- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

When my son was small and I mean very small I conveyed my concerns about his size to his pediatrician. My son was born just a bit over 5 pounds, and for his first three years I charted his weight on the same trajectory as his age. He was 12 pounds at 12 months, and 20 pounds at 20 months. When I asked my question, my son weighed less than 30 pounds as he neared his third birthday.

The pediatrician took his time answering as he stared down at me. I was standing not-quite 5 feet high (in modest heels). "What did you expect?" he asked. "A basketball player?"

He had a good point.

Soon after that visit, my son caught up in size with his peers. He'll never be a basketball player, and that's as much a matter of lack of interest as a lack of height. Thankfully he long ago grew past me, and his father and I are rooting for him to stretch beyond his father's 5-foot-9-inch frame.

If he does, it will break a troubling pattern at least in my family. There's a legend of a great-(or great-great-) grandfather who topped 6 feet and felled trees for a living. But successive generations have consistently shrunk from that mythic Paul Runyanstein. My brother was shorter than my father, and none of my mother's three daughters ever reached her lofty 5-foot-3-inch height.

I do have great hopes for my 12-year-old daughter. Sometime last year I found a pile of the shoes she had purloined from me heaped on my closet floor. She had returned them, not because they were mine, but because they no longer fit her. Her feet had spurted two full sizes in just a few months, and we've been waiting for the rest of her to catch up.

This year she finally inched taller than me. I'm not saying I'm raising a female basketball player, but I now get her help in the kitchen to reach items on the second shelf.

Not that there's anything wrong with being short. In fact, there's a lot of benefits. On long airline flights, for example, while fellow travelers struggle to find a position that doesn't involve pressing their knees into the seat in front of them, I'm doing leg stretches. I also love it during that interminable time after the airplane has landed, but the passengers are inexplicably kept captive inside. As everyone uncomfortably scrunches under the overhead compartments, waiting to be released into the full-height aisles, I gleefully stand up straight.

But being short is not all leprechaun games. I want my children to have a higher perspective so they can avoid some of the frustrations of being short. For instance, it's miserable being in a crowd. Not only is it impossible to spot anyone, but it's very hard to be found. My husband wants me to wear bells so he can find me when I disappear among the clothes racks while shopping.

I also hate being in a large crush of people. Oxygen gets very sparse when my nose is pressed against someone's belt buckle or even worse armpit.

Shopping can also be a challenge. I can pretty much count on there being one point during every shopping trip when I'll have to stop in my tracks and wait, longingly looking up at an item perched on an upper shelf, waiting for a tall, kind fellow shopper to reach it for me. I'm not always so lucky and must substitute ingenuity (or desperation) for the kindness of strangers. I can't count the times I have left my cart in an aisle, marched to the cleaning supplies section, grabbed a broom and knocked an item into my cart.

And who designs bank counters and modern car trunks? Someone must have determined that bank robbers are short because there is no other good explanation for that head-height counter. Car designers these days must also double as NBA stars. Why else would they create cars whose back end rises above my head, making it impossible to retrieve anything from the trunk?

But for all the inconvenience, I have to say that day to day I rarely think about my height. A few months ago I was getting my usual drink at a Starbucks a tall decaffeinated cappuccino. As I moved aside to wait for my drink, I heard the women behind me order hers a short cappuccino.

Our drinks were done at the same time. I reached for the tall, and a women who had to be well over 6 feet tall reached for the short. We looked at each other, touched our cups in a toast and laughed.

Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail (hunkerc@erols.com). Her column can also be found on The Washington Times' Web site (www.washtimes.com).

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