More Than a Cup of Kindness

All I know is that the rocking started before I even had a self
and I lived through the feeling of it.

kindness, rocking, narcissistic abuse, narcissism, narcissist,
I rocked until I left home. And I’m not talking about being a cool eighties, punk rocker, but more like an autistic child who rocks back and forth to shut the world out. And no, I don’t have Asperger’s and I have no desire to conflate my “bumping” as my parents called it with an actual syndrome. I was alert, I started talking at nine months of age and I was a very verbal child, if not precocious.

When I was two and a half we visited my grandparent’s house in Medford and my great grandmother prophesied that I would be rocking until I went to college if they didn’t stop me. This inspired my parents to try to stop me. One hundred years after she wrote her love letters to my great grandfather, I published them in a book called Love Letters 1909. In those letters she described sitting on the porch to swing or rocking inside with her cat when it was cold. So perhaps I came about my rocking and love of cats genetically. While Grammy campaigned to stop me, my sweet Grandma never once scolded me for rocking, but then she didn’t always get along with her mother-in-law.

The first time I remember rocking was when my dad was moving our stuff to Alaska. I was only two, but I missed him while he was gone and rocking was the way I self-soothed. The second time was when my father spanked my sister for trying to touch the stove. Thus began months of her going through what my parents called “the terrible twos” in which my six foot two inch father engaged in constant power struggles with a two year old to break her will. Sometimes he even used the belt. When these battles ensued, I ran to my rocking chair to rock and wish it all away.

As I grew older, my fear of “The Persuader” (as my parents jokingly called the belt) grew. I knew if any of my siblings weren’t safe from the belt, then I wasn’t either. Rocking became my number one coping strategy. Every year when we moved, I rocked at first because I was sad to say goodbye to my friends and school, then as I accepted reality of the impending move, I happy-rocked while I dreamed of making new friends and seeing new places.

Every time I had to start a new school late and leave it before the year was out, I rocked and dreamed of never moving again. When I was pulled out of school after sixth grade, I spent most of my teen years rocking from anxiety and the worry that I would never catch up with the other kids my age because I wasn’t allowed to go to high school.

Looming over my childhood was the Persuader. I was belted for complaining about not going to school and moving and music—always music. I was belted for borrowing the neighbor’s John Denver records back when my dad still thought they were rock and roll. I was belted for Donnie and Marie and I was eventually belted for Amy Grant. I was also belted for talking too much in church and in the car and belted for not being quiet when my dad was in a bad mood. I was also belted for not cleaning the kitchen or not moving fast enough to pack boxes when we were moving in a hurry. I rocked to reframe every belting and every move to cope with the insecurity of not knowing where I would lay my head that night or if we would get kicked out of the place we were living.

Once, when my parents were gone, they put me in charge of all the younger kids and told me to make sure all of our chores were done before they got home, I did my best and ended up in fights with everyone who didn’t want to do their part. I finally got the house cleaned and baked six loaves of bread and I was thrilled to realize I still had some time to rock before they got home. I put up the couch cushions so I could rock against them. Then as I was entering my bliss, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was my parents spying on me through the window. I was fourteen, but I was belted for rocking. I was often belted for rocking. My mother called me a retard when I rocked, but it was rocking which gave me comfort.

A musician must make music,
an artist must paint,
a poet must write,
if he is ultimately to be at peace with himself.
What a man can be, he must be.
-Abraham Maslow

Recently I was called a monster by one of my siblings, who accused of making my parents out to be monsters. I never saw them as monsters–not then and not now. I loved them and wanted to please them. They thought they were doing their religious duty to spank the evil out of me. Now that I look back they were confused about what evil is because it is not rocking—even to rock music. I was a compliant and tender hearted child and I am the same person today.

I am all the ages I have ever been.
–Anne Lamott

I continued to rock between houses when we lived in motels or campgrounds or at my Grandma’s house. Sometimes I rocked because I was sad and scared, but other times, I rocked to escape my body and current living situations to dream and find hope within myself to go on. When I first went to a counselor, I told her with great shame about my rocking. I will never forget her response. She smiled gently and said, “Be true to yourself precious child, rocking was the gift you gave yourself to survive.”

When I met my husband, I told him I like to rock. He shrugged his shoulders and said okay, no problem. After years of rocking from anxiety, one day in my first year of marriage, I realized I hadn’t rocked for months. I had finally found acceptance and a home with him and I no longer needed to rock unless it was for fun while he played the piano.

Last year, we saw this homeless guy sitting on a curb by the side of the road rocking. He had a grocery cart full of old clothes all wadded up like a bad batch of laundry. He shut his eyes like I used to when I rocked back and forth. It was near Starbucks, so I asked my husband if we could stop and buy him some breakfast.

As a lifelong vegetarian, I’ve never tasted bacon in my life, but I’ve heard people like bacon. So I choose a bacon breakfast sandwich and a Pike Place coffee for him. When I handed it out the window, he barely made eye contact with me at first. Then as the food exchanged hands, I whispered, “I used to rock too.” His eyes met mine and filled with tears as he softly said, “This is really nice of you.” Then my eyes filled with tears too.

It was our shared experience that made him smile and hold his head a little higher. In the words of C. S. Lewis, I had said, “Me too!” He might be homeless, he might even be mentally ill, but for a few seconds, he knew he was not alone and as we drove away, I prayed that he would always know that he is “The Beloved.”

When two people relate to each other
authentically and humanly,
God is the electricity that surges between them.
-Martin Buber