For Christmas this year, my partner and I bought each other jewelry and silly putty, a framed photo of Kentucky bourbon barrels (the one my honey sent me on her Droid from the Bourbon Trail this fall), tickets for a studio theatre production set in the late 1960’s in Greenwich Village, and a cottage two hours from home on a little no-wake lake.
You heard me.
For Christmas this year, my honey and I bought each other a cottage, a weekend getaway, a little 2-bedroom lake house.
WHAT?!? She’s in real estate and I work for a non-profit. What were we thinking?
It’s seven o’clock in the morning. My coffee travel mug is full and I am pulling the kayak into the water at my sister-in-law’s cottage. There are two loons on this lake. We followed them last night – slowly, quietly. They are beautiful. It is August and the air is crisp but not cold. We paddle towards the middle of the lake, and we drift… like we did in Vermont, like we’ve done in the Chicago River, the Des Plaines River, like we did one night years ago at sunset in Door County. We are in northern Wisconsin paddling, drifting, sipping coffee, leaning back, and now and again glancing at our daughter and her cousins on the dock, this dock where my daughter – who refuses to go down a water slide, who resists riding her bike around the block, who is glued to my side at every park we’ve ever been to – leaps into the air again and again and again to splash into the water, giggling, and it doesn’t matter if we’re watching or not. THAT dock.
“I get it,” I say to my partner for the very first time. “I get why you want to own a cottage.”
“You do?” She has been lobbying me for a full five years.
We talk for a long, long time, drifting through the weeds, paddling along the shore, appraising the houses – not for their monetary value, but for the way in which a person might live in the space.
Must have a swimming raft.
Sunlight. Many windows.
Should be right on the water (though not in a flood plain). We don’t want to cross any roads to swim. Or to kayak.
We are cutting our teeth and sharpening our preferences with houses along the shore.
Two bedrooms. Maybe three. Something with doors – not those tension rods with Holly Hobby cloth like one place we stayed a few years ago, where I have pictures of our daughter and her friend in the gravel driveway sipping pretend lattes made of stones, sticks and grass.
Someplace with a bit of land – to play Frisbee or football, to build forts and snowpeople, to hunt for sticks to put in the fire.
Fire. Fireplace. Firepit. Cozy.
This isn’t a linear explanation. Life is a series of impressions. This is one.
My daughter is being raised in the city. She has friends, teachers and aunties of multiple ethnicities. She can learn ballet, soccer, djembe or tai chi nearly any day of the week. She can walk to school instead of taking a bus. She can play outside in front of our house up to the alley on one side and three houses down on the other, if she’s with at least one other kid and if she asks permission first. She may not cross the street by herself. We go to the library, the aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago… she is a lucky, lucky girl. We are lucky, too, raising her.
But at her cousin’s cottage, the kids put on their swimsuits at six in the morning and walk out the front door. We know where they are. We’re at the cottage; they’re outside in the lake. Where else would they be? No stress. No muss. No fuss. They hang their swimsuits on the line outside when they’re done, and dunk their feet in a bucket outside the front door.
So my partner and I leapt off our own dock this winter. We bought our family a cottage.
“It’s a real commitment,” my friends tell me.
“I’m so jealous!”
“When can I come?”
“You have to send me pictures!”
“Are you crazy? Why would you go and do that?”
“Now you can’t go on any trips. Every trip you take will be to the cottage. Is that really what you want? Won’t that get boring after awhile?”
“If my parents sold their house on the southside, okay, but if they tried to sell the cottage…? No. I couldn’t let that happen. None of us could.”
“All the best memories growing up are from the cottage. Strapping our duffel bags to the roof, heading out of town…”
We’ll see. This is just the beginning.
For Christmas this year, my honey and I bought ourselves a cottage. For the cottage, we bought Jenga. And jacks. Classic jacks. Metal jacks.
With a little red ball.