Modesty reigns in a house with a pre-teen girl

The idea of ​​being outnumbered doesn't bother me. That is to say, I'm okay with being a minority. I haven't lived my entire life as a member of the diaspora without coming to terms with being the only Jew in the laundromat. Yet when it comes to being the only man in a house full of women, I have become particularly conscious, I recently realized, of being naked.

This became clear while chatting with a mother from one family and a father from another in the park after school pick-up. It was warm enough to eat ice cream and our children who share a class played in the dappled sun. The SAT exams had just finished and the discussions were relieved that it was all over. Then, like an uninvited stranger settling in at the breakfast table, the question of how much nudity is too naked arose.

All three families have a ten-year-old daughter and I said that sometimes mine asserts the human right to privacy with the force of Clarence Darrow summing up against the death penalty. The weekend before, I had been fined for failing to knock on the unlocked bathroom door before opening it. I quickly closed the millimeter gap that I had so thoughtlessly allowed to form between the door and the frame, partly to follow orders but mostly to protect myself from the merciless invectives of pre-pre-adolescent judgment.

In the park, the father and I were laughing ruefully when the mother, a clinician, said that research shows that negative attitudes toward the body can form in children's minds if modesty is too rigorously enforced by adults at home.

I wonder what damage have I done? As the only man in a family of five, including my 89-year-old mother, who moved into our house in January, I avoid undressing in front of anyone who isn't my wife or our 15-month-old child. -old girl.

I have developed the skills of a cat burglar when he has to move around the house after a shower, dripping and without a towel, because those who were in the bathroom before me (the 89 year old mother luckily has her own bathroom) not only did everyone use at least two towels the size of a galleon's sail but removed them from the bathroom for reasons that my imagination is too limited to conjure up. Of course, I only realize this when I reach for the towel rack, which is as bare as I am.

In the park, the mother says that such inhibitions do not exist in her house. Neither she nor her husband – a teacher, again – need my self-developed sonar instincts to judge whether my ten-year-old's footsteps are approaching or moving away from my bedroom door in order to jump in my pants. They just do things. Damn, said the other father. I'm always fully dressed with my girls. One day I told my visiting brother-in-law to go back to his room because he was walking around in shorts. At least I'm not that neurotic, I thought gratefully.

It's a strange thing, modesty. At home, our doors are closed and the notion of knocking has been mentioned. But on crazy school mornings when something essential like a water bottle or homework might be left in any corner of any room, such rules have little effect. I suspect that if you decide it doesn't matter much, no one will care if you're naked in your own bedroom. But once the decision is made to keep the flesh invisible, a blind panic sets in at the prospect of seeing these footsteps approaching while they are in a (completely reasonable) state of undress.

I guess deep down I'm afraid that if my oldest daughter sees me standing on one leg with the other halfway in boxers, it can only lead to a loss of parental authority. Children are like dogs. They can sense fear, which in my case resulted in almost vomit-inducing cries of disgust when the ten-year-old saw me doing what every human being does every morning: getting dressed. My fellow parents, the teacher and his wife, have no scruples and can therefore be as polite as a Lucian Freud painting in front of their children and receive no ridicule and lose none of the respect in which they are held. Well, except maybe a little by me. A corner of my brain now involuntarily imagines them naked every time we meet in the park.

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