A dozen cousins, spread about

Between my siblings and myself, we have 13 children, which means that each one of them has a dozen cousins. They don’t get to see one another all that much, unfortunately, since, like most American families, we’re spread around a bit.

Last weekend, I took two of the boys to see my sister in Winter Park. She lives in Boulder but also has a condo at the base of the mountain. With her oldest already in college at the Naval Academy, it’s not often they have all four of their kids in one place – and this was one of those occasions. We didn’t do much; just sat around and talked while the kids alternated between video games and some reality show about dog grooming (who knew?). And even though my 6-year-old devoted most of his time to their two German shepherds, I know the boys love seeing their cousins; I know I always did.

My cousin base is a lot smaller. Dad was an only child and Mom had only one brother. When he brought his three kids to visit from Scottsdale once a year or so, it was like festival time. Kids seem to intuitively get the unique relationship they have with cousins. They’re like special friends – even if you’ve just met, the bond is already there somehow. And all this when I’m convinced the littlest ones still don’t understand that the cousins are Daddy’s sister’s children. Daddy has a sister?

Volumes are filled nowadays with woeful accounts of how fractured our families are. Jobs, sprawl, wanderlust etc. take us far from where we grew up, and the village concept — where men help each other fix cars and build homes and women help watch each other’s kids — seems a quaint notion that’s impossible to realize. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t need much beyond our immediate family, and even taking time to see siblings, in-laws, cousins and grandparents can seem an inconvenience.

How did we get so busy, so entrenched in this fortress-like mentality? Cars and interstates bear part of the blame. With roads connecting every corner of the country and gas, until recently, pretty affordable, the urge to move around was greater than the natural state of staying close to home. It’ll be interesting to see how much the changing landscape of transportation will affect society. Will we find that village again, especially when we can no longer afford to drive our SUVs any further than the local Safeway? Or will alternate energy technologies come along soon enough to perpetuate our itinerant nature?

For cousins, though, I think the time they get to spend together has just shifted from childhood to young adulthood. Once they’re all off in the world, going to college, working, whatever, I think there’s enough of them that they’ll catch up with each other on their own once in a while. The bond is already there, the proximity will happen along and our kids will maintain – however loosely – the links that hold our family together among the other 300 million folks kicking around the country.

For now, though, I try to make the trek down to Winter Park or Boulder when I can. But it’s not easy given the schedules of two large, busy families. Even friends who live across town present tremendous logistic challenges for get-togethers, which makes Boulder seem as convenient as Kuala Lumpur.

As for my own cousins now? I have one e-mail address, but I don’t even know where the other two live. I should check on that; I really should.




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