Betty Duffy

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Naked Post

My son is in a swim club that meets at the local public high school pool. After practice, the kids are allowed to go into the locker room to change clothes, but I’m not very cool with the idea of sending my seven-year-old into the high school boys’ locker room, so he usually just puts his clothes on over his suit. It’s cold on the ride home, but not cold enough for hypothermia, so to me, a preferable option.

I’ve noticed lately that other young people have found their own ways of going around the locker room issue as well. After practice last night, I noticed a couple of kids hovered in the corner doing a little bait and switch right there in front of all who would take notice. These kids were Japanese siblings, members of a small community of Japanese people that have found a home in rural Indiana due to the Japanese auto manufacturing business.

I first noticed the little boy, probably around seven-years-old himself, girding himself with a towel in order to remove his wet trunks. I caught a flash of his bum by accident, with that inevitable lifting of the towel and dropping of the drawers—one of those moments when the eyes register “a naked bum” and it takes a moment for the brain to catch up and think, “That’s not very common out here among the English.” Same thing happened to me the other day driving on the interstate when I saw a woman apparently having bladder urges on the stretch of I-74 where there’s no exit for fifteen miles. “I think I just passed a naked bottom. How odd.”

Anyway, it cracked me up, the way the boy just gave up girding his loins when he got his tighty-whities pulled up. He hopped on one foot in his underpants trying to get his wet toe into the leg of his pants.

There’s a fair amount of nudity around our house; seven-year-old bottoms are a pretty common sight, which is why I’m always a little concerned that my kids will be the ones undressing in public, not realizing that there are different standards for nudity in public than there are at home.

Seeing the kid, and seeing other people take notice of him with sort of shocked expressions, I had a moment of thinking, “Americans are so provincial. What’s the big deal with a little nudity at the bathhouse?” You see, I’m enlightened about nudity. I have a little bronze statue of a naked discus thrower on my desk. Kewpie dolls are adorable. “The Last Judgment” is fantastic. I deal with so many bodily fluids, so many intimate functions of the body in my life as a wife and mother, that nudity is about as tame as it gets, harmless, and even a bit lovely. How quickly I forget...

I watched a bad movie last night after swim club, when the kids were in bed. My grandma used to watch the “Dukes of Hazzard” over our shoulders when we were kids, and she’d say, “This is horrible! Isn’t this awful?” Yet she was powerless to turn it off—that’s how I felt. I kept thinking the worst of the movie was over, and yet it wasn’t, but I kept watching anyway. By the end of it, I felt like a needed to take a bath myself. It was a coming of age movie about teenage boys—you can guess. I turned it off thinking, “That’s why no one I love should ever set foot in a boys’ locker room.”

Just being in a high school brings back so many memories for me, the smell of it: books and sweat, hash browns in a deep fryer. I walked through a gathering of post-practice football players, ripe with wet grass and testosterone. I felt scared for my life, scared for my future: in less than ten years I will have four teenage boys under this roof. They currently all share a room. That won’t last.

I came across a picture of my high school girlfriends and me in a friend’s swimming pool, all wearing bikinis, hugging one another. Half naked was our state of being for a large portion of our lives back then. If it wasn’t bikinis, it was the itty-bitty shorts we wore for track, the cheerleading skirts—the high kicks supposedly guarded by our “spankies,” the little underpants we wore underneath. We had a sense of physical familiarity with everyone in our graduating class. Even of those we didn’t “know” in a biblical sense (and many did “know” one another), we could draw up a pretty accurate mental picture of those supposedly hidden flesh points with little prompt.

The American high school is such a strange universe, but every day millions of American parents send their fledglings into it without much ado, perhaps a pang of recognition that their innocence is over. They scoff at the foreign boy hopping around the pool deck in a pair of tighty-whities (“Should we tell him that’s not acceptable?”), but everything changes once you set foot in the locker room. Nudity is shameless when we’re young, and shameless when we’re old, shameless in a family. It is required in childbirth, in bathing, in the marriage bed, in some of the most pivotal and important times of our life. And then there’s this one little parenthesis in our lives that is the educational system of America’s young adults, where nudity or semi-nudity is more prevalent than anywhere else, so far from innocent, and serves such little purpose, but we make our kids jump right in. I’m not sure what to make of it.

I suppose the faulty line in my thinking is the assumption that everywhere but high school is some sort of Eden. Post for another day...


Anne said...

High school! Ugh!

More than the main theme of this post, what drew me in was the statement that in less than ten years, you will have four teenage boys in your house! Can you see me waving me arms in the air? That's me right now!

I've got 16, 14, 13 and 11 year old sons right now and an 8 year old daughter! Life is scary! (Maybe you want to check out my post on fear today...)I will pray for you. Will you pray for me?

Jus said...

There are many times when I think it sad that Basil is buffeted on all sides by women, in various stages of becoming and became. "Poor boy", I say, "how hard it must be". This post has reminded me to say, "lucky boy, how much easier this will make it ;) ".

BettyDuffy said...

Anne, So it can be done! I know many strong mothers have gone before me on this boy thing, and that's reassuring.

I tend to agree with you though, Jus. Girls have a civilizing influence on boys. It's a good thing.

Marie said...

When I sub in the high schools I am horrified by the sexual oppression visited on the girls, who are, for example, set to work in teams with boys who hit on them worse than any old letch in a dark bar. But I think it's actually worse for the boys, the ones not doing the slobbering and glaring. I can see in their eyes sometimes the natural manly impulse to stand up to the jerks and stand up for the girls, and it's very sad that they are stopped by knowing not just that the boys might knock them down, but that the girls would disapprove and the teachers would probably suspend them from school.

But have you seen this Mr. Bean?

Pentimento said...

The naked-boy-butt upset reminds me of the standard outrage over breastfeeding in public.

Marie said...

Every once in a while a mom of a diabetic gets someone yelling at her, or the kid himself gets yelled at, for injecting insulin in public -- often it's at a restaurant and since insulin goes with food, voila. It's always amazing, some kid that has to get five shots and 10 fingerpricks a day is supposed to hide in a dirty bathroom because someone can't get over their upset at the *sight* of shots.

BettyDuffy said...

P, your analogy with breastfeeding is a good one. Another one of those cases where people see something normal and natural as perverse, while the perverse is considered normal. I tend to play dumb with breastfeeding. I do it wherever, but with as much nonchalance as possible, and so far no one has ever said anything to me about it. I'm not sure I'd bare my teeth if they did.

I would definitely bare my teeth if someone told me to take my diabetic child out of their sight for his insulin injection. The perp in that case is just asking for correction and an education.

Thanks for the Mr. Bean link, Marie. We had a good laugh on that one. Ouch.

I taught high school for a year, and it's true, chivalry is discouraged in the public school, by all parties. I remember some very boring meetings over the phrasing of the student handbook regarding sexual harrassment. The protocols would scare off anyone. So you're right--that sexual undercurrent is always present EVERYWHERE--not just in the locker bay.

lissla lissar said...

Huh. I gave my toddler his first in-public insulin injection this evening, and was nervous about it. And ready to tear off someone's arm and beat them with it if they suggested I go into the bathroom to do it.

Thankfully I didn't have to commit assault this time. I expect I will get some twit telling me off eventually, though. And I will be tempted to remove his or her pancreas.

JMB said...

I really dislike these all or nothing posts, like all high school kids are immoral slobs, all boys are obnoxious, all girls are sluts kind of thing. I have a 14 year old son and he is far from perfect. But he is sweet. I sometimes think it's the girls who are mean and nasty during these years and the boys, well, they are kind of clueless. But I digress. I have three girls too and in 5 years I will have three teenage girls in the house. I can't wait.

Sue said...

This made me laugh! I have lived in Japan for fifteen years, and I can tell you that the mom was very clueless. My two oldest kids used to go to swimming school, and naked boys running around was the norm. In public school it is not unusual for kids to change into their gym clothes together right in the homeroom classroom up to 6th grade.

My hubby teaches 6th grade at a private school, and he says that although they are supposed to go to a different room the girls often just start changing right there next to their desks. He's always having to shoo them out.

It probably would be nice of someone to let the mom know about that cultural difference. Not an easy subject to broach, I can imagine!