Ah, nudity. I think any issues in our house with this topic boil down to what we struggle to teach our kids in general: discretion. There is a time and place for rough-housing, for instance. We try to instill our kids with the discretion to know that, say, tackling someone during the kids’ homily in the front of the entire congregation at mass is neither the time nor the place for it (Yes, it really happened. Sigh.). When our two oldest were still very little, there were regular nighttime performances of “Nature Boy,” often to the sound stylings of Ben’s guitar playing kiddie favorites and sanitized versions of daddy favorites. I rarely bothered with swim trunks when the boys played in our kiddie pool in the yard. Letting them go “bottomless” was the most effective tactic when potty training them. These are all good examples of what I consider to be nudity in the right time and place.
Then, there was the time that I was about seven months pregnant with my third, trying to get a Christmas card photo of the first two boys. That photo shoot lasted about five minutes before the boys decided their fancy clothes were too restrictive and the whole thing dissolved into a chaotic mess of boys running, jumping and posing proudly without clothes, as I sat on the floor, defeated. I decided I was too tired to manhandle them back into clothes and so I just snapped a few more pictures, slapped a Christmas-y border on the prints and sent them out like that. Right place, definitely wrong time for nudity.
Finally, I present to you this scenario: Imagine you are at the funeral of your husband’s beloved grandmother. Picture that among all the grieving relatives, yours are the only children present. Thankfully, the boys are calm and well-behaved in church, but there is still the sit-down meal at the reception. Everyone is sitting down and suddenly, you hear a kind of happy ruckus. You look up to see that your children are not only gleefully tearing around the hall, but are sporting only their dress shirts, artfully buttoned at the neck as super-hero capes. (Um, thanks, Great-aunt Theresa!) Wrong place. Wrong time. Fortunately, the display was taken as a kind of cute, welcome diversion from the general atmosphere of grief, but still… Things are trickier now. The big boys act like morons when the younger boys are without clothes, pointing, poking and tee-hee-ing so that the younger boys can’t just enjoy the innocence and free feeling of going without clothes.
I would say that our family’s feelings about nudity are informed by the number of kids we have. Ha! That sounds funny coming from a mom of almost-five! What I meant by the remark is this: there are often two to four people in the bathroom at one time. Brushing teeth, showering, using the toilet. Sometimes people are wearing clothes, sometimes not. We don’t get too uptight about it. I’m the only girl in the house, so that could get weird, but I’d say childbirth took care of any overbearing body/modesty hang-ups I had. I rarely close the door to the bathroom if I’m the only adult at home, because it seems to ward off the kind of mischief that creeps up in kids when they think they aren’t being supervised. It also saves the kids from having to bang on the door to ask all those non-emergency questions they think of the moment I’m in the bathroom. Plus, it gives me a gauge of how well the campaign to teach discretion is going when the two-year-old comes in, points at me laughing and says, “Ha, ha, Mom! I can see yourprivacy!” Teaching discretion could take a while.
Tasha Schlake Festel
Anyone that knows me and my love of salami knows that one of my mottos is, "Parts is parts." I had always kind of applied this to nudity as well, being from a family with just an older sister. It ain't no big thing. They're just parts. But when you have two kids of different genders, those parts are quite different, and can eventually be a source of embarrassment... and gawking!
I won't lie to you, the question of when to cover up is one that I wrestle with. I don't just mean when the kids should no longer see each other naked, but also when they should stop seeing me and their father naked. I don't know the answer. Let me first put this out there: We are not one of those "naked families" by any stretch of the imagination. Let me also say that my husband is a modest man, and I am fairly certain this is a question only I wrestle with. To him, the answer is obvious: Always cover yourself, and limit the children's exposure to each other at all times. Let me also clarify: The kind of nudity to which I'm referring is out of convenience or laziness and not a lifestyle or parenting decision. When it's late and we're all tired, throwing the kids in the same bath tub will get them in to bed - and a Yuengling into my belly - sooner. If I'm alone with the kids at a busy YMCA or beach, taking them to the "family bathroom" seems safer than allowing my 6-year-old son to fend for himself in the men's room. And when there's a super cute outfit at Target that I absolutely must try on right then, I cannot in good conscience leave my kids in the hall while I test out the latest trends on my old lady body. Enter: gray area.
I've heard that the time you start to limit nudity is when they start to notice. I think that's probably a good rule of thumb, but not always easy to apply. My daughter has been aware of the existence of my son's male anatomy since she was two years old and she first watched me change his diaper. She asked a lot of questions and stared a lot. If I'd followed the "when they notice rule" then they never would have experienced the childhood ritual of taking baths together, giggling, splashing, playing, and spending hours experimenting with science, physics and art as they did in the first few years of shared tub time. I've also never been one to be particularly discreet at home, so it's not uncommon for one of the kids to walk in on me getting dressed or drying off from the shower. Parts is parts, and I'm in my own home with small children and no door locks. There are sightings. I'm trying to be more guarded now, after having to remind my son a few times that my eyes are "up here" and that's where he should look when we talk. (Sheesh! That starts early, doesn't it??) My daughter looks too, but since she has the same parts, it doesn't bother me as much. Gaping and ogling are totally not OK, but she's allowed to notice and ask some questions.
Now that they're 6- and 8-years old, they've really taken on the role of monitoring themselves. They're not as likely to strip down and change in front of each other as they used to be. And if they do change in the same room, they tend to avert their eyes... or pay the price of a beating and/or outrage from their sibling. I've changed my behavior to limit "mom sightings" to those emergency dressing room situations, but I've decided not to make a decision on how much they see of each other. Other than not allowing them to bathe together anymore (and thankfully they take showers on their own), I'm letting them take the lead. For now, it's working. And if it's not, I'll just add it to the list of things they'll need therapy for in 15 years. That's what insurance is for, after all!
I just found out that this week is “Nude Recreation Week.” WooHoo! Naked beach party! Ok, maybe not. I am not particularly shy, but I don’t think I am ready to bare all for naked barbeques and volleyball games. I did go to a few nude beaches as a child, and from what I remember, there was a lot more of the bad naked than the good naked, if you know what I mean. I’m not sure it is an experience I want to repeat. A little mystery is a good thing.
However, little kids love to be naked and my kids were no different. When my kids were younger—say, six and under—they would beg and plead to be allowed to dance around my bedroom naked while I filled the tub for their bath. They even had a special song they made up just for the pre-bath nudie dance: “boys and girls are different from each other … girls have bums in the front and the back and boys have long and dangly penises …” There was more, but you get the idea. They were not modest in any way. They also let me strip them out of wet, sandy bathing suits right on the beach, in full view of everyone. I don’t go out of my way to let my kids see me naked, but I don’t really hide it either. They would get in the shower with me when they were toddlers and walk in and out of my room when I was getting dressed. What they lack in modesty, they make up for in brutal honesty. I have had many, many “compliments” on how big my butt is and how my boobs are “so much longer than I thought they would be.” * sigh *
Now my youngest is seven and I try a little harder to avoid letting him see me without clothes, but I don’t freak out if he does. My kids have gotten more modest as they’ve gotten older and I have tried to teach all of them to respect each other’s privacy. They don’t take showers together any more and they usually close their doors when they are getting dressed. Sometimes they even knock before they come into my room. As long as they understand that nudity is private and privacy should be respected, then I don’t mind if they occasionally get an accidental peek of naked Mommy— just not at the beach.