Thoughts about parenting–and just living–in Richmond from a “non-lifer.”
Richmond is my home, but it hasn’t always been my home. While I’ve lived in Richmond eight years (the longest of I’ve lived anywhere since reaching the age of majority), alas, I carry a not-so-secret shame, the shame of a Transplant.
At the recent Tilted III Conference, we used little clicker things to look at the demographics of the room. While I did bemoan the lack of a Generation Catalano choice between Gen Xer and Millennial, what stood out to me was that most of the room (something like 80 percent) were RVA “lifers.”
I didn’t even move here for college and then just not leave. I moved here from Baltimore by choice, at the old age of 27, with my wife and a four-month-old infant. My job at the time covered a territory of Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia, and I’d lose three-to-four hours any time I had to go through Northern Virginia. My brother lived here. My friend Amy lived here. And also, we wanted to buy a house, and houses are cheaper here than there.
So the things you lifers take for granted that people of my age have done in this town, I have probably not done. I haven’t eaten at Edo’s Squid. I’ve never waited in line for hangover brunch at Millie’s. I’ve never been to a VCU basketball game. I’ve never seen a movie at the Byrd. Is there something I’m supposed to have done in Hollywood Cemetery? If so, I have not done that thing.
I moved here with a baby. We didn’t leave the house much for the first few years. Any restaurants we went to had to accommodate tiny humans. If I had two uninterrupted hours, I sure wasn’t going to go see a movie, I was going to sleeeeep. I’m not a believer, but I’m envious of the instant community a house of worship can provide to newcomers to town, especially those with a baby. I know Life Everlasting is a pretty big deal too, but offering a place where parents can sit quietly in a room full of adults for an hour while someone else watches their kid is true charity.
We’re pretty shy, but eventually we made friends with neighbors once their infant was big enough that we’d run into them on the way to the playground. Those neighbors are the fabulous Sarvays, and I’ve had no better Richmond mentor than John who knows EVERYBODY.1 It’s a great friendship: he gets shocked when I’ve never heard about a Richmond thing, and I get shocked when he doesn’t get my early 90s pop culture references.
I love this city. If you want something to exist, you have to put in the work to make it exist, but no one’s going to stop you.2 You probably aren’t going to be a multi-billionaire if you stay in Richmond, but it’s a place where a good living can be had for a good amount of work. As the philosophers Boyz II Men said, “not too hard and not too soft.”
But Richmond is also city of context–for good and for ill. And not having grown up here, I’ve had to learn much of that context as I go. It’s a city that has failed at new things it’s tried. It’s a city that fails to try new things. It’s a city that wants desperately to change as long as everything can stay the same. It’s a city that wants to prove itself, while shirking at any outside attention. Even as a transplant, I can feel it. I desperately want my city to be better, but not at the expense of the intangibles that make Richmond Richmond.
I will never be a Richmond native, but my kids are and will continue to be. They will go to school here, become adults here, and absorb all the context that we set for them as we adults strive to make our city better for them. We are going to screw up. We are going to succeed. And we’ll make our house into our home.
Photo by: taberandrew