for want of peers

My parents own a cottage north of the city in which I grew up. At two-and-a-half hours it was a long drive when I was a kid, and it's further away from where I live now so I imagine it's a really long drive for my kids. We only manage to get there once a summer, at least for one week and usually for two.

My father was a teacher and so we spent all summer, every summer from about when I was seven onwards at the cottage. There were a whole bunch of kids up there, enough to have a really great game of hide-n-seek. I can remember long days outside, being eaten by bugs earlier in the summer, living in my bathing suit as the summer wore on. Attendance at the bonfires sometimes required two circles of lawn chairs there was so many people. We'd do skits, and there was a barbershop quartet that would sing - seriously, that's how word spread about the lake lots, through this church men's quartet.

When I go to the cottage now with my husband and kids, there are no other children for mine to play with. Well, on occasion there'll be a couple. But not enough for a game of Monopoly, let alone Kick the Can. It's to be expected, my parents say. These things go in cycles. I'm not so sure; I don't think many families have either the lifestyle or financial means to afford a cottage anymore.

Because we go for only short bursts of time, my kids don't really get comfortable until it's almost time to leave. Usually one of their last swims is when they'll get adventurous. I have to admit, it bugs me to see my kids behaving like sissies. I tell myself that I had entire summers to get comfortable, and that I've never been able to swim under rafts or docks and will absolutely not swim if I can't see the bottom so I shouldn't be so harsh.

My son happened to see a leech when we were bringing the raft in on our last day a couple of years ago and talked about it all winter. And then the next summer wouldn't go swimming in the lake for days! All because of one leech that was attached to the anchor. I can recall mucking about at the shoreline and having more than one leech attached to my leg at the end of it. Salt poured on them solved the problem right away, and it was painless. Well, at least for me.

So this year I was floored when the two of them hopped in the kayaks and took off across the lake in search of a friend. I stood on the dock, watching them paddle away, listening as Maeve's chattering got fainter with time. It felt so weird! I wasn't quite sure what to do, but it was very freeing that's for sure.

This year Neal decided ahead of time that he wasn't going to get over his fears gradually this trip, spending the entire time getting comfortable enough only to regret that we were leaving just as he could enjoy himself. He jumped in the lake the moment we arrived, even though it was dusk and he was afraid jumping in the lake at that time. I was immensely proud of him, I gotta say. More than if he brought home a report card coated in As.

And it worked! He had a great time in the lake, even though we could only manage to be there for a week this year. Lucky for us (for them) there happened to be a family with kids their age visiting next door so they had friends they could play with. I just wish there were more.

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