I once read that cousins are your first friends. They’re not siblings, but they’re closer than friends. They’re somewhere in between. You don’t have to live with them (usually), but, you don’t have to use last names for all the people you know in common.
I just spent a week with my cousin. Actually, she spent the week with me, visiting me and for the first time, staying with us instead of at a college friend’s home. She’s my first cousin. She’s my first first cousin—the oldest of the cousins. First cousins…that’s another interesting phrase. I’m one of those people who actually knows the difference between “first,” “second” and “removed” (Contact me and I’ll explain it to you, it’s really not that hard.)
If you’re really lucky, there are more cousins, the ones from the other side of the family. That’s a whole different set of experiences. My “other” cousins are all boys, and I’m from a family of all girls. Growing up with the boycousins (all one word), there were different adults there, too. We usually went to the boycousin’s house, I guess because then they wouldn’t have to try to play with anything we had at our house. Those boys are all men now, some with grown children, just like me I guess, but they’re still the boys. Always the boys.
The real prize cousins offer you is that their stories are almost like yours, but just a little bit different. If your life is a jigsaw puzzle, cousins hold some of the pieces you can’t find, like those edge pieces, or the really oddly shaped one. Older cousins have the pieces of the jigsaw that came before you, and you have the pieces that came after they left for college. Younger cousins bring newness to the familiar, like when they take one of your old toys that you hadn’t played with in ages; you get to discover it all over again.Cousins are the people who saw the same play you did, at the same time, but they sat someplace else in the theater.
Cousins see your parents totally differently than you do, and as the years go by, their perceptions are absolutely revelatory. Aunts and uncles are the adults you first meet that aren’t your parents. They’re not grandparents, who are always soooooo old! With aunts and uncles, the rules get bent a little.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I’ve seen some of my cousins, and we’re all over the place now. But oh, those times we get to sit with each other! We stay at the simchas a little longer, and come to sit at the same tables. At the kitchen table, spouses go up to bed, but the cousins keep talking and laughing, sipping wine and dipping our toes into each other’s memories. We’re not all as close as we used to be, but most of us are.
It made me sad to think my kids wouldn’t have the same cousin relationships we had. Their cousins just live so far away. My first cousins were all within a half hour of us, and we saw them each and every week, not just on holidays. So my husband and I never miss an opportunity to gather the cousins, and have even encouraged trips to visit each other as they’ve gotten older. They don’t need the parents around, they need time with each other. The blessed Facebook and Skype have become their modes of communication and connection. When they were little, the cousins fell over each other like puppies. Now, they know things about each others’ plans that we don’t, and that’s just fine. Nothing makes me happier, because years from now, when they gather at one kitchen table or another, they’ll start filling in the puzzle pieces for each other, too.