Photo: E. Sutherland
We’re all guilty of making snap judgments. We take one look at someone and think we know the full story. It’s often automatic, and no harm is intended. But as a mom of a son who looks years older than he is, I can tell you just how frustrating this rush to judgment can be.
It usually happens in crowded places, where my son Kyle is typically a full head taller than his peers. One afternoon at an ice-skating rink stands out to me in particular. Kyle asked me to help him with his ice skates. “Mommy,” he said in a small voice once I got his skates on, “hold my hand so I won’t fall.” I happily agreed because Kyle is my last born, the baby of the family.
Another parent approached us to ask Kyle what grade he was in. He answered with “kindergarten” and her mouth dropped open. “I thought he was eight or nine.” For the umpteenth time, I had to explain that my son is just very tall.
My son is only five years old, but he is already four foot one—a good three to four inches taller than his classmates. When you see him in his class photo, you can almost hear that song playing “One of these things is not like the other.” Being extremely tall wouldn’t be so terrible if Kyle hadn’t had some earlier delays and if people didn’t expect him to do things like eight- or nine-year-olds.
A few minutes later that day at the rink, we received more curious stares when Kyle fell and began to cry. No doubt, people were wondering why an older kid was having such a hard time. I had to bite my tongue to keep from shouting that it’s perfectly reasonable for a kindergartner to cry when he’s hurt.
But Kyle has been towering over his peers since he was just a few months old. To be honest, I didn’t think much of it until people began to comment on it regularly. Once, when we were at the mall when he was nine months old, a woman kept staring at us. She kept trying to talk to Kyle, but he was just making his usual baby noises. “Why isn’t he talking?” she finally asked. I had to explain that he was still a baby and couldn’t even walk yet.
When he turned two and flung himself face first on the tile, pounding his fists because it was time to leave a play area, another stranger came up to me and asked “Why is he so defiant?” “Um….” I wanted to be defiant myself and yell “Mind your own business, he’s two!” “What two-year-old isn’t defiant?” Instead, I politely stated his age, which prompted the usual comments of “He’s a giant!” (Then I wanted to yell “My son is normal. He’s just really, really tall!”)
Kyle has always stood out and done things on his own timetable. He didn’t say “Mama” until he was two years old and had such trouble speaking and following directions that, at one point, he was diagnosed with autism. While we were pretty sure he didn’t have autism, we still had him complete a year of special-education preschool and some behavioural therapy. Three years later, after requesting a re-evaluation, his original diagnosis was retracted and changed to a speech delay. The new psychologist also looked through Kyle’s files and found out that the original evaluator forgot his age when observing him at preschool and stated that “it was odd that he played with younger children.” Funny enough (though the joke is getting old), my son was actually the youngest kid in the entire preschool; he just stood a good three inches above the other children. He didn’t have autism; he was just tall.
Right now, most of his classmates don’t seem to notice Kyle’s size, and the bigger kids tend to forget his age and want to play with him, too. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but I found out that my son was “giving people the finger” because the “bigger boys” told him it was a way of saying “hello” to people. I am sure that my kindergartner smiling and flipping everyone off at school was a Facebook moment.
Being different can be frustrating: There have been times when Kyle has cried and told me he wants to stop growing.
I enviously watch other mothers snuggle their five-year-olds, their compact bodies fitting perfectly into their mothers’ laps. My son’s legs dangle over my lap as if I’m cradling a teenager. I tell my son it’s a good thing he’s tall because someday, when I am an old lady, I’m going to need someone to carry me. He tells me not to worry because he’s going to be big, strong and rich. Maybe he’s right. Aren’t taller people more successful? I wrap my arms around him and snuggle him close, long legs and all.