Home Bases

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1998

Home Bases

A cottage, a dude-ranch cabin, a multisport resort — just unpack and call it your own
By Meg Lukens Noonan


Why Own When You Can Rent?
Your own front porch, space to spread out — everything you need except for room service

All the right clothes for outside kids

I think I can admit it now. That cherished image of myself as the backpack-carrying nomad, walking the shadowy, curry-scented alleys of Kathmandu has, like sidewalk chalk in a steady rain, almost completely melted away. I see myself for what I am: a mother of two — a 40-year-old, minivan-driving mother of two, no less — whose travels no longer need to be challenging or enriching or exotic to be successful. These days when I, when we, vacation, we have entirely different requirements. We need refrigeration, a fenced-in pool, nice children nearby, good grass for cartwheels. Above all, we must unpack once — and only once.

That's why going someplace and staying put for a week or two has become our vacation of choice. In the six years since our girls were born, we've rented houses on Nantucket and in Jackson, New Hampshire. We've stayed in villas in Jamaica and condos on Captiva Island. Though each trip was different, they all shared the same basic concept: Bring way too much stuff, spread it out, and act like you own the place.

Of all our vacations, though, the one my family took last summer was the best. We rented a two-bedroom, whitewashed shingle beach cottage in North Truro, Massachusetts, set back from the warm, shallow waters of Cape Cod Bay. We were one among a 20-cottage "colony" surrounded by lilacs and boxwood and (need I say it?) a white picket fence. There was a pool behind one row of cottages and a large common grassy area just outside our door. And we were far enough away from both the water and the road to allow our two girls — even the two-year-old — to come and go at will.

We were completely at ease. Anyone with small children will understand that this, in itself, was miraculous. We had no agenda, no schedule, no compulsion to make sure we saw this museum or that monument or that park. We never had to tell our kids to hurry up (well, except for that one day when we were trying to catch the early-morning whale-watching excursion and there seemed to be a little problem with the buckle on my six-year-old's sandal).

In the mornings we ate donuts at our picnic table, read the local paper, and watched the neighbor kids emerge from other cottages, still in their pajamas but ready to play. Every day my husband and I took turns bike-riding the Province Lands Trail through the massive dunes and scrubby beech forests of Cape Cod National Seashore. Some days we all drove into Provincetown to hit the penny-candy shops and kite stores. Some days we headed out to the ocean beaches to goof around in the surf. We played Pick Up Sticks, worked on a jigsaw puzzle, read books. We ate at both The Lobster Pot and The Bayside Lobster Hutt.

And in the soft violet haze of evening my husband and I would sit outside and drink cold beer and watch our girls play freeze tag or Red Rover with neighbor kids until — I swear this is true — the tinny, synthesized jingle from an approaching ice-cream truck sent all the kids shrieking back to their parents for coins.

Our vacation was completely unoriginal. That's part of what made it so great. It was full of summer's most familiar, and most enduring, music: the thump of a screen door, the hum of kite string pulled taut, the chime of a distant bell buoy. And those are the things we wanted our kids to hear, to remember. Soon enough, they will have adventures. And I hope I will too, again. Until then, I'll take a cottage by the sea, a cottage almost anywhere, full of stuff I recognize as ours.

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