My brother and his two kids are visiting us this week. My kids couldn't be any more excited about it all, especially T., who said having her cousin H. over to stay is like having an endless sleep-over party. But L. was pretty thrilled, too. When my brother pulled up in the driveway on Sunday evening, L. was the first one down the stairs. Unlike his sister, who wears her emotions on her sleeve, L. often wears his happiness behind his eyes, in a glow that's there, if you look closely.
Growing up, we didn't have any cousins on my mother's side until much later, when I was maybe 9 or 10, and then when we did get one he was all baby fat, naps and diaper changes and lived across the Atlantic--useless as far as interactions went for a good many years. The most amazing trip of my life, though, happened when I was in my mid-teens and my sister and I traveled around Thessaloniki, Greece with that same cousin, who had grown up quite a bit and was lots of fun to be with, in true cousin form.
We did have cousins in Massachusetts, who were about our age. My dad's older brother was lots of fun to be with, as were his daughters. They were slightly older than me--just old enough to play at big sister to me and my own sister, but still close enough in age to be fun. I loved packing up the car and making the long drive to visit them, heading to more northern parts in the winter where there was usually snow, or going there for in the fall and picking blueberries from the heavy bushes in the woods near their house. I used to love the feeling of familiarity and closeness I'd get when watching my father talk with his brother; the exchange of family stories about my dad's childhood, the way my cousins looked different, but seemed so familiar to me because they were our family; the only ones we had even remotely near to us.
There's something undeniably wonderful about having cousins, especially when you get along with them as well as we did with our uncle's daughters, or as my kids do with their own. I watch my niece play with T. and I see shadows of my own childhood games in theirs, traces of where I came from and who I am, perhaps hiding in the shape of my nephew's mouth--a mouth so like my brother's when he was a boy. Watching my niece from the back as she follows T. around the kitchen makes me think of T. at that same age, same wispy hair, same air of curious intent. The kids play beautifully, and having them here, watching them so happily being cousins together, makes me feel content, my life having closed around us full circle in good and comforting ways.
I still wish my kids could grow up with what I wanted so badly when I was a girl: cousins dropping by to play at all times, noisy weekend dinners, closeness that is sometimes messy, but always happily remembered later, when your family leaves and the house feels emptier than it did, and the kids mope over the Lego creations they built with your nephew--your own brother's child--only hours ago, and there are reminders everywhere, it seems, of where you came from, and what you often miss so very much.