It’s spring, and we are headed into a season of many family gatherings with Mother’s Day, graduations, showers and weddings in the near future. Chances are that you are going to be seeing a lot of your relatives, and it’s likely that there will be some cousins in the mix. Do you have relationships with cousins? I have 52 first cousins. I am fairly close to some, others not so much, but in one way or another all of my cousins are a part of who I am.
When you have as many cousins as I do, it’s hard to get away from the memories of them. While watching the movie Jersey Boys, I was transported to my aunt and uncle’s basement where I first listened to Frankie Valli with my cousins. A magazine photo of a claw foot tub reminds me of the one I bought for $25.00 from my cousin who was using it to feed his horses. An article about young soldiers leaving home reminded me of when my cousin left for Vietnam. He told us that the next time we saw him he would be in a box. He came back alive, but that moment was written in permanent ink on my impressionable eight year old mind.
Whether or not you are close to your cousins, they are important. Here are five reasons we need cousins.
1. Cousins share our childhoods.
Siblings are often still tightly bonded as they grow into adulthood, marry and have children. Since siblings are still close, their children, who are often close in age, become playmates. Our cousins are our first friends. Cousins share birthday parties, trick-or-treating and hand-me-down clothes. In my family, there were lots of hand-me-down clothes. We didn’t mind.
Cousins give us our first steps of independence. Our first sleepovers were with cousins. We played with our cousins at our grandparents house and as teenagers, hung out in the basement together. Our cousins watched us grow through the awkward, geeky years filled with braces and unfortunate hairstyles. Later, our cousins became our adolescent confidants.
If you look at the photographs from your childhood, cousins will be prominent in your pictures. Cousins share a sense of time and place with us and understand our childhood in a way no one else does.
2. Cousins share our family stories.
Cousins understand our family dynamics. Cousins laugh with you over the memory of the Christmas when Grandma left a paper bag of rolls in the oven too long and started it on fire. They retell stories of camping trips when someone stood up in the boat and everyone fell in the lake. They laugh at the story about the family vacation to Virginia Beach when it was forty-six degrees and everyone sat wrapped in blankets trying to stay warm.
Family stories shape us. Stories are one way we transmit knowledge and pass along values from one generation to another. We share cautionary tales as a way to prevent future harm and share stories of achievement as a way to inspire and motivate.
Children love to hear family stories. As we share stories and traditions with their own families we keep our family legacy alive.
3. Cousins are role models.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “Cousins are like celebrities for little kids. If little kids had a People magazine, cousins would be on the cover.”
Many of us had an older cousin we idolized. We cheered at their sporting events and attended their school plays. We watch our older cousins and learn from their experiences. My teenage cousins were cool, they let me try their make-up and gave me rides in their cars and on their motorcycles. When my niece was young, she was extremely picky about clothing but she would wear anything that had once belonged to my daughter, her older cousin.
When we are the older cousin, we take the responsibility seriously. Unlike with our siblings, we cheerfully take on the role of big cousin. While I would not have been thrilled to have to watch my younger siblings for a day, I quite happily took my young cousin to the zoo. At any family occasion you will see older cousins carrying their younger cousins on their shoulders, both of them laughing and enjoying the moment.
4. Cousins share life’s celebrations with us.
Unlike friends, who may come and go from our lives, cousins are in it for the long haul. Your cousins will show up to help you move, and to share a drink on your twenty-first birthday. We dance at each other’s weddings, and bring a gift and a casserole when there is a new baby. Even though years may pass, we gather together for life’s important moments. We catch up at family reunions, where our children play together, and easily rekindle old bonds.
Cousins know our holiday traditions and rituals. Whether it is attending a summer baseball game together or holiday Euchre tournaments, cousins understand what it means to be a member of our family. They share the memory of their first hunt with grandpa and the cousins. They share a love of grandma’s cooking, and like us, carry on family food traditions. If you think about the most important moments in your life, you will realize that along with grandma’s potato salad, your cousins were there.
5. Cousins are there in a crisis.
There is a saying that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. Cousins are like that. Your cousins will offer words of advice and support when you need it. My cousin wrote me a letter during one of my darkest times, and I cherish it to this day. Cousins will help you change a tire when you are stranded on the highway and hold your hand through chemo. Recently, I watched cousins work together to take care of the home and estate of their childless aunt.
Your cousins are the only other people on the planet who know exactly what the hole in your heart feels like when you lose your beloved grandparents. Your cousins will cry with you at funerals and pass the box of Kleenex. When your own cousin dies, it is like a little piece of your life and your memory dies too.
Throughout our lives, cousins witness our greatest achievements and our greatest heartaches. Our cousins not only share our lives, they share our blood. Though siblings and friends may be close and important to us, we share unique experiences with our cousins.
What are your experiences with cousins? Are you still friends? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear your memories and stories of life with cousins.