Although I know there may not be a lot of science in this, a part of me believes my daughter Tara has grown taller than me through sheer force of will. I’m small (5ft 1 ½in ). My mum is smaller. My dad was a giant in our family at 5ft 7in. My two (not very tall) brothers have both produced not very tall children. (One tried to avoid this by marrying a Dutch woman but still the Moore genes proved stronger.)
It seemed this would always be the way – especially since my firstborn, now 16, is still an inch or so shorter than me. Ruby has accepted her small stature with perfect grace – she has never been one to dwell on what she cannot change.
Tara, my middle child, was different. Also tiny all through primary school, it bothered her. Her friends hovered on a higher level. Her enemies called her “midget”. She moaned. She (rightly) blamed me. She marked her painfully slow growth on her wardrobe. I urged her to be happy with who she was, but knew in my heart that if I’d offered to send her to Siberia for gruesome limb lengthening (yes, they do it there), she’d probably pack her bag in an instant.
A couple of years ago, Ruby, Tara and I were all hovering around 5ft and our shoe size was three. When Tara complained that she needed her own footwear since ours were squashing her toes, I was irrationally annoyed. (She’s now a size seven.)
I remember her words as I grumpily forked out for her umpteenth pair of trainers. “Mum, I can’t help growing.”
Now, at 14, she’s a good few inches taller than I am. Sometimes, it’s handy – especially when I need something from the top of the fridge. During heated “discussions”, it’s unsettling. “Because I say so” doesn’t quite cut it when you’re looking up, not down. Occasionally, though, especially when I catch sight of her out and about with friends, when I’m not expecting to – I feel an irrational and unjustifiable flash of pride. At first, I never recognise her – I’m still programmed to filter out the taller people. It takes me by surprise every time. That long-legged girl over there? I helped to make her!
As for Tara, she is delighted. When people suggest we stand back to back, she jumps up like a puppy. Being taller than me means something to her, though she struggles to define exactly what. “It’s a kind of milestone – proof that I’m not going to be small like you,” she says, then adds kindly, “Obviously I know being small isn’t bad – I just think that being taller is better.”
Ruth and Alexis
Ruth Shearn is managing director of a marketing agency. She has five stepchildren and a daughter, Alexis, 13
“My mum smoked throughout her pregnancy and I’m sure that’s got a lot to do with my height! She used to joke that she was puffing away between pushes. My mum is 5ft 7in and my dad 5ft 10in. I’m 5ft 3in – much shorter! I’m short and wide – and it’s my short, stocky Welsh legs that I really didn’t want my daughter to get. When I was pregnant, I hoped for some genetic balancing and used to say I wanted her to get my brains and my husband’s legs. He’s 6ft 2in and has great legs. We knew Alexis was long-legged before she was born – her kneecaps were everywhere when she kicked me – and as soon as she was delivered, the midwife’s first words were, “Ooh, you’ve got a long one here!”
Alexis is three inches taller than me so far – she overtook me suddenly last year and I couldn’t be more delighted. It’s quite funny at times, trying to be in “serious mum mode” when you’re looking up. Other times, it’s useful. Alexis can open the security lock on the back door and I can’t – but she can also reach the sweetie jar in the kitchen and I can’t, which is not good, is it?”
Alexis: “It’s weird having a mum who is shorter. I don’t really like it. A hug doesn’t feel the same any more, that’s the main thing. When Mum was bigger than me, hugs were more … embracing. It looks wrong in family photos, too. Me standing there, taller than a parent. When I go to her office after school and use her computer for homework, I have to adjust the height of her chair – even that feels strange. But there are times when it’s funny. If Mum is telling me off, I can get up close, stand on tippy toes to make the height difference even bigger and say, 'What did you say again?' It usually makes her laugh!”
Austin and Oisín
Austin Challen, a social worker, has three children. Oisín, 16, is the eldest:
“Oisín became taller than me at about 13. I’m medium, I suppose at 5ft 9in. Oisín was very skinny and just went upwards and upwards and not outwards. Periodically, you’d notice. He overtook my mum, my sisters, then my dad … Then me, too. He’s 6ft 2in at the moment.
I don’t mind at all. It’s more of an odd feeling of oh, there’s a big man in my house, with long legs, big hands and a jawbone. Oisín takes up a whole sofa. If I go to give him a hug now, I have to rugby tackle him down, bend him over and kiss the top of his head, while he just swats me away like a fly. Recently, I took him and four of his friends to a festival in Wales. I went as the “accompanying adult” but they were all great big rugby types. It was really nice to be surrounded by my own personal gang of big guys.
His height probably subconsciously makes me think of him as older than he is. You probably tend to add a couple of years on to his age. For a long time, I’ve thought of him as quite grown up. He’s only 16 but if he were to live in a flat now and go to university, I wouldn’t have any worries – though he’d have to learn how to make a bolognese.
I don’t think it has made a difference in terms of exerting parental authority. I’ve worked with difficult teenagers and so I’ve never fallen back on “I’m bigger than you”. In fact, at work, if someone is getting aggressive, I sit down as you’re much less likely to be hit when you’re lower down. With Oisín, I use respect, reason, kindness – and a big cricket bat.”
Oisín: “I get my height from my mum’s side. She’s 5ft 7in, and when we spend time with her side of the family, I’ll be looking up at people. At Challen family gatherings, I’ll generally be higher than everyone else. Maybe it gives me a bit more confidence – it’s a conversation starter. At gigs and cinemas, you can see everything and at home, I like being taller than Dad. I don’t really know why. It just means I can loom!”
Nikki and Ella
Nikki Warriner, a manager with Penhaligon's, is the mother of Ella, 17
“I’m the eldest of three sisters and have always been the tallest. I’m 5ft 8½in. I always liked that – I think there is a power in height. I suppose you feel in control of the world. I still feel pretty tall when I’m out, but at home, I’m now the smallest. It can feel intimidating, living in a house of very tall people. Ella is 6ft 2in, her younger sister is 14 and she has overtaken me. Their dad is 6ft 4in. Ella tells me all the time, “Mummy, you’re so small!”
It’s quite difficult holding your authority with someone like Ella. If she is going to give me a hard time, I have to raise my game. I have to carefully articulate what I believe and make sure I’m not just shouting. Luckily, she does listen. She doesn’t throw her height around too much.
The biggest worry is people thinking she’s older. Ella was taller than me at the age of about 11 – the physique of an adult but very much a child. Today she said she gets a lot of attention from men who think she’s much older. It also throws up practical difficulties. I don’t think she’s ever had a comfortable night’s sleep. Her bed is not long enough. Buying her a desk wasn’t the easiest as she can’t fit underneath. There are no clothes for a teenage girl who is tall and I have been known to cry in shoe shops – Ella’s feet are size 11 and all she can wear are Converse, Doc Martens and men’s brogues.
Ella’s height has caused difficulties for her growing up, but I think it’s really beautiful. She has a powerful physique that’s very striking. She looks fantastic and I embrace it!”
Ella: “I remember finding it quite funny, overtaking Mum. I hated being tall at school – people called me “giant” more than they called me “Ella” – but at home, it was pretty hilarious. It does change a hug, though – it’s you hugging Mum not Mum hugging you – and it’s kind of hard to lean on her now. It’s a bit too uncomfortable.
Being tall gets easier every year. I still hate shopping with a passion – I’ll try on 10 items and one might half fit. And I tend to make the “tall jokes” first now so that no one else can. I think 5ft 9in, 5ft 10in would be a good height – tall but not really tall. I think I’ve stopped growing now. I really wouldn’t want to be taller than my Dad.”
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