By Guest Blogger, Shannon Blair
July 24th is National Cousins Day each year. My sister-in-law and I unwittingly started celebrating last March when the pandemic struck. We both operate in dual-income households with school-aged children. She and I were puzzled about how to navigate such an upheaval to our work lives and our children’s schooling, so we put our noggins together. We came up with a solution that has worked so well we’ve done it three times so far–and are already planning the 4th for September.
Two caveats to keep in mind should you decide this might be a good option for your households:
1) Parenting styles need alignment. You should discuss beforehand (and be willing to agree or compromise) on sticky matters like sweets, bedtime, tech use, remote learning, and other concerns. Be prepared to let a lot of the lesser important things go though. Remember, it’s camp. It should be fun for them (and you)!
2) Use good health sense. Pack masks, converse about precautions both families have been taking, monitor for Covid-19 symptoms, and play it safe when in doubt.
What is Cousin Camp?
Well, it can look however works best for your family. For us, it involves choosing optimal times to meet up halfway (Thank you, Cracker Barrel!) for a 3-4 day kiddo exchange. We choose weeks when each of us needs extra help due to conflicts with our spouses’ schedules and/or other childcare options.
Not only has it offset a lot of the stress of these times, it has grown us closer as a family. I have inside jokes with my nieces now, and the “primos”–as they like to call themselves–are more like siblings than cousins.
During the 1st Cousin Camp last March, I still had to work and the four children still had to complete school. I volunteered to take on the first exchange since I could work remotely whereas my brother and sister-in-law could not immediately.
To my surprise, it went better than expected. We maintained schedules and everyday life as much as possible–with plenty of opportunities to goof off too. We started figuring out the whole learn-from-a-distance thing together, making it less scary for us all.
When the bigs were working, the littles did activities like sidewalk chalk, scooters, or DIY maker space. When the littles worked, the bigs chose to do things like ride bikes, read, build Legos, paint, or explore the creek behind our home. All the kids helped prepare dinner each evening and even came together to help cook and deliver Texas Hash and cookies to support the Men’s Shelter. When everyone could take a break, we went hiking around nature trails, Zoomed with the grandparents, or played games.
The most recent “camp” was away for my kids so that I could redesign my courses for fall. They had a blast exploring Winston-Salem and even had a chance to take a field trip to see the Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks at The North Carolina Arboretum.
We’ve enjoyed these “camps” so much that my husband and I decided to invite my twelve-year-old nephew on the other side of the family for a “cousin camp” in June. We thought it would be memorable for him and our son to learn to water ski together with their grandfather. It was! We have great footage we will treasure for a long time.
Admittedly though, I was worried an older boy might not find “cousin camp” all that fun; therefore, I added in some simple activities I knew he might enjoy like gross experiments, catching bugs, and tougher hikes. Here are some that were big hits:
– Bouncing eggs
– Bead bowls
– Mentos and soda explosions
My other sister-in-law and I were like-minded about video games and cell phones, so that part worked out well. In the end, I think my nephew genuinely enjoyed getting to just be a kid for a while longer, offline–and didn’t even mind being a little “bored” now and then.
Our little monkeys are growing bigger by the day, so it’s special to see them have more experiences together than just around the meal table over holidays. I hope they’ll carry on the tradition themselves one day too. Or at least have a good laugh at how crazy their aunts and uncles were!
Shannon Blair is wife to Sam and mom to Jay (10), Nora (7), and Tater (78 in dog years). When not teaching writing at Central Piedmont Community College, she can be found getting muddy in the garden, wreaking havoc in the kitchen, running and then un-running with a local craft brew, struggling to achieve Crow pose, reading, or trying to figure out which story to tell next. Stop on by and see how she can help you tell your stories too at pinkpenwriting.com.