We spend a lot of time at playgrounds, and Curious Girl usually attracts attention with her feats on the monkey bars: she can go across and back, many times in a row, and has no fears about going by herself across monkey bars that are high enough that I (at 5'9") can stand upright and still need to reach up with my arms to hold her waist. When she's working her away across the monkey bars, other parents will ask how old she is. And their response to her age is remarkably consistent: "Oh, she's tiny!" We get the same reaction in the pool in the summer, when people watch her moving around, trying to persuade me to leave her alone in the pool because "I can swim, Mama, all by myself! For real!" "She's so tiny!" people will say.
When CG was younger, people didn't ask how old she was. They just said things like "I can't believe she's walking so well" (when she was two) or "Wow, she can really talk!" (when she was three). When I would say her age, they said, "She's so small for her age!" or "Really?!? She's so TINY!"
And then sometimes they ask me if she was premature. Or they look at me and say, "Oh, she'll start growing," or tell me the story of their cousin or brother who was the shortest boy in the class until he was 16 and then just shot up and is now 6' tall.
As Andrea has already and eloquently written, there is really no good reason to be pointing out to strangers how small a child is. I'm no longer quite as conscious as I once was of where CG falls on the growth grids, in part because we are no longer having monthly weight and measurement checks. But I'm still pretty conscious of the fact that her weight and head size are off the charts and her height is in the first percentile. I will not easily forget all the time I have spent talking to doctors about her weight, her eating, and her growth. And I can still rattle off the number of calories in lots of foods we've offered in our attempts to boost her weight--and I am still very sensitive to conversations about food and children because of the lengths we've gone to in encouraging CG's growth and eating. It's been easier to be less worried about her growth as she has gotten older, since her continued development charms her doctors as well as anyone else.
Well, anyone else except those strangers who can't believe she is her age. Curious Girl is now getting old enough to really pay attention to these kinds of comments, and I wonder what on earth the people who make them think they are doing for CG's self-image. "Am I petite?" she asked me recently. "I hate petite." "You're just the right size," I told her. "Your feet are touching the ground when you stand up. You're just the right size for you." And she is just the right size. And I am fiercely working to help her know that and remember it in her heart.
Now, things are getting slightly trickier in that most of CG's same-age friends have moved from 5-point restraints to booster seats, and CG is longing for a booster seat and the across-the-shoulder seatbelt. At the rate we're going, she'll be riding in a booster seat until her prom and in her 5 point seat until sometime in the middle of elementary school, and there's just nothing to be done but wait for her to grow. She's not good at waiting, and while the small boys in her grade seem to be having more social difficulties with smallness than the small girls, I know that things might get more complicated for her as she moves on.
But I wish people who think--correctly--that her movements on the monkey bars are so amazing would simply say, "She's beautiful. Look at her go!"
We got discharged from developmental pediatrics today. Our developmental pediatrician came in, looked at CG, reviewed her accomplishments of the last year, and said, finally, "She's developing perfectly!" We can go back to her if we have any issues in the future, but for now, we can simply track our well child visits with our regular pediatrician. The developmental pediatrician coordinated all of CG's feeding tube care, and she was always the most conservative voice in our medical team. She worried about CG's size and kept reminding us that small head size was linked, statistically with various other problems. She was also a good advocate for Curious Girl, and on the whole we were pleased with her. But still, it's not always easy to hear those conservative perspectives. So it was with particular delight that we had our appointment today, and saw this doctor so pleased with CG's growth in the past 11 months (11.9 kg to 12.6 kg (27.7 lbs): 1. 5 pounds in a year! and a little upward movement in the height-to-weight ratio). CG is developing perfectly: she may be a bit late to start drawing arms and legs on people (at the moment, she's started drawing faces only), but she's an awesome climber and balancer and is verbally quite adept and adorable. And it was wonderful to see our doctor smiling at CG, teasing her about her Winnie-the-Pooh dress, and enjoying seeing how much she's grown and changed from the pale, hungry-and-not-eating infant she first met four years ago.
So if you see us on the playground, and you wonder how old she is, and I tell you, please remember: "She's beautiful! Look at her go!" is always an appropriate response. Let the children you talk about hear you saying supportive and beautiful things about them. It can't hurt, and it will ease a mother's heart.