We came to Richmond alone, miles away from family and friends. As my husband and I unloaded our then nine-month-old-son and two cats into our newly purchased empty home, we looked at each other with a bit of trepidation and asked, “What now?”
We were here for my husband’s medical residency at VCU. We quickly learned that it was called residency for a reason, and while my husband pulled 80 – 90 hour work weeks my son and I were left to our own devices. Our neighbor came over with a loaf of delicious zucchini bread and welcomed us to the neighborhood. They would become good friends and truly the best neighbors ever.
Being the social creature that I am, and determined to make this new city our home, I took my son to the city’s “must sees,” to Carytown and Maymont and Lewis Ginter. We took in the view of the city line from the James River and walked along the banks of Pony Pasture. We explored the streets of our neighborhood and slowly made our house a home (with multiple trips to Target.)
I looked up book babies at the Richmond Public Library and in two different but equally fateful meetings met the two women who would become my best friends in Richmond. Our boys were the same age and we would spend the next four years talking through their milestones and sharing parenting stories and learning from each other as only first time Mommies can.
I would be pleasantly surprised to find Cartwheels and Coffee and learn that I could breastfeed in public without shame; a complete contrast to the judgmental stares I had received in the small conservative Southern town we had moved from. I would be in awe of the South of the James Farmer’s Market and the constant rotation of festivals offered every weekend in Richmond.
I would watch and learn that this was how families spent their time here, in a laid back fashion that incorporated the city as much as it incorporated each other. I would never let the fact that my husband couldn’t join us be a deterrent and I exposed my infant son to all of the things Richmond had to offer; whether he could embrace them or not. It would never cease to amaze me that our route to the Children’s Museum was composed of historic statues in a scenic drive down Monument Avenue.
Lost in a haze of loneliness and breast milk and new mommy sleep deprivation, I slowly began to discover the places and people in Richmond that would become home.
The fragility and beauty of my new motherhood intertwined with the history and activity of Richmond, and I found my footing in a city that brought me new life and identity. If it’s possible to have a love affair with a city, I had one with Richmond. I discovered myself as a Mommy and a person and as I unlocked the secrets of our new city I also unlocked new pieces of myself.
After a couple of years, my son would become established in a preschool where he would thrive and I would plug in as a room mom and parent council chair. I would find a church home and start performing (something I used to do with often) first in Broadway style productions at church and later with a local opera company.
I would be incredibly honored and lucky to join the writing team on Richmondmom.com. I had discovered this website and the Facebook group during the first months we moved to Richmond and had so often used it as a resource for events and parenting inspiration. It was a dream come true to have my writing published on this website I so dearly loved.
Four years of residency would pass by quickly, and despite an extensive job search and my hopes to stay in Richmond, my husband’s new job would take us away.
I made a Richmond Bucket List and my son and I have spent the past few weeks slowly crossing off all of our favorites. “This will be our last time at Maymont,” I would tell my sweet now four-and-a-half-year-old. “Our last time at the Farmer’s Market,” a standing date with my son and I every Saturday. “We can play at the Children’s Museum one more time.”
Slowly, we collected our lasts, as though stepping foot in each place just one more time would allow us to savor the memories and leave our own lasting impressions on the city. Our last time at the places that have shaped our time here. Our last taste of exclusive-to-Richmond food. Our last time to collect fireflies in our back yard. Our last hugs with friends. A collection of lasts wrapped up in our memories and carefully preserved to remember this stop in our journey.
Today, I look around our home that is slowly being packed into boxes and disassembled. I have given going away presents and written mushy emails. I have endlessly scoured the internet for lists of “things to do in Richmond” and realized that I have done all of them. I have cried all of the tears I can possibly cry, and realized that we have truly lived and loved and experienced everything we could during our time in this city.
Sunday, we will leave Richmond, driving away from the only house we have ever owned, the cherished friendships we have made, and the city that, for me, will forever be intimately intertwined with the magic of my son’s first four years of childhood and my experience as a new mommy.
“Home” has become synonymous with the way the sunlight streams through my son’s window in the morning in this house where my little boy took his first steps and said his first words. Richmond has carved its name into our hearts and despite a move that will bring us closer to family, I wonder if I will ever again be in love with a city or feel at home in this way.
Last weekend, we collected one more last as we walked away from my husband’s residency graduation. Paused at a cross walk late at night, surrounded by the buildings of downtown Richmond that gave us our very first glimpse of the city four years ago, we looked at each other with trepidation and said, “We did it! What now?”
Thank you for the amazing adventure, Richmond.
And thank you Richmondmom.com, for letting this post be one of my “lasts.”