We have a small immediate family. Chloe and Sophie don’t have any first cousins in the United States and their only living grandparent is my mom. My brother resides in Texas and my husband’s siblings and their kids live in France. We see my brother twice a year at most and we’re lucky if we see our French family every two or three years. Despite having my mom nearby and remedying some of that familial isolation by maintaining close ties to a couple of aunts and uncles and their children, it feels lonely sometimes.
So you can imagine the girls’ delight when we told them earlier this year that one of their cousins from France was going to visit us this summer. He’s Chloe’s age and Sophie loves him because, like her uncle James, her cousin tolerates her incessant poking and teasing. Chloe was excited because she’d have a contemporary with whom she could practice her French. The trio spent a week together last year when we were in France, establishing the beginnings of a rapport that we hope will last for many more years to come.
Yesterday was the big day. Sophie was restless with anticipation. Knowing that her Papa and Chloe were on their way home from the airport with her cousin in tow, she took our kitchen stool, set it down by the front door and waited. And waited. And waited. “Mom, when is he going to be here?” she whined, watching the street for our car.
I complain a lot about the fact that technology has overtaken our lives. I include myself in the “our” – I’m way too attached to the online universe. I don’t make enough of an effort to disconnect and I certainly don’t make enough of an effort to limit Chloe’s Internet intake. But…When my nephew finally walked through the door, Sophie jumped up and down for joy (and Truffle jumped on my nephew). My nephew isn’t particularly interested in practicing his English, which is great for Chloe. She spoke more French with him in the first two hours after his arrival than she had with us in the past six months.
…when two 13-year old cousins and an 8-year old cousin are trying to communicate in broken French and broken English, inane YouTube videos, Instagram photos and music bring the kids together in laughter that transcends any language. But…
…then I start thinking. Wouldn’t a game of Monopoly accomplish the same thing? Or a game of cards? Or a bike ride? Or a walk to the ice cream shop? Maybe, maybe not.
Chloe’s best friends are coming over later today to meet the mysterious cousin from France. A couple of them take French in school and might manage a few words here and there. The girls thought long and hard about what they should do with my nephew to make him feel welcome. Some ideas – walking around town, bowling, having lunch at the local pizza parlor – simply weren’t cool enough or inventive enough.
I was skeptical of their solution at first. But it’s grown on me. And I think it’s actually sort of brilliant, in its own way. Their chosen activity gives me hope that we haven’t yet lost an entire generation to the black hole of gigabytes. In fact, it’s surprisingly low-tech. My friends and I did it when we were kids. All you need are a few t-shirts, a bunch of rubber bands and assorted colors of Rit Dye.
And if all goes well, my nephew will return to France with some new English words, a few new American friends and a quintessentially American tie-dye t-shirt.