My son just had his fifth birthday. This was the first birthday where he really understood the importance of his big day 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?” he asked.
“Yes darling. You are big,” I assured him.
A few days later, we were out running errands. While standing in line at the deli, a woman smiled warmly at us and asked how old he was.
“I’m five,” my boy heartily announced in a way that only a newly-minted five year-old can.
The woman looked at me with a question mark in her eyes. 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 cute little habit of telling people she was 27. Kids are weird.
“Wow. But he’s so tiny,” she reached out to ruffle my son’s hair. “Doesn’t your mommy feed you enough?” Her tone was playful, but her words cut me.
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. I know she didn’t intend to question my fitness to be a parent. 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, not greeting every shopper we passed in the aisles with an energetic “hi, what’s your name?” or trying to convince me we needed that jumbo box of Spiderman fruit snacks, which was his normal MO.
“What’s up, buttercup?” I asked.
“Mommy, you said I was big.” He looked at me reproachfully.
He had a point. 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.
How in the hell do I answer that?
Although Kyle is five he’s about the size of tall two year-old. Size 2T pants fit him fine around the midsection but they’re a tad too short. I guess you could also say he’s the size of a short three year-old but you catch my drift. He’s little.
In spite of 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 when he was just days old. 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 him. I’ve spent the last two years making sure his belly is full and trying to play catch up.
He’s tiny. Maybe his lack of care during those important developmental years is the reason he’s so 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 and growing. Healthy. But still small. I know my kid is small.
I find myself internally cringing each time someone asks how old Kyle is because the “wow, really? He’s such a little guy;” or “gee, I thought he was younger” are 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, that’s what moms of five year-olds do. 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 kind of comments? Out loud, in his presence? Such as:
“Wow, that’s a hefty one you’ve got there” or;
“What are you feeding him?”
Fat-shaming and body image are hot-button topics right now. All you have to do is hop on the interwebs and you’ll see a bazillion articles about why it’s important to teach kids that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. About why what your body can do is more important that how you look.
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.
I know my kid is small, but he’s strong. His body may be tiny but 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.
Jill, you’re such an awesome mom. And I totally agree. People need to think before they speak. Even if the intention wasn’t to be hurtful, why even bother saying something like that at all?
People just don’t think. I’ve been guilty of it, too. Thanks for your kind words, Jess.
Thank you for this post. I am a “small” adult and it is so refreshing to read you’re take on this. I have often thought that if I were overweight people would make less comments about my appearance. People come in all shapes and sizes it’s never okay to shame someone for things they cannot control. Love love love this post. Stay strong mama.
It’s so hard for kids when they’re different from their peers, whether it’s a size difference or something else. Adults really don’t need to point things like that out.
My son is a little guy, too. Now that he’s in middle school, the other kids have no problem calling attention to his size on a regular basis. Grrrr…..
We have the same scenario, just reversed. My 2 year old daughter wears 4-5 T clothing. She’s not overweight but she is incredibly tall for her age. I hold my breath now, too, whenever someone asks how old she is. Because what always follows, almost without fail, is a comment about her size. I wish people would just stop for a few seconds, before speaking, to think about how their words might be internalized by that child … and us parents.
Oh man, the “You said I was big” almost made me start to cry. I think in way too many situations people practically see kids as a parent’s accessory and feel free to comment on them like they’re a new purse. They can hear you, people!
It was a little bit hard. We’d been building up his fifth birthday like the big deal that it was and one innocent comment kind of dashed it. He’s over it, though. Kids are resilient.
This is such a great post. It opens up the discussion about body image relative to not just the small/large
comments but also comments directed at boys AND girls. Nice work, Jill.
A-freaking-men. People need to stfu sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. I can’t imagine making such a rude comment. :-/
Tell your guy he’s big where it counts- in his heart. He’ll move mountains one day. <3
My son is also tiny. He is 2 but wears size 12 month clothes. I get mostly comments where they are telling their kids to “Be careful with the baby”. It can be annoying and I’m glad I haven’t had too many comments. I am sorry you and your son have to face this!
Pingback: Yes, I know my kid is small • Ripped Jeans & Bifocals
Any comments about size are so hard and people just don’t get it. They don’t get how rude or upsetting it can be.
I’m on the flip side. My just turned 2yo girl is in size 5/6 and my 6mo is in size 2 and just cracked 12.5kg. Though my kids are incredibly smart, capable and happy kids it seems irrelevant.
I have had people tell me my son would be healthier on breastmilk (he is). That I’m over feeding him, even some days the comment ‘wow seriously’ can hurt. I hate that this is the genetics my son has and that if he was on formula he’d be just as big and I would be in trouble from every medical professional. I’d be restricting his milk and he’d probably be one very upset and cranky baby. I also regularly get told I’m on a good pasture… um I’m not a cow thanks.
My 2yo is however the one I worry about. (Though I’ll be worried about my boy if he continues growing at this rate!!) Her growth record is identical to mine. And I know that the constant comments and experiences of being so tall and ‘big’ for my age lead to the 12 years I suffered from an eating disorder. When you finish primary school at your final adult height and don’t fit into the uniform anymore it takes a toll on your soul. Let alone having your high school uniform not even cover your undies or fit your boobs in. It’s hard.
I imagine being constantly called small and tiny weighs on your soul too. Not feeling like you measure up to being an adult, etc. A friend of mine only fits in kids shoes and as much as this whole make little kids look older than they are has really worked for her shoe shopping she points out that it’s actually really degrading walking into a kids store to try on shoes and being told that our shoes aren’t for adults please don’t stretch the shoes.
I just don’t understand how people haven’t realised that commenting on size matters. Stop it!! We don’t like hearing it so why does anyone say it??