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Size matters

March 1, 2014

She may be small for her age, but Hope firmly believes that she is a “big girl” now.

In fact she positively glows with pride when someone leans down, “my, aren’t you a big girl now”, or when she fetches t her own yoghurt out of the fridge or reaches her spoon, on tip toe, from the cutlery drawer, “because you’re a big girl now”.

Hope stands in the hall way, pats herself on the chest and says, “Hopey big girl”. She mutters it like some self affirming mantra as she goes up the stairs without holding the rail, while she’s sitting in the bath washing her own hair or battling to put on her own wellies. Any small victory is accompanied by a self congratulatory, “Hopey did it … Hopey big girl now”.

I’ve tried hard not to say it, not to use the phrase, perhaps because I am so cherishing every moment of her being a little girl and I don’t want her to feel pressure to grow up too fast, but also because in the darkest foggiest bit of my brain where I keep the insults locked away, I recall being bullied at school as I was larger of bust than my peers when I hit puberty younger than many of them, and a few years later a little larger all over. I was mocked and called a “big girl”.

I have memories guys at University standing at the college bar looking at the new freshers arriving and nodding approvingly when a particularly busty one went past, “she’s a big girl, know what I mean”, nod nod wink wink they went … I walked away uncomfortable with the leering, and chose not to walk that way to lectures if they were standing there as I hated feeling them watching and commenting on me.

There was a girl in my class in sixth form who was always the last chosen for sports teams or even class activities, “because she’s a big girl”, the assumption being that she’d be bound to let the team / class down as she had so obviously (apparently) let herself down. She’s now the most successful of any of us.

So, I wonder at what point the joy at being called a “big girl” will become hurt or sadness at being called a “big girl”. With her current size and stature I’m thinking it will be a while if ever … and I hope it’s never as I don’t want Hope to lose her joy or her self esteem, but I expect that there’s a reasonable chance that day will come.

For now Hope delights in being a “big girl”; one of those magical souls who can reach that bit higher, sing more songs, have a more wide ranging conversation or brush their own hair. She comes home from her child minder describing how baby Hannah can’t do something that she can, Hope can do it because she’s a big girl and no longer a baby.

She uses the phrase as a compliment to her friends, and even teddies, yesterday I pointed out that her small knitted bear had a stripy top on just like Hope. She looked at her top, she looked at the bear, she kissed the bear, patted her top and announced, “Teddy big girl like Hopey”.

I guess we’re all guilty of phrases that reinforce the message to children that it is better to be a bigger child, or that as a bigger child the toddler will be given more opportunities. The other week one of the mothers at a playgroup we go to told her daughter she couldn’t breastfeed any more as she was a, yup you’ve guessed it, “big girl now” and breastmilk was only for babies. I was very concerned Hope might over hear something like that and suddenly stop breastfeeding, one of her friends did, instead it’s caused me to tell her once in a while that her milky is what is making her a “big girl”, or that she has special milky because she’s a “big girl”. See, I’ve been drawn into it … and I hate myself for it and the fact that we’ve been put into that position. Ultimately she can, and will, make her own decision of course as to when to stop nursing, but I would rather it be based on her own wants and needs rather than being made to feel bad about something she enjoys and stopping for that reason alone (as with her friend). For now she loves it and can’t get enough and that’s just fine.

It’s used another insulting way too, to indicate disdain, “you big girl” when someone is afraid of doing something another person thinks they should be able to do. The rugby player that drops the ball, the bloke that doesn’t want yet another drink … it’s used to tease and to torment.

I sit here typing having just kissed my girl goodnight, my baby, my toddler, my daughter, my Hope … and wish that I could protect her from any future meanness due to her size or appearance, whether she ends up big or small, short or tall, fat or thin,  blonde, red haired or brunette.

Long may her utter delight in being herself continue …  to me she is and I’m sure always will be (so my mother informs me) my little girl.

This big girl (as in grown up) is now going to ponder what to give up for Lent, bread or chocolate perhaps, healthy and maybe at the end of Lent I’ll have lost a little weight and I won’t be such a big girl. Then I have to go and brush my teeth which I’m a tiny bit nervous about as there is a spider in the bathroom, big girlie wuss that I am I’m afraid of them… and this one really is a big one.

 

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