Even when he was as old as ten or twelve, sometimes his mother would pull Tiller onto her lap and rock him, saying, “You’re never too old to be rocked.”
Tiller wondered what it would be like not to have trees and creeks and barns, and what it would be like never to have been rocked. (from Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech)
Almost exactly ten years ago I traveled to Romania with Buckner Orphan Care International for a ten-day “shoe delivery trip.” The program was called Shoes for Orphan Souls and we visited several orphanages to deliver brand new shoes and socks to children who had never had their own new shoes before. It was a humbling, heartbreaking, uplifting experience for me as a very young woman. I think about aspects of it at least twice a month.
One day we stopped at an orphanage just for babies and toddlers. We weren’t delivering shoes there and we only had about half an hour to see the place. Our instructions were to go in, pick up one or two babies and pray for them by name while we rocked or swayed. They told us the babies hardly ever get rocked. They said that they are just understaffed and overwhelmed and the best some facilities can do is give them shelter, clothing, and nutrition. Comforting their cries in a rocking chair is just too much to ask.
Since I was still in high school when I took this trip, I was required to make up a certain amount of schoolwork along the way. One of my classes was a hands-on student teaching and observation class for future teachers, so I didn’t exactly have homework. My teacher assigned me a research project to go along with my trip as a way to make up for the time I missed observing in Elementary School classrooms. I researched early brain development and the effects of the orphanage environment on the development of the children. It was heartbreaking to read the studies, to know how vitally important things like being held and rocked are to the development of young children, and to see these precious babies who were missing out. Being held and rocked and sung to are things you can never get back if you miss them at the first. The window closes.
When Benjamin was just a few months old, his pediatrician cautioned me that rocking him to sleep every night would be a headache later. He said Benjamin needed to learn how to self-soothe in order to put himself back to sleep if he woke in the night. But the words “self-soothe” always brought to mind a toddler I saw in a Romanian orphanage, swaying alone in a crib, chewing on his hand until it was raw and red. I rocked Benjamin to sleep far longer than is recommended, but I just couldn’t help it. When I was seventeen years old, I promised myself that if I ever had a baby I would rock him and rock him and rock him.
It was hard to train Benjamin to go to sleep on his own later. It took three grueling nights of letting him cry for twenty minutes, then comforting him, then letting him cry twenty minutes more, then comforting him again. But each night he cried less and less. And it was worth it to me, to rock my baby, to know that he will never know what it was like never to have been rocked. And someday, when he’s a little older, I’ll teach him to pray for the orphans.