The summer after 2nd grade, my family moved into the house in Houston where I remember most of my childhood. Two little boys lived two doors down – the sons of my 2nd grade teacher who were nearly lined up in age with my little sister and me – and we were going to be neighbors. One day, I walked down the sidewalk to ask them to play and was met with a harsh greeting from the rooftop of their garage and a little boy jumping out from behind one of my teacher’s parked cars. I can’t remember what he said to me, but I remember something was thrown at me like a war ambush, and I reacted with a 7-year-old girl’s defensive anger and kicked him in the leg. His mother, my teacher, who must have seen from the kitchen window, burst through the back door. I expected her to blast her sons for the rooftop attack, but instead I heard, “Vanessa Wray! What are you doing!?”
Terrified and shamed, I felt the blood run out of my face while I listened to her rebuke me for several seconds, then turned to go home. With the 7-year-old memories and images I put together in my mind as an adult, I remember two things that happened next. My mother walked down to her house to defend me at the front door, and the boys’ mother – a woman I’d just spent 9 months in a classroom with – slammed the door in her face. After that, my mother took me home.
There is a photo somewhere in a cardboard box that my dad took that day: a single black, wooden rocking chair with 80’s gold flowers stenciled on it, sitting in the center of an enormous, empty family room. The corner of the photo shows moving boxes piled along the walls – evidence of my newness to the block. My mother sits in the rocking chair with me strewn on her lap, entirely too big for laying in her lap the same way an infant would. My knees hook over the arm of the chair and my feet dangle close to the the floor. I remember sobbing. I remember feeling such deep humiliation that my beautiful blonde 2nd grade teacher thought that I was bad.
I remember my mother rocking me back and forth.
I remember buying the puffy beige rocking chair that I fed and rocked both of my children in, my husband loading it into a car, trying to get it around the 50-year-old halls in our home to my firstborn’s room … sitting in it when we finally got it in place. I remember not knowing what it would feel like to breastfeed a baby, but imagining tiny baby girl eyelashes and cheeks that were just barely separated by my own skin at 8 months pregnant.
Bottles and songs, knowing how to tilt the chair to stand up just right so that she didn’t wake up, finding myself asleep in the chair at 2 a.m. when I can’t get to the crib without waking her, watching my husband hold her in his arms with a bottle of my breast milk.
Again, moving it to a new room (this one blue) in our old house and waiting for the day I could see what a little boy baby would look like.
I remember sobbing, again – this time, alone in my house after the first time they left for divorce visitation as a 1-year-old and 2-year-old. No wife carries and births her children, expecting that a year later she would be handing them to a husband who says he never loved her. Back and forth I rocked in the chair, my body wracked with grief, waiting for relief to come, just like when the humiliation of 2nd grade washed over me – anguish at the thought that much more than skin separated me from my babies on those days.
As they grow, my children use the chair as a Sharpie marker canvas, the south wall of a living room fort, a fever and vomit chair (thank goodness for machine washable cushions), a Cheerios receptacle, a launcher for Iron Man, a spinning ride.
Now almost 7 and starting 2nd grade next year, my daughter lives brightly. Some days, when she feels the ache of separation from me after a long day at school or a weekend at Dad’s house, she’ll say, “Mommy, I need you to rock me in our chair.” I sit in the rocking chair with her strewn on my lap, entirely too big for laying in my lap as an infant would. Her knees hook over the arm of the chair and her feet dangle close the the floor.
We rock back and forth.