“You’re seven? But you’re so small!!”
I hold back a grimace. My daughters and I are at a trampoline park, and the employee handing them their wristbands has just asked their ages.
Somehow, I know from the instant that my daughter says proudly, “I’m seven!” that an incredulous reaction will soon follow. My youngest child has always been tiny. Over the years, I’ve struggled not to indulge my knee-jerk response to comments on her size. I used to launch into a detailed explanation of her prematurity and our family genetics, punctuated with some lame statement like, “She’s small but feisty!”
These days, I try to keep my words more simple: “Yes. She is small.” Or, “She’s the perfect size for her.” These responses are an improvement on my earlier rants, for sure, but they still feel somehow unsatisfying.
My daughters get their wristbands and I smile at the employee. My youngest child says nothing, but I wonder how she is feeling inside.
There’s nothing I can do to control what people might say about my daughter’s stature, nor is there any proven way to increase her genetically determined height. Growth hormone is a treatment that’s often prescribed to extremely short children, but its benefits in healthy kids are dubious, and the risks aren’t insignificant.
I’ve written and ruminated extensively on these facts. I expect most strangers to notice, and sometimes mention, that my daughter is petite. Even so, these comments still bother me. They remind me of the uphill battle my daughter could face in a society that too often equates height with strength, success, and potential.
My gaze shifts to my youngest as she waits in line for the trampoline park’s rock climbing wall. As of this visit, she hasn’t yet made it all the way to the top. Now I hold my breath as she climbs. After a few false starts and a short break, she gets clipped back into the harness and begins ascending once again. She hesitates halfway up, looking for the perfect rock where she can plant her foot. She’s not panicking; rather, she seems patient. Deliberate. A few moments later, she climbs the rest of the way to the top and triumphantly taps the buzzer to celebrate her victory.
My daughter bounds over to me with a huge grin on her face. “Did you see? I did it! I did it!”
“I saw! Nice job!” I tell her.
Language can be powerful. When someone’s words hit a nerve for us, it makes sense that we want to react in kind: to mount our verbal defense, to argue, deflect, or explain. There is a time and a place for this measured response.
But watching my daughter tackle that rock wall and witnessing her pure joy when she reached her goal reminded me that sometimes the best response to words that hurt us isn’t more words. Sometimes our energy is better spent on action that moves us forward and upward.
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