Growing Up a Black Girl: The Thing About Cousins.
I was the youngest of my father's children and the eldest of my mother's children. For the first five years of my life I was raised as an only child, only seeing my half siblings when my mother would let me escape to the suburbia of Kansas City to grandmother's house.
My grandmother has 4 children and 14 grandchildren. I was the youngest of my generation before the gap began. We were stair step kids. Mikayla, my cousin, was 3 years older than I. My sister, Kambre, was 2 years older and Mikayla's younger sister, Raquell, only a year older. I grew up my entire life wanting to be just like them, around them, and learning from them. My grandma is still one of the best hair braiders I know, trapping right out the bando. Kitchen hair. Before people were charging $80 for a set of straight backs, my grandma could learn any new style and send you to school with the Kim Kimble treatment. You had to braid all four of our heads and we all wanted similar styles. If hair was braided in, we'd all have different colors (mine always had to be a natural color, BOO MOM). Micro braids, kinky twists, and the crochet braids of the 90s that left my edges for dead.
I recall making up dances for hours on end to every song by every relevant girl group— Destiny Child's "Bug a Boo," 3LW's "Playa's Gon Play," and TLC's "No Scrubs." And of course any and everything Aaliyah. We would set up chairs in the back yard and pop in the cassette tape to play the speaker box as loud as humanely possible. Kambre was the only one of us who could actually sing, so naturally she was always the lead while the rest of us boom-katted Laurie Ann to shame with movements mimicking every lyric.
In the summertime, we'd be outside for hours in Sophie shorts and tank tops practicing for time spans that Mathew Knowles would certainly approve of. Our only breaks were interrupted by the sound of the ice cream truck as we divvied up the change between us to make sure we had enough for all four of us to get a push pop or a cartoon popsicle that substituted eyeballs for gum balls. In the wintertime, we'd clear out grandma's basement and get to work. One day we'd found a tape of R. Kelly's "You Remind Me of Something" and my grandmother has never cut an 8-count so short. Find another song, as she confiscated the tape. We settled for Missy Elliott's "Work It," which in hindsight is just as bad.
We fought like siblings. Someone was always upset at someone else for thinking she's all that long before we had any idea what real problems and bills were. This was namely my lead singer Beyoncé/Diana Ross of a sister. But one thing's for certain, no outsider could mess with any of us. I mean, we had other cousins, too (my grandmother was one of ten). So when we'd hit other slumber parties it was a known fact that if you messed with one of us, you messed with us all. I was the youngest but well-read for my age group and questioned anything that didn't make sense to me— especially when it came to my peers. At seven, I knew that imposing religion on children by way of Farrakhan videos at slumber parties was some shit my mother just wouldn't approve of. And for every year I was forced to go to a slumber party, I was vocal about it. Raquell would cosign. Kambre would be ready to protect her little sister by any means. And once things escalated with the other cousins, Mikayla would act as the voice of reason that everyone was afraid of because she was the eldest. Then we'd talk it out, eat dinner, and perform the dance routine for every parent that came to pick up a child on Sunday— losing a dance member one by one until there were none left.
The thing about cousins in Black families is that they're conditioned to be more like siblings, and your aunts are more like second mothers. The love from a matriarch has no bounds. Everyone supports one another. And they boom-kat their way right into your nuclear family.