Not so tall, and happy about it
“Guess what, Mom?” my daughter said. It was as excited as she’s ever been after a first day of school. Grace has always liked summer too much to have anything good to say about it ending, but this time was different.
“The boys got tall,” she said. She named a couple of them, boys who just last May, in some cases, barely reached her shoulder.
“I’m not the tallest anymore,” she said, relieved.
I told her so. I promised she wouldn’t be the giraffe in the middle school circus forever, and that most of the boys would catch up and, eventually, sprout up past her. But she didn’t believe me.
Thirteen is hard. So is 12. But all of it is especially difficult when you are that age while also being the tallest person in your grade. Grace has always been blessed with height. In kindergarten, she was not all that much shorter than her teacher. (Granted, the teacher was unusually petite, but still.)
There are drawbacks to height like that: people always took Grace for being older than she was, expecting more maturity and, sometimes, more athletic ability. And somewhere around fifth grade, she finally had had enough of adults asking if she was a basketball player. She played hoops for a year and decided it wasn’t her game, but the questions continued.
At 13, you want to look like everybody else, and that wasn’t always easy. In fifth grade, when her friends dressed in only clothing from Justice, she was shut out because nothing fit.
“I want to be little like everybody else,” she would say. And every time, I would answer the same way.
“Tall is good. Tall people look better in clothes, they go into the world looking more confident,” I would say, but none of that mattered.
“Studies show that tall people earn more money than shorter people do.” Still nothing.
“And did I tell you that when you are tall, you can eat a bit more?”
I was wasting my breath. All she wanted was to look like everybody else. What seventh-grader cares about confidence or salary when all she wants is to blend in?
I would remind her that boys lag behind girls in their growth; in middle school, things are out of whack, with the girls being tall and more mature and the boys smaller and lagging behind the curve all around.
“You’ll see,” I said. “Give it a couple of years.”
Well, a summer does wonders, doesn’t it? Part of the excitement of that first day of school is seeing what became of everybody while they were away.
I still remember my friend Karen, whose short dark hair became, miraculously, long and darker over the summer. I coveted it. Everybody seemed to blossom those months between seventh and eighth grade, becoming the people they would be until graduation.
At 5-10, she’s still among the tallest girls, but the boys are passing her up. Now she will fit into that space in the middle, not the smallest and not the largest. When you’re 13, that’s a comfortable place.
Someday Grace will appreciate her height, the strong and tall body that will carry her through life. She still doesn’t get that part, but she’s relieved.
“I don’t have to look down at the tops of the boys’ heads any more,” she said.
And all I could say was, I told you so.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.