I come from a big family and have 23 first cousins.
My parents always made an effort to bring us around them. This wasn’t like my grandparents’ generation where family members stayed in the same town and often lived only streets away from each other. In our case, there had to be an effort.
Most of my childhood summers were spent with my cousins at our grandparents’ house in Eustis. We made roadside lemonade stands, went to the beach at the family timeshare, rode rides together at Disney (a perk of living in Central Florida), and put on plays during get-togethers my aunts and uncles humored us and watched.
Our oldest cousin was already married by the time I was in second grade. I was the flower girl in her wedding and some other cousins were bridesmaids. She and her husband let me and my sister stay with her at her farm for days at a time, where we would ride golf carts around the property, make forts, help feed the horses, and see who could go the highest on the tire swing. In my mind, she was the coolest and most beautiful person alive. When she had children, my sister and I would pretend they were our real life baby dolls. We loved dressing them up. When I went off to college, my dorm was decorated with photos of her children and everyone always asked if they were my sisters.
We spent nearly every holiday with our cousins. Our grandparents lived in a rather centrally-located area from the rest of us, so we would all go over there during the holidays and have potluck-style celebrations. My grandmother prepared the meat and everyone else brought sides and desserts. It was a smorgasbord. (Nobody makes deviled eggs like my aunt makes deviled eggs. Not even Martha or Paula.)
When my grandmother died and my grandfather moved up north- and we grew up- I didn’t get to see my cousins as often as I would have liked. I guess that’s part of life.
Now we are all scattered around the world. Some of my cousins live in California and are pursuing careers in the creative industry. Some are nurses. One is a statistician in Paris. Some of my cousins are missionaries in the South Pacific. Another one of my cousins has finished more than 30 marathons.
The distance doesn’t matter and luckily, in today’s modern world, we have the luxury of staying in touch via e-mail and social media.
There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my cousins. I would ride a Greyhound bus to Alaska if one of them needed me to. We’ve cried together over losses and celebrated victories.
Do your kids a favor and bring them around their cousins. This relationship is a gift.
If it requires effort because of geographical distance, then make the effort. Whether it’s arranging a family trip once a year in the summertime when everyone’s out of school or making it a point to Facetime or send birthday cards. Do it. Give them this gift.
Cousins are the best.
They were your first friends. They were automatic attendees at your childhood birthday parties and you endured sitting together at the “kiddie table” during family holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
You got awful hand-me-downs from them like ill-fitting sweaters and old ski clothes.
They’ve seen all your terrible hair-dos because they had them, too. You suffered with them while your parents gave you spiral perms in the kitchen. (If you close your eyes and concentrate really hard, you can still smell the perm chemicals as your Aunt rinsed your hair when your head was painfully hanging in the sink.)
Your cousins have seen you with high water pants, braces, and teenage acne.
You don’t have to hide weird Uncle Jim around them because they, too, are related to him and feel your pain.
You’re part of the same bloodline and they understand firsthand how frustrating it is when someone repeatedly butchers your last name.
You’ve shared the same laughter and heartache. You remember how hilarious it was when your grandfather asked the grocery store clerk to pull his finger. You remember how painful it is to see them go through sickness or divorce.
You have each others’ backs because you’re family. Your victories are their victories and so, as adults, you serve as a reference for their career searches and as the emergency contact for their children. You’ll whip our your wallet and buy their kids’ girl scout cookies and other fundraising items you don’t want or need. You party at their bar mitzvahs and sit through their graduations.
They are in most of your childhood photos and memories. They are the gatekeepers of the biggest secrets.
Your cousins lost your grandparents the same time you did, got more baby cousins the same time you did, and endured family crises the same time you did. They understand you in a way outsiders cannot.
Cheers to your cousins. Cheers to your first best friends.