Are You A ‘Kissing Cousin’?

My maternal grandparents were first cousins. Ever since I learned this bit of notable family history, when I was a kid, I’ve heard the relationship defined as ‘incestuous’ and ‘illegal,’ and that it could have produced genetic disorders in my grandparents’ children (my mother, May, and her brother, Norman).

Fortunately, there were no genetic disorders, but my mother and her brother, along with their spouses (namely, my dad and my aunt through marriage) consciously decided to become neighbors when they bought their first houses in 1950. Called semi-detached homes, these modest structures had separate entrances, backyards and side yards, but shared a center wall. So my sisters and I grew up right next door to our one girl and two boy cousins. There is a 10-year gap between my youngest sister (now 61) and my oldest cousin (now 71).

Physical and chronological proximity aside, we were anything but “kissing cousins.” Our families never shared meals in one another’s homes, not even holiday repasts; we never vacationed together; we never went to the movies together, dined out together or celebrated graduations together. Except for attending my cousins’ weddings, and they ours, we might as well have grown up on different planets. We’d come a long way from our marrying cousins, a.k.a. our grandparents. We didn’t dislike our cousins, but our parents didn’t promote camaraderie and we didn’t take the initiative to get together on our own.

Whenever I heard about my friends’ “cousins club” get-togethers, I’d be secretly overjoyed I never had to attend one.

These “clubs” were big in the 50s and 60s, offshoots of clubs originally formed in the early part of the 18th century to serve large European immigrant families struggling to make it in America while trying to care for those in the ‘old country’ who hadn’t made the trip. Cousins clubs transcended ethnicity. Poles, Italians and Jews all benefitted from family closeness and generosity.

No wonder my grandparents’ generation was so cousin-centric. But even though my parents and uncles and aunts didn’t have to rely on extended family to support them in any way, why would so many of them not even lift a finger to promote friendship among their children? Especially when we lived practically cheek-to-jowl.

My two children have only four first cousins, but none of them are close either. Like our parents, my sisters and I haven’t done much to promote friendship between our children. We can throw around excuses, such as not living near one another, different lifestyles and vastly different demands on our time. But those are empty excuses. We just didn’t do it.

Besides, just because you grew up under the same roof as your siblings, doesn’t mean you’re all going to be best friends, or even friends at all. So who says your kids have to even recognize each other when they pass in the street?

Your thoughts?

P.S. Nine well-known people who married their first cousins: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, HG Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Andre Gide, Igor Stravinsky, Jesse James, Rachmaninoff, and Wernher von Braun.

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Murder, He Wrote

Do you think you’d know—and acknowledge—if your 20-something son or daughter was a drug addict? A potential murderer? A gambler in debt up to his ears? Owned guns?

“Sure,” you say, without hesitation.

I say: “Don’t be so sure!”

A woman I know well (let’s call her Rose) didn’t recognize that her son was addicted to painkillers, and more, until he almost OD’d on heroin and called her frantically because he couldn’t breathe. “Let’s just say I didn’t want to know,” Rose told me.

“I never dreamed I’d be able to close my eyes and mind to my own child with such a big problem, but I could and I did.”

“He didn’t live with me, which made it easier. I never went to his apartment, maybe because I was afraid of what I’d see,” Rose said.

When Rose did go to her son’s place, while he was in rehab, she was greeted by shelves and shelves lined with empty bottles of drugs, like OxyCotin; piles of clothes strewn around every room; ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts; furniture destroyed by graffiti and other telltale signs that her son was in trouble.

“Thankfully, he has been ‘clean’ for seven years, is married to a wonderful woman, and has a beautiful baby daughter and a good job. He’s one of the lucky ones and I’m a lucky mother that he didn’t die,” Rose said.

I thought of Rose when I saw Elliot Rodger’s parents being interviewed. Elliot went on a shooting rampage a few days ago, in Santa Barbara, CA, killing seven (including himself) and wounding 13. Elliot’s mother, Li Chin, wasn’t lucky like Rose. She learned the truth much too late. For everyone involved.

The deeply disturbed, 22 year-old left behind a 137-page manifesto, called “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” which detailed his feelings of intense rejection, by girls and then women: “All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy. All of those popular people who live hedonistic lives of pleasure, I will destroy, because they never accepted me as one of them. I will kill them all and make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.”

Elliot had Asperger syndrome, considered to be the mildest and highest functioning end of the Autism spectrum. Difficulty with social interaction is one of the most common symptoms of the illness, as is an inability to understand the intent behind another person’s actions, words and behaviors. If this was the case with Elliot, perhaps he would have thought that a girl “loathed” him, simply because she turned down his invitation to go on a date.

Elliot had been in therapy since he was eight years old, countless news reports revealed, but neither his therapists or his family had notified authorities that they thought he was a danger, that is, until Li Chin recently discovered Elliot’s social media posts about suicide and killing people and called the police. However, they didn’t see anything amiss or alarming when they went to Elliot’s house to investigate and told him to call his mother, when they reassured her that he was okay. (They never actually went inside the house.)

Elliot reportedly told deputies it was a misunderstanding and that he wasn’t going to hurt anyone or himself. He said he was having troubles with his social life. He noted in his manifesto that he worried the police were going to find his weapons and writings. “I would have been thrown in jail, denied of the chance to exact revenge on my enemies. I can’t imagine a hell darker than that,” Elliot wrote.

Why did Rose and Li Chin only wake up to their sons’ severe mental problems at the 12th hour? Is it, as Rose said, the power of denial, especially when a mother is concerned?

Or, do disturbed young people have the ability to successfully—and continuously—hide their addictions and other mental problems. And, is their ability so masterful that it also helps them hide their illnesses (or, at least their plans) from experienced, certified therapists?

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to know that young people who feel deep rejection (either from their parents or their peers) often turn these feelings into anger, both self-loathing and repugnance of others who they perceive are their “enemies.” We’ve been hearing, for example, about more and more young men, like Elliot, who turn against women who reject them. A 16-year-old, Connecticut high school student was stabbed to death, in April, by a classmate after she rejected his invitation to go to the prom.

Although I certainly don’t have the answers to the questions I posed a couple of paragraphs ago, I think it’s our responsibility as parents to try and get a handle on our children’s psyches. I realize this is an especially tall order today, as communication with our children is often limited to texts and emails. We also may be at work when a teenage child comes home from school, and then he or she stays behind closed doors most of the evening. And we’re just too tired to start a dialog.

I imagine there are parents around the country who are getting together to reinforce one another and address issues such as these. If there aren’t, it’s high time to start.

Elliot Rodger’s final You Tube video explaining what he was about to do—and why.

Please let me know your thoughts on this