Yes, I know my kid is small. So does he, thanks to a well-meaning blabbermouth. Some backstory: Kyle turned 10 this spring. He's the smallest person in our family and he's always the smallest kid in his class. He realizes this and it bothers him. We nurture him and we build him up while trying to teach him to be realistic. I would love to tell him he's going to grow six inches before his next birthday and believe that would be true. And, maybe it is true. We don't know.
This was originally written shortly after Kyle turned five. Can we all just pause for a minute and acknowledge time moves way too fast? Five, for Kyle, was the first year he really understood the importance of birthdays and the magic that comes with no longer being four years-old. I wish I got that excited about my birthdays.
“Am I a big boy now, mommy?”
“Yes, darling. You are big.” I assured him.
A few days after Kyle's fifth birthday, he and I were out running errands. I was in that “spend time alone with each of my kids” phase and I took him – just him – to the grocery store.
A woman at the deli smiled at us while we were waiting for our cheese to be sliced.
“How old is he?”
“I'm FIVE,” my boy heartily announced in a way that only a newly-minted five-year-old can.
Deli lady looked at me with questioning eyes, as if to say “Is he really five?”
I smiled and nodded, not thinking it was any big whoop that she wanted to fact check. When my daughter was in grade school, she had a funny habit of telling people she was 27. What can I say…kids are weird sometimes.
“But he's so tiny,” she beamed at my son. “Doesn't your mommy feed you enough?” Her tone was playful and I know she meant no harm. But, she did harm.
Yes, I know my kid is small. I know the lady in the deli didn’t mean to be rude or hurt my child’s feelings. She was simply pointing out the obvious even though it was… well, obvious.
We bought our cheese and moved on. My son was uncharacteristically quiet.
“What’s up, buttercup?” I asked.
“Mommy, you said I was big.” He looked at me reproachfully.
That was true. I’d spent that last week or so talking about how big and grown up he was, only to have that bravado shattered by the casual comment of a stranger.
So how do I answer?
At five, Kyle was the size of tall two year-old or a short three year old. At 10, he's the size of a six-year-old. He’s little. He just is. Despite his size, he’s a healthy kid, although he didn’t have the greatest start in life. He was born with complex digestive problems and was orphaned at birth. Medical care and nutrition during his early years were marginal at best. We adopted him shortly after his third birthday. He was severely underweight and malnourished on the day we met.
Maybe his lack of care during those important developmental years is the reason he’s small. Maybe his biological parents were short and skinny. I don’t have that piece of the puzzle. Maybe he’ll have a growth spurt next month and be the tallest kid in the class. Who knows?
He’s not even on the growth charts for kids his age, but he’s holding his own. I spent the first few months home with him spooning heavy cream and butter into his food to up the calorie content and worrying about whether he was getting enough nutrients. In spite of his bumpy beginnings, my boy is thriving. Growing. Healthy. But small. I know my kid is small. He knows, too.
I cringe each time someone asks how old Kyle is because the “Wow, really? He’s such a little guy” is getting harder to swallow as he gets older and is able to process what people are saying about his body. I tell him what a big boy he is because… well, I'm his mom and that's what I'm supposed to tell him. I find myself having to give him pep talks about differences more and more often because of the things that innocently fly out of people’s pie-holes. People who mean no harm whatsoever.
What if my kid were chubby? Would people make the same comments? Out loud, in his presence?
“Whoo, that's a hefty kid you've got there…what do you feed him?”
Um, probably not.
We’re trying to promote positive body image and teach kids that what’s on the inside is what’s important. To be body positive and to know what your body can do is more important that how it looks. Or does that only apply to people who are overweight? While it’s generally considered rude to tell someone they’re too large, pointing out that they’re too skinny doesn’t seem to be taboo. It’s not okay to make comments about anyone’s body, no matter what size or shape they come in.
My boy is small but mighty. He can run, climb, and kick a ball… although interestingly, being asked to pick up his toys is “too hard” and makes him incredibly tired. Will he one day be the tallest kid in his class? Maybe. He’s five. So much of his future has yet to be written. Will he be a star basketball player or an award-winning jockey? I’ll settle for a happy and well-adjusted human and I think he’s off to a great start. His future potential isn’t defined by his stature.
Yes, I know my kid is small. Keep your comments about his body – and anybody’s body – to yourself, thank-you-very-much.