The Inches Come And The Inches Go

We do not get a choice to be short or tall. I was 5-foot-9 by the time I was 12 – and I was miserable. I was not only the tallest girl in the seventh grade, I was the tallest person in a class of 1967. It was not a happy distinction.

At the age when boys were suddenly less disgusting, it was all the adorable, petite girls who were capturing their attention. I was suddenly a gawky stranger to the boys who were my baseball buddies just the year before. The rare boy who had the guts to ask me to dance usually smeared my chin with his towering Brylcreemed hair. Many of those stubby guys didn’t hit their growth spurts until high school, when I could finally look them in the eye again.

My mother was a half inch shorter than 6 feet. Actually, the first-born child of her Scots-Canadian family came by her altitude honestly. Her father was above average height, but the men in her mother’s family were towering, strapping log-splitters. Their strong, lofty genes have carried into our fifth generation.

My mom constantly reassured me that tall was better. As I jealously watched, the smaller girls become cheerleaders and wore the first high heels. The boys called them cute, a word that, for me, became synonymous with small.

Eventually my height paid off. In the early 1960s, the airlines raised their height limits. As planes grew larger from propeller-driven to jets, flight crews needed to be taller, stronger.

A stewardess under 5-foot-3 weighing a bit more than 100 pounds, was going to have trouble opening a 747-exit door. It was my first “real” job.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I fell in love with a man an inch shorter than myself. Tom, however, was so secure that he encouraged me to wear my highest heels. I wore one-inch heels under my long wedding gown and took them off for some of the formal pictures. I guess I wasn’t as secure as he was.

I assumed, with good reason, that our children would be substantially smaller than my clan. Tom, his father, and brother were all the same height, and his mother was downright short. I was therefore quite surprised when our pediatrician told me how to predict our children’s adult height. “It’s a simple formula,” he said. “Double their height at age 2, and that’s it. No measuring their wrist bones with calipers, no fancy height/weight chart predictions.

When my daughter, Alix, was two, she was 36¢ inches tall. Double that … six-foot one? My little girl? Yikes. The only way I knew how to deal with that prospect was to begin telling her how wonderful tall is, as my mother had. And although tall had turned out reasonably well for me, I knew all about those tough years she had ahead and I wanted her equipped to handle it. I needn’t have worried. She finished at a perfect 5-foot-7, the height I’d always thought was ideal. The doc’s formula missed by 6 inches.

When our son, Bart, was two, he was 34-inch tall. At the time I thought, OK, he’ll be 5-foot-8, the same as his dad … not the end of the world. I, naturally, had my mother’s six-foot brothers in the back of my mind. Well, the doc’s quack formula was wrong again … by seven inches. Bart topped off at 6-foot-3 and delighted in bending down to tease his dad. Those stubborn Scottish genes were hanging in there.

My grandchildren, generation five, has had two kids on the growth charts – with two parents who are 5-foot-7. Alix didn’t wear very high heels at her wedding either.

And the formula? Fuggedaboudit. My granddaughter, the Princess of Boston, hit the top of the chart early on. But she’s pretty much finished growing, and is a bit shorter than her parents. Her younger brother, Malcolm, however, is a different story.

Malcolm arrived in this world at almost eleven pounds, and 22 inches long. That buster of a baby is now a long, lean teenager in the middle of his growth spurt. At six feet tall, with lots of potential growth, he resembles all those generations of imposing Scotsmen. Malcolm’s feet are long and skinny, destined to hold up a large frame. It is interesting to watch – he is taller every time I see him.

But I’m learning that the other end of the height spectrum is not an elevated place to be. As we age, I know there is some normal shrinking as our vertebrae become closer friends. I expected to settle an inch or two. But more than four? It’s criminal! It’s unconstitutional! It’s heartbreaking. I’m now shorter than my daughter.

Turns out that back surgeries and knee replacements steal inches too. I am now 5-foot-5 and I’m miserable. My Mom was right – tall was better.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.


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