When I think about my grandparents’ cottage – the one I’ve been vacationing at for the past eighteen summers – I think about my childhood, and how that childhood is coming to an end.

Sitting here trying to describe my cottage and its significance to me, I find myself almost at a loss for words. But if you have a cottage of your own, you probably already know the role such a place can have in your life. It’s not like I’m there very often, only a few weeks out of the year, and yet the time spent there has left a lasting impact on me.

This cottage has played many roles in my life. It has been a sanctuary, a break away from my phone and wifi and the constant ping of incoming texts. It has been a place to bond with my family, something we don’t often get at home, especially as my brother and I grew older and suddenly had social lives, jetting off to various friends’ houses. It has been the epitome of cousinly activity, a place our parents could set us free to do whatever the hell we wanted.

It was a place to cannonball off the dock, making up new types of jumps along the way, at least until we were old enough that that was no longer fun, in which case we moved to the raft a little further away, and enjoyed pushing each other off (a game that was quickly banned by our well-intentioned parents). It was a place for bonfires (unless, of course, there was a fire ban, in which case they were deemed ‘unsafe’ and quickly disallowed by my grandfather), spitting contests, scavenger hunts, water gun fights, glitter tattoos, and well-loved board games. It was the place I learned to play beer pong, where I sharpened my poker skills and was eventually taught to drive a boat.

In this way, the cottage represents a large chunk of my childhood.

As things changed in my life – friends, interests, plans for the future – this cottage remained constant; I’ve been visiting it every summer like clockwork. The one thing that got me through those last few weeks of school and finals was the thought of finally being able to return to the cottage. To me, summer break was representative of that, of those sunny days spent lakeside.

And yet, this year, things are different.

Being from Connecticut, with the rest of my extended family scattered between Ottawa and B.C., I can’t just drive up to the cottage for a weekend. And now that I’m working for the first summer of my life, I no longer have the flexibility to stay in Ottawa for a whole month, as I normally do. Things are different; my life is very different.

It strikes me that this is what the rest of my life will be like. I certainly won’t be working at my local grocery store (hopefully?) in a few years time, but I will have a ‘real person job’ – an adult job. A job where I can maybe get a week off from work, if that. And the same goes for my cousins, some of which are a few years older than me and already in the “real world.”

I think, as children, we largely take for granted the lives we have and the things we are able to experience. It’s crazy to think you could once have a whole two months off from school, with nothing to do but invite over friends to play tag in your front yard, and eventually complain of your absolute boredom, wishing you did have something to do!

My childhood is behind me. Next year, I will be living on my own, paying rent in a house. As adulthood looms ever closer, the cottage I know and love is no longer a constant. Rather, it’s a maybe. I’ll be lucky to spend a day there, let alone a whole week.

When we yearn for independence as children, we fail to consider the cost. As we begin to build the lives we’ve always imagined for ourselves, we unintentionally trade the freedom we have as children for a more structured life. We may be able to make our own decisions, but we can no longer do everything we please.

If I can never spend another full week at the lake with my cousins, pushing each other off the raft like the good ol’ days, I can only hope the cottage is still there for my own children to enjoy the same experiences I had as a kid. Because, ultimately, I can’t imagine my childhood without them.

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