I Want What My Cousins Had

Last night, I was in the shower thinking about a location for our family Christmas picture. I then remembered that I need to get a red velvet dress to match Cassie’s. From there, I thought about how much I love to have family photos in which we match, because my parents never did those. My aunts, uncles, and cousins did. And then it hit me. The most succinct summation of a great deal of my life:

I want what my cousins had.

You see, I have been processing how I felt about my cousin Jessica’s wedding. She is the first of my “baby cousins” to have a wedding. Almost all of my cousins on my mother’s side were there, from the oldest (42) to the youngest (16).  I felt a great divide. Part of it was undoubtedly the fact that all of my cousins over thirty, save one, are married with children. My twenty-something cousins do not have children. But part of it was something I couldn’t put my finger on, precisely. It was hard to explain. Until I thought about the matching clothes in the Christmas picture.

I want what my cousins had.

My childhood wasn’t a good one. It wasn’t Lifetime-movie-of-the-week material, but it sure wasn’t Norman Rockwell. I don’t know when I first verbalized wanting to live with my Aunt Sue and Uncle Bruce, but I was probably about 10. I don’t know if I ever told my aunt this, though. I might have, years later. In 2003, I was visiting her house. Her sons were telling me about how they wanted to live with “crazy Aunt Kathy” (aka, my mom) when they were kids. (They meant crazy in a good way.) I told them what it was like for me, and how I wanted to live with their parents. At the wedding, my cousin said, “They probably wouldn’t have been good for you, with the age you were and the age they were. They probably wouldn’t have let you do anything.”

It’s true that we were allowed to do anything we could afford, which for me mostly meant hanging out at friends’ houses or Denny’s until after midnight. But there’s a lot more to growing up than not having a curfew.

My “baby cousins” had material wealth that we didn’t have. They had family cruises and trips to Europe. They had houses practically on the beach. But even all of that is not what I’m talking about.

What my cousins had, what I never felt that my sister and I had, was their parents’ support.

At Jessica’s wedding, my Uncle Jon (her dad) gave a PowerPoint presentation toast. I didn’t allow my parents to talk at my wedding.

In 2005, my grandfather quickly became very ill. My Aunt Carol and her family came to visit. She kept repeating things over and over to  Grandpa; things that didn’t always have anything to do with the conversation. I became irate, and told her “He’s not a two-year old.” My cousin Jessica defended her mom. I marveled at that.

Imagine, being proud of your parents. Imagine thinking that they’re actually right.

I always remember my aunts and uncles cheering on my cousins at their many sporting events. I remember them taking pride in their children’s academic accomplishments. I remember them circulating videos of their performances. One of my cousins spent a semester abroad. One of them spent at least a “Semester at Sea.” One of my cousins is pursuing a career in the music business, as a singer. One of them built a playground for special needs kids – at least, that was her college project, ensuring that this playground was built.

There have been bumps along the way. I have seen that there is a fine line between “support” and “dependence.” But what I saw at the wedding was that these kids really can do anything or be or anyone they want to be. Because their parents taught them that, and they believed it.

Imagine that.

It’s too late for me to have what my cousins had – have. I can only hope that my kids will always know that Max and I believe in them, and are here to support them every step of the way, while still allowing them the independence they’ll need to be productive members of society. I can only hope they will allow their father or me to give a toast at their weddings.

And kids, I promise not to use any media, especially PowerPoint. I also promise to keep it under 5 minutes, so you can show how well you dance.

Jackson Dancing at Jessica's Wedding

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