I have a lot of cousins. Admittedly, I only have 5 first cousins, but then I also have my mother's cousins, my father's cousins, my uncle's cousins, my cousins' cousins, my grandfather's cousin's children, my grandfather's cousin's children's children. And they're all just "cousins", because quite frankly, though I can do the whole second cousin twice-removed thing, most people don't then know what I'm on about and it's easier to just call them all "cousins" and if anyone really cares, I can explain exactly how we're connected later. If it actually matters. And, to be honest, nobody really cares.
At various times in my life some of my cousins have lived with me. I've been on holidays with them, I've descended on them in a soggy heap when my life has gone pear-shaped, I've spent more time that was probably good for my liver with them in a shared university house while I was still at school but trying to escape from home. I've travelled to far flung corners of the earth with them, or to visit them. We're a close-knit but far-flung family in many ways.
This weekend we went to stay with one of my cousins, let's call them MrCousin, MrsCousin, GirlCousin (14) and BoyCousin (12). They used to live only about twenty minutes away, but work took them further south and on Saturday it took us over 4 hours to get to where they now live. LittleBear was enormously tolerant of a very hot, very boring drive on very congested motorways. And we then proceeded to have a fabulous time. Not just because I barely had to do anything to entertain LittleBear once he'd discovered BoyCousin. And not just because we were waited on hand and foot with glorious food and drink by MrCousin and MrsCousin. And not just because we had a chance to sit and talk and have (hot!) cups of tea while the three smaller people played together. And not just because it was beautiful warm, sunny weather. And not just because GirlCousin and BoyCousin were delightful and a reassuring glimpse into the future of bigger children who are independent but still loving and affectionate. And not just because MrsCousin has Been There and Done That with picky eaters, and took LittleBear's foibles in her stride. And not just because LittleBear behaved beautifully and we didn't have a single sobbing meltdown all weekend. All of those things, but also because I got a chance to talk to my lovely cousins, who I haven't really seen properly in years, despite being very close for so many years before they moved. We completed each other's jokes, we reminisced about family absurdities from years ago and it felt like it hadn't been nine years since they moved to another part of the country.
Meanwhile, I find myself disheartened, disappointed and hurt by the other side of the cousinly coin. Among my rafts of other cousins are more that I also love, that I have always had fun with, that I've been on holiday with, that I want to spend time with, and I keep reaching out to...
How about you come and stay with us?
Yes, we should make a plan sometime...
We could come and see you - we'll be in your part of the country soon.
Yes, we should make a plan sometime...
We'll be visiting GrannyBear in August - why don't you come over for lunch while we're there?
We'll have a look at our calendar...
There's always an assurance that we should make a plan, but never a plan.
And no matter how many times I invite them, or try and make a plan, I'm always deferred, delayed, put off, and nothing ever happens. They're busy. I know they are. I know it isn't really about me. Their immediate families are scattered around the world, and they spend a lot of time travelling. I get it, I really do. And then, I hear that they're going to see one or other sets of my cousins. Or I'm told about a party for a different arm of the family that they're going to. Time and again I discover how often they see the rest of my family. But never me. I try not to take it personally. I try not to feel hurt. I know that it's not a slight, it's just a matter of being busy, not being organised, being in the wrong bit of the country.
But I'm reaching a point when I can't do it any more. I'm sure the coversation they hear goes something like this...
How about coming to visit us?
Sure, let's check the diary... <diary is full of business trips, family visiting, holidays, more business trips, more family visiting>... um, it's looking pretty full, how about later in the year?
OK. Let's make a plan later in the year.
And what I hear?
Like me. Please?
Love me. Please?
Want me. Please?
It doesn't matter any more how much my rational mind knows it's not about me. The rejection still hurts. Even unwitting rejection.
After all... I'm just a girl, standing in front of her family, asking them to love her.
Just for a while, I can't keep asking.