I never really got the cottage mentality before. I understood that it was a house beside a body of water, which is nice and all, but the inconvenience of getting there, maintaining a second residence, and coming up with the enormous cost of purchasing it seemed unwarranted. I think I get it now. This past week I was at the cottage with Wendy and Elli and for the great majority of the week Elli was running around with other children playing, swimming, and having a grand ole time. Sometimes the kids were in our cottage playing with toy trains, sometimes down the road at the neighbour's picnic table, sometimes playing in the sand, sometimes swimming. The adults from all the cottages involved fed whichever kids were around and kept an eye on them while they were nearby; it felt like the perfect way to raise children.
My difficulty with child rearing is not the mechanical aspects of it. Dirty diapers weren't fun and cooking for more people isn't my idea of a great time but it didn't bother me. All those small chores that appear when you have a child around weren't an issue. The hard part for me is the alien face hugger section of child rearing: When your child is grabbing at your leg saying 'daddy daddy daddy play with me' and all you want to do is be *alone* it is hard; especially so for me. I don't mind at all having children about and needing to take care of them but I struggle with the constant demands for attention. The cottage this time was fantastic because I got to have exactly the parenting I enjoy - involved but peripheral. It feels a bit like the iconic 1950s dad role... be there for the fun but not have to get especially invested. (Have fun doing that junior, I am going to go smoke a cigar!)
I figure that an awful lot of people want the 1950s dad role, and clearly plenty of those are women. There are people of both genders (moreso women) who really enjoy being in there fully invested with the kids all the time but I suspect they are a minority and that most people are most comfortable at a greater distance. The community life of the cottage gives us a chance to punt the kids out the door with a 'be home for supper' and then get on with all the things we want to do. It would be wonderful to have communities where this was possible but so many of us live in apartments over busy streets that it is challenging to recreate the cottage lifestyle in the rest of our lives and we are forced to be the one, the everything, the source of all entertainment for our children and that is a hard role to play all of the time.
The trouble is that by the time the games our children want to play are really interesting for most of us the children lose their interest in doing things with their parents. When Elli is 17 I would love to teach her to not chase inside straights, to document her code properly and use good variable names, and to use more garlic than the recipe suggests but by then she won't want me to pay attention to her: I will be the alien face hugger and she will be out the door with somebody more interesting. Whoever designed humans didn't do a good enough job; I want a word with the manager.