The height chart on “This Is Us” will break your heart

“This Is Us” employs a growth chart as a potent—and poignant—narrative device.
“This Is Us” employs a growth chart as a potent—and poignant—narrative device.
Image: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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Each time I tell a child, or her parent, that I “can’t believe” how big she’s gotten or how old she is now, I innerly cringe a bit. It’s not just that it’s boring and cliched—as a parent myself, those words are an almost painful reminder that I’m constantly seeing the trees and not the forest when it comes to my kids. Day to day I’m obsessed by minutia, by how many hours in a row my baby is sleeping at night, and how well, or not, my toddler is brushing his teeth. I can barely remember what they looked like a month ago, and I don’t notice how much they’ve grown until someone points it out to me.

So when a friend mentioned the height chart on This Is Us, I immediately started searching for one for my house. The show employs flashbacks to capture the life of a family, and their height chart not only helps viewers keep time, but also underscores the small quotidian acts that structure life with small children, the hair brushing, grocery buying daily grind.

This Is Us is getting a post-Superbowl spot on Sunday for an episode that promises to finally resolve the question of how one of the main characters dies, an event that occurs about halfway through the show’s interior timeline. This plot point has obsessed fans, and with good reason. In the same way that looking at a growth chart can highlight the passage of time, a show like This Is Us—or its emotional cousin Friday Night Lights—potently pops you into the sublime emotional train wreck that is parenthood by taking your attention away from the pile of laundry you’re folding and placing it squarely on the lives, and deaths, of another, fictional, family. It’s a reminder that while your present moment is all consuming, it’s also highly ephemeral and an amazing privilege.

Looking at a height chart is a little like scrolling back through the photos on your phone, only more viscerally elegant in its simplicity. I found a number of options in my search for one for my home, and your purchase in this realm is going to be strongly correlated to how likely, or not, you are to frame and display your child’s artwork. Some parents are comfortable co-mingling their adult aesthetic with child-centric design, others, not so much. Just keep in mind that this is an object that will emotionally gut you in 20 years, no matter how cutesy or minimal it starts out.

You can digitize this too, and download an app like Growth, but really, isn’t that what the pediatrician’s office is for? You may want to chart your child’s height and weight for medical reasons, but let’s consider apps as wholly separate from something you’d hang on the wall.


Of course you can find a reclaimed wood growth chart on Etsy.
Of course you can find a reclaimed wood growth chart on Etsy.
Image: Wood from the Hood via Etsy

There are two major designs in the height chart world that are on the clean, minimal end of things: rulers and trees, including, on Etsy of course, what looks to be an actual tree that you mount and then mark. It’s possible to find easy-to-remove and move decals, posters and sturdy wooden versions of both. For my money, this one using “reclaimed urban wood” and made in Minnesota, hits all the artisan notes, with nary a pastel in sight.

On the cuter end of things, animals are a common growth chart trope, most notably giraffes or a collection of different creatures stacked on top of one another.  Flowers and other plants, stretching upward toward the sun, bring up the visual metaphor end of things. I like the ones that are made from fabric and double as wall hangings that wouldn’t look out of place in a kitchen or living room. If you want to up the nostalgia aspect, and also create an additional annual task for yourself, this chart incorporates photos into the mix.


The DIY community definitely frowns on spending $100 for a personalized ruler growth chart at Pottery Barn Kids, and really, it does seem like a realistic project to make your own giant ruler. Way more doable than some of the more ambitious growth charts you could craft using skills like embroidery or washi tape magic.

The ultimate in growth chart DIY though, is simply having your children stand with their backs against the wall or doorframe, and marking their height with whatever pen or marker happens to by hanging about, with the date and their age, too, if you’re fancy. This age-old tradition has led to a wide range of creative solutions when families decide to move or remodel. A forum on Houzz for designers posed this question leading to suggestions ranging from taking a photo and framing it, to cutting out the drywall and framing that, to painting around the marks and highlighting it as a design feature of the room. A writer in Detroit saved the doorjamb when remodeling her kitchen to preserve an unusually well-populated growth chart that included pets and extended family members.

And, if you want to combine sentimentality with the sensible, you could do what one designer suggested, and record heights on an interior closet door. Easy to move if you so desire, goes with everything, and you can look at it while you step into the closet for a quick and private power cry—whether you’re overcome with the beautiful fragility of family life, or just furious that your threenager is refusing to wear pants.