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January 21, 2007

Rub-a-dub-dub, We're all in the tub

Our upstairs bathroom directly faces our next-door-neighbors' back yard. They are a childless, middle-aged couple who often give parties in their back yard. I've often wondered what they and their guests must think when bits of our bathtime conversation float out of the shower window and drift towards them:

Mama, take your panties off!

Mama, I want to be nudie with you!

Philip, I see your winkie. It's bigger than mine.

Yes, it's big like Daddy's.

James, help me soap my butt.

Daddy, where is mama's winkie?

No, we're not depraved, immoral pedophiles. We just happen to be a little casual about nudity and communal bathing. As long as it's only the five of us in the house, every door is unlocked and the children think nothing about wandering in and out of the bathroom when we're there.

I think it started when they were infants and went into instant Cry Mode whenever I was out of their sight. I would take them into the bathroom with me when I showered, placing them in their bouncy seats so we could look at each other. They were safe and happy in that steamy, warm bathroom, and I guess the open-door policy just continued. About two years ago, I discovered they were much more cooperative at bathtime when I would get into the shower with them. I get soaked anyway when I have to drag three whining, uncooperative kids into the bathroom and clean them, so I might as well get clean myself and three happy kids at the same time.

It's really not such a big deal, is it? Going topless is considered normal, not risque, in beaches round the world. In many societies such as Japan and Finland, whole societies bathe together and nudity in public baths doesn't raise an eyebrow. I rememer going to summer camp in England when I was eleven and being shocked that European girls my age wore only bikini bottoms to swim instead of bathing suits.

I realize that every family is different and I make no judgments. I personally never saw my mother naked until I was in my late teens (and then only because she forgot to lock her dressing room door). I always people glancing in the summer when I strip my twins naked by the poolside in order to put on their trunks. A friend of ours never bathes his two girls and confesses that he feels uncomfortable even being in the same room as them when they are undressed (his girls are 3 and 4). Modesty is not the only reason; in this day and age, it is not unheard of a chance remark by a child to lead to accusations (sometimes mistaken, sometimes correct) of sexual improprieties by the parent. It is no wonder that many fathers are cautious about overstepping boundaries.

I realize that we will probably want to change our habits when the kids get older. The last thing I want is for my daughter to be embarrassed when her brothers start telling everyone what kind of underwear her parents use. Or have my sons host a sleepover and see me walking around in Victoria's Secret negligees in front of their friends. As they grow older, we want to respect their right to privacy and their ability to control access to their bodies. But even when we start locking our bathroom doors to keep each other out, I hope we can still manage to promote a healthy, open and casual attitude towards our bodies.

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