Monday, August 9, 2010


My mother had 52 first cousins. My brother and I have 5. My kids have two. First cousins are going the way of 8 Tracks and Dairy Queens—you see them occasionally. Luckily, there are second, third and fourth cousins, once, twice and three times removed. I can never remember the formula for computing these slices of interrelatedness, though specifying cousin-ness was important in my family. Even my developmentally disabled cousin stood with me in front of my grandmother's casket computing our degree of cousinly separation. He also disagreed that my grandmother didn't look in her casket exactly as she did alive. "What about her does not look the same?" he demanded, hands thrown apart to frame my grandma, his aunt.

Yesterday, at a reunion of three families on my partner's side, the kids called any kid remotely close in age to them cousin. Drawn together like rubberbands, they sized each other up, my 14-year-old cousin (partner's cousin's son) remarking to his brand new 12-year-old cousin: "I bet I could take you down." 12-year-old cousin told us his nickname was Beef Stick because he was skinny but strong. "He doesn't look that strong to me," 14-year-old snarked to me, overly loud, making me giggle. This was his way of connecting. It didn't go over well with the cousin, but it did with me.

Two cousins going into fifth grade attached themselves to each other without so much as a hello. "Are you terrified of your school physical?" one asked the other as they strolled through the grass in oversized swimming trunks. The kids bored immediately of my explanations that so-and-so was not actually so-and-so's first cousin but so-and-so's mother's first cousin. By marriage. They had no use for this prattle, embraced their cousins, and called most any adult aunt or uncle.

My six-year-olds' eyes light up whenever she meets a cousin, and they flashed at the reunion, particularly when five cousins circled her—their configuration a mirror of the weeping willows dotting the algae-clogged lake—while uncle Rod changed the bandage on her foot stitches. "Ewwww," the cousins said at the exposed stitches. My daughter beamed with pride from her white plastic pool chair. It reminded me that cousins are magical, the gaggle of siblings you always wished your parents had given you, holding the potential for more fun than your own siblings whether they actually deliver or not.