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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happiness is having lots and lots of cousins

By Monica Quock Chan

In China, the one-child policy means cousins rarely exist. Historically, Chinese have had specific terminology for each relative (e.g., "eldest daughter of my aunt or uncle on my father's side" instead of simply "cousin"). The policy has therefore caused a major shift for the traditionally family-oriented society.

On a smaller scale of change, I grew up with 17 first cousins, but our children have none. My husband is an only child, so no cousins will be forthcoming from his side of the family. My only brother and sister-in-law do not appear likely to start their own 'ohana. So it looks like our children will remain the only grandchildren on both sides.

On the one hand, this feels like an odd phenomenon to me (though I guess it is shared with millions of people in China). On the other hand, I am not sure if simply having cousins would make a difference, as I didn't grow up exceedingly close to mine.

With my dad being the youngest sibling, and my mom being the second to the youngest, all 17 of my cousins were older than me. While I was running around in diapers, they were getting their driver's licenses; when I was in elementary school, they were starting their own families. Even now, some of their offspring have long since graduated from college, while my youngest is only a year old.

My oldest cousin was born just six years after my mother but 24 years before me. The youngest is still five years my senior; not as large of a differential now, but it felt like it when we were little.

This age gap, plus our living miles apart, made it hard for me and my first cousins to relate. At our annual Christmas parties, my brother and I would be soundly beaten in games like "Trivial Pursuit: 1960s Edition." Now, of course, we are all older, and at our gatherings, we have more in common. So while we still might not classify our relationships as super close, they are getting closer.

One highlight over the past several years has been getting to know one of my cousins better, as he also lives here in the Islands with his wife and three girls. We enjoy meeting together, and our children always look forward to playing with theirs. With most of our relatives on the Mainland, it's been special to have 'ohana within driving distance.

In fact, our children have started calling their kids their cousins. Maybe with second cousins like these, they won't have to grow up "cousinless" after all. And in a culture that defines "auntie" and "uncle" more by the strength of the relationship than necessarily the blood ties, perhaps our children will have even more "cousins" in their future.

Monica Quock Chan is a freelance writer who lives in Honolulu with her husband and children.