Saying Goodbye to The House Where I Grew Up
By Scott Beller, Daddying Editor
When people ask me where I grew up, I usually say “Springfield, Virginia,” but that’s not entirely true. During my childhood, my family moved around – usually for my dad’s job with Marriott – from Alexandria to New Hampshire, to Laurel, Maryland, back to Alexandria, then finally, out of our 2-bedroom apartment and into a 2-bedroom rambler in North Springfield. My mom found a job so we could afford our family's first real house.
We lived there on Joplin Street for about nine years, walking distance from North Springfield Elementary and the house where my father lived while he was in high school. One summer while dad was at work, my mom, sister, and I moved out. We didn’t go far, just a couple miles away to live with my aunt, but it felt like we’d arrived on some other planet. Just far enough away to escape the destructive pull of a dark event horizon.
A few months later, my mom met and moved in with the man who would become my stepdad. A few, uneasy months after that, mom moved my sister and me into another apartment less than a mile from my soon-to-be stepdad’s place, where she spent almost all of her time. From the perspective of a high-school sophomore about to get his driver’s license, living alone was a great situation. Looking back as an adult son, I understand the parental guidance and connection I missed and desperately needed during that time.
Six months into the “free-range experiment,” my sister and I moved back to North Springfield to live with our grandmother, with whom I would move yet again a year later. I'd live with her through high school and college until a year after I graduated. After parlaying an unpaid internship in downtown DC into a full-time job, I could finally afford to move out on my own.
That move began a stretch where I pulled up stakes 11 times in 12 years, including a four-year stint in Dallas, three separate stays in Old Town Alexandria, and a year renting my grandmother's old house in that all-too-familiar North Springfield neighborhood.
I moved so much, I never even bothered to hang pictures on the walls.
I broke this moving streak when I got married and my wife and I bought our first house. We've lived here now for 15+ years, the longest I’ve stayed in one place in my life. The first time I've planted roots.
When we found out we would become parents, I tended and pruned and patched and baby-proofed and modestly remodeled this humble and humbling house like it was an overgrown bonsai tree planted in the 1940s. I wanted it ready to accommodate our growing family.
When we carried our oldest daughter home from Sibley Hospital in 2007, for the first time in more than 25 years, a house truly felt like my home. After all those years searching for something, I realized I was really searching for someone. And that someone was me. This is where I finally found myself...as a dad.
I wanted to hang pictures.
This perfectly cozy house, like my parenting, is full of imperfections. But it is the backdrop for most all my best and worst memories of raising two daughters. Of diapers, bottles, burp cloths, boo-boos, bouncy chairs, Bumbo seats, and potty parties. Of games, dancing, and Dr Seuss. Naptimes, bath times, dinner times, TV and movie times, and bedtimes. Sleepless nights and groggy days. Of preschool, elementary, and middle school activities. Bubbles, sprinklers, sidewalk chalk, snowmen and snow angels, arts, and crafts. Of biking and coaching, tee ball and tae kwon do classes. Cheering, whining, laughing, and crying.
Here we welcomed new seasons, new opportunities…new life. And we've also struggled to find ways to share hard news about the loss of family members who will no longer be able to join us for birthdays, holidays, graduations, and other special occasions.
This past summer, I wrote about our family's pandemic art projects, which included painting murals on the walls of the house we were about to demo so we could build a new one.
That build finished this week.
Through the holiday season and into the New Year, we prepared for this weekend's move, sifting through the past and boxing up memories along with the dishes. Emotions hit me like a flurry of tae kwon do round kicks perfected by my girls, who were once preschool knee-high ninjas (was it just yesterday?) and have become towering black and 1st-brown belts.
Every time I step on a creaky floorboard that used to wake my sleeping infants in our old home, I grit my teeth. But maybe it's just part of my daddying life echoing back. Although there are many things I won’t miss about this old home we're leaving, I find myself fighting to hold onto two lifetimes of experiences I've collected and embraced within the confines of the only home my girls have ever known.
The only home where I’ve been their dad.
Now, as our family embarks on a new chapter of life together, I'm a bit uneasy. Not about the amazing new house or the physical move, but about the mental and emotional transition. How long will it take for me to again feel comfortable? I'm confident the new house gives us all the space we need for work and school, for (eventually) lounging with friends, for relaxing together, and even for an occasional break, with a little peace and solitude.
But I wonder how long it will take to settle in and really feel at home again? And as my daughters continue to become more independent by the day, I fear what many parents fear: that they may outgrow me as they've outgrown their old rooms and the need for other childhood comforts. Will I still be able to hold them close even as they gain more space?
Here in our old house, we’ve had countless firsts and lasts. Some celebrated and others endured. This is the house where I really grew up and I will miss it.
In two days we move. Not far – just next door. Same neighborhood and still connected to the "old me" in some ways. But with a new space comes a new perspective, new possibilities, and a new house to make our home and for making new memories. I'm looking forward to this new house and new dad phase. I know I have plenty of room to grow into both.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, and also Editor of the Daddying blog, DCG's Director of Communications, and frequent Wayfair shopper. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.