"I wonder if she can slam dunk."
"That mom is gonna hit her head on the door."
"She's taller than my dad!"
These are things often overheard when I drop my kids at school. Kids don't whisper quietly. None of these comments are new, mind you. I've heard these (and worse) since I was, oh, 9 years old, when I stood next to my 4th-grade teacher and one of my classmates noticed that I was as tall as Mrs. Schneider. No, I cannot slam dunk and I've never hit my head on a door jamb, but yeah, I'm taller than most dads. (And I've only met one mom in Portland who looks me in the eye; her kids go to a different school.)
I've borne the loud-whispered tall comments my whole life. Usually they're muttered behind my back, but often to my face as well. People say silly things. Period. Words sting, even if they're not intentionally harsh or teasing, and I wish people would realize that I can hear their gasps and whispers; my ears are not so high above your mouth that sound doesn't reach them. There are so many times - daily! - that I would like to simply blend in, to not stand an entire head taller than everyone in the room.
But what can I do about it? The only alternative I've come up with so far would be chopping off my feet just above the ankle to remove about 6 inches. (That would put be at about 5'9" which I've always felt would be a perfect height.) However, it would be difficult to get around without feet and ankles, and my hiking boots would surely never fit right again. I like hiking, so I suppose I'll continue to put up with the tall comments. I'll continue to pretend my ears are too far into the clouds to hear shorter people's questions, taunts, jokes. And I'll put off ordering the jacket that reads "I can hear you, dummy" across the back.
My kids are tall, too. Of course they are. You'd be surprised how many people - even well-educated people who understand the general concept of genetics - say things like "Wow, he's tall" when they see Happy standing next to me. (Interesting, too, is that they always ask, "Is his Dad tall?" As if my being 6'2" doesn't fully elucidate the origins of his height.) Just last week, at Zippy's 7-year-old well visit, our pediatrician's nurse practitioner said, "You should take a look at this growth chart! He's well above the curve for both height AND weight." I didn't respond with words. Instead, I glared a laser through her face until she realized what she'd said, how ridiculous it sounded when talking to a child's Amazonian mother. She looked down at the chart, wearing a sheepish I-can't-believe-I-just-said-that smile, and replied, "Well, I guess that's to be expected. I mean, he always has been. And you..." Her voice trailed off without finishing the sentence. (Can you believe she asked a few moments later if his dad is tall, too?)
In general, when I'm with my tall kids, the tall comments are directed at me (because I'm tallest, and I'm a woman and may as well have a horn growing from my forehead), and I absorb them as I always have. (Someday I'll tell you how mama-bear I feel when I hear people talking about Happy's size, and how amazed I am that my own parents must have carried a roiling ball of fire in their bellies without completely exploding on my behalf.) This morning, though, walking into Zippy's school and hearing (again) all the children whispering, a sudden anxiety gripped me: Will my kids be embarrassed by my size?
I mean, they're both at ages where their peers' perceptions are crucial to their own self-esteem. Will they hear these whispers and feel self-conscious of their own bodies? Will other kids tease them about me?! I was suddenly 9 years old again, hearing a classmate say "My mom thought you were the teacher!" about our class picture, listening to the laughter of my own classmates and wishing I could melt into the linoleum floor. I tucked my head down, felt my shoulders hunching.
At that very moment, Zippy reached out and grabbed my hand. I know he heard the comments, too. We walked a few more feet into the school entryway, and a little boy looked right at him and said, "Your mom is taller than allllll the teachers!"
"My mom," Zippy explained, "is tall like a superhero." His stride didn't slow, his voice didn't waver. True conviction and all heart. My boy's mom is tall like a superhero. In fact, she is taller than his dad, too.
I squeezed Zippy's hand. He squeezed back. Then I let go, breathed deeply, and watched him float along in the wave of children flooding the hallway. I could see him all the way to his classroom at the end of the hall, too, because he stands a head taller than every single child around him.