They say that your cousins are your first friends. And these friendships usually start at grandma and grandpa’s house. Sometimes at aunt’s & uncle’s. Sometimes at home. These cousins turned friends know all about your quirky family and special-to-you traditions that no one else does quite like your family. They will “get” you with far more depth and understanding because they were there since the beginning. It’s how high school friends sometimes trump college friends in the “getting you” department because they saw it all go down. The good, the bad, the awkward.
Cousins may miss some of the everyday happenings of your life, but they are lucky because they usually share the special days. They know that Thanksgiving is at Aunt Sue’s and Christmas Eve means sitting in the balcony at church. It means passing around whoever the little ones are at the moment just so they can make it another twenty minutes. It means sharing special experiences at grandparent’s homes because sometimes parents just don’t need to know. And sometimes, like this past week, it means family vacations together.
Parents do 10 loads of laundry, plan meals, buy swim diapers and make sure all the other loose ends are taken care of. They pay bills, buy sunscreen, and then run back to the store for one more thing. Coolers are cooled, cars are packed and car seats fastened. Music is played and road trip commences. Parents stress about the details and the kids do what they do best – play. And when we’re smart, we try to take a page from their playbook and play, too. Think less, enjoy more and just be. Oh this lesson that requires after school and summer school and repeated tutorials at the behest of little ones.
Something about the monotonous thrum of an engine, white noise of some really bad country and the sound of heavy sleepers in the backseat to set you straight again. Maybe it’s all that fragility packed so tightly together in the confines of an overstuffed SUV barreling down the road at 72 mph. It doesn’t crystallize everything, but at least a couple of things. It’s not quite as big and wide as the perspective gained on an airplane, but it ranks right up there.
And we adults just try to keep that jar of marbles in our peripheral view. Best analogy I ever heard about parental influence in a child’s life. One marble in a jar for every week of influence we have in our children’s lives. We start with 936 marbles in our jar. 936 weeks from birth to 18. Every week we take out a marble, and with it a little influence. 936 Saturdays, 18 summers, 18 Christmases, 10 road trips, 5 vacations? How many are left? What will they remember about this trip? Because it is always different from what we remember. And the beauty of childhood is that often their memories are lovingly touched up with the shine of youth, energy and optimism. Have you ever watched one of those documentaries in which an interviewer asks a parent to describe themselves as a mom or dad and then they ask the child? The parents are so hard on themselves. The children – so sweet, so undaunted by our many faults.
At the end of a week, you might be ready for a shower back home, longing for the comfort of your own pillow, but they are already talking about next year, wondering if they can go swimming just one more time before you go. The shift from the time of your life, to the time of their lives is subtle, but nonetheless apparent. They become the time of your life and you become a launch pad for them to spring forth to find their own time, their own lives. Even though the cousins in our family range in age from nursery rhymes to driving temps, I never tire of watching them become. Watching them become kind and thoughtful human beings. Watching them become creative and smart. And as Dr. Seuss would say, enjoying their journey to become wonderfully unique, “youer than you.”
And any cousin that will jump in to the air in rocky lake water just so the little ones can hit their target with water guns is tops in my book. Cousins that will whirl you around in the air just to make you laugh. Cousins that will share their poker money, so the younger ones can “play.” Cousins that will guide you around on a huge inflatable shark in frigid Michigan lake waters so you don’t float away. Tops, tops and more tops.
We did a lot of things on our trip. The boys kayaked and fished. We went hiking and antiquing. We went for walks, picked raspberries, and made wildflower bouquets from weeds and wanderings. We drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of licorice. Because that’s what you do on vacation.
We visited the Ishpeming Shaft Mine, which stands in many places as it was when the last worker clocked out and hit the light switch for the final time in 1967. Glimpses of Abandoned America still around to remind us of how lucky we are that technology has surpassed so many of these dangerous occupational practices.
So long Michigan, you did us right.
And before I go, just one more toast.
Cheers to cousins.
Cheers to Tim Allen’s Pure Michigan.
And cheers to making each marble in the jar count.