Minette has three French cousins (my brother’s children) and two Indian cousins, one living in England (Appa‘s sister’s son) and one living in India (Appa’s cousin’s daughter). They are all older than her but close enough to get along well. She enjoys spending time and learning from them. I guess that, being a single child, she sometimes relates to them as her would-be siblings. In Tamil, as in many other languages, cousins are often called “brother” and “sister”.
Looking at their interactions I can see how getting together expands her and their world in a way that we, the parents, could not. They speak English, or French, differently. They live different lives. Yet they have enough in common to talk, have fun, and make meaningful memories together.
I remember our 8-year-old Indian nephew telling Minette about the Roman Empire in the sun-drenched yard of Appa’s grandparents’s village house and Minette and our 10-year-old Indian niece drawing and painting together in her Kerala house last spring. I remember Minette and our 15-year-old French niece doing craft in our Cleveland home last summer.
Last summer was also when we traveled to Grand Teton and Yellowstone with all of my brother’s family. Our kids got to discover incredible natural wonders together. They swapped cars and shared the same cabin at night. As they chatted and were silly together, I could feel that Minette was growing up and becoming less dependent on us.
Perhaps not so randomly, we lost Chien Rouge, the dear worn-out stuffed dog belonging to her oldest cousin that Minette had elected as her own lovey when she was not even one, in Yellowstone. We were not able to retrieve him in spite of our persistent efforts. A heartbreak for Minette, and for us as well. I confess that I feel sad even now when I imagine him lost and lonely somewhere out West.
Minette’s connection with her cousins brings her something else than the one she has with previous generations. It allows her to understand what life is like for kids in England, France, or India today. She can relate to their cultures and ways of life more immediately, and more currently. This is particularly noticeable in the way she speaks French. She has for example distinctly adopted expressions and intonations from my brother’s children.
Her cousins are also the people that will span the longest stretch of time in her life, from infancy to old age. I am trying to picture them as the old men and women they will be someday; probably spread over the world, emailing (or whatever humans will be doing towards the end of the 21st century) and meeting from time to time — I hope.
As for now, it is up to us, the grownups, to give our kids the opportunity to meet and build relationships that will stay the course. As it happens, fulfilling this parental “duty” simply means getting together often enough, something that makes us genuinely happy.