Cousin-induced motion blur

My cousins are always in motion.

Since I don’t have little ones around every day, I really look forward to seeing the kids in my family. On one side is our Virginia crew of rambunctious, adorable boys (and their equally great little sister!); and from Pennsylvania, we have a gaggle of girls to delight and entertain us. All my little cousins — actually second cousins, in most cases — are under the age of six, so it’s never dull at our gatherings.

Whether I’m coloring, running, doing “karate” (Peyton’s favorite, learned from many a screening of “Kung Fu Panda”) or jumping on a trampoline, our kid crew teaches me to live in the moment. I absolutely love spending time with them — mostly because they’re hilarious and random. They let me color in their Barbie coloring books. And yes, they definitely say the craziest things.

It’s both my blessing and curse to be so aware of the passage of time — and I know that the next time I see Trinity and Peyton, my northern cousins, they’ll be older. Different. In school. With new friends and new experiences. And because they don’t see us too often, they probably will have forgotten all our silly jokes and games from this summer and their Thanksgiving visit. I will remember them, but they won’t remember me.

So I tried to document our family time — if only for myself. My photography skills have definitely been put to the test . . . and, um, have been found lacking. And I’m learning there isn’t a shutter fast enough to capture a child’s devilish grin or head thrown back in laughter. I mean, news alert: kids are fast. They move all the time. And if I thought I was one step ahead of Peyton, an adorable blonde firecracker, I was wrong. Nearly every picture I took was blurry — save this one:

The motion speaks to me, though. I bask in the knowledge that I can barely keep up with them — and love the challenge of capturing a fleeting moment. The girls will never be 3 or 4 or 5 again, but there’s a beauty in that. In the growing up. In the knowledge that these moments are temporary — but no less meaningful. Maybe more meaningful . . . because they’re temporary?

And I know someday I’ll come home to a family of my own — a family with kids I’ll desperately want to document, want to suspend in time. They’ll be fast and wild and silly and smart and bossy. And loved.

Let’s hope there’s a shutter fast enough to capture all that.

Getting my cousin to ‘Just Listen’

God help me, my baby cousin is turning 13 years old this week. On Oct. 29, 1996, baby Ciara came howling into the world as the perfect, sweet kid she still is today! The youngest grandchild on my mother’s side of the family, Ciara is one kind, intelligent and vivacious young lady! And now she’s a teenager. Sweet Moses. If I close my eyes tight and breathe deeply, I can still feel her baby weight in my 11-year-old arms and remember her little hands on my cheek. Ciara has always felt more like a sister than a cousin, and I feel much the way I’m sure a parent must feel as they look at their wonder of a kid and think, Where did she come from? and How did she get to be so awesome — and old?

just_listen So like any good bookish cousin, my mom and I ran into Books-A-Million a few weeks back looking for a great novel to bestow upon my newly-teen relative. The selection process was daunting. Do I pick something frothy and light, or grab a book with a little more substance? I wasn’t comfortable picking up anything for her that I haven’t read myself, so that narrowed down my choices in the young adult novel aisle. While my YA reading list is always expanding, there are still so many great books I simply haven’t gotten around to yet.

In the end, I went with a personal classic: Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen. I know I’ve written about Dessen on numerous occasions and it’s true that I rarely get tired of talking about one of the reigning queens of young adult fiction! Her characters are always well-drawn, believable and moving — and her plots involve real-life issues (family dynamics, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, friendship, death, grief) in a empathetic, sincere way. I never feel like her novels become boring or condescending, but they’re not all action and adventure and drama! the way some YA reads can be. They’re quieter — but I love that about them.

So yes — Ciara’s birthday gifts included a copy of one of my favorite reads ever — a story of sisters, friendship, love and loss that still appeals to me when I flip it open now, many years later. In fact, I’m thinking I should go back and re-read it so I can text her about the plot once she starts reading! Yes, as difficult as it is for me to accept . . . I can now text Ciara. And she texts me back. Immediately.

Here’s to you, Ciara — happy 13th!