Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cousins' Weekend

I have 13 first cousins on my Donley side of the family. And while the saying goes "you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family" -- these are people that I would happily choose!

In 1986, many of "The Cousins" had started to reach adulthood -- they'd finished high school, were either in college or had finished it, and a few had gotten married. The rest were teenagers, just finishing their high school years. One of the places that our extended family had always enjoyed was the Lake of the Ozarks, in mid-Missouri. My parents were renting a condo on The Lake that summer, and thought it would be fun to invite all the cousins for a weekend of water fun. Invitations were sent, and the first "Cousins Weekend" was underway!

We had a small turnout that year, but the word spread of how much fun the ones who did attend had, and the next year the event grew. Over the years our families grew too, as more of us married and started having children of our own.

This last weekend (from Thursday to Sunday), we had the "22nd Annual Donley Cousins' Weekend." One condo doesn't hold us all now! There are ten families who frequently attend, although the number fluctuates from year to year as bigger families mean more people's schedules to work around.

Lots of people have family reunions -- what's so different about "Cousins' Weekend?" I think the difference is the time. Our Donley family is good about getting together as a whole: we have single day "holiday gatherings" about three times a year. And it's nice to see everyone then, but with the big, multi-generational crowds and a couple of hours centered around a meal, you don't have time to do anything but some fairly superficial visiting. During Cousins Weekend at the Lake, we have four days to relax and talk, play and eat together! Over and again, I hear from my cousins that the time is what makes the difference.

The original intent of Cousins' Weekend was to help keep my generation of "first cousin-friends" together. I have to say that my favorite part over the years has been watching the friendships develop between our children (2nd cousins), many of whom are teenagers now. Some of them live close together, and go to school together, but about half have spread out to other cities and states, and this is the only time of the year that they really get to spend any length of time together.

I encourage you to think about planning a Cousins' Weekend for your own family. Find a destination within a day's drive of as many of your group as possible, that has recreation opportunities for you to build a weekend around. For us, it's boating/water activities at the Lake of the Ozarks, but there are great recreational areas in every state in this country! Sharing the living space in condos helps cut the costs for families, but still gives you the privacy of your own room.

The best part is that my children are learning that "family" means more than just the four of us that live in our home....and more than just the eight of us that gather at my parent's house. They have a bigger family that is very real, and is out there....that they are looking forward to seeing again soon!