My oldest child, my baby, my boy, my nearly 14-year-old, is a typical teen. He's messy, he smells, he gets embarrassed about girls, he forgets to do his homework, he walks around in droopy underpants asking what's for dinner. He's also highly intelligent, keenly observant, terribly witty, and one of the cutest nearly 14-year-old boys walking the planet today.
He's also small for his age.
Not a week goes by when some adult - some non-thinking, probably perfectly decent person - whose perception of "normal" or "strong" or "worthy of living" has been skewed by society or by their parents or by a t.v. show says to me either:
"He looks like a 3rd grader" - usually with a snicker or
"Oh, he's so small for his age" or
"Have you taken him to a doctor?"
To the first remark, how the hell should I respond to that? My inclination is to take out a sledge hammer and pound the person into the ground until he or she is inside the earth. Usually I make no indication whatsoever that his/her comment has affected me, because it really isn't worth the air that it would take to respond to it. But I always wonder...would this person, this grown adult who is supposed to be teaching his/her children to accept people for what they are and not how they look (or maybe I'm wrong, and that isn't a current trend in parenting?), say that to my son's face?
To the second, I usually say "Yeah, he is." In my mind, though, I am saying, "Yeah, he is, and he is obviously not worthy of sharing air with the likes of you, you obviously superior being who has obviously raised superior images of yourself. So, let's just take him out and shoot him dead." Do people - GROWN PEOPLE - think that I, that he, doesn't know that he is smaller than his friends? That he isn't as physically strong or acceptable to the world at large? For Pete's sake, I don't need anyone's self-proclaimed expert opinion on the matter.
To the third question, I say, "Yep. Doc says he is short." That's it. The doctor says that he is short. Because of me. I was a late bloomer, and so is he. So the F what?
I know I seem touchy and hypersensitive about the issue. But you have to understand that there are a whole bunch of ignorant people in the world, and I think just about every one of them has uttered one of those statements to me (and probably behind our backs). And, like a mama bear, I won't let anyone hurt my baby. But at the same time, I also won't acknowledge blatant ignorance and insensitivity, which is why I generally ignore comments - despite the fact that it goes against my very core, which requires a great deal of tongue-biting on my part.
I don't bring this up to call out the mean people in the world, or to make an example of my kid. I wanted to provide some backstory.
Both of my kids are swimmers. My daughter has some real natural prowess at it. She's younger than he is, and she started swimming competitively before he did, and she does well in meets. My son has been doing it a little over a year. He, too, has some natural prowess. He busts his butt in practice, he doesn't complain to the coach, he never gives up. He has his size working totally against him right now, and he is stuck in a practice group with his 10 year old sister and a group of other kids that age. He watches his friends from school practice in more advanced groups, and he sometimes gets down about it. He has to swim against kids his own age in meets, kids that are bigger than he is, kids that practice with other kids their own ages, despite never getting to practice against his own age group. And he generally finishes last in his events.
And he gets back in the pool every time. Smiling.
This weekend, my son was presented a challenge. He was entered to swim the 800 meter freestyle in a meet. If you don't swim, that is 16 lengths of the pool and you are either thinking (mistakenly) how hard could that be? or you are thinking (correctly) Yikes! If you do swim, you know how difficult that is for someone that is big and strong. That is a little more than 1/2 mile. Most people don't even bother to get off their couches to walk that far in a day, much less swim the distance. And he had to go as fast as he could, faster even. He was petrified, but he wasn't about to back out.
Swim meets are stressful for my son and for his parents. He never performs to his own satisfaction, he beats himself up, leaving his dad and me to attempt to keep him pepped up and positive in hopes that he won't give up. So, I am ashamed to admit that we were dreading this race a bit, only because we both know from experience how hard that distance can be, and how intimidating it can be if you've never done it before.
He took to the starting block looking as if we were sending him to the gas chamber. All I could do was think about the things I needed to say to him after the race to cheer him up. The starting horn went off, and we watched him swim length after length, smoothly and evenly, and diligently. His coaches cheered for him, his teammates cheered for him, his sister cheered for him, his dad cheered for him. I yelled for him. His last 50 meters, he dropped 10 seconds off his split, telling us that he not only could do it, he would do it faster next time! But there was still that chance that he had disappointed himself.
But when he emerged from the pool, his smile was bright enough to block out the sun. His coach, his dad, his teammates congratulated him. I wanted to scoop him up and jump with him and kiss his head. Instead, I gave him a high five. You know, to protect his rep.
He was happy with his swim, he was satisfied! He faced the challenge, and despite the people that are always giving him - and us - those pity-filled looks and making those ill-informed remarks, he was on top of the world. It didn't matter what his time was, it didn't matter where he placed.
My son is so many things. He is not big in size, but he is huge in determination and spirit and the only kind of strength that really matters. I am in awe of the sheer hugeness of the person that he is.
When I train and I get discouraged, or when I am in a race and I feel exhaustion and pain setting in, my son is what I will turn to for inspiration.
Because it isn't the size of the body that you are given that matters, it is what you do with it that means the most.