Coming Up Short
by Emma Strong
Tears trickled down my face, and the scene in front of me froze — a picture I’d remember for many years to come. I doubt that any of the other girls in my classroom that day could recall the event now, a quarter of a century later, but their faces are still vivid in my mind: a mixture of amusement, devilment and just a hint of remorse. All of them were down on their knees in front of me, imitating the artist Toulouse Lautrec, who was a famous small person. That day I walked away, wiped my tears and vowed that I would never allow my short stature to hurt me to the point of tears again.
Children can be cruel, but that single moment enforced to me the reality that I was short. While I couldn’t change my height, I had to learn to deal with it. No longer would I hate being short. Instead, I’d enjoy, embrace — indeed, relish! — all of its advantages (awesome hiding opportunities with hide-and-seek and a thrilling whiz down the kids’ slide, to name a couple). It would become my signature. “I’m the short one,” I’d say, and get a joke in before others had the chance. I would turn my timidity into boldness.
Taking up acting, I discovered the pleasure of becoming any character at all: a mother, a child, a hilarious fool. Acting gave me the courage to be confident even when I didn’t feel like it. Later in life, I enjoyed the anonymity of radio announcing and had the sheer joy of working with young children while teaching Sunday school, dressing up as a clown or working as a school chaplain. In all of these positions, my height was either hidden or used to my distinct advantage. And I don’t mind at all when a child confesses to being surprised at finding out that I’m an adult!
That tearful moment in my classroom set me on a journey to become the resilient mom I needed to be: I learned that confidence was the key. I laugh now when I look at the motto of my children’s school: Growing tall and strong. I never did grow tall, and I even had to get married to become “Mrs. Strong!” But I know that I grew strong and resilient years ago, when I found confidence in being me, no matter how tall I am.
It comes as little surprise to know that my daughter also is vertically-challenged. But at the tender age of 7, she oozes confidence! Could it possibly be as a result of my encouragement? Every day I find myself striving to bolster the confidence of my children, teaching them to laugh and smile through every twist and turn of life’s journey, and to be content just being themselves.
Emma Strong is a freelance writer, school chaplain and author of Kids Church Drama — Christmas and Easter and Youth Church Drama — Parables. She lives in Capel, Western Australia, with her husband and two children, David, (10) and Ruth, (7).