Friday, July 27, 2018


For as many summers as my children can remember, their California cousins have flown east from their suburban home across the country to the relative wilds of northern New England. The arrival of the California cousins – or the Tennessee cousins or the Texas cousins – is an eagerly anticipated event, one the kids talk about for weeks beforehand.
NH & TN cousins, many years ago

My mother, who is an only child, often says she doesn’t fully grasp the relationship between siblings, even after having raised three of them. I feel the same way about cousins. Considering both my parents come from Irish-Catholic families (and each has dozens of cousins), it seems incredible that I only have three first cousins.

I love my cousins dearly, but I’m stuck age-wise between them and their kids. We had regular family gatherings when I was growing up, but the age gap meant we weren’t running around together playing capture the flag or giggling like crazy over nothing much, which is what my kids spent much of the middle of July doing.

This year we met the California crew on Cape Cod – two families with kids ranging in age from 9 to 16 years, a pair of grandparents, and another aunt and uncle thrown into the mix – for a week of beach time. We returned home to New Hampshire to find my husband’s Texas cousins and their kids visiting, which meant a happy continuation of cousin fun.

The cousin bond is special – not quite sibling, but different than friend. Maybe it is the novelty of only seeing each other once a year (or less often), or a sense of familial loyalty, or that they share some of the same stories. Whatever the reasons, the kids fall into the relationship each visit as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

In past years, when the California cousins are on the East Coast, the kids have established a regular list of things to do – hiking Bald Knob, kayaking Long Pond and looking for crayfish and salamanders, toasting marshmallows at the backyard firepit and watching fireflies flit through the summer night.

This year, we got to introduce the California crew to some of our favorite haunts on Cape Cod, where we’ve gone for a week each of the past eight summers. We visited old favorite beaches and explored new ones. We played mini golf in one of our regular (and not so busy) places and checked out a new course down the road from where we were staying.

We got ice cream at the same place my family did when my brothers and I were children and watched the kids run around on the beach we played on when we were little. We even found a new candy store to substitute for the annual cousins visit to Chutters.

From our rental house at the Cape, the kids could tramp down to the beach whenever they felt like it. They usually paired up – one New Hampshire kid, one California kid – in a revolving mix of personalities and activities. My kids look up to their older cousins, all teenagers now, and the older kids seem to appreciate the chance to do kid stuff for a week with a slightly younger crew – and no other teenagers to impress.

The timing of this year’s cousin visits from various corners of the country meant that bidding a melancholy adieu to the California crew was quickly followed by happy anticipation of hanging with the Texas contingent. Before we’d even walked through the door back home, the kids were clamoring to see their Texas cousins, who have visited the past few years.

Forget recovering from vacation, we jumped back in to communal dinners with 20 people – including 10 kids ranging from baby to 13 years old. There were impromptu soccer matches and rounds of hide-and-seek and other made up games. The kids piled into the pickup truck to drive through the field and visit the neighboring cows. There was plenty of general goofing around.

With all the kids growing older, I’m not sure how many more years of week-long summer visits we’ll have. But I know my kids will remember fondly these wild weeks of cousin fun well beyond childhood. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the July 27, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.

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