Sunday, November 25, 2012

The size that matters

My grandfather used to say that what mattered about your height was that when you stood up, your feet touched the ground. I don't remember him saying that as he died when I was young but my mother quoted him often with those words, and as a person who has always been short and who was genuinely bothered about it, I found them infuriating and condescending.

We're in the build-up to L's birthday now; it fits within the four weeks of our whiteboard calendar, calling us with each pass-through of the kitchen, and she's getting bouncy with excitement. She's measuring her height in anticipation of marking its annual tally. I told her recently that I think she'll be taller than her older sister. They both heard me, and met me with laughter and splutters in equal measure. So then I told them that I believe their baby brother will be taller than both of them by a goodly bit. They couldn't fathom it.

I helped him into his pajamas today, squeezing his squeezy thighs and long toes into the footies. He's outgrowing another size of pajamas. His toes are stretching the seam; I can count the stitches. They're his favorite, though, and he grabs them out of each fresh load of laundry. I'll have to give them away dirty.

He wants to raise the zipper himself, and I worry he'll catch the skin of his upper leg. Zaftig is the Yiddish word for fat. It was the word I'd heard used all my childhood to describe people, rather than that heavy F-word. It carries a measure of kindness, literally meaning not 'fat' but 'soft,' (I think) and therefore just serves as a descriptor, not a criticism. Or that's how I always heard it in my head. Soft, those thighs are, pillows of what this boy will be, cellular structure of growth to come, stores for tomorrow's great rambunctiousness. Zaftig, those thighs, and I worry about the zipper's indifferent teeth.

I reach to help him and I'm rebuffed. No, Mama! Me do it! His language is exploding and he uses the proper first-person "I" in sentences most of the time, now. The "me" is evidence that he's tired. He can't scoot the zipper past his knee, and I ease him in. He's encased tight and cozy and somehow still jumping all over me, like a swaddle for a 40-pound hummingbird.

He will be the tallest-youngest, as my younger brother is taller than I and the lovely husband is far taller than his older sister. He will be the tallest-youngest, and L will be the younger-taller sister, and I will one day probably be the shortest member of this family. And I will never tell them anything ridiculous about where their feet should reach, though I will tell them that no matter their size, they should hold their heads up high, for they are wonderful, interesting, amazing people.

And I will go buy my 40-pound hummingbird baby some bigger pajamas.


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Okay, I had to look it up, and zaftig comes from the German saftig, which means not 'soft,' but 'juicy.' JUICY. You know, though, that still works when referencing G's thighs. 







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