30 October 2006

The Perfect Size, or I Hate Petite

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.


liz said...

She is, indeed, beautiful and she ran rings around AB and MM when we saw her. She definitely has some serious get-up-and-go!

Phantom Scribbler said...

Chances are that LG and Baby Blue will also need booster seats on their way to the prom. Maybe they can all go together with CG.

At the moment I'm still telling people proactively that Baby Blue is small for her age. Her verbal skills are such that people freak. out. if they don't guess her actual age. I assume that, as her hair gets longer and it's easier to see that she's really not (say) 15 months old, I won't have to do that anymore.

My husband was very small for his age when he was growing up, and seems pretty well-adjusted about it, so I try to take my cues from him. He always tells me that being small can be an advantage -- that people were often much more impressed with whatever he accomplished because he looked so much younger than he really was when he did. His take on it is that you can't stop people from noticing, but you can turn that attention to your own advantage.

Andrea said...

Doesn't that drive you nuts?

I have nothing to add that you haven't already said yourself, so I'll just nod vigorously.

Genevieve said...

"Our developmental pediatrician came in, looked at CG, reviewed her accomplishments of the last year, and said, finally, "She's developing perfectly!""

This is fabulous news! Hooray!

And I will remember: "She's beautiful! Look at her go!" I remember getting comments when J. was so tiny (this was only in his first three months or so, so I don't remember it from an age when he could understand the comments). And then when he was about eight months old I made the mistake of saying it to a mom of a few-month-old baby whose reflux was considerably worse than J.'s and had had surgery, and I saw the hurt on her face. Haven't made such a comment since. I do still ask the age - it seems like common playground chat - but make sure my response is complimentary only.

Songbird said...

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.

Amen. And imagine the world we would live in if we could treat everyone this way.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

I second what Liz said! I was amazed by her confidence when I met her--it doesn't surprise me that she's not at all intimidated by the high monkey bars.

Jody said...

Wow, the monkey bars! None of my kids will even try without a parent right underneath to hold their legs. (Well, maybe Elba. But lately she's insane.) That's so cool.

Congrats on graduating from the developmental ped. What a milestone. Yay, y'all!

We still have the kids in 5-point Huskys, because they outgrew their original 5-point seats before they were heavy enough to be in boosters. And there is no way we paid $240 a seat for the kids to use them for only 18 months. So we'll be forcing our poor oppressed children to ride in "baby seats" well into elementary school, too.

Maybe we can form a club.

Piece of Work said...

That is awesome news, Susan. I'm sure CG is beautiful in every way.

If it helps at all, I was an extremely small child--I was always the smallest in my class, right up thru 10th grade. I actually repeated pre-K, at the pediatrician's suggestion, because I was so much smaller than the other kids (and also had a late birthday).
Being small became something I actually liked--it was something unique about me, and it became part of my identity. I saw it as a positive thing, though I couldn't tell you why. (Maybe because my mother is also small, and I worshipped her? I do remember my mother and father both talking about how cute it was to be small, singing songs like that one that goes "five foot two, eyes a blue ..". There was definitely a positive spin on being small, though I don't know if it was intentional.)

Also, maybe because I was a little older than the other kids in my class, or maybe because I was smaller (lower center of gravity, etc), I ended up being one of the more coordinated kids in class. So that really helped with confidence--kids appreciate physical skill, and it sounds like CG has that in spades.

Mommygoth said...

I can't believe the stuff people say. It's all I have in me sometimes not to be rude back and ask them why they felt it necessary to comment in the first place. CG is just the right size indeed. She is smart, and healthy, and she has a wonderful family. She will thrive.

Anonymous said...

I liked this post a great deal. My own 3 year old is small for her age, adn always has been. The only annoying thing to me was people thinking that she was insome sort of danger when they would see her at a playground, somehow believing that she was an 8 month old on top of the slide, not a 14 month old. And we get a lot of "She's so adorable!" "She's so cute!" which I don't hear directed at other, larger kids. Her small size makes her seem more like a toddler or baby, I guess. I just wish people would try to avoid all comments on physical appearance. And I think the parents of the really really big kids hear just as many annoying comments too.