We were playing in the bath, Graham and I, when he very deliberately pointed at my breast.
I hesitated for only a second. That’s mommy’s nipple, I said. I pointed to his chest. And look, there’s Graham’s nipple.
He nodded, satisfied.
A few minutes later he lay on his stomach and pushed himself through the water towards me as is his habit when we bathe in our large, overfilled tub. His mouth was open.
He has a funny look on his face, I thought idly, just as he chomped firmly onto his intended target.
Oh dear God.
No Graham. I gently pushed him away. You drank milk from mommy when you were a baby. You’re a big boy now. You drink your milk from a cup.
I have not nursed Graham since he was seven months old: apparently he has a hell of a memory.
He glided up to me again, mouth agape.
I gently redirected.
Baby milk mama, he implored.
No sweetie. You drink big boy milk now. From a cup.
He sighed. Okay Mama.
I had no idea it would start this early. And by it, I mean my own questions about how and when to start establishing limits and boundaries when it comes to nakedness and privacy between Graham and me.
He’s twenty-seven-months-old. My gut feeling is that we North Americans worry entirely too much about this type of thing, that we project our own fears and insecurities about sexuality and the human body onto our children at far too young an age.
I have a baby book at home which recommends that parents curb nakedness around their children by the age of three at the oldest. The reason? Because some experts now believe that children may unconsciously become sexually aroused by their parents’ nakedness and as a result suffer confusion and embarrassment over those feelings.
I not only disagree with that assessment, I find it infuriating and sad. I find it sad, because it seems to me a theory that is so obviously a reaction to the times we live in and our own worst fears as opposed to our children’s best interests.
We spend so much time bemoaning how society sexualizes our children at far too young an age, but are we not doing it ourselves if we are covering up, keeping our bodies private and advising them to do the same at an age when they are still years and years away from the onset of puberty and sexual maturation?
Because isn’t fear and paranoia about sexuality—ours and theirs—really the only reason to suddenly start denying them the casual intimacy that they have taken for granted the whole span of their short and tender lives? Think about it. It’s not for hygienic or health reasons that that we start to turn away when we slip on our clothes or shake our heads no when they try and pull us into the bath with a mischievous smile.
I say that it is fear and paranoia about sexuality that causes us to put up walls, but that’s harsh, of course. I should say concerns and I should clarify that I have them too. We all do—it’s impossible not to.
It’s impossible not to hear stories about child predators and then look at your child and think, How? and Why? and That’s the sickest thing ever! and finally, perhaps subconsciously, I need to protect them. I need to cover them up. I should cover us both up. Now.
But I won’t do that, not yet. Because I enjoy our baths together. Graham enjoys our baths together. Graham obviously remembers nursing and remembers it fondly. And that’s all there is to it. At this stage I firmly believe that any discomfort I feel is my problem and my problem alone.