And both boys still wander around naked; they get hot, they strip down. I donít care about the visuals ó naked television watching would be fine by me ó but no bare bums on my couch. ďPut on underpants,Ē I say. And no nudity at the kitchen table. They may be arbitrary, but those are the rules.
For years, Iíve known this had to change but thought there would be some obvious moment when weíd all know it was time to cover up ó some sign from above or at the very least, a demand from below. In particular, I thought my oldest son, as he approached his teens, would be the one to draw the line.
But nothing that clear has happened. Once he started shutting the door to the bathroom, I thought I could take my cues from him ó but heís inconsistent. One day, hearing something on the television while he was waiting for the bath, he walked in, hands covering his parts like a fig leaf, unconcerned. Other days itís, ďMom, do you mind? Give me some privacy!Ē while heís changing his shirt.
Iíve tried asking, but the topic of nudity is far more embarrassing to him than the nudity itself, and I donít want him to feel like itís a big deal. I love that itís not a big deal.
Iím not sure where my own inclination to roam around the house naked came from. Itís not like I havenít struggled all my adult life with my body image. But thereís something affirming about how much my children have always loved and needed my body, from breast-feeding, to shared baths. That ease with one anotherís nudity is part of the depth of my connection to them ó something closed doors donít offer. I know it has to change, but when? In my childhood home no private parts were actively on display, so no moment ever came when they had to be hidden away.
Since I canít ask my son what ďnormalĒ should look like, I asked my friends what was going on in their homes. If their teenagers are any indication, this Garden of Eden approach is doomed. One friendís 15-year-old son, David, outnumbered by his two mothers and younger sister, was 7 or 8 when he started closing the door to the bedroom and bathroom. Heís still frustrated that the women in his house leave doors open and trot past his bedroom naked, with no respect for his desire not to see them. Itís not like heís ashamed, he says, he just wants some boundaries. ďAnd anyway, itís not like Penelope Cruz is walking around naked in my house.Ē
Davidís mothers agree they should try harder, but it requires effort, and they forget.
Another friendís husband is simply defiant: he agreed to the request for no nudity at home, but retains the family cottage on a secluded lake with a floating dock as the last bastion against his two teenagers and their battle for familial modesty. The kids still come running to their mom with complaints: ďDadís on the floating dock naked again. Do something.Ē
Kids exhibit a range of responses to nudity from shame to awkwardness, to disgust, to letting it all hang out, to flaunting it, to you can look at me but Iím not interested in seeing you. Whatís clear from everyone I talked to is that children set the household nudity agenda, and it starts early.
As soon as my toddler was old enough to climb into my bed I started wearing pajamas to sleep. As my kids got older they were louder and clearer about their preferences, deciding when to display it, or shut it away, marking their boundaries and independence by withdrawing nudity completely, then reintroducing it, then withdrawing it again. The idea of no longer being intimately familiar with my childrenís bodies makes me sad, and yet I have no intention of walking the halls of my house with two full-grown naked men.
Weíre not ashamed of our bodies, and weíre doing our best to ensure our kids feel good about theirs. Weíve defied the prudish version of modesty that makes nudity gross or necessary to hide. I donít want to bother with a robe to get from the bathroom to the closet. I like that the kids will brush their teeth while Iím in the shower. But our bodies are ours to control. When my children are ready to cover up, Iíll respect that. When they ask me to do it, too, Iíll dress accordingly.
Itís all as it should be, but Iím allowed to mourn the loss, a little now, and a little in advance. Maybe I should let them watch TV naked on the couch.