When the generalization becomes an expectation, there lives a stereotype.
Men are generally taller than women. There’s the generalization.
Men are tall or at least the real men are supposed to be tall. And there’s your stereotype.
Sam is a little guy. Even for a toddler, he’s small. Sure, he could go through a growth spurt at 14, sprouting gangly limbs and lurching around awkwardly, and end up a 6 foot tall giant. I don’t think it’s likely though. Did you pick up on the fact that I think 6 feet tall is a giant? That just might hint to you at how tall, or to change the perspective – how short, I am. I’m 5’3”. Jack is 5’5”. It seems likely then that our son Sam will follow the family trend.
When Jack was 18 months old he stopped growing for a while. For six months his growth had completely ceased, and then it began again, perhaps more slowly than normal. He was poked and pricked and tested for the next several years while he fell to the bottom of the growth chart. By fifth grade his buddies, the bullies, and the rest of his classmates towered over him by several inches or much more.
From x-rays of his hand and wrist, Jack was diagnosed with constitutional growth delay. It’s a condition whereby one’s physical age is younger than one’s chronological age. What? Yeah, I don’t really grasp a medical understanding of it either. But I do understand that it causes the kid to be behind his peers, growth-wise. Interestingly though, it does not cause any physical health problems; the individual should eventually reach full height and maturity albeit much later than everyone else.
In Jack’s case, six months of no growth was combined with short family genes and a case of ordinary late bloomerism. (The family trait of late bloomerism was evident in his brothers, too, who were also the shortest kids in their grades until their growth spurts naturally kicked in during junior high. However, while there’s no doubt that the brothers were short kids, the gap between Jack and his classmates was greater. As adults his brothers are 5’9” and 5’10”; there are a few tallish genes floating around the family tree. I think shortness reigns though. Jack, at his adult height of 5’5”, is still taller than both of his parents.)
You can imagine that, for many, the years of adolescence is rife with insecurity and general misery as a kid navigates the sometimes hellish social ecosystem that is middle school and high school. (It could be unpleasant for us nerdy types anyway.) In a population that, like most of society, values height, physical strength, and athleticism in males, how much more difficult do you think adolescence might be for a small boy? The problem with constitutional growth delay then isn’t one of poor physical health; it is a social problem. Additionally, constitutional growth delay does not only affect height; puberty is also delayed. It’s hard enough to ask a girl for a date. It must be even harder when you have the body of a younger boy.
Jack’s parents made the decision to start Jack on doses of testosterone by sixth grade. He’s glad they did. It gave his growth a much-needed jumpstart. Specifically, he was able to enter the not-so-magically-wonderful world of puberty. He gained all those delightful additions of hair in funny places and other awkward changes, and his voice transformed into the voice I know and love. He was still short but started making greater progress towards reaching his full mature height.
Fast forward thirty odd years, and here we have our sweet Sam.
Having gained a mere 4 oz since his six month check-up, at Sam’s nine month appointment he weighed 15 lbs and 9 oz. And he grew one inch. Our wonderful pediatrician Dr. Morton noted that although Sam was at the bottom of the growth chart, he looked healthy and happy. And he does; Sam has good muscle tone, healthy color, not scrawny looking at all. He looks like a completely healthy baby, but a bit miniature sized. Dr. Morton at this point is more concerned about Sam not gaining any weight than about his length. He said it was time to work another meal into Sam’s diet. Jack and I followed his advice, and it’s been three meals a day now. Lately Sam has been my little piggy; by which I happily mean that he has had a healthy appetite. At first we were only giving Sam about a ¼ cup of food for a meal, and he seemed satisfied with that (not even finishing that all the time.) But in addition to increasing the frequency of meals we’ve also increased the amount. Sometimes it’s ⅓ cup, ½ cup or even more depending on his appetite and mood. We make our own baby food: a mix of fruits, veggies, yogurt, chicken, and some cheese. I’m no farmer; when I say “make” I mean that I buy fresh organic produce and dairy and cook/mash/puree it. I still breastfeed Sam five or six times a day. Jack gives him an 8oz bottle of formula at bedtime—a remnant from the very early days when we had to supplement my breast milk. Now it gives me a much-needed, much-appreciated break in the evenings!
Tomorrow we go back to the pediatrician to check on Sam’s growth. It’s been six weeks. With all this yummy and nutritious food in his diet, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some significant weight gain. In fact I’d be very surprised if we don’t because, as Jack joyfully pointed out to me last week, Sam’s thighs have put on some extra chubbiness. When he’s being changed, Sam lies on the changing table and points his feet straight up in the air. Now I grab his legs and jiggle his thighs and gleefully sing “Chuuubbyyy thiiiighs!!!” and he laughs and laughs and laughs.
I can see the chubby thighs, but I don’t see any evidence that he’s grown in length at all, but who knows? Chubby thighs certainly indicate a positive weight gain, but there may still be some trials ahead. What would we do if Sam had constitutional growth delay? Would we give him testosterone? Some parents in that situation might even opt for the more extreme growth hormone treatment. Thank God that Jack’s parents didn’t do that. The children who took the newly available growth hormone in the 1970s didn’t fare so well as they got older. I don’t know about growth hormone for Sam. That feels extreme, and definitely doesn’t seem very crunchymunchy to me. Lastly, I get to what I see as the crux of the situation. Sam’s emotional well-being.
How do Jack and I teach Sam that height doesn’t matter nearly as much as society may lead you to think it does? How do we instill confidence in Sam, or help and support him in having confidence in himself? Jack had a friend in high school who was also shorter than most of the guys. Ted, however, was brimming with confidence, and nobody messed with him. What was Ted’s secret? And how do we raise Sam to not feel as though his height is a plague upon him? Jack believes that all children have a moment where they realize that they are different from other children in an undesirable way. For Jack, it was his height. The undesirability of the trait may be all in the child’s own head (for example maybe it’s glasses or red hair that marks them as different) but that doesn’t make the feelings and self-consciousness any less real. If height proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to Sam surviving the teenage and college years happily and perhaps an obstacle to romance as well, but there was some way we could improve the situation, wouldn’t we want to do it? If we decided to use testosterone treatment to advance growth, how would we do that while simultaneously preaching that Sam was perfect and beautiful exactly the way that he was? Perhaps most importantly, how do we raise Sam to be able to love himself and be comfortable in his own skin? And how do we do that in a world that loves tall men, and where short men are often the butt of a joke?
We leave for play group in about 80 minutes. I love going to Sam’s play group. Miracle of miracles, a bunch of women who were all strangers with nothing in common but delivery dates, and yet we all get along. This group helped keep me sane during those first few months of motherhood feeling isolated, at home alone tied to the glider and nursing nearly non-stop all day. At the time, Sam wouldn’t nap unless he was in my arms, so I was glued to the chair even during his naps. During play group, we were still stuck in chairs holding our nursing and napping babies, but we had company and conversation, which like I said, was vital in keeping me sane.
Now during play group the moms place babies on the floor to play. Most of the babies are now crawling around, not the two youngest yet – my Sam and a baby girl. They sit on the floor or crawl around, playing with toys and squealing and babbling happily. Sometimes at a play date I have put him down on a blanket. But at last week’s play group, I kept him on the couch with me nearly the entire time.
I think floors are icky. They are covered with whatever you have tracked in on the bottom of your shoes. That means, if you stop at an interstate rest stop and use the bathroom, you could be standing in the same spot where a trucker had a $12 hooker the night before. An unlikely example I suppose, but my point is that the floor is grimy, and then you track that around. Last weekend we took Sam to see the baby goats at a dairy. Baby goats are cute, but their poop could have e coli in it, which then gets tracked around on your shoes. Or even just filth like oil residue from parking lots. So I don’t understand how people let their babies crawl around on floors. Even worse is when I see babies pick up random items off the floor and put them in their mouths. There is a baby at church who does this; I inwardly cringe every time. I’m also bothered by the sharing of drool when the babies pass toys around. Such great potential for getting sick.
I don’t think of myself as a germaphobe. I know enough science to understand how viruses and bacteria are spread. Thanks to my biologist husband, I understand that there are microorganisms surrounding us. Some can cause illness; many do not. It does not help when parents bring their children near my son, and they say “Don’t worry, she’s not sick.” Do they not understand that their daughter may not be sick but can easily transfer germs from another kid to Sam? Do they further not understand that their daughter may very well be sick but the symptoms won’t become obvious for another three hours? But that harmless sneeze was already filled with the virus. But I’m not a germaphobe because my awareness does not interfere with anything I do. I just wash my hands afterwards.
I am a hand washer. Soap is our friend – and not that antibacterial soap either – that stuff just breeds stronger and more resistant bacteria. In my home, there is no such thing as a 5-second rule. Once it falls on the floor, it ceases to be food; it is now trash. We try to always kick off our shoes when we come home, but we can’t assume that others do the same in their own homes. When Sam plays on the floor at home, it is on blankets that I have spread out. I can do this because, remember, he doesn’t crawl yet. We have plans to get our carpets cleaned soon so that I feel comfortable letting Sam crawl around and play freely at home.
But last week, I started feeling really bad that Sam was only sitting and watching the other babies playing (on the floor of a dog-owning mom who does not worry about things like germs). Therefore, today, I will put aside my disgust for Sam’s sake, and let Sam play on the floor with the other babies, sharing lint covered and drooly toys. I hope he has a great time, and I will smile at his happy smiles while he plays.
We don’t let Sam watch television. I take seriously the American Academy of Pediatrics warning that babies under two should not watch tv. I’ve seen too many kids sitting glued in front of the idiot box, eyes glazed over like a fiend in an opium den. There are too many kids who spend hours watching cartoons and Hannah Montana or whatever the kids are watching these days, yet they can’t focus on reading a book. And that’s for the kids who know how to read. I wonder if my four year old niece would be able to read if she hadn’t spent the past four years watching hours of television. Children have short attention spans as it is; we don’t need to make it worse by molding their minds in accordance with the fast paced lights and pictures they sit and view passively and without engaging.
So we don’t let Sam watch television. That being said, we do let him watch a few youtube videos with music that we sing along to–like “How Do You Talk To A Little Baby Goat?” (from Tom T. Hall’s Country Songs for Children) and “Convoy.” (I know, why in the world “Convoy”? My husband started singing it, and Sam liked the song. Then we found a youtube video that has images of big trucks.) While youtube is on, we’re sitting with Sam, singing with him, or getting up and dancing with him during 2-3 minute videos. He’s not sitting alone for a half hour long program.
Now though, Sam has his first cold. His little body shakes with the coughs, and then he cries, loud prolonged guttural cries. He’s coughing and sneezing. And when he sneezes, I try to get in there with the tissue before he smears the snots all over his face. I usually fail, mostly because he keeps shoving my hand away and turning his head the other way. It’s sad to see him so uncomfy and drippy. To make it worse—the more active he is, the more he coughs, and the crankier he gets. So I’ve been trying to keep him calm and still as best I can.
So I resorted to cartoons. I sat him on my lap and watched Tom & Jerry. I love these old cartoons. The old cat and mouse favorite didn’t hold his attention for more than a minute though. So I looked (on youtube) for animated hijinks more appealing to a baby. I’m not familiar with current trends in baby-friendly tv programming. I looked for Blue’s Clues, but its network must block it from the evil that is free online viewing. Sam and I ended up watching an hour of Raffi. I don’t mind Raffi’s music at all; I’ve been singing Baby Beluga a lot since then.
I felt bad though for giving in and letting him zone out in front of the screen. But then again, the poor little guy was so sick, and he was finally calm and as comfy as he could be. We all need a little extra spoiling when we’re feeling sick.
(Sam was feeling much better after a few days. But of course I got sick. And as I lied on the couch, weak, headachy, and going through multiple boxes of tissues, I again sat Sam on my lap to watch cartoons. I simply didn’t have the strength to do much of anything else with him. Was this a failed moment in my crunchymunchy parenting? I don’t think so. It may not have been my best parenting highlight, but really, what else are you to do when you’re sick? So I try not to be too hard on myself for this lapse in our usual television restriction. I don’t think the American Academy of Pediatrics will be too upset with me. )