The Growing Problem

Can two bedrooms – and a pullout couch, and a bathtub – hold us together?

BY KATHERINE LOW

It’s not that my family cottage is small—along with an eat-in kitchen, a generous living room, a sundeck, and a screened-in porch, it boasts a complete dining room, almost unheard of for a cottage. The trouble is that it only has two bedrooms. Growing up, my big sister and I shared the loft bedroom in the converted rafters and, while we loved the privacy and the lake views, sleeping under the hot, black shingles was akin to sleeping next to the sun. But we loved it nonetheless—it was like having a tree house indoors. We had our own bedrooms in the city, so sharing at the cottage was secretly fun, although we both protested that we couldn’t stand it. We swapped stories in the dark, hid the kid across the street in our closet when he “ran away from home,” and hosted neighbourhood Monopoly tournaments up there. Sweaty and rosy-cheeked from the heat, we would emerge only for Popsicles and then head to the beach to cool down.

When we were in our teens, however, Mom and Dad pulled a great switcheroo: Not only did they take over our (much larger) room, demoting us to the narrow downstairs bedroom with the “street view,” but they also installed air conditioning up there. As if that weren’t bad enough, they then put a toilet and a sink inside the closet, turning it into the world’s tiniest bathroom. (Airplane lavatories are spacious compared to this mini-WC.) An air-conditioned oasis with an ensuite and a lake view! We were incensed over the unjust heist. Revenge was the next step.

That summer, we started throwing parties—good ragers that combined our respective high school friends in order to maximize volume in both numbers and in sound. But while we imagined that our parents would tear out their hair and concede that we were, in fact, the rightful owners of the upstairs bedroom, they instead slept peacefully, the hum of the AC drowning out the party below.

“We’re so glad your friends are visiting the cottage,” our parents said. “Isn’t it great now that we are upstairs and you can have them over and not worry about disturbing us? You can have the whole cottage to yourselves!” We had been trumped. Admitting defeat, my sister and I reluctantly settled into the lower bedroom, unpacked our dusty Archie comics and Nancy Drew books, and begrudgingly accepted our fate.

Throughout that summer and even into university, our parties continued (sometimes we would win small battles, and my parents would stay in the city), and having only two bedrooms just meant that we had to get creative with sleeping arrangements. We employed all the standard techniques, such as a pullout couch and blow-up mattresses, as well as more creative approaches, including tents on the lawn (and deck), three people to a bed, one in the bathtub, and someone under the dining room table. We once found a wayward friend outside the morning after, asleep in the back seat of the neighbour’s Volkswagen Rabbit convertible. (Luckily, the neighbours had been at the party too, and found it equally hilarious.)

As we got older, though, the bedroom deficit became a permanent nuisance.

As our family grew, where would everyone sleep? Now, my sister and I are no longer a united front in the Parents v. Kids overthrow; she and her husband and my fiance and I bicker about which couple will sleep on the pullout couch in the living room, without curtains, and which will sleep in the bedroom, in the twin beds designed for no one larger than an Oompa Loompa (my brother-in-law is six foot three).

And it’s not too far down the road when we’ll have to start thinking about where cribs will go and, eventually, whose kids will get the bedroom or the couch. On the precipice of beginning our own families, my sister and I realize that the cottage can’t hold us all. We are outgrowing our summer hideaway, but no one wants to winterize or rebuild. The charm of our weathered 1908 cottage is in its rustic, slanted originality, especially since it’s fast becoming surrounded by concrete-and-vinyl-siding rebuilds, as more and more full-timers move into our neighbourhood. We are the holdouts, standing firm in our ways of loving the cottage in the summer, but also spending money on travel, weddings, and house renovations before paying through the nose to turn our cottage into a mini-McMansion by the lake. But, oh, what a problem to have! We fight for the shower, steal the good beach chairs, and even squabble over parking—because we all want to be there. At the same time.

The truth is, even when I wake up with the bar from the pullout couch firmly implanted in my back, as my brother-in-law staggers out of a bed that ends at his knees, it’s well worth the inconvenience (and morning backaches) if it means everyone gets to be at the cottage together. Board games, cocktails on the porch, barbecued dinners, and morning walks to the village for coffee are much more fun as group activities, and if that means less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements, so be it.

The cottage has been the backdrop for our whole lives. It has seen birthday, graduation, retirement, anniversary, prom, and long-weekend parties and was the obvious choice for both my sister’s wedding, and mine to come. We chose city housing close to highways and battle Friday night traffic for fast escapes to the lake. And in the mornings, when we argue over who had the worst sleep, we also laugh about it, because we are all together in our not-that-small cottage. Then the moment passes, the feeling flees, and we start to fight over who gets the first shower of the day (and the hot water).

There may come a day when an extension is inevitable but, until then, we love the cottage just the way it is. Plus, I have a great idea for where a crib could go—the upstairs bedroom. It’s air-conditioned, so the baby’s crying won’t disturb those sleeping downstairs. And then maybe we will get that room back. After, of course, my parents spend one night there with their first grandchild and decide it really was our bedroom all along.

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