“Little kids love their cousins. Cousins are like celebrities for little kids. If little kids had a People magazine, cousins would be on the cover.” ~Jim Gaffigan
This past week, my boys were fully emerged in the joys of cousin camp. My in-laws rented a house overlooking Lake Norman and big enough to sleep five families. We filled every inch of that house with laughter, tears, and a collection of memories. My husband’s siblings are spread out all over the world from Australia to Japan which means my kids only see their cousins once a year if they’re lucky. Therefore getting everyone together in one place is a big, big deal. With 10 kids ranging in ages from 3 months to nearly 9 years old and a greater portion of them recovering from the heavy weight of jet lag, there was rarely a quiet moment. My kids bounced out of bed each morning eager to stir up the day’s adventures with their family playmates. From morning swims in the lake to jaunts around town, the week was one long playdate with some of their favorite people on the planet. As my children and their cousins strengthened and grew their bonds, I spent a lot of time thinking about the importance of a cousin in a little one’s life.
A cousin is one of your first friends and will always be a part of your life.
When cousins are close in age, they are like built-in buddies at family gatherings. They become the highlight of holidays and a partner in crime at Grandma’s. From endless games of hide and seek to building Legos and playing cards, long days spent with cousins are priceless. They have a familiar closeness like a sibling without too many squabbles to get in the way because there is time apart and distance in the relationship. In a family of an only child, cousins become very much like siblings and cousins provide that bond that only children don’t otherwise have. The great beauty in these relationships is that they continue to grow over the years and can last a lifetime.
A cousin can be a hero.
An older cousin can become someone to look up to and learn from. Older cousins reading to younger cousins, teaching a new card game, or offering guidance in building their Lego kit. Being one of the older cousins provides opportunities for practicing the art of being a role model. As they take the hand of a younger cousin and show them the ropes, those role models in turn build self-confidence. Before this trip, Big Brother erred on the side of caution and a little fear when in the water but after spending a week watching his cousins jump and splash with such bravery in the lake and pool, we delighted in seeing him stretch out his fish fins and reach a new level of confidence.
A cousin gives you independence.
My boys have yet to experience a sleepover with friends. Frankly, we haven’t even reached the point in which all kids actually stay in their bed all night. (Thank god for king size beds.) But cousins can give you a taste of freedom as my boys discovered during this trip. For the first time, they tried their bravery at sleeping away from us as they crashed in one big room with their cousins (with Grandma nearby, of course.) Big Brother fearlessly headed out on excursions with his older cousins to go tubing or ride a jet ski.
It was a good practice for me and my husband as well. We discovered that we needed the opportunity to experience letting go as we bit our nails until they returned from that boat ride or until the sun rose in the morning and we saw that all was well. Practicing that independence within the comfort and safety of our family was good for us all.
Cousins are part of our family story.
As the years roll by, the memories and stories of your family are shared and understood by cousins. You can reminisce over that time you roasted marshmallows or the gingerbread house you made together at Christmas. More importantly, cousins recognize your family’s crazy and dysfunction (because every family has its quirks). There is this unspoken understanding of where you come from and no need to explain yourself when with your cousins.
As I’ve witnessed with my children and their cousins and have also felt with my own cousins, no matter how much time passes or how many states or countries away you live, when you’re together, that time and distance quickly fade and you can pick up right where you left off because of that history and family bond. Friends may be forever, but cousins are for life.