Stanley Paste is small.
And he hates it.
But when a new girl [Eleanor Cabbage] arrives at school, Stanley learns that perhaps being small is not so bad after all.
My daughter could be Stanley Paste’s little sister. She’s small. Really small. And she hates it.
She wasn’t always tiny. She started off a whisker shy of eight pounds, but just like her brothers, stretched out long and thin. She shadowed the percentile growth chart following an arc of her own but unfortunately the tiny little dot of development didn’t actually reach the graph paper. We were referred to paediatricians. Despite all signs pointing to a healthy, thriving baby who met milestones, specialists shrugged their shoulders and suggested bottle top-ups progressing to early introduction of solids.
“Could it just be that she's built small?” I’d asked on many occasions. It wasn’t until an older, hardier Maternal and Child Health Nurse with a huge dose of common sense injected her opinion, that I could actually breathe out.
“As long as she’s putting on weight, even if it’s not the amount the charts say she should, and as long as she’s flourishing, I can see no problem.”
She kept one eye on my daughter and the other on my toddler who was an uninhibited climber scaling walls during most of our appointments.
It’s incredibly stressful having a small, underweight baby (and a climbing toddler). All those health appointments with doctors scrunching their faces up in painful thought, poking at the baby, making references to the quality of your breast milk. It’s natural to jump to the conclusion that something is wrong. And that the wrong is your fault.
I’d successfully breastfed three other children, who were also long and skinny, so experience should have told me that this is how they roll – well, without rolls - in my house. My confidence still took a sucker punch when all the recommendations pointed directly at me as the poor provider of sustenance. It took a while to shake that guilt. Yet even with top-ups and extra food, my daughter remained petite.
My daughter is now four. Four-and-a-half, actually, (I’m usually corrected if she’s in earshot). She’s small but she’s no pushover. To borrow words from a man you may have heard of by the name of Shakespeare, “Though she be but little, she is fierce”. He probably wasn’t talking about a fierce appetite, but man, the girl can put some food away (if you just add sugar she’d eat a mountain). Perhaps she has the world’s fastest metabolism, the dream most women wish for?
As the youngest in our house, with three older brothers, she will likely always be the smallest, even once the boys stop growing. If she’s lucky, she’ll outgrow me, which I wouldn’t expect to be much of a challenge at 165cm. I’m no garden gnome, and my husband is no sky-scraper at 180-odd cm; we are fairly stock standard. I’m unsure how we made such a tiny child.
Just to make the height issue more blatant, she’s chosen almost the tallest child at kindergarten to be her best friend. Her own Eleanor Cabbage. And now she’s started to notice the height difference amongst her peers. She tells me that when they play “Mums and Dads” she always gets assigned the role of the baby. She’s cottoned-on to the “not fair” phrase that she repeats relentlessly in relation to her height. Apart from suggesting she find herself some shorter friends, I’m at a loss for advice.
I’ve tried to emphasise the many benefits of being small – she’s super fast, she can fit in small spaces (she’s adept at hide-n-seek), she’ll never have cramped legs on an airplane (not particularly relevant to a four-year-old), and everyone comments on how adorable she is.
Truth be told, she’s cute. Damn cute but I try my best not to focus on that. Plenty of people tell me she’s lucky she’s a girl given she’s so miniature. Apparently small boys are what? Undesirable? Cursed? Seems ludicrous to me but I know it’s out there.
I can’t blame her height obsession. As a society, and individuals (yes, I’m guilty too), we tend to focus on physiques. The topic, like a rash all over the media, fuels our constant desires to be better than we are in the body department. Rather than appreciating our bodies for the amazing physiological feats they are, we bemoan our shortarsedness (yes, it’s a new word), our loftiness, the muffin top rolling over the jeans, the mum-gut, the pregnancy weight, the beer belly, the baby booty. We wish we had bigger boobs / smaller boobs / weighed less / weighed more / had more laugh lines, less crow's feet … The list is not exhaustive yet it's exhausting.
So my daughter may be small, and she may be starting to recognise that she’s on the lower end of the height scale amongst her friends but it’s my job as her parent to refocus back where it belongs – on who she is as a person. Cheesy? Sure. But so much more can be achieved in life, in the pursuit of happiness, in the feelings of accomplishment and contribution to the world around us when we feel confident about who we are. The reflection from the mirror, and the commentary from our peers, should be peripheral.
Perhaps if I borrow a quote from the wise man, Dr Seuss, I can sum up size to my daughter: “A person's a person, no matter how small.” Maybe, like Stanley Paste, she’ll realize being small isn’t so bad after all.
Do you have short children? Are they bothered by it? Or do you have tall children who feel their height is a talking point?