When my first baby was born, I was shocked by how tiny she was. I’d never seen a person so small in all my life.
“She looks just like a tiny baby doll,” the nurse told me as she handed me my 5 lbs., 11 oz. daughter, all wrapped up and as healthy as could be. She really did look like a tiny doll, so small and fragile that I worried about dropping her or banging her head as soon as I reached for her. I held her little hands and touched each one of her pin-prick fingers, hoping not to break her.
She was small as could be, but her presence in that room felt enormous.
As my daughter grew, she would remain on the small side, but that was to be expected. I am just about 5’2″ and my husband is around the same height. At each doctor visit for years, I would find myself reminding the pediatrician that our family is on the shorter side when he’d furrow his brow at the growth chart and tell me my daughter was only in the 5th or 6th percentile. As she got older — old enough to overhear, anyway — I kept having to say “that’s okay!” or make a joke about why being small is really so great, so that she wouldn’t start to wonder why it kept being pointed out that she wasn’t bigger.
But it did keep being pointed out. Once in a supermarket, a cashier heard my 3-year-old daughter spit out a seamless, flowing sentence and just about keeled over at how well-spoken she was for “a baby.” When I explained that that baby was actually 3 years old and had been talking for quite some time, she just about keeled over again.
Over the years, when mothers would ask my daughter’s age on a playground or at school functions, they gasped when I told them her age. They’d stare with their mouths agape and draw attention to how she looked different than what they expected a child of her age to look. Sometimes they’d look at her and grab her cheeks and say “but she’s itty bitty!” I found myself explaining to grown-ups that people come in all shapes and sizes, more often than I ever imagined I’d have to.
Last year, when my daughter went to kindergarten, her small stature became even more obvious to her. She was the smallest in her class, a whole head shorter than many students. A couple of teachers even took to calling her “baby Piper” each morning, as she made her way into the building — until I started speaking up each time, saying “she’s not exactly a baby.” Eventually, they got the hint, dropped the “baby,” and simply said “good morning, Piper.”
As a healthy 7-year-old, my daughter often gets mistaken for a clever 5-year-old. Just recently in her rock-climbing class, another little girl her age told her, “But you don’t look 7 at all.” I try to encourage her not to worry about being on the smaller side, because there’s really nothing wrong with being little. Still, the feeling that people are looking down on her — figuratively and literally — is something I can relate to.
I know how intimidating it can feel, being the smallest person in the room. So does my husband, who has been openly mocked for his height not just during his youth, but also through adulthood. And I shudder to think about how much harder it may be for my 3-year-old son to cope with his own height one day, than it is for my daughter now.
But as a person who has been small my whole life — a person who, even as a 32-year-old woman, sometimes is mistaken for a college student, rather than a mother of two — I’ve learned a bit about being small. And this is what I want my daughter to know.
I’ve realized it’s my presence that will make people know or understand me much more than it is my height. Looking people in the eye, standing up straight, speaking clearly, and commanding respect usually alerts people to the fact that I’m a grown ass woman pretty quickly. When I am confident, bold, and outspoken, I don’t feel like a child; and I don’t think people see me as one, either.
It’s okay to use your loud voice. It’s okay to take up space. You’re only as small as you make yourself, so don’t shrink down for anyone.
Ever since she was born, my daughter has had a presence. She commands attention — of me, and everyone else. Sometimes she is careful and intentional with who she lets see that side of her now; but I hope she never lets her light be dimmed by anyone. I hope she learns quicker than I did that there is no prize for growing past the 8th, 9th, or 10th percentile and no harm in loving yourself the way you are.
Most people have things about themselves that they wish they could change. Just another inch taller, another pound off the scale. But being confident and living a happy life really isn’t about numbers. It’s about knowing who you are and if you know that, than you can never, ever be made small.