Making Family a Verb

Janet Falon - Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Entered on February 22, 2006
Janet Falon
Age Group: 50 - 65
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As a writer and writing teacher, I’m fascinated by how the English language evolves, especially how nouns often turn into verbs. “Impact” used to be a noun — “I have an impact on you,” and now it’s a verb — “I impact you.” “Fax,” which began life as shorthand for “facsimile,” also started out as a noun, as in “I’ll send you a fax,” and has morphed into a verb, “I’ll fax that right over.”

But no one, as far as I know, has pushed English to reflect an important truth of modern American life. So I will: I want to propose that “family” should be a verb, such as in “Whenever I go to his house he families me so wonderfully,” or, “It’s such a pleasure to family you.”

This only works if you believe, as I do, that blood is not thicker than water — or, maybe, that there’s some thick water flowing out there that you can tap into. My husband and I wouldn’t have been able to adopt our daughter, Hope, if we didn’t believe that blood isn’t thicker than water. Creating and maintaining our family isn’t a state-of-being verb born of biology, but a series of actions, one after another: Playing endless games of Chutes and Ladders, negotiating when to watch Clifford the Big Red Dog and when to turn to the Today show, hugging when our impulse might be to splinter apart. Who cares about blood? We are family, each other.

When my husband and I had to go out of town recently to a friend’s funeral, Hope stayed overnight with our friend Judy, sharing her bed and, in the morning, her fresh-squeezed orange juice. And last week, when Hope and my husband and I were there for dinner, I let Art, Judy’s husband, cut my brisket when Hope was on my lap and I couldn’t coordinate my knife and fork. I’m 51 years old, and it was okay — delightful, really, that someone was cutting my meat for me. Did I feel familied? You bet.

My willingness to family, and be familied by, non-blood relations doesn’t necessarily mean my blood family is anemic, although, like most families, it certainly has its weaknesses. In fact, it’s like we received a transfusion more than 30 years ago when my cousin Ellie married Sandy, who came with two children from his previous marriage. Technically, there’s no name for my relation to Sandy and his kids; even the Yiddish term for family, mishpocha, which is often used to refer to informal or not-easily-explained relationships, doesn’t quite capture how we have, and continue to, family each other.

Blood, shmood. My good friend Cheryl once told me that she “loved me like a sister,” which felt wonderful. But I don’t need or aspire to a noun, like sisterhood, or cousinship, or auntness, if you know what I mean. I family Cheryl. She families me. That’s fine. Actually, it’s fantastic.