It was Ash Wednesday and my family was attending the 7:30 mass together. When it was our turn for communion we filed up one at a time. When it was my little one’s turn, the Eucharistic minister stopped, stared at her and asked her a question: “Are you old enough for communion? Have you celebrated your first Holy Communion yet?”
My little one, who took communion for the first time about a year ago, explained that yes, she had. The woman smiled, gave her a communion wafer and mentioned that she thought Little Girl was much younger. “I figured you were in kindergarten,” she said not unkindly.
At first, Little Girl thought it was funny. (She sees humor in everything.) She laughed about it to the point I had to shush her and remind her we were in church. When we got home, though, it started to bother her. “I’m sooooo short,” she wailed. “That lady thought I was a baby!” Which, when you’re 8, is a huge insult as any third grader will tell you.
My older daughter is struggling with the opposite problem. This year, she grew more than four inches, hitting 5’7″. She’s tall. We can even share some clothing and shoes despite the fact that she is still a rail — her body is still that of a little girl. Lanky — all arms and legs — my big girl stands out in a crowd where many of her peers are petite. She’s not that thrilled with her height, either. When I hug her she tries to stoop down, saying that she’s not really that tall. When someone remarks that she’s grown so much, she gets fidgety and flushed. She doesn’t want to be tall. Granted, I think the problem is she doesn’t want to leave childhood behind, but even putting that aside, she’s still not a happy camper when it comes to her height. It’s so upsetting to her, I don’t even dare tell her that she’s likely to get a lot taller since she’s not in puberty yet.
The result: For the first time ever my girls envy each other. The little one wishes for her sister’s height and the big one yearns to be little again. This surprises me. They have always been as different as you could get. One with long, blonde hair with a slight wave, the other sporting a mass of wild, red curls. My big girl is serious, studious and introspective. The little one is gregarious, athletic and friendly. They even have different-colored blue eyes, with one set the color of the sky on a warm summer day and the other the exact replica of a November sky, cool and grayish. And yet they were never jealous of each other. Admiring — yes — but never wishing for what the other had.
As their mother, this made me extremely happy since I’ve always celebrated their differences. Unique is good, I tell them. They are so lucky. Both were born with skills, talents and gifts that set them apart from each other and the world. This height thing, however, has thrown me for a loop. How do I tell Little Girl how lucky she is to be tiny while at the same time telling Big Girl what a blessing her height is? How do I straddle the fence, making sure they are proud of who they are — tall or short? I have to figure it out.
Right now, I try and bolster both girls using an example that’s very close to home: Me and my sister. I am a respectable 5’7″ (5’8″ in the morning!) My sister is nearly six feet tall. She takes after my parents. (Mom is six-feet; Dad was 6’5″. So is my brother.) Growing up, I never felt tall, although I certainly was. I was the small one in a sea of tall relatives. And yet I don’t think either of us ever thought twice about our heights. Yes, I sometimes wished I had an extra inch or two, but it never really bothered me. Same with my sister. And I use these feelings and experiences to tell my girls that different is good. Different is beautiful. Different should be celebrated.
I also tell my big one how nice it was to go to bars (or concerts or stores) and be the tall one who stood head and shoulders above the rest. I tell my little one that she will have a huge pool of potential husbands to choose from, and that she’ll probably never have to buy pants that are sized Long like I do. She also won’t struggle with short sleeves or jackets that are tight across the shoulders. Sure, she may be a Petite size when she grows up, but there’s plenty to choose from and it’s easier to hem pants than it is to try and make them longer. Meanwhile, the big one will always look leaner than she would if she was short. But most important I tell them that their most important attributes — their hearts and minds — are both the same. They are huge, open and always growing. And that is really what matters in the end.