When Max was about 8 or 9 months old, I was chatting with a friend about how difficult it could be to get a shower in when you have a baby. Max was still small enough that I could strap him into the bouncy seat and he’d hang out in the bathroom with me. Somewhere between conditioning my hair and shaving my legs though, he’d start crying inconsolably, and I’d be left singing ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ while frantically washing off the last of my grapefruit body scrub. I thought THAT was rough.
“Just wait till he’s older” my friend said. “And he starts noticing that you’re NAKED.”
I was horrified. “Oh my god! When will that happen??” I worried. Should I not be showering in front of my baby??? “Of course it’s fine” she said. “Don’t worry, when the time comes, you’ll know.”
I quickly forgot about our conversation, and focused instead on the daunting task of how to keep Max from unraveling the toilet paper/squeezing out all of the toothpaste/dumping his snacks in the sink and running out the bathroom door while I was showering. At 2 and a half, he’s now content to watch an episode of Word Girl on the iPad while sitting in his beanbag chair on the bathroom floor, oblivious to the fact that I’m taking a shower.
Until today, when I stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around me.
“What that?” he asked, standing up.
“Ummm…..my towel?” I said.
“No. What THAT?” he asked again, as he tried to unwrap my towel and look behind it.
My immediate reaction was panic. And embarassment. I was, quite frankly, terrified.
“Ummm….that’s Mommy’s um, chest. Mommies have umm, chests, and boys have ummmm….wait…”
And then he went back to Word Girl.
Major. Mommy. Fail.
Immediately, I was SO PISSED at myself. He’s TWO! He doesn’t know anything at all about privacy, or body shame, or being embarassed. It’s normal and healthy and normal and age-appropriate and oh, NORMAL for him to ask. He’s asking about my breasts and vagina so that he can give them an appropriate name, like he names his elbow or his head or his toes. He’s not asking so that he can say “Geesh Mom, well now that I’m really paying attention to the fact that you’re naked, it’s pretty clear where the rest of my Halloween candy went!” He’s not laughing and pointing. He’s not horrified that I dared undress in front of him. He’s just curious. And yes, probably starting to figure out that Mommy’s parts are different than his and Daddy’s parts.
I guess it’s probably time to start actually living the philosophies that I believe in. That bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. That children need to know the real names for body parts, and not call them something stupid or derogatory. And that the way that parents model positive body-talk will shape the way that children learn to respect and care for their own bodies. And I need to be able to say the word vagina, I guess. And breasts.