Four Kids and a Dog by Elizabeth Bottiaux
Four Kids and a Dog by Elizabeth Bottiaux

By Elizabeth Bottiaux

They’re on every young child’s holiday wish list. Our house certainly doesn’t need more of them. Toys are quickly forgotten, broken, outgrown or sucked up by the vacuum. Instead of giving in to their trendy toy desires, our extended family has created the “Cousin Experience.”

There are eight young cousins in our family. They range in age from 5 to 13 years old. Every year we parents would frantically communicate with each other about our children’s top toy picks. Kids’ lists would include a wide variety of materialistic junk. We’d stress over ideas, race to stores, wrap the gifts and then haul the whole mess over to the celebration.

Family Christmas gatherings would yield a towering mountain of plastic packaging and heaps of shredded wrapping paper. Was there a way to improve upon the cousin Christmas? There had to be. We put our heads together and hatched a plan. I’m no Grinch, but limiting the amount of stuff our kids received sounded like a worthy idea.

With parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents and Santa delivering presents aplenty, kids were ending up with sleigh loads of stuff. Stuff is fun for a while. But, I can’t recall a single gift any of my kids received from a cousin over the years. It’s all mass-produced, forgettable paraphernalia. Stuff is only special for a short while. When I asked them, there was a long awkward pause before my kids said simply they too couldn’t quite remember cousin gifts from Christmases past.

When the kids were younger we did allow them to exchange gifts. Cousins picked names from a hat and got a present for that person. In the early days, that route was easier than embarking on an experience. A few years ago we switched it up. What a great decision that was. We’ve never looked back.

Vivid memories of our day at the CHILL event at the Queen Mary in Long Beach last year are alive and well at family gatherings. Ice skating with eight wobbly skaters rendered many screeches and plenty of hearty laughter. We narrowly avoided disaster when my daughter carelessly formed an arabesque on ice and nearly beheaded a nearby skater. Flying down the indoor ice hill on a sled, frigid wind blowing through their hair, beside cousins is priceless. Soaring through the air on swings from Neverland Ranch together 20 times in a row is a memory they’re sure to savor for years.

One year we experienced an interactive pirate dinner theatre show together. Although the meal was barely fit for humans, the cousins bonded over watching skilled dancers fling themselves around on a giant pirate ship. They even braved the stage together at the show’s finale.
It’s fun rehashing those pirate memories.

This year we’re planning a day trip on the train. We haven’t quite decided where our final destination lies. Maybe we’ll journey to San Diego for the day or possibly up to the City of Angels. It doesn’t matter where we go. It matters that we’ll all be together—one big, loud, laughing bunch of cousins hanging out.

It’s not always easy to carve out quality cousin time. With everyone’s hectic schedules and busy lives, it gets tough to coordinate. We make the time though. The Cousin Experience allows us to bypass plastic stuff and have fun while creating crazy, happy memories together instead.

Elizabeth Bottiaux is mom to four small humans, ages 5, 7, 8 and 10. She’s a San Clemente resident and has lived in Orange County for the past 16 years. She publishes a blog, www.fourkidsandadog.com, about family life in our tri-city area.

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