended up in the trash and then dig through the trash on the deck if, heaven forbid, a piece of cutlery couldn't be found; and so on. It's nothing against my mom...I just think that two women of any ilk will inevitably end up doing battle when sharing a single domain.

And so the intensity of my feelings grew towards cottage life. When we moved back to my home city years later, and as the expectation grew that I would participate in (and love) cottage life, I discovered that I could create all manner of excuse as to why I needed rather to be in the city most weekends. Of course, given that my husband enjoyed cottaging (without all of the baggage that weighed me down) and given that my young son was growing up with the expectation that we would enjoy weekends at the cottage, my excuses were growing thin. But oh, how I dreaded cottage weekends. I feel it deep in my bones even now. Even as I sit here as cottage owner.

For the past several years, my Dad has been talking, perhaps half seriously, about selling the place...or at least enquiring of my brother and sister and me what we thought about the future of the cottage. As my folks have gotten a little older, the cottage has been a little harder each year for them to maintain, and I think my Dad was also growing a little bored because he didn't have quite as much get-up-and-go for the project work that he used to complete with great vigour. And then, when my Mom went into the hospital for the winter and most of this spring, they started asking their kids in earnest what to do with it. Finally it reached the point of no return, when my Dad said that they wanted to sell this spring - either to one of us kids or to someone else.

Geoff and I processed our thoughts fairly quickly and came to a decision. And then everything happened fast - a few short weeks later, we were signing our way into cottage ownership in the lawyer’s office. I felt a little shocked even as I put the pen down.

So what happened? you might ask, quite legitimately. How could I overcome my visceral reaction to cottage life enough to actually buy the thing and take on a mortgage again? Well, it’s an interesting question and I'd say that most of it was done on faith. Geoff and I were, somewhat surprisingly, very unified throughout the decision-making process; as we considered the financial and other implications, I kept saying to myself that because my husband and all three of my kids love cottage life, I could learn to love it too.



Things began to change for me from the day we took over. We began cleaning things out of the cottage that we no longer needed or wanted - in fact, a good chunk of our garage at home is filled with things that we carted back to the city in car load after car load to either sell or give away. Things that had bothered me for years I could simply deal with. And when Lizzie tried, that first weekend, to count the cutlery, I put my hand on hers and stopped her, saying that we never needed to do that again...ever. When she expressed horror over potentially lost forks and knives, I reminded her of our recent trip to IKEA, where we'd bought a couple of sets of cutlery to supplement what we have at home. She visibly brightened, dropped the cutlery she'd been counting, and skipped off to play.

As it should be.

It’s. the. cottage.

These kinds of things have made a surprising difference for me already; as has re-arranging things to look the way I like (with the help of keen-eyed friends who are far better at design stuff than I am!). We have a long ways to go to make it look the way we’d like it to, but we’ve made the best start our pocket book will allow for now. 

Other things have also made a big different. For example, we've been able to have lots of friends here in recent weeks, and I love that. For another example, we installed a satellite wifi connection so that I could stay connected to friends/family via email and texting, and so that the kids and I could enjoy watching movies on Netflix on an occasional evening or during a rainy day. I know that connectedness at the cottage is a controversial thing, and I do understand that - most people like to get completely away from technology. I'm like that, too, actually…being free of technology holds great appeal to me. However, I've also been at the cottage in the past during long, lonely evenings after the kids are in bed - these are evenings when I've longed to be able to watch a movie or to send an email to a friend (or, hmm...write on my blog!). So far (granted: early days yet) our wifi connection has been just what I've wanted it to be be - an opportunity for me to stay connected in the evenings, and to watch an occasional movie. It's made a huge difference for me.

One surprising thing I’ve experienced a taste of, recently, is the peace and quiet that one can appreciate out here. The first weekend that the five of us were here together as owners, Geoff took the kids and the dogs on a two hour walk/hike; and I had those two hours all to myself - something that, as a homeschooling mom, I experience, like, almost never! During those hours, I sat on the deck with a book and a cup of good coffee (did I mention that I used airline points to 'purchase' an espresso machine for the cottage?!) and simply breathed in the crisp air; there wasn't a single other cottager on the bay that weekend and the only sounds to hear were the waves lapping against the rocks and a handful of seagulls screeching overhead. Then, as an added bonus, I spotted three bald eagles soaring over the bay and coming to rest on the tree tops of the nearby island. In that moment, for the first time in my recollection, I thought to myself that ahhh, maybe THIS is what the benefit of a cottage is. That two hour period of silence and peace began to shift my heart towards this place.

After a few weekends cottaging as a fivesome, I decided to take the plunge - I decided to stay for a couple of weeks (with the kids) while Geoff came out for weekends. I ended up staying for 22 days, with only one night and one day in the city to do laundry, run errands, and load up on groceries.  Now we’re back at the cottage, after four days in the city, and I hope to stay for a bit again.

And it's been good...with some adjustments needed by all, but good.

And then there’s the other big thing that has inclined my heart towards being here.  While we were deciding whether or not to buy the cottage, I expressed to Geoff my great hope for our kids here…particularly Seth. Seth tends to be both insecure and peer oriented - his friends are the focal point of much of his life, often at the expense of his siblings. We so hoped and prayed that by having time as a family here, he would find himself in a position of dependence on his siblings for playmates. In addition, we wanted to 'help' Seth experience the benefits of boredom - which, from my perspective, is really and simply an opportunity for his brain to come to much needed rest.

Sure enough…about eleven days ago, with much prayer on this topic already behind me, I began to see small changes in Seth. It happened on a Tuesday, when one of his siblings jumped off of the dock and grabbed onto the rope trailing behind the kayak that Seth was paddling around in. Rather than blowing up at his sibling, Seth actually laughed and began towing the kid along behind him. Then he suggested that both of his siblings climb into little floaties so that he could pull them both behind him. I'm sure this sounds like such a small thing, and it is; but for a boy who is so defended from past woundedness that it is almost impossible to allow himself to enjoy his siblings, this was a huge deal. I was a little incredulous when I heard the sound of Seth's laughter trailing behind him as he worked hard to pull Matthew and Lizzie around our end of the bay. Seth's laughter is a wonderful thing to hear - we just don't have a lot of opportunity to hear it. Since that day, the kids have together created a number of games using the hammocks that they strung up outside the cabin, and I've heard gales of laughter coming from all three kids as I've hunkered down in the cottage, making no noise lest my sounds interrupt the attachment moments that are happening.

Even at the moment of writing this, Lizzie is sleeping but my boys are out on a kayak ride initiated by Seth; and although it's well past the usual bedtime for my morning bird boy, the fact that he wanted to be with Matthew for an hour is well worth any later bed time issues that might crop up. In fact, I think I'll prep them a snack to share when they come back.

In addition, Seth is always one who thinks he is in need of constant stimulation/'s so hard and scary to let himself relax or rest. Virtually the moment he has completed a task or finished doing some sort of activity, he pronounces himself bored and is rather resentful of the fact. Being at the cottage for an extended period of time is a little difficult for him. Here, when he's bored, there aren't all of the options available to him that there are at home; so he flops down on a couch or a hammock with hands behind his head and he just lies there for ten or more minutes. He is actually at rest! That's just unheard of for Seth, my boy whose brain is in a constant state of alert watchfulness. After a period of time, he'll pop up and announce that he's going fishing (or whatever) or he'll come and ask if I want to play a game of cards...which, of course, is a great attachment opportunity for the two of us. And he seems happier than I'm used to seeing him...just a teensy bit more relaxed.

When we drove out to the cottage this time, I still had that visceral negative reaction in my gut as the kilometres passed by…it might take a while for that first reaction to fade. I had to remind myself that things are different now, that my heart is on a different trajectory. I calmed, and remembered some of the highlights of the past few weeks.

And so the journey towards re-visioning cottage life has begun. Maybe I have a ways to go yet, but for a woman who felt so strongly opposed to being a cottager, I am a little more than amazed by how readily I have taken to it.

Now, off to read a book…maybe with a cup of hot chocolate.



  1. Love it! Do you get to go to sleep at night listening to loons? That is one of the peaceful pieces that I love where we live.

    1. Hey Ellen -
      Just sayin'...lovely to be in contact again. :)

      I wouldn't say that I fall asleep listening to loons, but we certainly heard them 30 minutes ago when the kids were out for an evening swim and I was on the dock listening to them! There's nothing quite so peaceful is there??

      This evening, as most days around here, I also got to witness one of the bald eagles that lives across the bay swooping down to the water and soaring around the bay. Totally magnificent!

      There's something so peaceful about these things...reminds me how varied God's handiwork is!

      And I'm totally envious that you get to experience such sounds where you live amazing is that!!!!???!!!



  2. Flashback to my vacation discussion with my darling husband. He wanted a road trip. I had the same visceral reaction you spoke of. Shades of my childhood. Drive til you're out of gas and only eat pee on those gas stops. 4 kids crammed in the back seat. Window is only cracked 1" for aerodynamics (& no air-con), get up @ 3 am to start driving, etc. etc. etc. Hated it with all my heart & spleen. I wanted no part of any *&$%# road trippin'. Sweet man promised it would be different with him. So I caved (grudgingly) - and it was! He made it so fun - as he does most everything. Vinyl Cafe, chips, plenty of stops. Who cares when we get up & start out? It was fun. And we headed home when he sensed I had my limit. He told me it was high time for new memories. He's not my dad (no freakin' kidding!!) and he's entirely awesome. I had to choose to have it different, and I keep having to choose. So happy for you to make it YOUR cabin now. New new new. It's gonna be amazing!!

    1. OK, so I had two reactions when I read your comment, Cindy. First, I laughed - a little because I have similar memories of driving trips as a child (three of us in the backseat with my brother's big hairy legs squeezing all of the air out of the space we had), and mostly because I could just visualize how things went when you were a kid - you wrote that so well!!

      Second, I shook my head a little in amazement because that hubbie of yours really does sound like a peach. I can't wait to meet him some day. Wow, is what I have to say about him. And now you're ok with the new new new. Awesome! I hope that's exactly what happens here at the cottage, too.

      Hugs coming your way over the miles!