A Murder of Cousins


Nope, I haven’t suddenly chosen a new genre. At least not yet. Instead, I’m smitten of late with animal collective nouns. (That there is the sound of dozens of blog post readers rushing for the exit.)

“Murder of cousins” as in “congregation of alligators,” “shrewdness of apes,” and “culture of bacteria.” Oh, and “murder of crows,” lest I let linger the misimpression that I’m advocating parricide. I’m not; I’m just playing with words again. Sort of. Let’s see where this ends up. 

We’ve just returned from a week-long trip to the chilly east coast. Thanksgiving with family. Two of my sons’ male cousins are roughly the same age as my sons. So that means four boys between 10 and 16. Right in the throes of it. The belly of the beast. Basically a 6-day cage match. And unlike the WWF circa George “The Animal” Steele, eye gouging and hair pulling are allowed. Encouraged, in fact. Like the obligatory appetizer on a prix fixe menu. Followed by a plate-filling entree of elbows to the ribs and head butts. 

I was an only child until my sister was born. So I had 14 years during which no one who shared my DNA actively strove to choke me out. More, really, since I’d like to think I couldn’t be sucker-punched by a poopy-diapered infant. This means that, just as I missed an apparently critical day of 5th grade when the mysteries of fractions were revealed, my childhood was completely bereft of family members beating the bejesus out of one another. Whatever the equivalent of tone deaf or color blind is for the (in)ability accurately to perceive and evaluate physical altercations among close-in-age relatives, I suffer from it. 

Whenever I hear the familiar sound of nylon-on-nylon and slaps to bare skin in the car’s back seat, I have to ask my wife whether my boys are genuinely trying to kill eachother, or is this just “normal sibling roughhousing.” I simply can’t distinguish one from the other. Even days after an incident, still uncertain, I try to make sense of things by searching for bruises or bite marks or loose teeth. Clear indicators, I think, of boundaries crossed. One of the few ways I can differentiate a flicked ear lobe from a superhero karate kick to the sternum triggering a somersault down a set of stairs. 

So if I’m dumb to the murderous intentions (or lack thereof) of my own offspring, imagine how woefully inept my judgment when we throw cousins into the mix. “Go on downstairs to play with your cousins, son. That ‘Knee Hockey’ game will either enrich your life as the sweetest of childhood memories, or leave physical and emotional scars that will be addressed on a therapist’s couch 20 years hence. I’ve absolutely no idea which.” 

So down he goes. Followed by the sounds of thumping, crashing and blood curdling screams. For hours on end. These are the noises one would expect from a flange of baboons, an obstinancy of buffalo, or a bloat of hippopotamuses, even. But among blood relatives?

In the end, my sons (and their cousins) appear to have survived the Murder of Cousins, as far as I can tell. Or maybe the bruises just haven’t shown themselves as of yet. I haven’t the slightest idea. 

Thanks for reading. 

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