When I was a kid in the Dark Ages, we wrote letters instead of texts. My first pen pal was my cousin in Florida. She was a decade older than me, but she was kind enough to write back and not point out all my spelling mistakes. In third grade, I was a flower girl at her wedding. It was the first time I ever met her.
I wanted my son to have a closer relationship with his cousins—even though we were an entire continent away from them. Whenever my siblings gathered for weddings, holidays, or birthdays, we flew across the country to join them.
Though we used miles whenever possible, my frugal Chinese-American husband complained about the cost, or about how it wasn’t a “real vacation” if we were visiting family.
Until he realized that Baby D would literally disappear for entire days of Nerf Wars, fort-building, sledding, swimming, and exploring with his older cousins. With so many playmates, we no longer had to entertain our child. We could, in fact, read books or watch a movie or talk to other adults. Heck yeah, that’s a vacation.
The same was not true when we visited my husband’s family. Andy’s parents were no help with childcare. They also decreed when their children would visit, and their children’s visit never overlapped (even though their house was huge). This way, Jay and Sunny got more help with household tasks by spreading out visits from their three children. This became more important—and also more understandable—when Jay’s health went downhill.
Unfortunately, this meant that Baby D saw his grandparents, but not his cousins. Only when Andy’s Earnest Christian Cousin got married did Baby D get to hang out with Cousin N.
Whenever possible, we visited Cousin N and Andy’s sister Betty in Iowa, but she took her kids elsewhere when they had vacations (like Europe and Japan).
Andy’s brother Denny lived in San Jose, but he married a Taiwanese-American woman from Los Angeles. They traveled to Los Angeles all the time—to see her family. Once a year, perhaps, Denny would give us a call when they were in town, and we’d invite them over. Their kids were a few years younger than Baby D, but the oldest boy adored his big cousin.
Yet, more often than not, we’d find out about their visits to LA after the fact. Denny’s Wife was all about seeing her parents and her friends.
The only way I could reliably get Denny’s family to visit was familial guilt. Andy’s birthday was at the end of November. Knowing that Denny always came to LA for Thanksgiving, I’d invite Denny and his family for a birthday dinner the day before or after Thanksgiving and say, “it would REALLY make your brother’s birthday if you and the fam would come.” They were usually late, but at least they showed up.
The funny thing is, Andy was ambivalent about seeing his brother. He’d agree that Dalton should see his cousins, of course, but he would have been fine eating the 6-hour cake, bread, and pot roast I made all by himself.
I couldn’t figure this ambivalence out. Was it because we came from different cultures? Was it because Denny and Andy were both men who go with the flow (i.e., whatever the wife wants)? Or was it because they had more interaction with their cousins growing up and never felt the lack?
I asked Andy, “Aren’t you bummed Baby D hardly ever sees those cousins, even though they’re here a lot?”
Andy merely shrugged.
Last Christmas, we left my family in Utah a day early in order to see Betty, who was in Vegas with Cousin N for his chess tournament. We drove through a brutal snowstorm at 5 AM in order to meet them for breakfast—the only time they had available.
Baby D and Cousin N were born less than three months apart.
But since they hadn’t seen each other in years, they eyed each other like feral cats after a brief hello. It was up to me to ask Cousin N about chess and keep the conversation rolling.
Betty would jump in with the occasional comment. “Baby D, did you know that you and Cousin N both like to sleep in your clothes?”
The boys would grunt, nod, and go back to the buffet.
Betty would try again, “Oh, do you hate milk, too, Baby D? My son does also.”
More monosyllabic answers and grunting.
On the drive from Vegas back to Los Angeles, Andy said, “That was painful.”
“Yeah. It’s too bad, too. They’re so close in age, and Cousin N, unlike Baby D, doesn’t have any cousins from his other parent. Just like your brother’s kids.”
A few days later, Andy arranged to meet up with Denny for dim sum. Denny’s Wife wasn’t coming. I dubbed it “Dad Lunch,” and stayed home.
An hour later, Andy and Baby D returned—with Denny and his three kids. I gave the younger ones some cookies and showed them how to play with the dog and cat while the dads had a beer.
Baby D and the oldest cousin weren’t interested in cookies or pets, though.
They were too busy wrestling.
23 thoughts on “Cousins: East & West Edition (#301)”
This post is so interesting!! It was a good read for me, because I always attributed my “white” family being so distant because of their anglo-saxon roots, but then this post proved me wrong (you had a similar thought I see, but on the flip side!). My family was opposite: I barely know my cousins on the East Coast, but I know almost all of my Vietnamese cousins — and half of them live in France! The closest auntie/cousin near me was in LA (me in Utah) and we’d mutually make efforts to see each other often.
I guess in the end it just depends on the efforts of the family to get together, regardless of culture eh? I think if my dad tried harder to get his East Coast family together, we would have had a better relationship. I didn’t meet my east coast cousins until I was 16!
I’m glad the “dad lunch” and your efforts helped get Andy closer to his other cousins! And good on you for taking the fam to the East Coast. It really is super, super important.
Sorry for the long comment haha. Nice post!
oops, I meant Baby D closer to his cousins, not Andy. I think I need to finish my coffee and properly proofread myself before commenting…
Me, too! I had more than one reader very nicely point out that I actually put in two wrong/ inconsistent names in this post!
Shall we blame Corona, or wildfire smoke?
Can you believe that for a few seconds I thought “of all the beers, why would she choose Corona?” My brain just wants to forget “THE Corona” aka Covid. In fact, I started with another mixup, when I thought of Baby D being the “West” and the Caucasian cousins being “East” because they live on the East Coast. Maybe I’m step ahead of my generation in liberating myself of old stereotypes and introducing new ones.
Ha! You could definitely see the white cousins as East and Baby D as West in this version. It makes more sense than forgetting the names of various people, at least.
I think your comment is proof that it’s really up to the Mom in each family, rather than the culture. It’s usually the moms who handle the social calendar and they, like your mom, are likely to prioritize their own family. Or maybe dads don’t care as much?
PSCS finds my army of cousins daunting, except for the few she knows she likes.
We had lunch with another one on Sunday, and she asked, “Do I know this one?”
“You’ve met her at least once, but probably not. She wasn’t at our wedding.”
Well, maybe she just needs a Power Point chart. I hear those are helpful. 🙂
I have friends who grew up with many, many cousins. Probably because of the nature of my upbringing – moving all over the country every few years – I never got the luxury of spending much time with any of my cousins. Which is to say, I’m pretty sure we’d eye each other like feral cats after a brief hello if we were suddenly thrust into the same room together, too!
I know, I had friends who saw their cousins all the time, too. But we never did. Of course, my siblings and I have more money for travel (and more money period!) than my family had growing up. But I also make it a priority, especially since Baby D is an only child.
I didn’t really know my cousins growing up nor do I know them now. We lived in different states and were raised with different morals/priorities. Family was never a big deal. Don’t know if that’s good or bad, it just was/is.
I grew up with 50+ cousins. I was the youngest cousin. There was a 30 year age difference between me and the oldest so I wasn’t close to them all but I did know them especially when we were young. Nowadays I go years without seeing one. Mostly just a funerals of other cousins.
That’s…very depressing. I’m now wondering if that’s what my kid has to look forward to. But I guess we have a whole bunch of weddings first.
All the fun stuff comes first.
This was sweet. There’s nothing better than cousins and free childcare.
Baby D was lucky enough to have OLDER cousins that kept a nominal eye on him. He doesn’t like it so much when he has to entertain younger cousins now that he is older. Especially Red-haired Baby Cousin.
These are some fantastic kid photos, especially the first one.
It’s amazing how some people care about family ties and with other people it’s like pulling teeth to get them together.
My mom was an only child. My dad, though, had three brothers. Their mom was mentally ill and therefore deported to England from Canada. The boys were put in an orphanage for about a year. Their dad, who was working in CA, finally found out about it and came and picked them up. After all that, my dad took it upon himself to watch over his two younger brothers. So the three of them were close, and my sister and became knew their kids, our cousins. We’re still close–although one of them gets on all our nerves with her preaching and her conservative political views.
My youngest grandchild is an only child. He has lots of friends, but he really values his relatives. I wish he had more cousins.
Good for your dad. Maybe we don’t recognize the importance of our immediate family until we lose part of it. Unlike a lot of fathers, my brother is very proactive when it comes to getting the cousins together at holidays.
Oh, when we asked Baby D last year about vacations, all he said was “snowboarding and cousins.” Cousins are huge.
Sigh…I miss my cousins! I basically never see them anymore 🙁 Good for you for encouraging these relationships amidst great adversity.
None of them used you as an excuse to visit South Africa?! That was very silly of them.
You’re right! I’ve had many and an aunt, but no cousins.
I have several cousins more or less my age on both sides of the family, but I was closer to my dad’s side ones because they lived in the same city. I only saw my mum’s side for a couple of weeks in the summer.
It looks like Baby A. will not have any cousins. Unless we count my brother’s dog as one…
You can have dog cousins, although Baby D likes cat Cousins so much more.