Memoirs of a Small Man

I'm one inch shorter than my wife. We found this out before we conceived our daughter. It took her a while to get pregnant. We saw doctors. They measured and weighed us. When you stand five foot five, all women stand five foot four in their stocking feet or else they wear heels. It has to be the heels. Both of you agree, until the measuring stick touches the top of your head, or the nurses want a laugh.

I am glad for every inch I have. I remember nervously standing under the ruler when I was eighteen and having my precollege physical. My father who is one inch shorter than I am took me to the doctor. He begrudged the time off from work, but neither of my parents trusted me much, and my mother and I were on the outs. The plump, big, motherly nurse who measured me laughed that time too. I smiled.

I had grown -- two inches in the last year of high school. I kind of suspected it. I had been to buy pants because I was sick of wearing floods and did not want my mother bringing home my clothes. She could do that to my brother, but not me. It had been that way since I was old enough to complain about her taste or lack of it. My father said it was part of my "artist phase."

I just became visually aware. That's all. It's a useful skill. It helps with women, sometimes. It is especially useful now that I have two daughters. Girls are expected to be visually sensitive and aware, and I can speak with them on their own terms and do small things to make them happy. Sometimes this works. It works better with daughters than wives or girlfriends. I'm not sure why.

So, back when I was eighteen, I knew I was taller, not that I would ever be tall or large. If I were female, I would have been dainty or petite, but there are no good words for a small man. The only good word is "sexy," which is nearly always repeated in hushed tones by a woman old enough to give up her fixation about wanting a big boy. Usually she is smaller. Laurel was the exception, but I'll get to her, but usually the women who have called me sexy are smaller themselves, and want a man whom they can look in the eye, a dance partner who is easy to embrace. They are tired of "staring at belt buckles" and standing on tip toes to kiss. The reason small men are born is that smaller women like them, and the genes for short height make it into the new generation. Biologists call this assortive mating.

Now, Laurel is different. She is not small. She says she is average height. To me she is willowy, tall, and graceful. She has dark blonde hair, sometimes frosted, and blue eyes, amazing eyes, a very straight nose. My mother did not approve of her. That doesn't tell you much. My mother did not approve of Maura either, and Kinneret, our daughter positively frightened her. That doesn't tell you anything. My mother is the jealous sort.

But Laurel fell in love with me. I think I still love her, but the love has turned into an achiness, and worry. It was a deep concern the second time I was measured as part of the testing for fertility. I had tried reassuring Laurel. I explained that my mother had taken over a year to conceive me, and several years to conceive Menashe, my younger brother. Sometimes you just have to wait it out, but Laurel hurt with wanting. Physical things had always been perfect for her, well not really, but she thought of them that way perhaps. She was crazy with longing for a child. I did not mind the idea of a third child in my life. We could afford it. I remembered that Maura had not been nearly so crazy, but both of her children happened, as if she'd ordered the conceptions from L.L. Bean, but Kinneret came from my sperm.

Asher looked like someone in Maura's family, husky with Kinneret's long face, but with a smooth personality neither of his parents could place. These days he refuses to speak with me. I'm not sure I miss him. It's been six years.

I remember that after the doctor learned how short I was (Numbers confirm everything), he gave us a long lecture on options. We had an appointment with a specialist. It never happened. Laurel became pregnant, and nine months later I had my third child and Laurel had her first. It was a daughter whom we named Temimah. Temimah never became Tammy. These days she is Temimah-Girl. Like Kinneret, I can see myself in her. I like having daughters. I think I prefer them to sons.

It is hard to say. When I was growing up, the world wanted me to be secretly aggressive, and then downright mean. A lot of smaller boys enjoy wrestling. To me it was just stupid. I did not need fights staged by gym teachers and coaches to watch for their pleasure. When I had to take on someone, it would be someone bigger and for good reason. I still feel this way. Football is not my sport. Basketball is OK. I played some ice hockey because I can skate. I also used to like to ski and haven't done it in years because we have to make a long trip north to reach decent snow.

Girls have it easier if they are short. No one wants them to fight as performance. They can always mate assortively. A short girl is petite, something still prized. They also don't feel as posessive of their mothers who are their jailers. I get to play good cop with daughters. Of course this is older girls. Temimah just has two care-givers, and she needs us both. I don't like to think about that. There is a lot about which I don't like to think these days.

Mostly it's Laurel. I love Laurel. Let's get that straight. I think I love her more than I loved Maura, my first wife. I love Laurel more beause I am older, but love is not enough. Love doesn't fix problems. Love can not heal my wife, and she is unwell a good deal of the time, and no,

it is not serious. It is small things, things I would not expect in a tall, athletic woman. There are the headaches. They are migraines, and eating the wrong food, stress, the weather, a bad day, her monthly cycle all bring them on. They are not like the headache that I get occasionally, and probably Kinneret, and most certainly Maura. When I lived with Maura, the pain reliever sat by the salt and pepper shakers on the breakfast table. If you needed it, you took care of the headache. If a headache or a sprained muscle or menstral cramps afflicted you, there was relief and if it was bad you lay down for a few hours. Then the headache went away or the cramps went away. If you had an upset stomach or a sore throat, you ate or avoided certain foods and it felt better. If you really got sick you went to the doctor.

With Laurel, nothing really helps the headaches. She has prescription medicine which she says doesn't work. She eats foods and then tells me they are triggers. Then my wife needs to lie motionless on the couch or in a room with the lights off. Light apparently is a migraine trigger. I wish there was something one could do for Laurel's aching head.

Laurel also has a sensitive mouth. Most foods that make a diet interesting have the wrong mouthfeel. They're squishy, slimey, or just taste wrong. Laurel as a result can not cook. She is also on a diet and these days fears that she is sensitive to wheat. That is why I cook, and also so Temimah gets to eat and taste a wide variety of foods. Temimah has some foods she dislikes, but not all that many, not nearly as many as her mother. Who would have thought a tall woman was so delicate.

And when Laurel is with her friends, they speak a language I can not comprehend. It is not garden variety female, which I understand fairly well, but the language of the jocks and popular girls from high school, a kind of rarified gossip. I catch snatches of it when I find the girlfriends over. Laurel shows me off in front of her friends and the conversation I interrupt with my presence goes dead. According to Laurel I am one of the best husbands in her set. For a few moments she is genuinely proud of me, and she means it.

Then when I retreat to the kitchen the talk which I overhear returns, and no they don't talk about me. I wish they did...sometimes. At least Laurel's friends play tennis with her and do some kind of aerobic dance. Laurel was always good in gym, so she and her friends replicate high school gym class. It's not my thing, though I'd probably go through it with her if couples did that, but men have their own sports oriented rituals, most of which I avoid, unless it's a "couple thing."

We have a "couple thing" today. It's a social visit to friends of friends of friends arranged by Valorie, Laurel's friend from high school. It is to network with the people who run a prestigious nursery school for Temimah. Getting Temimah into the right program has suddenly become very important. I think getting the child out of the house for half a day or even a whole school day might do her some good. She is starting to be bored, but there are plenty of decent preschools in this town, well enough of them, that don't require jumping through twenty hoops for admission and knowing the right people and...

Laurel groans in her sleep: "Yah-hooda...Yah-hoooooda. You know what day it is."

How could I forget. "Yeah...I know. We've got the luncheon at the Beauchamps." Yes, I remember the friends of friends of friends last name. "Can you see if Temimah Girl is up yet."

Temimah has probably been up for some time, I realize as I look at the bedside alarm. That means she is hungry and bored and has probably littered the living room with toys and will be in no mood to be ordered about. In the room with the shades still drawn to keep out the Southern, summer sun, I sit down on the leather covered bench at the end of our bed. Tossed on the bench is one of my summer night shirts. I throw it on and slip out into the hall.

Strains of "Holly Jolly Christmas" fill the living room. Temimah stares at me wide-eyed. She is listening to rather than watching the video. She has crayons sorted in various piles on the floor and five or six finished drawings. Videos lay strewn near the box where she has dug out Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer.

"Good morning Temimah," I sing-song. She blinks. "Are you hungry."

"Is mommy sick?" Temimah answers my question with another question.

"No, she's just tired. She'll be OK. Are you hungry?"

The child shrugs. "OK, let's clean up this living room," I begin...gently. I glance at Temimah's drawings. Somewhere she has learned to make trees and people with arms and legs. I fetch the crayon box. "We don't want squished crayon on the carpet. That will give mommy a really bad headache."

"Toys belong in the play room," Temimah echoes the rule she broke, as she begins gathering the crayons. At the moment I am glad that my daughter laid out her outfit to wear to the Beauchamps last night. Order lurks right behind chaos. in a half hour the living room is put to rights. I put Temimah's drawings on the coffee table. I may want to show them to the Beauchamps. That kid does good work even if her grip is funny.

I wash off two peaches and a pear. I cut the pear in half and give Temimah a peach and a pear while my tea steeps. I do not bother making coffee. Laurel drinks coffee when she does not think it is a migraine trigger. "Is that all you're giving Temimah Girl for breakfast?" she asks as she digs out a power bar, a rectangular cookie made of granola. Temimah swings her feet as she eats her peach and drinks her juice.

"Lunch is early today, and the Beauchamps are going to have a big spread."

Laurel shakes her head. "What's Temimah wearing?"

"Her orange shirt with the poppies and her olive drab shorts and her brown sandals," I replied. "It's on her chair in her bedroom."

Laurel rolls her eyes.

"Is the orange shirt clean?" Laurel doesn't approve of the outfit, but it's hard to tell what to put on a kid for an affair that is not dressy and where she'll be out playing on the grass half the day.

"I did Temimah's things with my wash." That it might have a small stain or too that didn't come out is possible, but if it does, the print should hide it. Besides, I put Pert shampoo on the damson plum preserve stain and scrubbed it with the vegetable brush and threw the offending item back in the hamper a few days before I did the laundry. Usually this technique removes stains.

Laurel sighs. "Ya-hoodah, Mr. Beauchamp has been here forever," she begins a lecture. "He's old school."

"So...I know how to behave."

"Well, hopefully he'll like you," Laurel can't get her point across. I see her pale skin redden. "If you're ashamed of me," I tell her. "You can always say I'm sick or had extra work."

"It's not that bad," she laughs and then the laugh hangs in the air.

"I can listen politely about football or fishing or whatever the Beauchamps talk about. I know the rules. I've had to live with them since before you were born."

"I wish you just didn't have to pretend."

"Well I didn't create the existing social order, and you want Temimah in that famous nursery school in the fall. She's wait listed and they only let in their friends. I'll get out of the way and let you do the talking."

Laurel pulled her spa-robe clad arms about herself and huddled. She stared at the table.

"You don't have a headache do you?" I asked.

"No, look I hate parties like this..." she began.

"Then let's not bother. We can think of some excuse."

"No..." Laurel sighed. "We'll get through it somehow."

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