I have always been jealous of people who have big immediate families and even bigger extended families. I have always felt like I was missing out on something. I heard about watching baseball games, going swimming, and spending Sunday at an Uncle’s for the game, and I felt a tinge of heartache because I did not have those close relationships. Growing up I was extremely close with my parents and my brother. Extended-family time was reserved for holidays: Christmas, Easter, and the occasional Fourth of July picnic. We never went to our cousin’s games and tournaments. They never attended ours. My parents did not encourage us to become friends with their siblings’ children, and I knew from a very young age that I felt a void because of it.
When I became an adult, I wanted my relationships to be different. I actively pursued adult relationships with my cousins. We started to pal around, and suddenly, we were doing everything I had hoped we would be doing: watching games, going to concerts, and having cookouts. I finally felt that my cousins were not just the children of my uncles and aunts; they were my friends.
As we got even older, we started to have children. However, our children came at all different times. My brother’s boys were seven and four, respectively, when my oldest was born. It was difficult to convince my brother that the boys should be friends with my girls because they had little in common with my girls because of the age differences. Likewise, it did not help that my brother and I went through a very difficult almost ten-year period of animosity in our own relationship; thus, it was hard to foster a camaraderie amongst the children when he and I were not getting along.
Nonetheless, I tried to force the issue. When Carson turned five, I threw her a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. I invited friends who had children in the same age group, and I invited my nephews. However, my brother thought it would be weird if his boys came to a party with little kids.
“You are having a five-year old party. My kids are nine and twelve,” he reasoned.
“I know, but they are her first cousins. Can’t they just come, eat pizza, and play skee-ball? They don’t have to play with the little kids,” I pleaded.
He would not capitulate, and I was furious he could not see my point. I called my mother to lament. Surely, she would take my side? However, she didn’t. She thought that I was being silly.
“They’re too old for Chuck E. Cheese,” she agreed.
“But they’re cousins!” I screamed into the phone. By this point I had been to numerous kid parties with older cousins in attendance.
“You’re being silly,” she said. “What if I would have told you to go to Marta’s fifth birthday party?” she asked, referring to my cousin who is ten years younger.
“I wish you would have! Maybe it wouldn’t have taken until she was 22 to get to know her.” I knew that age should not be a barrier on cousins developing friendships. I wanted my children to feel that family was more than just the people you saw on holidays.
It’s been seven years since that birthday party, and my brother and I have become friends again; thus, our children see each other more regularly. My girls idolize his sixteen year old son, and they would see him every week, but they now live almost two hours away. Nonetheless, we make efforts to see each other, and I know my brother wants them to be friends as much as I do.
In regard to my cousins, we remain close. Marta and I are somewhat like sisters. We talk often and get together as much as we can. We both encourage our daughters to relish the time they spend with their cousins. Her daughters are almost six and three; yet, when our five girls get together, it’s like they are the same age.
This past Tuesday, I was kidnapped by my husband and daughters and I wasn’t told where we were going. Tom had secretly made plans with Marta and Mike to spend a few days together at their family’s cottage. I was excited for the opportunity to relax. The girls played and laughed. I felt a warmth in my heart.
This closeness is what I yearned for; it is now the reality I live. I am instilling in my daughters the importance of loving each other, but also the importance of extended family. If I have it my way, my girls will grow up to be friends with all of their cousins, no matter what the age difference.
Someday, I will be an old lady in a rocking chair watching our children interact, our children’s children interact, and I will know that I taught my girls the meaning of family; the importance of love.