Paying it Forward

Over the weekend I attended a family reunion of sorts.  First and second cousins, aunts and uncles gathered to celebrate two milestone birthdays.  I knew it would be legendary, our gatherings always are; last time a sticker fight of monumental proportions rocked my parents' house.  This time it was glow sticks and piggyback battles on my aunt and uncle’s front lawn. We’re pretty awesome like that. Over the weekend I chatted with relatives about what I’m doing with my life, listened to stories about my ancestors, gave hugs like they were going out of style, and ate more food than I will admit here.  But probably the highlight of my weekend was hanging out with my younger cousins, four of whom were in attendance.  You don’t know them, but trust me, these kids are awesome.  They are the children of my first cousins (all of whom are older than me) and are intelligent, inquisitive, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

I snuck them dessert before dinner, demanded high fives and hugs in exchange for stickers, and lost count of piggy back rides.  I even took a turn at playing the villain and carried one of the girls off from the playhouse.  Of course the other cousins chased us down and my role shifted from captor to prisoner—on the way I earned the honor of having my name on a wanted poster or four.  I’m still quite proud of that.

My aunt and uncle live in my grandmother’s old house, so as we ran through the yards and surrounding hills and wooded paths, it was easy to remember the times, not so long ago, when I was the younger cousin—walking through the same mystical trails and creating entire plots with only my imagination.

At the end of the weekend, I said goodbye to my cohorts with more hugs and high-fives and demands of letters and pictures.  As I said goodbye to my playmates' parents—my first cousins, the ones who wrote me letters and sat still to listen to my stories or play never-ending games of war—I was thanked.  I’m still not sure for what.  Yes, I hung out with, entertained, and literally carried off my younger cousins.  Maybe I did ‘make their weekend’ but at the very least it was an even trade.  I came home talking just as much about them, telling stories of adventures, full of memories that are still making me chuckle, and with a new drawing for the fridge.

But besides all of that, for me, this is just what family is.  Of course I’m going to play games and go on scavenger hunts.  Obviously I’m down for some serious conversations about sequins, nail polish, and the latest book for 12 year olds.  That’s why I’m here. That’s what being an older cousin is all about. I know because I have older cousins.

Twenty years ago my cousins made me feel special simply by taking an interest in my life and listening to what I had to say.  They wrote me letters, told jokes, and provided themselves as amazing role models. To think that I would try for any less is nonsensical.  I may not make it, but if I can be half of all that they were to this new generation, I will consider that a job well done.  That’s what family does—we pay it forward to the new generation.  To be a part of the chain is a privilege, and I require no thanks.