Friday, September 2, 2011

Mamma can't run around naked in public, and other childhood disappointments

The Grape has one of those inflatable paddling pools on our back patio. Because we live in the middle of the city, the patio has wooden walls on all sides. One of the Grape's favorite things to do on a late afternoon in the summer is to get naked and splash in his pool.

"Shirt off! Pants off! Diaper off!" he demands. We've been through this rigamarole countless times, but last week, he had a novel idea. "Mamma, pants off! Mamma, shirt off!" he said.

I said no. He insisted. He demanded. He screamed and yelled and threw little plastic boats in my general direction. He ran into the pool and splashed around, as if demonstrating that it's fun. Then he kicked and screamed and cried some more.

After melting down for fifteen minutes or so, he wiped the tears from his now-red eyes and asked, "Why?"

And for a second, I was stumped. I knew he was due to start questioning the reasoning behind matters large and small, but it floored me that the first time the Grape articulated "why?" was because he wanted to wrap his toddler brain around the reason I couldn't join him in his naked gallivanting on the patio.

I could understand his confusion. He's been in the sauna and pool at my mother's house with me, without a stitch on either of us. But her place is in the woods, and our (let's call them authentic) sauna experiences have been taken in the company of women and small children only. I stalled for time by laughing and telling him he was silly, asking mamma to strip outdoors when we clearly weren't anywhere near the sauna.

He ignored this nuance. "L. naked," he added, as if to bolster his case. (L. is his three-year-old cousin, and yes, the tots do spend a fair amount of time running au naturel around their grandmother's pool and L.'s secluded back yard in the country.)

I conceded that L. does indeed spend a decent amount of time disrobed.

"Naked fun!" the Grape pressed, as he pulled at my pants and repeated his specific demands. At this point I snarfed the wine I had poured myself during the first meltdown.

"Yes, being naked is fun," I agreed. "But Mamma can't be naked on the patio. Mamma will just watch you play in your pool."


"Because I don't want the construction workers up on the scaffold across the alley tumbling down to their deaths in shock."

The Grape gave me his does-not-process face.

"Because I don't want to end up on the nightly news?" I could see the teaser: "South End mom arrested for indecent exposure in front of her son. Details at 11."

It could happen, right? God knows the morality police cannot imagine anything so scarring to a child as the sight of the nude female form, and I have more than one self-appointed hall monitor neighbor who might alert the authorities to any breach of adult modesty along their perimeter.

Not that I was considering stripping to my birthday suit and frolicking in a four foot wide baby pool in full view of at least three dozen other apartments.

I ultimately told the Grape that running around naked is one of those pleasures reserved for little kids. Kind of like the baby swings at the playground. Grown ups just don't fit.

The Grape detected an effort on my part to change the subject and melted down once more. "Mamma pants off! Mamma shirt off!" he howled at the top of his very healthy young lungs. It was an epic tantrum.

It didn't stop until R. came home from work, almost an hour later. And I'll leave you to wonder whether I gave in or not.

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