My Two Steps For Your One

Life as a 3’9 adult

The Pszonak family, 2016.

The Pszonak family, 2016.

On February 7, I stood up in front of the whole SEM community and presented what it is like to be this 18-year-old girl. It’s something I never express publicly and have almost finished four years of high school without having a conversation about it. But, a lot of people do not know why I am small, and so here I go.

As I enter Target, filled with worn-out parents and their lively children, I hear “Look, Mom, look at that girl!” When I turn my head I see two toddlers pointing at me with their sticky fingers, giggling, and whispering to each other. What are they saying? Why are they laughing? I think I know why.

Getting ready for my senior presentation on February 7, 2017.

“Achondroplasia” is the correct medical term I use to tell people why I am small. Achondroplasia is a genetic disorder that disturbs normal growth of cartilage, resulting in a form of dwarfism. Even though Achondroplasia has a definition, it does not define who I am. I am simply a human who has a difference. And although this medical term doesn’t bother me, another common term does.

Midget. This word has negative connotations. I realize many people are unaware of this and, so it is used quite frequently. I am not a thing, I am a person. I am a little person.

The following are some things I go through on a daily basis that you may not experience. As with everything, there are positives and negatives to being unique.

First, I’m a little like a celebrity. Whenever I am out in public people stare at me. Complete strangers come up and talk to me.  Some may want to know my age, others have told me I am beautiful, and just recently someone mistook me for a celebrity on a reality TV show.

However, I don’t always like being in the limelight. The majority of the time I just want go about my business. I don’t enjoy seeing people whisper and laugh when I walk by. I’ve learned to ignore them, but I notice.

People, especially children, stare at me with wide eyes, and while I truly understand their curiosity, it makes me uncomfortable. Instead of staring, perhaps parents should use this opportunity to teach their children to respect all people.

Secondly, because I have short arms, it’s hard for me to reach some things, so I have to be assertive and ask strangers for help. If I want Nutella off a grocery store shelf I either have to ask a stranger for help or think creatively. I’ve used one cereal box to knock another one off a higher shelf. In the bathroom near the admission office, I have learned that it is easier to go to the bathroom in the dark rather than do a tuck jump to reach a higher than usual light switch or I’ve use my water bottle or the soap dispenser to try to reach. And you don’t know how much I’d like to make my own salad or sandwich by myself in the cafeteria. These simple scenarios most people take for granted, yet they have taught me to be creative and assertive.

Hanging out with friends can be difficult as a little person. For example, when I am walking next to my friends, they have a hard time hearing me because I am so much shorter, and so I feel left out of many conversations. I have to speak loudly to get noticed. Hugging is also hard to do as a little person. I am a big supporter of SEM’s sports teams. This year, after soccer won a championship in their division, everybody was hugging and congratulating each other. This simple action is difficult for me because of my height. I cannot simply hug a person; they have to come to my level and hug me.

People might be surprised to know that Disney World is not as easy for little people as you’d think. It is impossible to see over the crowd when there is a show or a parade. People are often unaware of others who are shorter than them. They are too focused on themselves. Concerts and football games are a pain in the same way especially when people stand up. I can’t simply enjoy a concert. I have to think of ways in which I can see better. I can’t get my own drinks at Panera. I either have to ask somebody to help me or not order a drink. If a restaurant or store has high counters, sometimes the workers cannot see me. At Chipotle recently,  the cashier skipped over me because she couldn’t see me. I had to raise my voice to get her attention. The list goes on and on.

Since I cannot read the brake of a car, I will need pedal extensions.

I cannot be as independent as I would like to be.  For example, I really want to drive a car. I was able to get my permit but I have yet to touch the wheel of a car. In order for me to drive, I need to purchase pedal extensions. They are difficult to remove, so I need to get my own car. This is costly so it has not happened yet. In public bathrooms, I sometimes have to ask my mother or a person I am with to get me soap, paper towels, and turn on and off the sink depending on how tall the counter is.

My clothes also cost extra because often I need to get them tailored. There is not a wide selection in shoes since I am a kid size. I do not like the pink, obnoxiously sparkly shoes offered in the children’s section of stores. I usually buy my shoes online because there is more of a selection.

I am grateful, however, to have been born during this time period in the United States. There is a greater acceptance of differences than in the past. Also, the internet has provided many more options in terms of information and shopping.

Although being short does have some advantages. It sometimes brings out the good in people. I have been given opportunities that I would not have received if I weren’t my height. One instance of kindness was when a worker at the Today show gave me front row seats so I could see better. Many people have offered their help before I had to ask them. Not making a big deal out of a situation but being kind to one another can make someone’s day.

My life will always be a little different from most, yet I will continue to seek the positive through my perspective on the world. My hope is that people will remember to embrace differences with kindness.  As a matter of fact, when someone asked President Lincoln how tall a person should be, he responded, “Tall enough for their feet to reach the pavement.” Luckily, my feet are always firmly planted on the pavement.

But there is one more thing. It takes me two steps for every one step you take. That make life a little harder. But believe me nothing, nothing will ever stop me from keeping up.

Tessa Pszonak ’17 and Grace Gallager ’17 on Hornet Jacket Day- September 30, 2017