Every day Life
It’s 5:16 a.m. and I hear the screen door quietly screeeech open. I hear him enter the cottage and enter the bathroom. Please, I think, don’t wake the kids. And then, inevitably, I hear the stirring noises as the kids on the pullout couch start to come to life. Another day of entertaining houseguests has begun.
Don’t get me wrong. I love having people around. I’m a people person. But I’m also an exhausted working mother, who cherishes my annual escape to our small, simple cottage for two weeks every August. As does, increasingly, friends and family.
My kids and I have a ritual when we arrive at the cottage. We stop at the grocery store on the way here, load up on vacation food – contraband items such as Nutella, Fluff, white bread, chips and sugared cereal – and buckle down for a few days of blissful vegetation. I don’t cook or clean. I open a new jigsaw puzzle. The kids sleep in and wander off, untethered to their phones, to look for blackberries. I nap on the deck during the day. We eat popcorn for dinner. It’s unstructured time, and it’s pure heaven.
And then the company starts to arrive. Vacation for them has started. For me, it’s over.
Our latest houseguest sent a vague email in June, asking when we were going to be at the cottage. He was heading north and thought he’d stop in. Fine, I wrote back. Just let us know the dates. Two months went by. On Monday, he called to say he was on his way. He arrived late in the afternoon, dog in tow. How long are you going to be here?, my daughter asked with false cheerfulness. A week, he informs us.
My daughter fled to the back bedroom, where I found her googling ‘how to ask people to leave’. Did you find anything useful, I ask? Nah, she sighs. It's all about kicking people out at the end of a party. Not much about turning out the lights on a 7-day stay.
Since our two-bedroom cottage is full with my family – now expanded to include my sister’s family, our friend spent his first hours pitching the tent – right in front of the deck. Blocking my view of the ocean. How about moving it, I suggest. It’s the flattest spot in the yard, he replies. People will trip over it in the dark, I insist. Please move it. He then moved it back closer to the deck two feet. Still blocking the view. But I had other things to now think about. Like making dinner that everyone - picky kids, peanut, shellfish and gluten allergy guests - could eat.
Six more days.
So while the days of vacation – for my visitors – stretch out long ahead, I thought I’d take a few minutes to provide my own tips on how to be a good houseguest.
1) Your mother was right. There is a 3-day rule for fish and houseguests. Adhere to it.
2) It’s great to bring a little treat with you. It’s even better if your hostess isn’t allergic to it. Try to remember before you arrive that someone in the family is allergic to gluten/peanuts/whatever. We enjoy seeing you eat that mouth-watering dessert but would love even more, to eat some ourselves.
3) We love to wait on you. Really. But it’s okay to offer to help with a meal or the cleanup. Just once.
4) You can go off by yourself. Or even take a kid or two with you. Separation under these circumstances, is good for the soul. Especially those of your hosts.
With all this aside, each summer we have so many fun memories of whoever happens to drop in, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Having guests is actually good for us: It gets me out of slug mode; my family eats vegetables and protein at mealtimes, and we create new adventures. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Except, perhaps, a few more days of doing nothing.
And now, I must run. It’s breakfast time, and I have hungry guests to feed.