I sat on a back deck today, while my kids ran around outside and inside and downstairs and in the basement with their cousins and extended cousins.

There was a ‘show’ put on for the adults. There were kid power struggles. There were naps and tears and spills.

There were all the things I had growing up with cousins across the street and down the road.

I watched my two preschoolers interact in the hierarchy of family. The eldest cousin trying to boss the younger cousins, the smallest playing as the ‘baby’ in the ‘pretend family’ they acted out. I watched the boys segregate from the girls and the inclusion and exclusion of all of them at any given time.

I watched my daughter be bossed and then stand up for herself. I watched my son play and laugh with everyone not caring of the politics. I watched as the parents of these cousins sat and drank and laughed and lazily checked in on the kids every so often to make sure no one was lighting anything on fire.

A houseful of adults and these children were, within reason, left to play free of hovering mothers and fathers.

Then, somewhere in between seeing my daughter lead the all-kid band with a ‘LADIES AND GENTLEMAN I WILL NOW SING ABCs’, her rag-tag, caped, fireman hatted, backward princess dress wearing rockers behind her, and my son declaring he wanted to live by his cousins forever, I become profoundly sad.

Sad in a way I have not felt for a very long time.

This does not happen at home.

There are no frequent get-togethers with family and children.

This does not happen in California.

There are no cousins close. There are no family members with kids nearby.

This has not happened in their lives, until now.

To me, you grow up playing with your cousins. Second cousins. Family that is scattered in ages but usually just young enough or just old enough to play ‘with’ you.  That is just how you grow up.

It’s not just the ‘playdates’ or ‘park meetups’ or occasional ‘neighbor kid’ that comes to play.

These are constant, chaotic, companions that grow up with you. You always see them at birthdays. You always see them at Christmas. You always see them every other Sunday.

You always see them. Period.

This is going to sound very stupid, but I think the entire ‘midwest’ ‘kids playing in the basement while the adults had a few beers on the back porch’ thing…that really got me.

My kids do not have that. This is the first time in their lives they have experienced cousins.

Broke my heart.

Especially when my son and his second cousin are identical in age and looks and even ears. After a night out parents came home to find the boys in opposite rooms with mom and dad nearly taking home the wrong 5-year old.

Especially when my daughter, upon meeting her cousin from Germany, said ‘Mama she looks like ME!’ And then watching her find the courage to tell her eldest cousin she did NOT want her hair long but short so she could ‘look like Hala, ’cause I AM HALA.’

Especially when I realized despite being anxious to check in on the election and get to a tv in time for a hockey game, it was amazingly nice to let the kids run wild in a basement while I sat and chatted on the back deck.

I miss that.

Even if I now sit on the deck instead of roller skate around the pole downstairs.

I miss that.

A lot.


  1. awww darlin! You just made me sad and miss my own cousins. Of course, at this point, we’ve completely grown apart, but i remember being 100% close to them when we were growing up. they were my four constant companions.. I hope you find a way to give your kids that.

  2. Having grown up an air force brat with no extended family, I can’t even begin to explain the yearning I now have for this sense you describe of a place where I belong – where family surrounds with a constant warm embrace of familiarity and comfort. A place where I always have someone to play with who thinks I’m the best company around.

    Having lived in San Francisco, DC and a little bit of everywhere in between, I’ve now moved “home” to the only real one I’ve ever known. Where my mom is now settled, my sister lives, my brother died, and my niece and nephew play.

    And yet, having moved every few years of my life, I feel the constant tug of a nomad’s heart. I travel all the time – but somehow, I always make it home to my own backyard – in a little town in the middle of nowhere. A place I’ve probably said a million times I’d never want to live. But I do.

    Thanks for the reminder that there’s a really good reason.

  3. I miss this for my kids too. They might only see their cousins once a year if they’re lucky.

  4. I miss that too.
    My daughter only has 2 first cousins – the one here is 14 and despite the fact that we live 20 mins apart, we probably only see each other’s families once every 3 months. The cousin who is near her age (1 yr younger) lives in San Jose. She’ll be ‘meeting’ him for the first time this month when they come to visit – b/c she doesn’t remember the last time when she was 1 1/2 and he was 6 mos.

    But we have that with my cousins and their kids – all of whom are just a tad bit younger than mine. We used to go to Seattle to see one set – then they moved back with the rest near Dallas. In January, I watched her play with 6 ‘cousins’ and we did the backyard, wandering about the house, kitchen family thing… and I almost cried b/c I wanted that for her all the time.

    Not enough to move to Texas tho. Although sometimes…


  5. I so agree that this is sorely missing from our culture these days with families scattered to the winds.

    My sister has 5 kids and for a few years when they where young, lived nearby. It was heaven. She had to move, only 1 1/2 hours away but it was never the same again, especially for the kids – they missed so much. I mourn it to this day – she moved over 10 years ago.

    Growing up both of my parents were only children so I had no cousins or aunts or uncles. I always wished that I had!

    Grammas and grampas are just as important too.

    I didn’t see mine much until I was an adult – they were the best. My husbands mom and dad live about 10 minutes down the road and have played a big part in my children’s happiness growing up – extended family however much of a pain it can be sometimes can be magical for kids growing up and not something to be taken for granted if you are lucky enough to have it.

  6. At least your kids have each other. I have just one and she frequently asks about playing with others- altho she loves going to school partly to see other kids so that’s a plus I guess. I didn’t have a lot of cousins to play with but a lot of neighborhood friends and we spent hours in the woods- shockingly for today’s world- completely unsupervised for hours! It was the time of my life. Thanks for reminding me. A poignant post.

  7. AH! Roller skate around the pole in the basement was my FAVE! My cousins have always been dear to me since I’m an only child. They’re the closest thing I’ve had to siblings. And now that I have a son who is also an only child, it’s amazing to me how no other kid he meets compares to the relationship he has with my cousin’s son. They move and speak in parallel, like peas in a pod.

    But hey, at least your kids will have something to look forward to when visiting KC from now on…well, besides the smell of Nascar in the morning….

    It was awesome meeting you this weekend. Come back any time 🙂

  8. It’s not just a midwestern thing. I grew up with cousins right down the street, in the next town, and all over two counties. I live where I live because I wanted to keep my kids grandparents within reach. But the cousins have grown up and moved across the country and world, and it’s not so easy. The time that kids spend with extended family anchors them, gives them a sense of their place in the world.

    And it’s not just the cousins in your own generation. I understood so much more about myself when I got to know the women who came through the lines of my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ siblings.

    Imagine this: In 1988, at the age of 31, I spent an afternoon sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade and talking family memories with cousin Nonie, who was born in 1913. Her father and my paternal great-grandfather were brothers. At one point, I saw a photo of her at 16 that looked for all the world like my high school graduation picture, taken when I was 16. Even the hairstyles were close! When I showed her my photo, we had a good laugh. Not long after, she looked at me and said, “Now you know you come from somebody.”

    And, indeed, I did.

  9. By the way, I got so wrapped up in my own memories that I forgot to tell you that this is a lovely post. Safe and happy journey home to you and yours.

  10. I know exactly what you’re feeling. We both grew up with the huge, Polish, extended families that gathered for every birthday, anniversary, wedding, Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation and even funerals — and family reunions. The whole nine yards. It’s what you do. It’s tradition. Doesn’t matter who gets along and who doesn’t. There’s always someone at these gatherings just like ourselves, that we cling to. And the memories. We behold those memories and we try to savor them and give our children the same upbringing.

    Reminiscing…I can remember my ginormous family getting together at the baseball diamond to play a family game. The adults would drink Old Milwaukee, and the kids would run the bases. Best times…

  11. I know this feeling all too well. We are a couple three hours from Bacon’s cousins, but with all of “Life” it is hard to make the time to get there to let them roam free like we did as kids. The tears that result when we have to come home from all of the cousins are enough to make me pack it all up and move closer…but it isn’t an option, so I cherish every single second that we DO HAVE with them. And remember that someday he will remember these times with the same “old people” fondness that I do.

  12. This brought back memories of our trips to North Carolina each summer and/or Christmas, where the rest of our extended family lived. The scene you described amongst the cousins was exactly what I experienced. Hmmm maybe I need to hop in the “way-back” machine for a visit;)

  13. I did not have cousins (or grandparents) nearby when growing up. I wanted different for my kids, and still do.

    I understand your sadness, for I feel the same when we actually DO see family.

    I hope you squeeze every bit of love out of your visit 🙂

  14. Thanks for this post, it reminded me of every-other Sunday at my Grandma’s house for a huge home-cooked lunch and playing with the cousins. There was something special about seeing them so regular, over so many years, while school friends came and went.

    My kids’ have fewer cousins and they are 3+ hours away. It is sad. For all the freedom we have to live and work where we want, we have lost something too.

  15. sniff. There is still a tear running down my cheek. sniff. I cried!!! Well, sobbed really. sniff.

    I live 2,000 miles from my extended family .


  16. I totally understand where you’re coming from. My kids have my SIL’s kids that are 3 hrs away. They are the only 1st cousins. But my kids have 2nd cousins 20 minutes from us, and we rarely see them – holidays and family events. It seems that we are all too busy to make time for family today. It’s sad for our kids.

  17. I’ve been reading you off and on for a while now,…always a lurker! Don’t you just hate lurkers? 😉 But this post really got to me.

    I, too, grew up with my cousins…some right around the corner, another the same age as me and in the same grade in school, so we were always together. Other cousins that would visit 2 times a year and it was always exciting.

    My kids don’t have that either….they have some cousins at school, but they hardly even speak to each other. They know they’re cousins, and would probably have each other’s backs, if need be, but no getting together and running and playing. Well, it doesn’t help that my youngest is almost 14 either, but still!

    that’s what made being a kid so much fun…running with your cousins all day long, and putting on shows(we did that too!) and singing and playing house and all that good stuff.

    It is sad that todays’ kids don’t have that…now I’m gonna be sad all day long!

    great post!

  18. Amazing post. I can completely relate. Especially to the ‘rollerskating around the pole’ comment – that was what I mourned the most when my grandmother sold her house. We could do figure 8’s around the two poles fast as lightening on our skates.

    Growing up I had dozens of cousins around, and we would roam the neighborhood in the summer like hobo kids…dragging wagons and sticks and pets around with us wherever we went. The rule was to be home when the street lights came on, and if we weren’t to stop by the nearest family members house (we were related to someone in every 3rd house) and call.

    I try not to let my modern-day fears creep in to much when my almost-7 year old daughter wants to roam the street (in the middle of farms!) to go from backyard to backyard of friends. I loved that ‘freedom’ as a kid, and even though her cousins are 30 minutes away, we don’t see them nearly enough. So I have to loosen the apronstrings and let her roam with friends.

  19. I never had that, being a child of two only children whose cousins are a full generation older than they are and not all American (thus some of them live in Europe). And my kids’ cousins are teenagers and older, so they don’t have that either. I feel lucky that my kids have their grandparents so close. I only had one grandma and she lived all the way across the country.

    But we had the running around with the many neighbor kids. I want that for my kids. We have that with one family, but they’re about to go on vacation for 2 weeks and then, after being back home for one week, MOVE to frickin’ FLORIDA! GAH.

    So I think it’s a good thing that we do have those play groups and play dates and friends from school, even if they’re not related and don’t live in the same neighborhood.

  20. LextheMom says:

    This is a bittersweet post. We lived a good distance away from our cousins when we were growing up, but we did get to visit them each summer (on our own, old school stuff). Those were the most memorable & special times in my life, so I can relate.

    My oldest son has the closeness with his two cousins who live an hour away, but now the 3 of them are getting older (13, 14, 16) & have so much going on in their own lives, that part makes me yearn to rewind the clock & spend even more time if I could let them. My youngest 2 love the time they get to spend with the older ones, but again – it’s less & less time, now.

    The cousins relationship is a special thing & I wish it didn’t have to be so sparing with your family! It kind of was with ours (as kids), but we certainly made the most of it! Thoughful & emotional post! Thanks for sharing because without it I wouldn’t be reminiscing right now!

  21. Great post. This is exactly why I moved “home” after my husband died. I loved the big city we lived in, had an awesome job, had a great network of friends and colleagues, had a nanny who loved my son (who was just 5 months old when his daddy died), and we only lived 3 hours away from everyone. But it was too far.

    So, a year after my husband died, I found a job in my home town (a place where good jobs are scarce, the economy is not-so-great, and I hate the weather), quit the wonderful job I’d had for 8 years, and moved back to the town I thought I’d never live in again. And now we have lunch with my Grandmother and all of my cousins and their kids every Sunday, my son sees his Grandfather every day, I’ve reconnected with childhood friends, and my son now knows family the same way I did.

    I still hate the weather here, but it was worth it.

  22. I feel your pain. While I don’t have kids yet myself, I’ve been feeling homesick lately. My brother was telling me about his plans for his 21st birthday this past weekend, and suddenly living 700 miles from my Midwestern hometown didn’t seem so great anymore.

    I want to play poker and drink beer with my brother and cousins. I want to go to the Christmas party that my uncle puts on for his employees, nearly all family members or close friends. I miss home.

    Instead I’ll hang out with some friends from church tonight and watch the Lakers-Celtics game with my wife afterwards, but I’ll still wish I were home.

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