The Cousin Connection

Just got back late last night from our latest family reunion in Iowa.  It reminded me of one of my favorite children’s picture books, “The Relatives Came”, although we didn’t sleep on the floor, overlapping each other– but sometimes the dogs did! There were 14 adults, two kids, two dogs, one active toddler, one baby, and one on the way, at times all crammed into Grandma’s tiny house at once, and there were lots of hugs, and food, and chatter, and music, and games, and bike rides, and golf cart rides…   And then after a few days, we piled back into our minivan (it made it!) with our kids, and our dog, and Emmie’s guitar, and all of our bikes, and drove 13 hours straight home, all day and into the night, only stopping for fast food and bathroom breaks.   

I was the main “planner” for the reunion, so it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun for everyone, and it left me thinking a lot about cousins. 

My friend Jenny, if I remember correctly, has a cousin which she’s as close to as a sister.  Same for my friend Teresa.  I never had cousins exactly my own age, but I had one four years older and her sister was five years older, and some of my cherished childhood memories are those of summer weeks spent at their house in Springfield, IL. What fun we had, exploring their neighborhood, buying candy and “Flying Things” at a nearby store, playing with the Mattel Thingmaker in the basement and watching a TV show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, starring the late great Bill Bixby. (I can still hear the theme song, sung by Nilsson.)  They taught me how to knit, how to appreciate Archie comic books, and we even saw a real funnel cloud together.  I got great writing practice when my cousins and I exchanged many letters, often decorated with psychedelic ’70’s stickers.  But as my cousins grew older, the age gap seemed to widen and the visits (and letters) stopped.

Many years later in 1998, when I was married and had one child, our “thinking about having a second child” turned into action when my sister-in-law Marti announced she was pregnant.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a child that has a cousin who is the same age and grade?  My plan worked.  Cousin Ted was born in August, and my Emmie was born in November. She and Ted became fast friends, and were blessed to have another cousin their own age when Andy’s stepbrother and his wife had a son later the same year.  When those three cousins get together, it is pure joy to watch.  Whether jumping on the trampoline, playing Guitar Hero or spraying each other with the hose, they have a special connection.

For Allison, my teenager, her nearest first cousins (other than the younger ones mentioned above) are six and seven years older, which has sometimes meant a playmate at family gatherings but hasn’t quite meant weekend sleepovers and endless correspondence, and, just as I experienced, the age gap has widened with age.  At this latest reunion, Allison watched as the college-age cousins left to “hit the local bars” at night.  She stayed back at Grandma’s, reading a book.

I regret she has not experienced the fun of a close cousin.  Oh, it’s hard to time everything right for cousins in family planning, especially with me being so much younger than my siblings, and waiting until my 30’s to start a family.  But I think we should have tried harder in Allison’s younger years to make more connections with the many second and third cousins close to her age found on my husband’s side of the family. 

Maybe it’s not too late.  Now that I’ve planned one family reunion, I should be an expert at planning another– right?  And most of this other bunch lives less than five hours away.  Only it’s not my side of the family, so I’ll definitely need help.  And we’re talking about several teens and ‘tweens being a part, so it will be a challenge getting them to interact.  And, of course, there’s no guarantee that they will!  But at the very least, it will give my husband and his sister the chance to reconnect with their own cousins, with whom they share lots of childhood memories.

Bring on the cousins! Let the family reunion planning begin again!!

(R to L) Allison, 14, shares a smile with her first cousin Erin, 31, at the family reunion.

Emmie, 10, sips “pop” with her first-cousin-once-removed, Jetta, age 2 1/2.

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