In many parts of Canada, cottage is a verb as well as a noun. We are a country of cottagers. We go cottaging.
(I mean, there are a lot of people who camp too. But I’m sure we can all agree that people who choose to sleep on the ground and pee in the bushes are not normal.)
And let me be clear: a cottage does not have quartz countertops and 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms and a wine fridge and white furniture. That, my friends, is a lake house.
My family has the good fortune of owning a cottage. My dido built it about 70 years ago, when you could buy a parcel of land for about the price of a Starbucks latte. With the exception of adding indoor plumbing and switching out some furniture, it has remained largely unchanged in all that time.
Growing up, my family would spend as much time at the cottage as my dad’s current military posting would allow. I would bring a stack of Archie comic books and a friend, and I would be the happiest kid on the planet.
We would wile away whole afternoons jumping off the floating dock.
We must have taken a million rides around the lake in my uncle’s aluminum fishing boat.
There was no tv. Certainly no wifi. (That didn’t exist yet.)
But then I grew up and the cottage lost its appeal. Going there meant removing myself from my social sphere; fewer nights out with my friends, fewer opportunities to be seen, to be part of the ‘you had to be there’ stories. Spending any length of time at the cottage brought out my FOMO, big time.
I’m ashamed to admit that I also used its rustic-ness as a reason not to go.
I had become very attached to my creature comforts: my just-right mattress, air-conditioning, Internet access, Netflix. I came to associate the cottage with inconvenience and discomfort.
So now that we have established that I am a bit of a princess, I can get to the real story behind today’s post.
When I took my Husband to our cottage for the first time, he was blown away. Being from Scotland, cottaging wasn’t something he had a lot of experience doing. I got to see it fresh through his eyes.
He didn’t see the inconveniences or the discomforts; he saw the peace and the beauty.
Despite how much Husband enjoyed my family’s cottage, I still continued to actively resist going there. And when kids came along? Oh boy. The thought of going to the cottage and ALL.THE.THINGS that would need to be packed and all the dangers we would need to be vigilant of – well, let’s just say my worrying sucked all the peace out of the experience.
Fast forward to last weekend.
It was a holiday weekend here in Ontario, and we decided to spend one day of it at the cottage. My mom and uncle would be there; we could get the kids out for boat rides. It would be fun.
The thing about going to the cottage with kids is there is no opportunity for alone time.
Hello, have we met? My name is Kelly and I am a highly sensitive introvert.
I need alone time like I need oxygen and coffee.
I could deal with not having internet access. I could deal with the rustic-ness.
I could not, however, deal with an entire day of…people. Not even my people.
I learned how to paddleboard about 8 years ago when a friend suggested we do a class together in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. I loved it so much that I promptly bought my own board.
In the scattering of times we have been up to the lake since I bought the board, my enthusiasm to get out on it has been usurped by fear. I was afraid to fall in the lake – the same lake my parents used to have to bribe and threaten me out of as a kid.
But now, I didn’t want to touch anything slimy with my toes. I didn’t want to see the bottom. Not seeing the bottom also scared me.
When did this happen? When did fear become the boss of me?
That said, going out on my board was the only way to steal a few moments of alone time in an otherwise people-y kind of day.
I paddled out of the shallow area on my knees, heart pounding because I could see the underwater foliage all too clearly. I left my son and daughter waving at me from the dock, quite perplexed that there was no way to access mama. They could see me, but they couldn’t get to me. I think it blew their sweet little minds.
I got further out in the bay, then slowly…carefully…stood up, remembering to keep my eyes focused on the distance to help maintain balance. The distance was comforting. (Probably because it was land.) The dark, deep water beneath me? Not so comforting.
But as I reacquainted myself with moving on my board, I started to relax. Not only that, I started to enjoy myself. My muscles remembered what to do. It was peaceful and beautiful and I felt strong and capable.
And then the boat came. Not just any boat. My uncle’s boat.
Oh for…! Are you kidding me? It’s been 5 minutes!
My uncle steered his boat in a wide circle around me while my son screamed his hellos for the whole lake to hear.
It was sweet.
Until I saw the waves from the boat heading for me.
This was no longer peaceful.
This was a tsunami coming at me, that my own freaking family had created!
(Hmm…seems like a lot of the waves in life are created by our own freaking family…)
You know how when a character in a movie is in a stressful, life-threatening situation and they start to panic, then they hear a voice from beyond that tells them what to do next?
As the waves rolled towards me, I remembered what my instructor had taught us to do in situations like this. Her voice, which sounded a whole lot like my voice, said:
Go towards the waves, Kelly.
That seemed like utterly shite advice, but it was all I had.
I turned the nose of my board until it was pointing directly towards the oncoming waves. I silently (or maybe loudly?) cursed my uncle. And then…impact.
My board bounced around for awhile on top of the frisky water.
And then it was over.
Not me. I wasn’t over. The bouncing on frisky water was over.
Every one of my toes had a cramp from their attempt to monkey-cling to my board, but I was still standing.
When my heart rate returned to normal and I was alone on the lake again, I paddled far, far, blissfully far away from my family and sat down on my board.
Life had just schooled me, and I needed to take some time to reflect on the lesson.
Here’s what I surmised:
Somewhere along the way, I let fear – of the unknown, of failure, of discomfort – take over and start calling the shots. In doing so, I stopped trusting myself and my ability to keep myself afloat.
But I can do hard things. (Glennon Doyle said so.)
And it’s in doing hard things that I become fully alive.
From now on, I’m going to go towards the waves. I might not always stay standing, but a little seaweed won’t kill me.
And I’m going to spend more time at the cottage, too.