Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Real And Normal

J is healthy but petite and that has been a source of much heartache for her from the time she has been able to compare herself to her peers. Up until a year ago, I had found it easy enough to explain that race has a lot to do with it. I would tell J, we are Indian but most of your friends are Caucasian. Just as I am smaller than most of their moms, it is likely you will be smaller than your friends as an adult. However, I am taller than average for an Indian woman of my age so it is likely you will be too compared to Indian girls of your generation. She had found this largely acceptable.

Increasingly, the later part of my explanation is failing to hold water. The desi kids she knows are bigger than her at three years younger. The average desi second grader of her acquaintance looks several years older than her. It becomes a matter of great embarrassment to J if a parent assumes she is a pre-schooler and lumps her along with the 4-5 year olds on a social occasion.

It does not help when in such a gathering, mothers begin to compare notes on the height and weight of their kids. I can see J withering away in acute embarrassment and self-consciousness. After we come home, she will ask in a tearful voice if she will ever grow any bigger and taller, if she will every catch up to the rest of them.

I have had to dig up pictures of myself at her age to convince her that she is perfectly normal and is not on her way to becoming a midget. I was a good deal skinnier than she is at seven and about as tall so the absolute worst case she will grow up be at least my height. Would that be such a terrible thing ? This argument I have found is a hard one to sell - her world is in the here and now and the future I am talking about is too far and intangible for her to grasp.

J does not know where bigger stops being healthier and stronger and starts to become obesity. She does not understand about processed and genetically modified food and its relationship to precocious puberty. As far as she is concerned, she is the only baby at seven in a peer-group that is almost verging on maturity.

It will become a lot more than the physical difference once the hormones start to kick in and drive emotional changes before their time. At this point the divergence would become impossible to bridge. With that, J will be "stuck" in a body and mind that is absolutely normal in medical terms for someone her age (as her pediatrician does not tire of pointing out me), but out of step as far as being equipped to keep up socially and emotionally with her peers.

From my vantage point, the gap between the medical text book and real-life "normal" seems really huge. As a mother, I am fighting a losing battle trying to reconcile the two in a meaningful way to J - I seem to be paying an unreasonable price for doing the right thing thing for my child's long-term health and well-being.


Priyamvada_K said...

Don't worry. Kamala calls herself Ms.Shortie-pants and even Ms.Midget, but I tell her she'll grow up to be at least as tall as me.

You're right about the genetically and otherwise modified foods. Ever since I found out about rBST, I've consciously tried to buy organic or at least hormone-free milk; stayed away from HUGE apples and HUGE anything.

My pediatrician says that growth (height increase) stops about 2 years after puberty. So late bloomers will have more growing years.


Rohini said...

Oh well, I always hated being tall as a kid. Was taller than all the boys in my class at 10. Was teased mercilessly. Grew out of it though. She will too.

Anonymous said...

I have the same dilemma with my 7 year old who looks like a 5 year old. I am short and looking back at my childhood, the thing that identified my wellbeing was that I was good in academics.I tell my daughter that everybody is different and that on a positive note she is better than her friends at reading and playing the piano. For the moment this keeps her happy but wonder whether this will be enough when she is in her pre teens and teens and the emphasis on physical appearance is greater.


Heartcrossings said...

Priya - Little Kamala has a sense of humor plus attitude :) That's a wonderful combination ! I am sure she is more Ms Smartie Pants than anything else.

Rohini - I guess unless a kid blends in nicely, its never easy - too tall, too short, too chubby, too skinny - there is always something that is not right.

Jyoti - You are right. We have to watch out for the tweens and teens when girls start to care a whole lot about their looks and how they stack up against their peers.