Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Tall Tale: When Your Kids Sprout Up

Height happens.

Within the past two months, I have noticed that I am somehow eye-to-eye with my baby. Okay, so the baby is 12 years old. And his two brothers before him were beyond my eye level when they were his age. But still... How did I manage to become the shortest person in the house? Wait. I'm not exactly; my daughter is one inch shorter than me, and if I am to believe her pediatrician, at age 15 Jess has reached her adult height. Whew! Nevertheless...

There is something a bit disconcerting about having a child tower above you. For many years I was the towering presence: the grown-up, the authority figure, the "I'm-bigger-than-you-are" guy. When your kid suddenly sprouts up and you are literally knocking foreheads with him, well, it's a milestone of a different sort. It's not really a warm and fuzzy, get out the camera, lump-in-your-throat milestone. Maybe lump-in-your-throat because you ascertain that your baby is baby in concept only. But as I said up front, I have been on the south side of height with a child before, and it's just plain weird. it begs the question: "Can my child still look up to me without looking up at me?"

The answer to that is both yes and no. Why both? Easy -- Because when a child suddenly grow inches in stature, they are in the throes of adolescence, which
by nature means that they probably aren't going to "look up to" their parent on the more constant basis that they did before they began growing into their shoe size. You can still be - and are - their role model in many ways. They know in their heart-of-hearts that you are the boss, but being teens or teens-in-training, their job is to question, question, question and push the envelope every which way that they can. It doesn't really matter if you are shorter or taller than them at this point, this is just what they do. However, if you are vertically-challenged by them it is a bit dicier to cut the figure of the hero. Blake was a six-footer when he started high school, and six-foot-two when he graduated. I am a lofty five-foot, four-and-half inches (need to get that half inch in there). He thought - and still thinks on occasion - that because we hover in different atmospheres that he is the one in charge; the smarter, better one. How annoying was this during high school? In order to put him in his place, so to speak, I would make him sit down, so we were on a level playing field, and assure him that in fact I was still the parent. "Just because you're bigger, doesn't make you better," I'd say firmly. "I still have time and experience on my side, so cool it!" Due to carrying such a heavy pack during his Iraq deployments, he has actually lost an inch or two, but clearly I still need to crane my neck to have a conversation with him when he is at home. And even though he knows I am the parent, he still finds great joy in picking me up like a worthless rag doll if I stray toward lecture mode. Fair enough, I guess, but I do miss my dignity for those few seconds. What seems not fair, though, is how stealth the growing taller process is for children. It's insidious. One day you are kissing the top of their head as they run out the door, the next day it's their nose, and the next... their chin or their chest! They are wearing your clothes, they are borrowing their father's shoes, they are accidentally hitting their heads on the car door when they duck inside for a ride. "No! No!" I want to cry. "Stop it! I want you to grow up, but not... grow up!" Get more mature, more responsible; I can emotionally handle that. But grinning at me from several inches above my grin? Now just hold on a minute! My mother - who remained taller than me, but shorter than my brother - used to jokingly tell him that he was "not too old or too big to spank" when he was sassy to her. I used that line on Jack the other day, to which he replied all five-foot-four-y: "Yeah? You gotta catch me first!" Curses! Foiled again.

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