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I remember clearly the day I discovered I had the horrendous, incurable, life scarring disfigurement known as “being short“.  The first day of first grade started smoothly—there I stood on the sidewalk outside my classroom for the requisite “First Day of School Photo Shoot“. I wore a smashing long, kelly green dress emblazoned with neon pink lions  (compliments of my mother and Simplicity # 1222) and rocked my Liza Minelliesque pixie hairdo (courtesy of my brother who cut off one of my long pigtails that summer).

I was blissfully unaware I stood a head lower than all my schoolmates...until they passed by me gawking, pointing, laughing and yelling, "Hey!  Look at the Shrimp!"   Or created a shadow over me on the playground when they walked up and asked, (in an either genuine research-curious tone or genuine taken-aback tone), "Why are you so short?"  

There I was, the ripe old age of six, yet I didn't know I was "short".   It took some (perhaps innocently) tactless and (definitely) budding bully classmates to enlighten me.   Even my three older brothers, champion teasers and goofballs, never brought up my size.  Called me Grace Garbage for digging stuff out of our trashcans?  Yes.  Teased me about my size?  Never.

Childhood trauma behind me, I was in my 40’s when I realized being 5 feet tall with a petite build (as opposed to 5 feet tall and 200 pounds) finally has its advantages. I look younger. I can share clothes with my daughter. Wear hand me downs from my fashionista daughter (as opposed to hand me down sweatshirts from my older brothers). I love, when I  bump into our high school principal at an off campus event and she exclaims, “Oh my gosh Karen! You are so petite and cute you just blend in with the other high school girls!” I loved moving my son into his college dorm and looking like an energetic coed instead of the semi panicked nostalgic middle-aged mom that I was.

I don’t tire of hearing, “Wow! Look at your biceps! You work out, don’t you?”  Well if cleaning my own house and doing heavy yard work qualifies as working out, well then yes. What I don’t tell them is how much upper arm strength you build after a childhood of hoisting yourself up on kitchen counters to reach the top secret stash of Ho Ho’s on the top shelf. Step stools are for wimps and short kids who want to get caught pilfering the “save it for a treat” snacks. Furthermore, imagine the upper body strength it takes to haul a pregnant body up on the kitchen counter to reach the stash of emergency chocolate hidden behind the Christmas china in the cabinet above the refrigerator.

I don’t tire of hearing compliments on my toned legs. Maybe it’s karma or payback but without any deliberate effort on my behalf, I’ve got some envious calves. You would too if you spent the last 45 years standing on your tippy toes to reach stuff, wearing heels and habitually speedwalking to keeping up with taller friends and their longer legs.

I don’t tire of hearing adults announce, as if it were either a bad thing or the shocker of the century, the blatantly obvious, “Wow. Your kids are taller than you!”  Look, I cried for joy the days each of my children surpassed my five-foot frame.  Up until then I feared my son would be short like me and my daughter as tall as her father. While other moms bemoaned that inevitable day—thinking inches equaled kid power over parental power—I rejoiced that my main gamble for marrying my six foot one husband paid off.  

Yes, I’m 45 and finally okay with being “short” or “Petite”  or whatever you want to call it. Unless it’s “verically challenged” because that’s just dorky and ridicuous. Because as happy as I am with the way I look at my age, I absolutely, will always tire of hearing adults, like their predecessors of 40 years ago, ask, “Why are you so short?”  Or the more contemporary, “Have you always been that short?”

I don’t walk up to complete strangers and ask, “Have you always been that fat?” or “Why are you so fat?” And guess what—I have no control over my height. That was determined for me. By Someone you really don’t want to tease.

Oh, and one more thing along the lines of tactless, potentially hurtful comments. I’m talking to all you well-meaners of the world: "Good things come in small packages!" is incredibly an annoying cliché and does absolutely nothing to boost the ego of a child, teenager or adult (who’s heard the phrase adnauseam all her life). Unless while you‘re saying it you‘re handing me a small box of big diamonds. Or a stash of chocolate I don't have to climb on the counter to reach.

Karen J Rinehart is an award winning newspaper columnist, author, speaker, wife, mom and VP of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists—all crammed into a fabulously petite frame. See her in action on KarenJRinehart.com.




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