You wouldn’t know it by looking at me today, but I used to be a little kid. I was the smallest, skinniest little kid in school and being at the bottom of the food chain, as it were, had it’s own set of hurdles. As you might imagine, I had issues just like any child growing up would, but my issues centered around my height (or lack thereof) and my weight (or lack thereof) and how being little sucked. There were plenty of people along the way that helped bolster my confidence. Take Coach Newport for example. My 6th grade gym coach made the comment that being the smallest was a good thing because, “You get to be at the top”, whenever we would make a human pyramid. Clearly this made a lasting impression on me, as did other people in my life, since I remember it to this day. However my Mom made the most lasting impressions. Impressions that still have an indention in my psyche today – only I didn’t know they were false.
If anyone shared my pain of being little, it was my Mother. She was the one I’d run home to, to share my fears and anxieties over my size. Like any good mother, she would do everything in her power to make me feel better about myself. I remember one instance where she took me to the doctor. I don’t recall if I insisted, or if she thought up this on her own, but we went to him to ask him how tall I would be when I grew up. My Mother is 5′ 10″ and my Dad is 6′ so the doctor told me I would be 6′ 4″. To a kid that is smaller than every single person in his class, this was akin to being told you’re going to pull the sword from the stone, or grow up to be president. It wasn’t until I was in college and my height stalled at 5’10” that I realized that the doctor had just pulled the answer out of the sky. He had no way of knowing for sure. Yet, I always had doubts about his answer. There was no machine, or instrument he used to come up with his answer, he just said “You’re going to be 6’4” “. Although I hoped he was right, when he wasn’t, I didn’t put a lot of weight in it. I mean it wasn’t like he was family or anything.
I was recalling this story and laughing at how fixated I was on my height and weight as a child with my Mother recently. I recounted the story about the doctor’s office and we had a good laugh about it. Then, while we were still laughing over the story, she threw in “… yeah and like I knew what a ‘football neck’ was!” and continued giggling. My laughter had stopped.
Me: “What are you saying?”
Mom: “I said once that you had a ‘Football Neck.’ ”
Me: “Yeah, I know. What about it?
Mom: I made it up.
Me: You made it up?!?
Mom: Yeah, I made it up.
Me: You mean I don’t have a football neck?
Mom: I don’t know, I mean you have a nice neck, but I just made it up. You were so depressed about your size and I had to say something to cheer you up.
Me: And you made up the term football neck?
Mom: Yeah (giggle)
Me: It’s not a commonly used term?
Mom: No, I mean I had never heard of it. I just made it up to make you feel better.
Me: Yeah? Well, it worked!”
And then we fell out laughing again. Here was something that my Mother had said in a last ditch effort to make me feel better about my size that was completely made up, yet up until that moment I believed with all my heart. I remember the moment as clear as a bell. I was sitting on her bed moaning about how small I was and that I was going to be picked on for the rest of my life and questioning why I had to be so small. My Mom tried to console me that I would get bigger and grow up, but of course that wasn’t going to happen soon enough for me. Hearing I was going to get bigger in a few years was the far far distant future from my young perspective. Clearly nothing she was saying was having an effect.
My dad was tall, but very skinny and that was my only male comparison at the time, so my Mom was having a hard time convincing me that I was going to be “big”. “You don’t know that I’m going to be big one day.”, I said. She replied, “Yes I do. Take a look at my brothers, they are all big guys.” She proceeded to pull out a few photos of them and sure enough they were some “big guys” in my book. “Yeah, but I don’t look anything like them.”, I bemoaned. “Yes you do!”, she quickly countered. Then came the moment that left an impression on me for the next 25 years.
“Just look at your neck. You definitely have a football neck.” she said authoritatively. “I have a what?”, I said in a faraway voice as my brain tried to take in what she was saying. “Yeah, you have a football neck like my brothers.”, she continued. I picked up the photos and looked at them as if they were a map to my future. “You’re going to grow into your neck and be just like my brothers. You’re going to be big.” And from that moment on, until just a few weeks ago, I believed that I had a football neck.
I never questioned what it meant. I didn’t play football because I would have been demolished by the other kids given my size, so in my mind anything to do with football meant big and tough – just what I wanted to be at that age. So I relished in the fact that God had blessed me with a “football neck” and that bolstered my spirits and I was no longer quite so down about my size. I was still little, still got picked on just as before, but now I knew that I had a “football neck” and that gave me hope.
Looking back on it now, I have to laugh at all the little times that I made a comment about my neck size to other people. My belief was so strong that, I just figured that everyone else saw it too. I remember having some custom made shirts in Kansas City and telling the tailor to make sure there was enough room in the neck, because, “I have a rather large neck.” I distinctly remember the hesitation in the mans voice when he agreed with me. LOL
In all honesty, I’d have to say that my neck is fairly average. It’s not skinny, but it’s also not the size of a linebacker either and I find it very comforting to know that I can laugh about it now. My Mom may have told me a fib, but that fib was just what I needed to hear to give me the self confidence I needed at that time in my life. Had anyone else said it, I don’t know that I would have accepted it so whole-heartedly, but my Mom said it, so I took it as the Gospel.
Granted every child growing up is fixated on one thing or another that makes them stand out from the rest. I don’t think my attitudes were any more unique than anyone else’s. If I was sensitive about being small, there was another kid who was sensitive about being big, medium, blond haired, big eyed, etc. My point is that all kids go through this. My situation was not unique. Growing up, you too were probably down on yourself about one thing or another. So here’s the question you have to ask yourself, is there anything your parents told you about yourself that may not have been 100% honest? 🙂
Me: “Ok, what about this thing you said once about how ‘taking a shower would set your tan’?”
Me: “You told me one time when we were at the beach that if I took a shower, my tan would ‘set’. Did you just say that so that I would take a shower when I didn’t want to?”
Mom: “No. When you take a shower, it brings the tan, or the burn to the surface.”
Me: (Giving a look of incredulity.)
Mom: “Ok, yeah. I probably made that up too.”