I tiptoed down the stairs around 11:30 last night to check on the living room sleepover extravaganza, and before I was on the third or fourth step, I heard it: the satisfied snoring of three exhausted girls, my two oldest and one of my cousin’s daughters. One was crunched up on the double chair, another was sprawled on the open loveseat, and the third was cuddled under blankets across the couch, mouth open and lanky legs askew under her blanket. The trampoline-jumping, firefly-catching evening had melted into a loud movie then ended abruptly in triumphant sleep. This is summer, I thought. I went back to my bed, reminiscing.
I was raised in a family of cousins. Growing up, there were four aunts and uncles, and over the years a total of fifteen cousins parading across a wide span, followed quickly by marriages, and then children, so many that we all just blend together into one large family picture of smiling faces. There were Christmas dinners crammed in Grandma’s basement, eating potluck style and roasting dinner rolls over candles while our parents were too busy talking to bother scolding us. There were summer evenings at the pond catching frogs or jumping in the pool at Uncle Jim’s house- more like, watching our older cousins attempt to break their necks jumping from the chimney into the deep end. There was the year I was a preteen invited to stay in my cousin Sharie’s college apartment, sleeping on the floor and admiring the college girls’ wicked bangs; then, on the flipside, there was the time I babysat my two-year-old cousin in my dorm room, feeding him nothing but cottage cheese in the commons because he refused everything else. I learned to climb trees, throw a football, tie a sled to the back of a van on slippery roads, and all kinds of other important, sometimes incriminating, things from my cousins.
Now my kiddos have cousins. They are blessed with five actual, true-definition cousins. Last week, we all camped together at a small campground nearby, and those kids swam, fished, boated, scootered, and roasted marshmallows until they could hardly see straight! It was the pure, unadulterated version of summer that I remember. Then this weekend, we joined forces with the swarm of loose-definition cousins, a conglomeration of kids belonging to us cousins that just turn into a dust-covered, gyrating cloud of action. There was tree-climbing, turtle-catching, frisbee-throwing, summer fun in the 90 degree heat. Now I am the adult, and I served cake, talked shop with my teacher cousin, and watched the fun I remember from childhood.
In all the reminiscing, I thought about how necessary cousins were to who I was, and even to who I am. I get down-right kid-giddy when I know the cousins are getting back together. In fact, the idea of a great cousin reunion tour across the U.S. may have crossed my mind now and then. I sometimes lose sight as an adult of the importance of down time spent with family, but it is the most energizing time for me. Last night, on my back porch with two aunts, an adult cousin, and my mom, then again today with six of my adult cousins, their spouses and children, I was reminded how cool my family is. I have teenage cousins who corral the kids for a rousing game of croquet, cousins’ little kids who hug me and affectionately call me “Aunt Katie”, cousins who are amazing humans that are connected to me in inextricable ways. Family reminds me of the simplicity and love that surrounded me and sheltered me, creating a warm, Instagram-glow to all my childhood memories. I feel blessed to be given opportunities to recreate those same moments for my own children, and in those moments, to feel safe and loved and just simply happy. This is my plastic cup, lemonade toast to all my cousins; thank you for making memories sweeter, thirty years ago and again and again and again in multiplied moments of bliss.