On Sunday, I called my niece. "Rachel, I need help with the girls' make-up for a dance recital. They want the girls to be dressed up to look like Little Miss Sunshine. I need your help"

"Sorry, I can't help you out; I'm in Ossining."

"Oh, damn! Okay, then. Bye"

My wife was out of town. But ... Rachel goes to a college specializing in theatrical and movie make-up in New York City, so I thought I had hit upon a great solution. I was upset that Rachel could not come out and help us, but it felt good that we know Rachel well enough that we could call her for expert advice at a moment's notice.

I have always been jealous of my wife's closeness to her cousins. She is in constant contact with her first cousins. I have first cousins I have never met.

Growing up, we rarely got to see our first cousins. They were about 3,000 miles away. There was one family in particular. They had nine kids also, only they were better behaved. They were a higher version of ourselves, or so we were told. Everything we heard about them made them sound highly evolved and perfectly behaved. Most of our knowledge/hearsay came from our Aunt Mary Pat. They were The Smith Family. But the way she said it, their name sounded thrillingly exotic.

"One is in law school, one is a straight-A student and two of them actually walk on water?"

"Wow!" we would say, hanging on her every word. We had just concluded some very painful experiments where we proved conclusively that not only could we not walk on water, but no matter how fast we pedaled we couldn't ride a bike on water.

When our aunt would visit us she would ask us, "I see you have a sling made out of a sheet. Did something happen?"

"Yeah, John tackled me, and I broke my collar bone." Then remembering that one of our cousins cured cancer, I said, "Tim, can show you the growth thing he has on his shoulder. We don't know what it is, but it really creeps us out."

Years later when we finally met our cousins, we learned that they couldn't even walk on puddles. They are quite similar to us, only not as tall. The first time I met them when I was 16 years old; they made me do the dishes. The second time I met them, the cousin who picked me up immediately had an unfortunate misunderstanding with law enforcement personnel and spent the night as the guest of Scott County Iowa. I had to figure out how to get home from a 7-11 in Davenport.

The Smiths had been told by Mary Pat that we, the Lawlors, could walk on water. I was shocked when I heard that. Some of us couldn't tie our own shoes. And we already proved beyond of the shadow of a doubt that we can't ride a bike on water.

Growing up, my wife's family wasn't like that. They knew their cousins. They were like sisters. My wife only has four first cousins, total, counting both sides. I have never even attempted to count mine.

I wanted my daughters to have a closer experience with their cousins, and they do. If an aunt says, "You know Kevin has straight As," Caroline can say, "Really? He e-mailed me his transcript and he seems to have some problems with effort and personal hygiene."

I think Mary Pat, who had no children of her own, wanted us and the Smiths to behave better around her. So she told fictitious stories of virtue to each family in hopes of inspiring us to good behavior. It didn't work. We resented the Smiths, and they resented us.

My goal for my daughters, Caroline and Julia, is that they don't resent their cousins for the stories they are told. They should resent them by fighting with them. By having real conflict, is the way you resent your siblings and that is the proper way to resent your cousins.

When my daughters get their pictures back from the recital, they will resent their cousin Rachel for not coming out and doing their make up. That is the way it should be.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his lovely bride and two daughters. His day job is at M Communications in Stamford. He can be reached at tlawlor@mcommunications.com.