A Cousin

6 hours ago, the room I’m sitting in now had a playpen to my right and two turquoise suitcases to my left. My favorite cousin and her kids visited us from Toronto this week, fulfilling a tradition: trying to get all of us together at least every year or two. I remember when I left her house two summers ago. I was filled with genuine satisfaction, the kind that can only come when kids are full and I feel understood.

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A trip to to the airport began the inevitable sadness that begins lukewarm until it catches on that the new pattern is soon changing. At the security gate, Layla clutched onto Lillian while Zade and Michael took the impending trade in stride. Lillian left Layla a message on my phone promising a splash party with lots of candy, and almost-3 Michael invited us with his little voice to his “bo-day” party, his sweet way of approving of us. The visit was totally centered on the kids–their 3 meals guiding the day, their fun event centering it, and the bedtime routine leaving us spent.

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There is so much to write about their moments at the roller skating rink or at the pool,  but I’m staring out of the window over my desk and thinking about us–Par and me, the girls and the women.

When my family lived in Chicago, we’d drive 10-hours every year to visit my relatives in Canada. For the week we’d be there, I’d see their world with rose tint. My cousins’ life felt rich with freedom, familial support, and wealth. It was glamorous, and I didn’t feel like I fit in at all. I tried really hard though and loved even harder than that, spending so much time amongst my other cousins who all grew up near each other; I constantly searched for the right words and the right outfit, eager to get them to love me as much as I was in awe of them. When I finally grew out of my incredible ugly duckling stage, things inside me started to change, and right around that corner is when I also noticed I may have something to offer to someone I felt already had everything–friendship. And she gave me the same right back.

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at 19

Par flew in when I changed high schools my senior year to help soften the impact. She visited me in college and helped try to understand me through lots of heartache. She was actually there with me the night I met Kal; in fact, she was the reason we all went out in the first place and happened to meet him. What we both had in common as our lives adjusted more to each other is that we both hid stuff deep down, and we both had this unreasonable sadness that seemed to connect to our good old radio-voice Delilah, making us cry to all the Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Richard Marx, and Bryan Adams songs before we even had anything to cry about, or really before we could truly share the underbelly of our teenage hearts.

With slow glimpses into each others’ lives, born only 6 months apart, we’ve seen the truth, seen the real stories behind the awkward representatives we became around family.

Our moms are the only sisters in their family. In many ways, they are completely different–both showing their love and commitment in opposite ways. And Par and I have grown out of them and into our own version. We took the kids to the park yesterday and kept looking at each other, our faces looking the same to each other as they were when we were single and 20, then looking at our kids running around together and kind of wondering how it all happened–how we became mothers. We spent a lot of time talking about our odd place at 34, wondering about love and marriage, being a person and a role, how small things are adding up, how our reaction to our roles have these jagged edges. 

My brother said something to me the other day that made me think that so many of us claim that one cousin that is more like a sibling than any other member in our family. 

It’s not uncommon for either of our departures back home to not leave a stream of surprise letters in the guest room or unexpected gifts. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that Par, heart clean and deep, slipped in a note in between the bookends she bought for me at my favorite antique store. The letter started, “To My Dearest Sammy” (I was already crying by now); she wrote, “I am sitting at the desk you will write your first published novel” (so now the tears are hot and rolling), and then signed her thank you note with, “Love you with all my heart, Par Par” (and done–an ugly sob for a good quiet minute as I walked back and forth in the kitchen).

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So many times I stared at our daughters this week and wondered what part of the karmic leaf falls on each, or if it’s possible that one of them will be in tormented awe of the other and the other will be misunderstood and maybe even lonely? Will they suffer a scrambled version of our adolescence? Will they find each other by it and through it? Will Layla confide in Lillian her most coveted secrets, and will Lillian lay out her soul for Layla to see? I know there are boys involved in all this, but they are not the girls we are or the pattern we wonder about, not now anyway. We both wonder about our first-born girls and about ourselves.

Before they left, Kal took the kids out for a couple hours, and Par and I had two cups of tea and a brief time to relish in the last few words facing each other. After having listened to each other through the week, we prescribed each other a few things to help carry our young hearts through the phases of the woman, mother, marriage, and back to the woman. 

So I guess this post is just about how two girls can become two women, and how those women can then have two girls. And maybe it is about how this world will shape them, clouds and clouds apart, and makes them need to look at each other, hard and sweet, and remind each other that they are in there somewhere and we remember them, so that they can–together–honor the past honestly and prepare for the future soulfully.

 

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