Cousins

The comments on my Monday Snapshot, plus being here in St. Louis with aunts, uncles and cousins, has me thinking a lot about extended family and what I worry my child(ren) will not have.

My mother has a very large family–eleven brothers and sisters. Most of them have MANY children themselves and a couples of her brothers are already great grandparents. When we get together for Christmas Eve we have to rent out a fireman’s hall and now that most of the cousins have kids (and some of their kids have kids!) we don’t really fit there anymore; we can’t all sit to eat at the same time.

My father’s family was much smaller–he has two sisters close in age. While I knew, and we somewhat close to a couple of families on my mother’s side, it was my father’s sister and their five children that I was close to growing up.

Of course, I grew up in Hong Kong and California and all my cousins lived in St. Louis so I didn’t see them most of the year. But when we lived overseas we spent most of every summer in St. Louis and that is when I became so close with my cousins. My family stayed at my grandmother’s house and we had sleepovers at different aunts’ houses. The seven of us were quite close, especially the youngest five (of which I was the oldest). We would spend most of the summer together, including a week every year at the Ozarks. Those are great memories and I will cherish them always.

My sister is seven years younger than I (she turned 26 this April) and doesn’t ever plan on having kids. I know people can change their minds on that but I doubt my sister will. She is not a fan of children and is fiercely protective of the small pleasures in life, like waking up whenever she wants and spending long hours enjoying an expensive meal. I would be surprised if she ever changed her mind about having kids and even if she did, mine will most assuredly be in the double digits before she does. I can’t imagine they’d be close cousins.

Mi.Vida’s sister is 28 and while she has a Master’s in Early Childhood Development and currently teaches Kindergarten, her life circumstances assure that she won’t be having children anytime soon. She hasn’t been in a committed relationship in all the seven years that I’ve known her and she just left her teaching job in Guatemala to spent two years teaching in Kazakhstan. I do think she’ll have kids some day, but by the time that happens my children will be much older than hers.

That effectively leaves my children without cousins and it’s a gaping hole in their life that I lament them going without.

Mi.Vida has cousins but isn’t at all close to them. In fact, he has four that live less than an hour away (near their mother–his aunt) that I’ve never met. He has other cousins in LA but I’ve never even learned their names. To say he is not close to his extended family would be a laughable understatement (and I find this so strange, as his parents are incredibly involved in our lives). I guess it makes sense that Mi.Vida doesn’t think much of the fact that our kids will be without cousins. He never really had them and he didn’t seem to miss them so he doesn’t see it as a problem that our kids will share his fate. It just isn’t something he things about.

But I think about it, all the time. My childhood memories would be woefully incomplete without my cousins. I can’t fathom growing up without them.

Sadly, as we’ve grown into adulthood, we’ve lost a lot of the connection that once kept us so close (though we continue to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company when we visit). We only see each other once every other year or so, at reunions like the one I’m here for right now. My grandmother is definitely the impetus for our visits and I wonder if my family will still come much once she is gone. Only three of the seven of the cousins even live in St. Louis anymore, and one will probably be moving away again soon after he finishes residency. My closest cousin–the one with the daughter Isa’s age and the son who will be a year older than mine (assuming my own son arrive safely like hers did)–lives in Charleston, which couldn’t really be farther away from San Francisco. So far we’ve met up twice since we had our children, both times here in St. Louis (she stays with her parents and I stay with my grandmother). Again, I wonder if I’ll make it out here to see her much, if at all, once my grandmother is gone.

I figure the best case scenario is we continue visiting my aunts, uncles and cousins every two years or so and that my kids know my cousin’s children from those meager visits. The reality will probably be more infrequent, with visits becoming fewer and farther between as everyone grows older. Certainly my children will never have the connection with their “cousins” that I had with my own.

The fact that none of my close friends live near me, and that none of them have kids yet, means my kids won’t even have honorary cousins to grow up with. And I suppose that will have to be okay. We all have different experiences growing up and I certainly can’t guarantee that my kids will enjoy all the special things that I felt gave meaning to my childhood and shaped me into the person I am today. I suppose I’ll just have to have faith that they will find what they need to be happy, and meet the people with whom they will forge meaningful relationships, even if those people are not provided by family connections.

Still, it makes me sad to think my kids will miss out on something that was such a positive influence in my own life. I with I could give them what I had, that their photobooks would be filled with pictures cousins all standing in a row, from oldest to youngest, so sure of their place in their lives and in their family. It really was an amazing gift, one I so wish I could give my own kids.

Were cousins a big part of your life? Will they be a fixture in your child(ren)’s?

9 responses

  1. *Sigh!* After seeing my recent post about lack of local family you could probably guess this is one of my laments. No cousins. 😦 My brother has six kids but they live in another state and are all so much older. My other brother is expecting his first child and is our only chance of having some kind of cousin connection for my girls, but they also live in another state. And my husbands family all lives in another country, soooo yah. I really can relate and am sorry you have a similar “loss” of extended family. Like you, I grew up with cousins in my life, and it is an experience I regret not bring able to “give” my daughters.

  2. yes, I have 9 cousins and we spent our summers together. We are all really close in age and like you I want my kids to be able to experience that. We had some much fun at my grand mother house!!! The kids in my husband side are much older than ours and they will never have that connection…my only sister has 2 daughters (5 and 3 year old) and we are working on building that connection even if we are living thousands miles apart: me in the US and her in France…We are going to spend over 2 weeks in August together in France where we grow up and I can’t wait for my kids to experience the life that I had when I was their age….

  3. I 100% could have written this post. I grew up with a gazillion cousins all close in age (and proximity). Except for me, all of my Mom’s siblings and their kids and kid’s kids all live within about 10 minutes of each other in Minnesota. My Dad’s side is all within a few hours of each other in MN. I cannot IMAGINE a childhood without aunts and uncles and cousins and massive family reunions. My husband – not so much. He has 4 cousins (1 of whom he is semi-close with), and that’s it. It’s so odd to realize how different our childhoods were!

    I’m hoping that our friend’s kids end up being honorary cousins of sorts, but you’re right, I’ll miss the cousin pictures of everyone standing in a line, year after year…

  4. My parents had 14 siblings between them, who all had 2-3 kids, so I have a LOT of cousins. I wouldn’t say I’m especially close to them, but on my dad’s side in particular, they are a fixture in our holidays and traditions. I’m not sure if and how that will continue as our parents age (and, gulp, eventually pass away). I hope it does. Miss E will not have a mass of cousins, but she has one close in age (but unfortunately not close in geography) and they adore each other.

  5. I feel sad about my kids’ lack of cousins, too. Neither of my sisters is married or likely to be married soon. The cousin I mentioned in my last comment is actually J’s third cousin. On my husband’s side there are actually a few cousins J’s age, but they’re all across the ocean and we may never meet them. My best friend has a son J’s age and an older daughter, and J pretty much thinks they’re his cousins. So that’s something, at least.

  6. Can I say what she said above….and I mean you and every comment on here. I am the youngest of 10 grandkids on my mom’s side who were all local, and my siblings were the closest in age to me. I’m one of 11 grandkids on my dad’s side, and I’m right in the middle. All my cousins close in age lived in New York, a thousand miles away. Growing up we were definitely closer to my mom’s family, but my strongest cousin relationships now are with my dad’s side. I wish I could offer my children cousins, but my siblings were done having kids before I even started. My brother’s daughters are closest in age at 6 and 3 to my daughter, but they live 600 miles away. We aren’t very close, but I’m really looking forward to our family vacation where we will all be together for a week. I’m sad I couldn’t give my children an opportunity to have cousins closer in age, but thanks to infertility, I didn’t have a choice.

    It’s the same on my husband’s side. His brother has one daughter 5 years old and his sister has an 11 year old. No chance at cousins for our kids there either. You’re definitely not alone in your thoughts. I can’t imagine my childhood without the experiences I have had with my cousins. I hope my daughter has something with her cousins, even though they are all so much older.

    As for friends, yeah, well I have on BFF who has kids and her youngest is a year older than Raegan. She too is done with children, so that would be or closest. However she lives in KC, so again, distance is a challenge.

    It’s just one more thing IF and loss mess up in our lives, isn’t it?

  7. Always interesting to hear about other people’s families. Dh has just one brother, who has two boys. My sister is childfree by choice, so my daughter would only have had the two cousins. SIL has two brothers, only one married & he just has one daughter, so our nephews just have the one cousin too (which makes me feel guilty sometimes). Seems a bit odd to me, but that’s how it is these days with smaller families, I guess.

    I do only have two cousins on my mom’s side — my mother’s brothers sons, a couple of years younger than me. We played together at our grandparents in the summertime, growing up. I am not as close to them or their kids as I’d like, although I am “friends” with all of them on Facebook, which helps some. I also spent a lot of time with a few of my mother’s cousin’s daughters.

    On the other hand, on my dad’s side, I have more than 35 (!) first cousins. He has three brothers, two sisters and had two half-sisters & a half-brother. My cousins & I played together on our grandparents’ farm as kids, but I haven’t seen much of any of them in recent years. We are closest to my dad’s two sisters & their families (three boys each). For the past 28 years, I’ve been living in southern Ontario, far away from my immediate & extended family — but my one cousin, who is in his mid-30s, married a girl from this area & they decided to move here a couple of years ago to be closer to HER family. They live less than a half-hour drive away now, & have invited us over whenever my aunt visits, for their kids’ birthday parties, etc. I am absolutely tickled to finally have family living close by me!

    Dh grew up surrounded by cousins on both sides of his family (both sides from the same small town in southern Italy). His parents immigrated in the late 1950s, & lived with family until they could afford a place of their own. At one time, they all lived within a couple of blocks of each other. Now, they’re scattered all across the Greater Toronto Area. One of his cousins actually lives in the same neighbourhood as we do, and was one of the main reasons we bought in this area — but (as I have written on my blog), we somehow drifted apart after our daughter’s stillbirth. These days, we see them at the same weddings & funerals we see everyone else at. Sad. 😦

  8. I am lucky to have 16 official cousins plus three by marriage and while I am not extremely close to any of them, we stay in touch and get along well. They are very influential in my life and shaped who I am because we grew up like something of a litter of puppies at times.

    I also tend to count the children of my mom’s friends as my other cousins even though we aren’t related. My mom had a group of about 8 moms that we saw weekly for potlucks at someone’s house for a 2-6 hour play date (sometimes less often but still significant) so I feel like that’s an option even though my girls won’t have cousins close in age (probably at least but who knows?). My sibling is younger than me and just attached so no babies on the horizon for a few years and the spouse’s sibling is older and waffles about children or not. I figure that my cousin’s kids can serve as the cousins they won’t otherwise get, and that my older kid can babysit for any official cousins she ever has. I’m hoping to plan extended family vacations in the future so we get to see each other more than a few hours at holidays.

  9. Not at all. Only saw them a handful of times.

    My kids are close in age to their second cousins, who live in the neighborhood. I feel like it’s a nice to have, but not a must?

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