Re-defining a Word

To correctly classify an animal, there are seven layers of taxonomy that describe in full detail who they are. Humans, scientifically speaking, require the same level of detail to correctly outline their lineage and their connection to other beings. However, we typically use one layer and term to identify the core of who we are. Family. It’s the foundation of where we came from, our history, those who we are linked to by a set of genes. At least, that is how I defined it until four years ago when a series of events widened my view.

This story began with the birth of my first daughter, Riley. I was fixated on finding the perfect name for her, one that would truly bring about the things that I wanted for her. I found it in a book.

Together with my spirited one-year-old, we relocated to Indiana to be close to my parents. I wanted desperately to have my firstborn daughter and any future children to be raised around their extended family. I had read a lot about the lifelong benefits of this and wanted deeply that security for them.

I ended up with a new job, and Riley ended up with a new daycare. At work, I was learning my new coworkers and recognized one of them as having a daughter in Riley’s new daycare. We bumped into each other sometimes in the mornings. Random happenings until randomly it happened that we arrived at the same time. The girls, Story and Riley, grabbed hands and walked into daycare together. It was Riley’s first friend, and after Story’s mom and I got to talking, we made plans for a playdate, and I had my first acquaintance in our new home.

Our first playdate was an insane notion to bring the then 3-year-old Story and 1½-year-old Riley to a giant children’s museum an hour away from home. It was an adventure that hallmarked the adventure that would soon become our normal. It was that trip that I learned this acquaintance had written the very book that had named my daughter.

I’ve told this story here before. Sometimes it is important to start at the beginning again to retrace and appreciate the places that you’ve been. The story of our family’s beginning shows indications of what I didn’t know was to come. Since that time, that acquaintance has grown from an acquaintance to a friend. From a friend to a best friend. From a best friend to family. A progression that encompassed many meant-to-bes, and what-were-you-thinking adventures. Along that progression I have learned a lot about the definition of family.

I’ve learned that family is not just who shares a set of genes with you. We hear a lot about the friends who feel a lot like family, but we still limit the definition to those who are related or those whom we have a romantic relationship with. I’ve been privileged in the last four years to see how a family can be shaped without either of those two things. In our series of events that began with a storybook coincidence, what has been most exciting is watching Story, Riley, and Maddie explore the world’s definition of family and slowly form their own views. It’s a powerful thing to define a word your own way and a powerful reward when you do.

To my best friend on her 40th birthday, thank you for your laughter, love, and most of the time unasked-for support. For being my person, and most of all, for being my girls’ person.