“A lot of people refuse to do things because they don’t want to go naked, don’t want to go without guarantee. But that’s what’s got to happen. You go naked until you die.” Nikki Giovanni
Since he was about two years old, my son has wanted nothing more than to be naked. His father and I had professional portraits of his naked infant-self, and many candid shots of running around the yard naked, dressed up in costume accessories but otherwise naked, watching television naked, and of course, bathing naked. All those wonderful moments of his future family jewels displayed for all to see and, for my part, to embarrass him with when he reaches his teenage years.
Naked children are adorable – their soft, pink and white, supple skin; downy hair; bright, expressive eyes; and a cuddliness that even the best teddy bear can’t provide. They’re adorable because, in the eyes of the adults gazing upon their innocent form, these naked children have no sex. In our need to worship their inexperience and newness, we humans tend to strip from them the fact we can tell male from female just by looking at their bodies for which they have no shame in showing.
As a Pagan, the intellectual understandings I have gleaned over the years allow me to see this from a matter-of-fact point of view: He likes to be naked; let him be naked. The emotional side of me … I’m scared to death a person who would want to hurt my son – physically or emotionally – will see him and want to take advantage.
To alleviate my own fears, protect him from the beasts of this world and teach him a respect for the laws of the society in which we live, his father and I discussed and set down rules for naked time when he was three years old:
- He can be naked only at home – in the house and in the more private areas of the yard (never alone).
- He can be naked when either parent is at home.
- He should put on some kind of clothing when company and visitors stop by the house.
One of the first things he tends to do when he gets home is shed his clothing, a piece at a time. Now being six years old, his idea of humor is related to his bottom, bodily functions and his “tenders.” Consequently, I get mooned a lot – if he still has on pants.
The problem stemming from all of this is deciding how to handle disciplinary action when he breaks one or more of the rules without using shame as part of the correction: “No one wants to see that.” “We don’t expose ourselves.” “You’re being ugly.” My Pagan views admire the naked body as artwork of the Goddess, as an extension of the willingness not to hide or cover up our inner selves, mostly from our selves. When we say these things, not only do we instill in children a sense of shame for their sexuality (as a state of being), there is the danger of low self-esteem from body image, future body image disorders (e.g. bulimia, anorexia, overtraining or compulsive exercising) and an unhealthy adult sex life. Because children are sexual beings, whether we adults care to admit it or not.
I am a single mother. My son is at a stage in which he wants to be my center of attention at all times, and any male around is viewed as competition for that attention. This happens despite the multiple conversations we’ve had in which I tell him on no uncertain terms that he is my No. 1 “favoritest boy in the whole world” and no one will take his place. There are more, “Mom, watch me!” and requests for cuddles – and acting out if I don’t ignore our company in his favor.
A while back, I invited a male friend over for the evening. We baked brownies, ate pizza, watched Power Rangers (out of the corner of the adults’ eyes) and had a nice chat. My son was fully clothed throughout. Bedtime prep required bathing, after which he paraded his naked self into the living room carrying his Cpt. America boxer briefs in his hand.
“We have company,” I admonished in favor of one of the rules. “Please put on your underwear.”
This took about three minutes. There was some tumbling around and attention-getting behavior I took in stride. (As did our company: There’s a special place in the Goddess’ heart for men who spend time with single mothers and have patience with the children.) That is until he decided to start the mooning process, which lately doesn’t just involve his bottom. There’s now an apparent call for a full frontal moon, as well. (What do we call this? A “Baphomet?” It gives a new meaning to why the male is associated with the goat God.)
“You’re being disrespectful (of the rules and company) and inappropriate (toward company).” This did not dissuade him. I sent him to bed ten minutes early.
He was understandably upset by this, not just because he had to go to bed early, but because we co-sleep, he sees having to go to bed by himself as punishment. I see it as instilling in him the understanding that he doesn’t dictate the rules of the house, i.e. I’m not going to ask our company to leave simply because of my son’s poor behavior. Doing so would only reinforce that behavior, because mommy will pay full attention to him after the company has left.
He was in trouble because he had broken the rules and was disrespectful of both company and me. Once company had left, there were plenty of snuggles and hugs and I-love-yous – and another discussion about behavior in front of company. I differentiate “behavior” here, because there is a difference between what is allowed at home and what is acceptable by public views. It’s not that I agree with societal views, but for him to have a healthy understanding of survival in contemporary society, the ethical laws of that society are just as important, at least for him as a child. When he becomes an adult, I welcome him to challenge those.
Throughout this entire episode, I didn’t apologize for his behavior to our company. Doing so would have told my son that Mommy is ashamed of him. How can I apologize for a child’s view of the world, as that world exists largely at home? I corrected him in front of company. I was calm and firm. And he is still an unashamedly naked child with, hopefully, a better understanding of respect.
There are all sorts of arguments for and against my approach to this. There’s a child’s personality to consider, the parent’s understanding of and experiences in the world and self, and the dictates of the individual spiritual paths that call to each. If being regularly mooned by my child while I’m cooking dinner or working at home is what leads him to a better sense of self and body image, I’m okay with that.
These children, born naked and sometimes screaming, fragile and unable to protect themselves, are gifts delivered directly from the Goddess Herself, unexpected or hoped for. And all with a grace adults have lost somewhere in navigating the physical world, striving to return to that unashamedness.
“And ye shall be naked in your rites.” Charge of the Goddess
As mentioned before, I associate bodily nakedness with being naked before one’s self in a metaphysical sense. Wiccan or not, the Charge, taken in a metaphorical sense, is a key in spiritual growth and acceptance. I didn’t come to my current spiritual path until I was an adult and consequently, had to unlearn about myself and the world before learning more healthy self- and worldviews. As a Pagan parent, I have the opportunity to teach my son how to bypass the shame and guilt I had in my self-view in order for him to become a more healthy, whole person sooner than I was and to give him the tools he needs to unlearn for himself if needed. (Because, Goddess knows, I’m not a perfect parent.)
Our various stages of bodily nakedness or unnakedness reflect our comfort levels with ourselves and allow others to see how we wear our shame, our discomfort and our levels of spiritual being. (This isn’t to say that clothing one’s self is a show of shame.) Our children hold in them that spiritual innocence the rest of us strive to return to on some level, without advocating ignorance. Watching my son grow with a healthy self-esteem and unashamed of his naked body while exploring his sexuality as a state of being, coming into, eventually, his sexuality as an activity, and his own developing worldviews are a reflection of the Goddess in him. And I learn from him as much as or more than I teach him.
Life is a ritual unto itself; more so, I think, than Sabbat and Esbat observances or singular rites of passage. It’s one, on-going ritual in which we find ourselves growing and learning or otherwise withering and dying before our physical deaths. I don’t want the latter for my son.
So, who has a naked child? Who hopes to become a naked child again? I do.