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My Dad's Perfect Answer to My Pediatrician's Question


For most of my life, I have been looking up.

Up at buildings, imagining the lives of families who inhabit the top floor. Up at concerts, maneuvering between heads to get a glimpse of guitar. Up to the top of the snack shelf, where they keep the good stuff.

Up at most people. Literally. I am only 5 feet tall.

In my memories, especially in the oldest, blurriest ones, my camera angle is from below. Everything is above me.

When you are always looking up, it is easy to feel small.

***

These days, I find myself in a doctor’s office at least once a week. I am usually by myself, and every few weeks it’s a different building with a new physician. Most offices have the same flow: Walk in. Sit down. Look up.

In these moments, it can be hard to feel in control of my own choices.

It can be hard to say no if a doctor is suggesting something I’m uncomfortable with.

It can be hard to confront a specialist who is speaking as if I am incompetent or worse, not even in the room.

In these moments, though, I cling to a brief and foggy memory.

***

I am maybe 9 years old. I am sitting on a dull bluish-gray chair. (I remember this because I referred to it as “Eeyore-colored.”) I am looking up at two people. The doctor who’s going to give me a strep test.

And my dad.

I watch the doctor, armed with a dreaded tongue depressor, turn to my dad and ask, “How long has her throat been bothering her?”

I hear my dad say, “You can ask her. She’s sitting right in front of you.”

I feel a wave of surprise, and uncertainty, and embarrassment, and then pride.

am sitting right in front of you!

I look up and sheepishly say, “My throat has been sore since yesterday.”

***

My dad’s response may come off as rude — especially when I write it out that way. But it wasn’t. Not to me.

It was one of the most important lessons I’ll ever get.

In that office, I was once again a kid surrounded by adults. I was once again physically sitting below them. I was once again looking up.

But I was there. And I deserved to be treated as such.

I really don’t think this doctor meant any harm. Some kids (and adults) deal with horrible anxiety when talking to strangers. Some people are nonverbal. Maybe he was taking all of that into consideration. Maybe he was just used to talking over kids.

Still it stands: No one deserves to be overlooked, or ignored, or underestimated, or talked through.

When I sit at my doctor appointments today, I always think of my dad. I don’t let doctors talk down to me. I don’t let people talk about me when I am sitting right there. I speak up (most of the time) when I need to. It applies outside the walls of a medical building, too.

It’s not an easy thing to do. I still feel that wave of surprise, and uncertainty, and embarrassment. But, man, I still feel the pride.

Whether he meant to or not, my dad’s response that day — and the way he led by example throughout my childhood — taught me never to let anyone make me feel small.

dad and daughter on her birthday in front of a cake

Sometimes I can’t believe I remember his comment. It was such a small moment. Our minds are funny that way, I guess. Maybe my little 9-year-old brain knew I’d need the memory when I was older. A simple sentence I now carry in my arsenal.

Today, as a woman (especially a short one), I am used to being overlooked. Ignored. Underestimated. Talked through. I’m sure no matter who you are, you have felt these things too.

I hope it’s a reminder to any parent reading this now, that your kids hear and see what you do. They soak it in. Please teach them to stand up for themselves in whatever way they’re capable of doing so. When they’re adults, a brief and foggy memory of your lesson may sneak up on them one day — like when they’re sitting alone in a doctor’s office and they get a burst of confidence to say, “I am sitting right in front of you. I am here.”

***

I’m an adult now, but by nature, I am still usually looking up. It is not always a bad thing, though.

I look up at buildings, imagining the lives of the people who inhabit the top floor. I hope they are happy. I look up at concerts, forever maneuvering between heads but content in where I end up. I look up to the top of bookshelves, where they keep the good stuff.

I look up at almost everyone I meet.

But mostly, I look up to my dad.

dad holding his newborn baby