I was cutting up a tomato for the burgers when Charlie halted in his tracks, the smile melting away from his face.
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “Something just happened in Charlie Town.”
And I was right. My 2-year-old began fumbling with his clothes until they started coming off. Next thing I knew he was Magic Mike-ing his duds this way and that way, up above his head, in random directions around the yard.
Everyone sitting around the table was cracking up. Even my two older kids stopped their monkey bar action to watch the show. Charlie was dead serious though, and he wasn’t chuckling along with any of us. The boy had decided that his T-shirt and shorts were cramping his style. And so they needed to go.
It was hilarious, partly because Charlie was whipping off his outfit, but also because of the look of concentration that came over his little face once he’d decided to go au naturale.
By the time he made it down to his diaper, people were crying tears of laughter. And just like some perfectly choreographed show in Vegas, Charlie finally glanced over at the grownups in hysterics, yanked his diaper until it broke free from his tiny torso, and tossed it as high as he possibly could in the air. You’ve never seen a kid so overjoyed to be stark naked.
Little kids love to run around in the nude. It’s always innocent, of course, the perfect bonus prize to being young and free.
Of course, my immediate reaction as a slightly neurotic single dad who always wants to be doing the “right thing” for his kids was to head Charlie’s way at once, fully intent on re-dressing him. I knew that he’d freak out and cry if I did, but I also felt as if I couldn’t let my toddler run around my yard in the nude.
I mean, what if my neighbors were looking out their windows?! They could be offended, no? Hell, last year The Royal Canadian Mounted Police visited a Canadian family’s home after someone reported that their 4-year-old was running around naked after a family car wash session.
So although I’ve always let my three kids sing and dance their way across our living room in nothing but their birthday suits if they wanted to, this was outside. It didn’t bother me at all. But then again, I’ve never called the cops on myself before either, you know?
So I thought maybe I should just nip Charlie’s idea in the bud. I think that’s probably the initial reaction that a lot of parents start to have too, especially once their kids reach a certain age.
Was I wrong, though? When it comes right down to it, what IS the appropriate age for a child to be completely covered up and remain that way? I’m not certain. Plus, I’m not certain about who might be certain either.
Are there laws about if a 4-year-old boy wants to dash around without his shirt and shorts on? What about a 4-year-old girl? Standards have tightened in this Internet age, like it or not. Lots of people are sharing lots of information and that has created entirely new galaxies of opinionated judgment. There are many people alive today who can probably remember a time when it wasn’t uncommon at all for neighborhood kids to run around without clothes on (or without shirts on at least) — boys and girls.
But I think those days are pretty much over. I don’t know why exactly, but it does feel that way to me somehow. Charlie is only 2, though. Two isn’t too young to be out in my yard nude, now is it?
My daughter Violet is 7, and she used to LOVE running around outside clothing-free, but I can’t let that happen anymore. As much as it makes me sentimental and sad for days gone by, it’s just a given that she’s past the point of being naked outside.
But what about inside?
Are parents supposed to feel awkward around their own child when their first- or second-grader wants to watch cartoons sans all that pesky clothing? I get so confused. My head tells me that I’m doing the right thing by keeping them dressed ALL of the time, inside or out.
It’s my heart that messes me up. I want them to have a simple, cool childhood. I want my kids to look back on their youth and be able to say, as much as possible, that, once upon a time, if they felt like dancin’ naked over at Dad’s house, there was never anything to stop them. Including Dad.
I suppose that’s why I feel so guilty, too. After all, in a lot of ways what could be more organically cool in a Norman Rockwell kind of way than letting your own kids be naked out in the summer sun?
Am I wrong? Maybe we just need to play it by ear. I feel like 4 is the age. But maybe 3 isn’t too young to draw the nudist line. But then there’s 5 and that’s such a fun time!
This parenting thing is really tough sometimes.
At what age did you stop allowing your children to run around naked?
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