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?

Agreeing to Disagree

My daughter is almost two years old. She is learning more and more words every day. She already says well over a hundred words (in Spanish and English – much more in English) and strings them together to make sentences. She can count, in two languages. She can sing (the first four letters) of the alphabet. She is smart. She is capable. She gets what is going on. And I have to admit, I’m loving it.

Some moms like the baby phase. Some moms LOVE it. They revel in the smallness, in the all-consuming nature of it. They feel empowered by how much their newborns need them and how they are able to provide. For me? Not so much. I’ll admit I found the first six months kind of… boring. The older Isa gets, the more I enjoy motherhood. I love her independence. I revel in the thirty minutes she can play and read by herself. I sink my teeth into the opportunities to teach her. I wait eagerly for the chance to give her consequences.

Yes, at the tender age of 21 months, I am already issuing consequences to my toddler.

You see, this is the part of motherhood I’m good at. I’m good at the consequences part. I’m good at setting boundaries and enforcing them. I’m good at making my expectations clear and helping my daughter meet them. I believe my daughter is already capable of learning what is expected of her and doing it. And I’m treating her accordingly.

The thing is, not everyone agrees with the way I enforce consequences with my daughter. Most of the time it doesn’t matter, because I don’t really care much what others think of my choices. She is my daughter and I’m doing what I believe is right in raising her. Of course, when the people who don’t agree with me are my in-laws, it gets more complicated. Especially since my in-laws are our primary care providers.

It’s not even that I want my in-laws to do things the ways I do. Usually I tell them what I’m doing with Isa so they can create consistency if they want to, but I never overtly ask them to do anything. And that’s probably a good thing, because chances are they would refuse.

Recently I told my in-laws that I was putting Isa in her crib for a minute when she hit or scratched me. I don’t really consider this a “time out” but more of a chance for her to regain her composure when she’s really upset while letting her know that hitting will not be tolerated. At first she would get very upset when I put her in the crib but after about a week, she would regain control almost immediately and be ready to play happily by the time I returned to get her. Also, she hasn’t hit me in a week.

I mentioned this at lunch with my in-laws and I was promptly informed that they would NOT be doing anything of the sort when she was at their house. Not only was it developmentally inappropriate (ie she wouldn’t understand what was happening) but they don’t believe in time-outs and refuse to administer them. I told them they should do whatever felt comfortable and left it at that.

Today my father-in-law mentioned that he was trying to teach Isa to say “thank you”. I’ve been focusing on requiring her to say “please” before I give her things. It’s a part of our daily exercise in patience (many times a day I just don’t let her have something right away, usually I have her go distract herself with something else and then bring it when she has forgotten about it). In just a few short weeks she has started using “pease” instead of grunting for what she wants. It’s a welcome change.

Anyway, I was going to start requesting she say “thank you” when I felt “please” was adequately acquired, but I certainly didn’t mind my FIL trying to teach her “thank you”. I mentioned that I was focusing on “please” first and he made it clear that he would not be focusing on “please” he didn’t care about whether she said “please” and he certainly wouldn’t with hold things to force her to say it. He would casually focus on “thank you” and that was it.

Now obviously this is not all that important and I truly don’t care whether he reinforces the work I’ve done on asking Isa to say “please” when she wants something. But I have to admit, his total disregard of my mothering choices is hard to handle. Really hard. And I’ve felt pretty shitty ever since our exchange.

It makes me realize that my parenting decisions really are an extension of who I am, and if someone disregards them or implies they are so worthless as to not be worth considering, I take it personally. Very much so. When my FIL fails to even consider my reasoning for doing something when it comes to my daughter I feel like my own values are disregarded as well. It’s complicated and difficult to explain. The only thing I’m sure of is how much it sucks.

Do you ever have to defend your parenting decisions? When you do, does it feel like you are defending who you are? What do you do or say when people close to you disagree with your choices?