BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Family

Aligning stars

Sometimes, the stars just align.  I tend to fret and worry — old habits die hard.  Usually, there is something during the course of a day that will spark a fear and fan the flames.  I am an over-thinker.  But this weekend was different.  It was very pleasant and joy-filled.

On Saturday, we had a family dinner.  Everyone was there except my oldest daughter and her boys – but then they live 7 hours away.  Quite a drive just for dinner!  Usually, when we get together, there is tension of one kind or another (maybe it is just me overthinking?), but this time it was really nice with no overshadow of angst.  We visited and watched the youngest grandson play, as he went from window to window looking for the “horth” (horse).  We put his snow clothes on and took him outside to play in the snow.  His uncle pulled him on the sled and it was precious.

A little later, his cousin arrived and we all welcomed him with big hugs.  The house filled with small voices and big giggles as the cousins played together and the adults greeted each other.

Our dinners are potluck, so we worked together to get dinner on the table and it was delicious!  The room then filled with big voices and funny banter.  Afterwards, we all gravitated to the family room to watch the two boys run and play.  It was like having dinner and a show.

This was a family dinner that I will remember although nothing monumental occurred.  I can’t even remember what we talked about – but it was just a fun gathering.  We enjoyed each others company and that was most pleasant.

Then, the next morning, I Facetimed with my daughter and two grandsons. They were eager to tell me about their trip to an indoor trampoline park and were so animated and happy.  It was wonderful to see.  I love it when they want to tell me every detail (the youngest one could barely get a word in edgewise but, as always, he acts so happy to see me and that is priceless).  I have missed them and it was good to see their smiling faces.  My oldest grandson has been a little distracted in the last month when we’ve talked – so it was great to have him anxious to talk and tell me about his fun adventure.

Yes, sometimes the stars just align.

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Jello

I have been dreaming about my mother every night for the last several nights.  In the dream last night, she still had alzheimers but only the early stages.  She could still talk and wanted to drive again.  She was heavier and more mobile in the dream and I kept losing her in the crowd.  Right before I awoke, I had just found her in Target and was horrified to realize that she had driven her car there.

In the dream, she was also angry.  Not at anything in particular, just slamming doors and scowling.

I have also been dreaming about my dad – sometimes he and mom are together, other times he is alone.  In one dream, he was living in a foreign country and I was trying to get him to move back home.   The odd thing about dreams of dad is that he never speaks.  I just know what he is thinking – without him talking.  Odd.  Perhaps because what I miss most about him is the sound of his voice and being able to hear him talk.

We lost my dad 15 years ago.  He had heart surgery and developed infection.  It was sudden and unexpected – truly shocking and heartbreaking for all of us.

We have been losing my mom for about 3 years now.  She has been slowly fading from view.  Losing her is no less heartbreaking but not shocking – just exhausting.  Mourning her loss carries a daily dread that you cannot escape.

It is hard to remember what she used to be.  Maybe that’s why I keep dreaming about her — trying to grasp some semblance of what she was.  It is like trying to hold on to a piece of jello.  It is difficult to hold without squeezing it through your fingers and the warmth of your hand causes it to melt and seep through the cracks, no matter how you try to seal it in.  You can’t stop it from melting but you can’t let it go either.

A mother’s tears

Kevin said, “I didn’t have an UNhappy childhood.”

Mom (Rebecca) with tear filled eyes replied, “It wasn’t as good as I thought it was.”

This line struck home with me.  Of course, my eyes were filled with tears also.

The quotes are from the series This is Us on HBO.  If you haven’t seen it, you should give it a look.  The series is about adult triplets raised by two loving parents.  The characters struggle through day-to-day life issues and there are flashbacks to their childhood to show the connection with the struggle.  I like the show because there are so many real-life, true to life, obstacles.  The characters have flaws that don’t just miraculously disappear when brought to light – as in real life, the struggle with those “demons” can be endless.  And, of course, despite it all, the characters love each other but everything isn’t “perfect”.

Meanwhile, back at the quote from the mom – this is something I think most mom’s eventually feel.  We want to believe that we gave our children a happy and wonderful childhood.  We remember working so hard to try to ensure that they would have wonderful memories of holidays, family dinners, campouts and vacations and that they wouldn’t need counseling when they get older.  Or Rehab.  We tried to pay attention to every little thing, all the little nuances of their personalities, trying to anticipate any problem that may arise.  We tried to plan fun activities that they might enjoy; dance, sports, band, choir.  We tried to teach them to be confident, to believe in themselves, to feel good about themselves, to be strong and have courage in the face of bullies and any other adversity.  I can remember very clearly trying to remain conscious of all of those different things that I knew to be important for a happy childhood.  But, alas, it wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

So, it brings me to tears.  It looked so different in my head than it actually played out.  I don’t think my children had an “unhappy” childhood.  Lord, I hope they had happy moments, good memories that emerge unsolicited like a sliver of light at sunrise. I know I do.  When I see a little child with a doll, or in cowboy boots,  or a little girl with curly long hair, or a smiling child with bucked teeth, or without teeth.  When I hear little kids laughing and playing together – or fighting and not playing very well together at all.  I remember rocking each of them to sleep.  I remember sitting in the stands watching them play a sport or at a band concert.  I remember each and every graduation, each heartbreak, each triumph.  Through the lens of time passed, things are so golden with just a small blurred edge — like a hazy dream.

Naturally, I can’t help but think of my own childhood.  I think of all the things I felt I missed, the things I needed from my mother that were never quite within my grasp.  I have no doubt that she made the same efforts that I did, felt the same anxiety and desire for things to be perfect.  Maybe she came to the same realization – that things weren’t as good as she thought they were either.

As Rebecca said to Kevin, “We had our happy moments together, I just know it.  I feel it in my soul.” To which Kevin replied, “I hope so.”  More tears.

The vanishing

It is hard to remember what she used to be like.  She has faded, physically and mentally, to a mere shadow of her former self. It takes effort to retrieve a memory from prior to this era of vanishing.

The hospice nurse recommended the use of a wheelchair to help prevent falls and because she no longer uses the walker, she is getting more frail by the minute.  It is rare to hear her talk.  I haven’t seen her smile in a very long time – although, others have told me that she still does.  Her only reaction/response is to eating – her last pleasure?  Or is it just animal instinct to satisfy a basic need – hunger.

It continues to be painful to visit her, to watch this decline.  You have to muster up your courage before you go and then decompress when you leave.  You sit in your car and you feel helpless and sad.  Your heart literally aches.  One thought plays over and over in your mind.  She would hate this if she knew.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  It has been 16 years.  While it was awful to lose him so suddenly – watching my mother go like this is so much worse.

Tips and tricks – part one

I have been alive for 59 years and 4 months.  Hard to believe.  It has been a long road of learning, changing and updating.  Here is a golden review:

Lesson 1 – life is transition.  Nothing remains the same, no matter how hard you try to squeeze it into the little plastic box.  People enter and exit your life on their own timetable and at their whim.  Not much you can control about that – other than how you deal with your gain and loss.  There’s always a chance they will cycle back through at some later point, but there is also the chance that they won’t.  Be open for both possibilities.

Lesson 2 – Motherhood is not easy.  Babies are adorable, cuddly, soft and warm.  They will love you forever.  That is not in dispute.  BUT they are also a lifelong commitment of pooping, puking, crying, keeping you up at night, making you worry from dawn till dusk.  There will be illnesses, trips to the principal’s office, fighting, injuries with trips to the ER, an endless array of financial needs (shoes, clothes, costumes, science fair projects, sports uniforms, dancing shoes, pianos, band instruments, braces, winter coats, summer gear, vacations, school trips), as a mom you are “on” 24/7.  It’s easier with a partner who can (and will) tag in when you are spent.  Someone who is there for the long haul and will learn how to anticipate the needs of said infant/child as well as you do or a close facsimile.  **See lesson 3 part 2

Lesson 3 – Partnership in a relationship is never 50/50.  Each person brings their own skillset to the relationship.  In the household, there will be a division of labor that works for each couple.  This division is constantly under revision, depending on the situation, and both partners must be flexible, vigilant and mindful.  Small examples:  If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.  Simple lesson for children AND adults.  This includes dribbles on the toilet seat.  Dads, teach your little boys (by example) to look before they flush and wipe up after themselves.  Hair in the sink or the shower drain?  Clean it out BEFORE you leave the bathroom.  Cooking meals – what works?  Who comes home first?  If one cooks, the other cleans up.  Cooking together can be fun too.  Yard work – what works?   Every “job” requires effort and elbow-grease BUT also provides opportunity for togetherness.  The key point is that both parties are fully aware that this is a partnership – the desire to play an active role is important.

Lesson 3, part 2 – Partnership in a relationship changes drastically when offspring are born.  It is unavoidable.  Mom becomes a guernsey cow (or it can feel that way) feeding and in total focus on the new family member.  Dad may feel neglected.  It’s up to both of you to modify how you view your relationship, and how you contribute to maintaining your relationship.  The partnership is now a UNIT.  There will be diapers to change, books to read, extra laundry and cleanup.  If you thought your life was in constant motion before, welcome to the hurricane.   The dance has changed but it is possible to continue building your relationship/family.  Again, flexibility is paramount.  Dad’s need to participate in the care of the child – a father’s bond is as important as the mother’s.  The best bonding mechanism is when dads have an active role; feeding, changing, bathing, rocking, reading.  Moms need to let dad “in” – he will do things differently than you do.  That’s the way it works, and works best.   Child-rearing is difficult.  Work hard to find the middle road, always.  And it doesn’t stop with infancy and toddlerhood – dads need to continue feeding, reading, transporting (pickup or drop-off at daycare, school, sport/dance practices, etc. etc.), cooking, shopping, cutting hair, learning to braid hair, etc. etc.  Remember: The division of labor is constantly under revision.

Lesson 4 – Pregnancy is a crapshoot.  Some people can get pregnant on a wink and a smile.  Others require IVF or other fertility assistance.   Every pregnancy is different.  Some women claim they never felt better than when they were pregnant.  Some women have just the cutest little basketball belly and from the back, you can’t even tell they are pregnant.  That was not me.  I felt like shit for the first trimester and into the second.  Constantly nauseated and looking for something to eat that would settle my stomach and make me feel better.  I gained far too much weight!  The last thing I ever felt like eating was salad or vegetables.  Bread, pasta and potatoes were my only saving grace.  I was a huge pregnant woman – big everywhere.  Toward the end, I had a huge round face and swollen ankles.  From the back, I looked like Sasquatch.   In regards to my heavy weight gain, my obstetrician (a man) said, “Well, you’re the one who has to lose it”.   And he was right…

To be continued….more lessons ahead.

Rituals

It is just two weeks until Christmas.  The month of December is always filled with parties and gatherings.  It seems as though every day is booked.  As a retiree, it is much less so but there are still Christmas-y things to do and attend.  There are gifts to buy, cookies to bake, friends to greet and grandkids to play with – it is a very FULL season!  It is a season filled with rituals.

I remember the days of Christmas programs, “Santa” parties Iwhere Santa arrives and hands out gifts!) and family parties.  Christmas shopping was daunting, always trying to find great and desired gifts (in equal numbers) and trying to get that dollar to stretch…  Nowadays, my immediate family draws names for our gift exchange and I am so grateful.  It is so much easier! You can buy one NICE gift for just ONE person.  There isn’t the usual pressure of finding multiple gifts, for multiple people and staying within your budget.  Of course, as a mom, I can’t bear not to get my kids SOMETHING but it is usually something small; socks, a serving bowl, a gift card, a screwdriver.  And the main staple for the stocking – a new toothbrush!  The gift shopping ritual and the toothbrush in the stocking ritual…

In my larger, extended family, we have a white elephant gift exchange.  Some people make gifts, some buy real gifts, some buy gag gifts and during the exchange, you can steal a gift.  It is a fun way to give and receive and there is no pressure to find the perfect gift for that difficult person who has everything!  The gift giving ritual…

When we first started gathering for this annual Christmas party, the rule was that your gift MUST be hand-made.  This was difficult for those who don’t build, sew, knit/crochet, or have some special artistic talent.  (Most of us do, but we just don’t feel that confident in our skills or have the time to come up with an idea and then throw it together on time!)  Eventually, the party evolved to being able to BUY something that was hand-made.  Currently, it is free-flowing: build it or buy it, whatever works for you!  The roll with the flow ritual…

There are those in the family who are extremely creative and talented.  Each year, those are the coveted gifts and you can easily identify them because they are wrapped in newspaper and bailing twine and they are LARGE and an odd shape.  My cousin, Charlie, builds something new and different every year.  Could be a bench, or a hall tree, or a basket made of rope and antlers.  Beautiful.  My uncle, Dib, is a welder and he will make some brave, new creation also.  Both usually incorporate horseshoes – a family trademark.  The creative artists’ ritual…

According to the rules of stealing, each gift can only be stolen twice so everyone has to strategically plan how they will steal a gift and actually be able to win possession of it.  There is some serious plotting between couples or in families.  We draw numbers to determine the order of opening gifts so that is an added obstacle in tactics and maneuvering as everyone gets into position to snag the gifts on the final steal.  The thief’s ritual… 

Each year, I make an afghan.  I start it in the spring and work on it throughout the year.  I am usually crocheting the last few rows the week of the party.  In a normal year, I will also crochet other afghans depending on how many babies are born into our family that year.  Crocheting is the one thing I can do. The crocheting ritual…

An afghan is a silly little thing.  It can be used on chilly nights – a lap blanket while watching TV or an extra cover on a bed.  With the advent of soft, furry, warm throw blankets, the crocheted afghan is becoming an “old” thing, fast approaching extinction. As I crochet each blanket, I am aware that it is something that will likely be tossed aside, used for a dog bed, put away in a storage box, or given to goodwill at some future time.  I will never know one way or the other.  However, I do take pleasure choosing the yarn and trying new patterns.  Of course, when I see the finished product, I see all of the little mistakes that no one else would notice.  I don’t view it as something beautiful or wonderful – but as something I “finished”.  Aren’t we always hypercritical of our own work?  The worrying ritual…

I’ve lost track of the number of afghans I’ve made but I’m proud of them just the same.  I suppose it is the same for any hand-made gift.  People don’t save things as they used to – myself included.  But I do have the afghans that my grandmother made for me.  Perhaps it isn’t so silly after all.  Years from now, I will be gone and someone will be saying, “oh yes, Bobaloo made that back in the day…”  The memory ritual…

Kids are the best teachers

I am a lucky mom.  My kids have been a treasure.  We grew up together.

I had my first child when I was 23.  It was November and I was living about five hours from my family and friends.  I was petrified to bring her home as I had no idea how to care for an infant.  She wasn’t an easy baby, not at first.  She cried every night for about an hour until she was six weeks old.  After that, she was a peach;  happy, smart, adorable and very loving.  We spent every waking moment together and she was my world.

My second child was born when I was 25.  He was a very large baby and very peaceful, rarely cried and quite pleasant.  He had these huge cheeks, wispy blond hair, dark brown eyes and was always happy.  I was much more confident bringing him home but then, at that time, we were living near family.  His sister was not thrilled at his presence.  Oh sure, she thought he was cute, but he took a little bit too much attention…  For six months of his life, we were a fun little trio.  Then, I had to go to work and things got a whole lot more complicated.

I had my third child when I was 30.  In the interim between child 2 and child 3, I had divorced, remarried, and had 2 miscarriages.  She was our little miracle girl.  The smallest baby thus far, she was like a little china doll with fair skin and light brown hair. We were all thrilled at her arrival.  Such a pretty, smart and dainty girl, she was all smiles and giggles.  She adored her siblings and they adored her.

My fourth child was a surprise package I delivered the very next year when I was 31.  He was born a little bigger than child 3 but he looked smaller because he was so thin.  His hair and skin were dark and his eyes were almost black, at first.  The first two months of his life, if he wasn’t sleeping, he was eating.  He eventually filled out very nicely.  Child 3 dubbed him “boy” and that is what we called him for the first few years of his life.  By now, I was an old hat at bringing babies home from the hospital.  I had lots of help and he was an easy baby, very happy, handsome and laidback.

As I look back now, I enjoyed motherhood.  Although at the time, it was very labor intensive and I was constantly filled with self doubt.  I had divorced when child 1 and 2 were very small and I worried about them constantly.  They didn’t see there dad very often and visitation was hard on them.  Also having to deal with a “step” family was an adjustment for them as well.  I was also working full-time and had to shuffle between shift work, babysitters and school.  It was exhausting and my time was spread very thin. Above all, I wanted all four of them to know they were loved but to grow into good citizens, caring people, loving parents.

I often felt inept as a mother and had to learn as they grew.  Lots of mistakes were made and some were corrected on subsequent children.  If I knew then what I know now – wouldn’t it have been better?  If wishes were fishes.

What I do know is that I am very proud of my children.  So much of what they are today has more to do with their own personalities and growth as adults than my abilities as a mother.  They are intelligent and caring people; loving to their partners; great parents – loving to their children but also intent on teaching them to be good people; they have good friends; they are good to each other as siblings.  I am go grateful to have grown up with them.  They taught me so much.

Who really knows?

Parenting is hard.  Not everyone should do it.  There are lots of “manuals” in the form of “self-help” books, thousands of them.  Every theory, every strategy, every study, every child-rearing notion known to man available in print.  Oh, and blogs galore!  Present company included.

I can honestly say that, as a parent, I read my fair share of books.  I also observed other parents and their children to help me decide what was the better plan of attack.  Raising children is like planning a war – preparing for battle each day – and you will all get plenty of battle scars, parent and child alike.  If you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean.  (They don’t want to wear that, they want to wear that.  Put it on and they don’t want to wear that either.  They don’t want to eat that not even one single bite.  They don’t want to read OR to take a nap OR to pee!)  It is exhausting!

My husband and I were very strict with our children.  We had very rigid rules:

  • No screaming unless you are bleeding or dying.
  • You must clean your plate – if you take it, you eat it.  (And you must try everything – at least a small portion)
  • Good manners are important.  No talking with your mouth full.  Say “please” and “thank you”.
  • No fighting!
  • Saturday was chore day – everyone must clean their room (older children had to help younger children)
  • Mom & Dad were in charge and there was NO ARGUING and you should never have to be told something twice.
  • If you are out playing and you hear my whistle – stop what you are doing and come to me. (this still works to this day and they are adults!)
  • If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.

I’m sure there were plenty of others (my kids could probably add to the list) but those are the major rules that I remember.  Of course, in hindsight, I do realize that in some cases we were far too rigid.  Meal times were often very stressful because my husband was adamant that everyone learn those good manners.  We both regret it now — although, they DO have good manners and could make a good showing at a meal with foreign dignitaries – but mealtimes should be a time of sharing and relaxation.

I do know that, as a mother, I needed to have these rules in order to keep my household moving forward.  When I was in my thirties, my friend told me about John Rosemond, an author on parenting.  I bought his book, The Six Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children.  It helped me immensely!  That was back in 1994 or so — but so many of his ideas remain true (to my mind anyway).

Life has changed.  There is so much technology and lives move much faster.  With divorces, same sex marriages, single parents – the core family looks very different.  There have been many new studies and there are new theories on how to raise children, as a species we continue to evolve in that regard.  But I am old fashioned, I still believe that the parent has to be in charge and while you can be less rigid than we may have been – you still have to call the ball.  You make the rules and you enforce them.  Children need to know that you are watching over them – they may not like it sometimes, but they know where they stand in the grand scheme.

BUT.  Parenting is hard.  Sometimes, you are co-parenting with someone who has no parenting skills.  You spend much of your time doing damage control.  Sometimes, you work a full-time job and are exhausted before you arrive home to your second job – parenting.  Who wants to continue the battle – 24/7?  Take it from me – rules do help.  In this day and age of loving the child and trying not to hinder their spirit – things do get muddled.  Before I understood what my true role as a “mother” was – I wore myself out trying to reason and argue and yell – basically, begging my children to behave.  Rosemond’s book helped me to realize that I was expending all of my energy and they were learning how to ignore me.  I wanted them to behave but I didn’t expect them to do so.

“Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that. They are mean. A parent who qualifies as mean does not yell. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say cool, calm, and collected.

From a child’s perspective, a parent (or teacher) is mean if the child discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what he says. No means no. It does not mean maybe. “I (parent) want you (child) to do thus and so” means the child is going to do it. It does not mean anything short of that.”  John Rosemond

Once I finally understood this and began to implement this attitude., I was truly amazed at the difference for my stress level.  The kids didn’t like it and it took a while for them to adjust but eventually they knew that the dance had changed.   I would love to say that I was a calm and stern mother for the rest of their young lives – that would be an exaggeration.  I still had moments of doubting myself and falling back into feeling like I needed to let them have their way because I did so love them.  There is a magnitude of outside influences for all of us.  Each one of us has our own road to travel and struggles to endure.  No two children are alike but they can accept (and need) guidelines and boundaries.  They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Even with the manuals, self-help books and advice from scads of sources — parenting is hard.  We do the best we can and when we know better, we do better.  It’s all in the knowing…and who really knows?

Versions of family

Each of us has our own version of the truth based on what we saw, what we wanted to see and what we choose to remember seeing.  Several people can witness an event but each person would report a different account with differing details.

I’ve always believed that I came from a close-knit family.  I’ve always wanted us to remain close throughout our lives.  I’ve wanted the storybook fantasy of a family — spending all holidays together with big family meals and seeing each other weekly, talking on the phone regularly and knowing every detail about each other.  Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?

I know that is what my dad wanted for his family.  He talked about it all the time.  He had lost contact with his own family because of his marriage to my mom.  His family did not like her and she didn’t really like them either.  For years, he missed family gatherings because of the disparity.  He tried very hard to bring everyone back together again – but there were many obstacles; hurt feelings and lots of blame and grudges.  He spoke endlessly about the importance of family.

It was only after my dad passed away that I realized my own core family was not as close as I believed.  We held it together for his sake.  Once he was gone, the interest in being close waned.   We don’t talk regularly – only when we happen to see each other or if there is some kind of news we need to share.  But then, we didn’t necessarily talk regularly when he was alive.  He was the one who maintained regular contact and kept us apprised of what was going on with each of our families.  He was the hub of the wheel and without him we seem to have collapsed.

Oh, we love each other and when we see each other, we are genuinely pleasant and loving.  But we don’t have big dinners together except at Christmas or some other big event — like a wedding or funeral.  We all live on the same road all within a half mile of each other but we don’t “do” anything together.

I’ve realized that my thoughts and dreams of being close — like we were in our late teens and early twenties — were just that.  Dreams.  Being young and naive, I didn’t take into consideration that we would all marry different types of people; work in different fields; have children and be busy raising them and attending all of their different activities; we would develop different interests and have other friends from every avenue of our lives.  I used to feel like I had to do everything my siblings did, follow in their path right behind them.  I didn’t allow myself to make my own plans or try to do something that was my own.  For years, I was afraid I would be cast aside if I didn’t stay within the boundaries my family role.

In the years since my dad’s death, I’ve realized that I was hanging on, with a strangle-hold, to my need for that “dream” of what our family should be.  Each time I was faced with the reality of what it really was, it made me sad and woeful.  Over time, I’ve realized that we are our own version of family.  We don’t spend a lot of time together but we’re still whole.  I don’t know every detail of every family member’s life, nor do they know mine.  Each of us has moved into a circle of our own but those circles touch each other like bubbles in dishwater – sometimes gathering as a group on one edge of the sink, sometimes joining as one large bubble in the middle.  We come together when we are needed – sometimes it is deliberate; sometimes it is happenstance.

We all have different versions of what we want and need from each other – our own truth.  It all depends on what we see and what we choose to remember seeing.

Cousins

“Ollie Bollie, Henry Benry, Jack Back and Charlie Barlie went for a ride on their four wheelers….they went to the ditch bank and threw rocks into the ditch.  Charlie Barlie fell in and Jack Back pulled him out; Ollie Bollie had a towel and dried him off.  They rode to Paula’s and played in the gravel then Henry Benry was tired and they went back home to Gawee’s.  They had a snack and took a nap and they had a great day.”

Try to imagine that as a song, none of the words rhyme and depending on the tune, it isn’t very musical but that (or some revised version thereof) is what I sing to my grandson, Ollie, when I am putting him down for a nap.  It is the “cousin” song – Henry, Jack and Charlie are his cousins.  Sometimes, the cousins will go swimming or one of them may fall off the four wheeler or they might feed apples to the horses.  I can tell that Ollie is picturing their adventures in his mind because he will ask me a question about something in the song that either needed explanation or that he thought was funny.  I’ve considered writing a children’s book with the cousins but I’m not sure their adventures would make sense to the outside world.

Cousins are like best friends only better.  In our family, the cousins are pretty close.  We spent a lot of time together as children and young adults.  We all attended the same school.  The cousin’s in my childrens’ generation are also close, although not all of them attended the same school at the same time.  Some cousins are closer than others.  We don’t get together as often as we would like, but once or twice a year, it is nice to see everyone and to reminisce.

It is important to my own children that their kids are close.  As often as they can, they get them together or talk about them so that they will feel a bond.

My cousin, Carla, is my best friend.  She is 8 months older than I am.  We were in the same class all through school.  She has been my idol since I can remember.   Carla was (and still is) very intelligent, well spoken, attractive, athletic, funny, creative, tough, assertive, and tender — all of the things I aspire to.  I’ve always paled in comparison but it didn’t make me jealous just a little envious.  I wished I could be more like her.  As it was, I got to ride on her shirt tail and be in the periphery of her prominence.  I felt important just by association.

When we were in elementary school, Carla was several inches taller than I was – she entered puberty four or five years ahead of me.  In our eighth grade promotion photo, Carla looks like a young woman and the rest of us look like little girls (we so envied her breasts).  As it turns out, when I finally did hit puberty, I shot up and grew to be several inches taller than Carla (but I was a little scant in the breast department).  Our graduation pictures from high school are much different but I don’t think many of us caught up to Carla in maturity and grace.

As Carla and I left our childhood homes and went out to make our way in the world, we have weaved back and forth into each other’s lives.  We have each had struggles and, magically, maintained a strong connection.  She continues to be my mentor and has helped me through countless dark days.  She encourages me to be my best self and always manages to reach through my fear and isolation helping to reveal my potential and strength.  We’ve shared the loss of our parents and other family members and,together, we’ve learned so much about family, strength and forgiveness.

Hers is the face I see in my strongest childhood memories.  Hers is the voice I hear when I need kindness, strength and understanding.  She is my cousin and dearest friend.  Cousins are better than friends.