On a number of occasions and over quite a span of years, one or another of our three children has invited a young friend to spend the weekend with us at the cottage. This has always been fun, but it has also involved some interesting twists and turns along the way.
Some advance planning is always required, with the other child’s parents of course, and so we get to hear for weeks about how wonderful it will be when our guest finally comes with us. As a result, the excitement level begins at an extreme high and then escalates from there. Nothing can live up to the expectations.
I usually pretend that I’m sick of hearing the other child’s name. We’ve had a number of “Jacks” come along with us as friends of our two boys and promises have been extended to a “Jill” or two. However, our daughter, being the youngest, knows that she has to grow just a little bit older first. Also, Toronto is a marvelous mix of origins and therefore the names are usually a little more exotic than I have indicated.
I try to preach moderation and maintaining “an even keel”. I tell our kids that it’s a good idea to keep a check on their emotions and to pace themselves during the visit by having the occasional rest break. All of this falls on deaf ears. It’s inevitable that at some point during the weekend, there will be a meltdown. Tears will flow, arguing will break out, a brief separation will become necessary and then the hoopla will begin all over again.
The weekend starts with hyperbole on the drive north from Toronto to Wasaga Beach. Everything becomes exaggerated in the telling. My favourite is the one about the hurricane we once experienced at the cottage. The sky turned orange the night before. Then at two in the morning everything went perfectly still, until we heard what sounded like a freight train coming at us across the water. This story even comes with sound effects.
When the tempest actually struck, the trees bent over like twigs and the strobe effect of the lightening was scarier than any horror movie.
Then there was another wind and rain storm that was so wild, shopping carts were flying through the air like Frisbees in the local food mart’s parking lot.
And the bugs are so big, especially the spiders, that they can carry you away in the middle of the night. We really try to get the newcomers quaking in their boots. For some reason, they never quite believe us. They usually end up calling us “big fat liars”.
Just the same, the poor little tyke who is invited along, if he has never been to a cottage before, is often overwhelmed by the insects. There is every manner of creepy-crawly thing, all of them harmless, but often quite ugly.
I’ve seen a little “Jack” swatting away at a mosquito on his chest, while four more, unseen, were drilling away and slurping on his back. I just keep my mouth shut.
One of the advantages of having other children visit is that it provides perspective. I can honestly say I’ve now met other kids who are even bigger complainers than our own. I even tell them this, in jest.
To be completely fair, almost all of the young friends that we’ve had visit us so far, once they’ve settled down, have been real gamers.
There’s swimming and there’s biking, but one of the best ways to pass the time is playing games. Board games are a terrific diversion at a cottage. They may be a little out of fashion back in the city, where there are too many alternative distractions, but they are a great way to spend an hour or two up north.
But it does seem strange that so few of the games for children deal with “conflict resolution”. Instead, they involve aggression and demand a winner. For example, in no way can it be said, at least not in my experience, that Monopoly fosters good will and camaraderie among young people.
Then there are the video games. We only get one TV station and there’s no cable or satellite installed. But we do have a video-game set-up. Donkey Kong and Street Fighter are still two of the favourites. It’s a wonder to me that the next generation has any prospect of growing up civilized at all, when I overhear conversations like the following.
“How did you do that?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“Give me the controller.”
“No way! It’s my turn.”
“Quiet or you’ll wake up mom and dad and we’ll be in trouble.”
I’m embarrassed to say that this possibility pretty much applies any time of day or night.
For the old folks, one of the best parts of the weekend is telling the newcomer the rules.
“You can have a bath, but no shower, because it’s broken. Also, don’t drink the water out of the tap. It comes from our own well and there’s a farmer’s field not too far away. Only drink bottled water. And don’t put too much paper down the toilet. We’re on a septic system.”
But hands down, here’s what our kids most like telling their little buddies.
“There are only two rules that really count at the cottage: 1) don’t sit in dad’s spot; and 2) you’re sitting in dad’s spot.”
I didn’t realize I was such a tyrant, but the kids love telling that one. And usually by the end of the weekend, our new little best friend is gleefully repeating it too.
If I may be so bold, another story with a similar feel to the above is ”Floaty Boat Weekend”. It chronicles a futile search for subject matter during chaotic times at the cottage.