the one about when I don't know what to say

It doesn't happen a lot, but it happens enough for it to bother me.

I'll be at a store or at a school or just somewhere (because rarely am I ever home), and I will get stopped by someone I know...typically an acquaintance whom I don't see very often, but know just well enough to exit my tunnel vision for a second and make small-talk.

I'll have the girls with me, and the conversation will shift over to them. Typically, the first thing someone will say is, "Wow, look at their hair!"

Then, every so often, I will get a "How old is she?" in reference to my three year old.

And then something like this happens.

"Oh, she's a big girl!"

"She's so much bigger than my girls!"

"She's gonna be big!"

Just like that, my funny, clever, happy, intelligent, special little girl who has never been "off the growth charts" is reduced to a size.

A comparison.

A superlative.

And it's like nails to a chalkboard every time.

I find myself quickly trying to shift the conversation, or sometimes I will say, "Well, she's 3 and a half..." but usually I will say nothing at all.

I have struggled with my weight all of my life. When I was in elementary and middle school, I was chubby. I have always had a round face. I am short, so five pounds on me can look like fifteen on someone else.

I "thinned out" a little in high school, put on the obligatory college pounds thanks to 3 a.m. pizza and $1.25 drink specials (damn you, Dill Street), lost weight for my wedding, gained the newlywed happy weight, lost weight before babies, gained weight during pregnancies, and now carry about thirty extra pounds that I would rather see gone.

But my point is that I knew I was chubby in elementary school. And being a 4th grade teacher for six years, those girls knew when they were chubby, too.

My girls will learn soon enough how they "measure up" against their peers. Maybe they will be bigger, maybe they will be smaller, maybe they will be taller, maybe they will be shorter. Maybe their hair will be curlier. Maybe they will have more freckles. Maybe they will have straighter teeth or maybe the opposite.

Soon enough, they will be worrying about being "thin enough," "pretty enough," "popular enough."

It happens very early...the comparing. They catch on quickly.

In fact, after preschool one day, Noelle came to me and cried because a little boy said she looked like Princess Sofia.

"What was wrong with that?" I asked her.

"Princess Sofia is not a beautiful princess like Rapunzel," she cried.

My three year old was already wishing she looked like someone else.

And it broke my heart because I have been there.

I still go there.

But I try my hardest not to "go there" in front of my girls. Each morning, they see me stand in front of the mirror and pick out clothes for the day. And as much as I would love to throw my clothes in a pile and say, "None of these fit because mommy is too fat right now," I don't. I hold back. I censor myself. I do not want my children, my girls, to see what poor body image looks like. I don't want them to hear me insult myself. I'm very protective of that.

Noelle watches me apply make-up, too, and when she asks why I am doing it, I try to say something like, "Girls don't have to put on make-up, but sometimes it is fun to play dress up." She doesn't need to know that if I don't put on my mascara, blush, and lip gloss, I may be confused for a naked mole rat and/or a walking corpse.

So let's go back to the unintentionally offensive comments at the beginning. I say unintentionally because I do feel they are not trying to hurt my feelings or my daughter's feelings.

But can we work on how to "comment" on children*?

Like, can we "comment" less on children and speak more to children?

*By children, I don't mean babies. With babies, really the only acceptable response upon first gaze is "Awwww isn't she just the cuuuuutest wittle thing in the whooooole wide world?!"

How about this. You're at the store and you run into someone you went to high school with who has a small child. A girl. She looks about 3 years old. After you greet your long lost friend, how about instead of making a comment about the child's appearance, especially the child's size, you bend down, speak to the child, ask her her name, ask her how old she is, ask her about her favorite color, TV show, animal, song, food, anything.

Could we try more of that? Because even if you just say a little girl is beautiful, which is a lovely compliment to give, there are so many others we could say. Girls are more than least mine are. Of course I believe my daughters are the most beautiful humans on the planet, and they should be reminded of that--definitely, but their beauty goes far deeper than the surface.

Girls are smart. They are inventive. They are creative. Girls are funny and clever. Girls are curious, happy, and free-spirited. Girls are delicate. Girls are strong. Girls are sweet. They are sassy. They are giving. Girls are kind. They are colorful. They are imaginative. Girls are charismatic.

Girls are important.

They are more than a size, than a weight, than a face.

Any of those could say...instead of

"She's a big girl!" and looking at her like she's the biggest sasquatch of a three year old you have ever seen.

Because next time I get a comment like that, I'm going to know what to say, and it might not be very nice.

No comments