When does au gratin become rotten?

Disclaimer: “Au gratin” in my family is a euphemism for nakedness. Don’t ask me why or how; it just is.

When does your child’s nakedness become inappropriate to others?

You take plenty of photos of your infant naked. As your kid gets older, at what point do you stop taking bath time or other photos? At what point do you tell your kid to cover up his or her naked self around the home?

Our former neighbor had three daughters — ages 3, 5 and 8 — and thought nothing of slapping down a water slide on their front lawn during the summer with the kids running around naked. That struck me as inappropriate. At least do it in your back yard.

This question is in my brain because of Bob Cringely, a technology writer-TV host-documentarian-blogger-etc. He has shared a couple of his Christmas card photos on his blog… featuring his family almost-naked with the assistance of strategically placed props.

His 2008 card was pretty tame, with everyone standing on a boat. His wife wore a life vest, and the boat’s railing easily obscured his kids from the waist down.

His 2009 card is a bit more “out there.” Take a look (bottom of page). It seems he has trouble getting FedEx-Kinkos to print it.

I’m neither impressed nor repulsed by the cards. A few years ago our Christmas card showed my daughter nursing while holding a cookie, under the title “Milk and cookies.”

I suppose I’m presenting dueling issues. One is the age limit for innocence — when do we cover/hide body parts for propriety’s sake? The other is Cringely’s more narrow issue of family nakedness for the sake of art.

What’s your take on either issue?


21 Responses to “When does au gratin become rotten?”

  1. RobMonroe says:

    I’ve saw his card last week – I thought it to be more creative than any others that I’ve seen. Your card of Milk and Cookies sounds fun, too!

    We have a very firm rule in our house that has been observed ever since her 4th day – no naked pictures. I’ve just never seen the purpose of having a picture of my child without clothes. (The reason it waited until her 4th day is that my Mother In Law refused to live by my rule and took a “first bath” picture. She has since followed our request.)

    January 5th, 2010 at 6:08 am

  2. Ticia says:

    We kind of went with the once your child will possibly remember it rule. So, our youngest is 3 and so we make a point to emphasize to her that she needs to wear clothes and such for her modesty’s sake. She has no problem with running around with no clothes, but I don’t want her to embarrassed down the road by someone telling a story of her doing something I can teach her not to.

    January 5th, 2010 at 6:59 am

  3. Jenni says:

    For pictures? Absolute nakedness, for me, stops after the first weeks. The bathtub pictures full of bubbles are a different story, maybe 4 or 5, but that might even be stretching it. Besides, those aren’t pictures to be sent out, those are pictures to be kept in the family memories.

    Your card sounds cute and adorable and shows more of the beauty.

    His cards look more like he’s working for the shock value. Does he get it? Eh, kind of.

    Running around naked in the water? For me that stops after toddlerhood. And the running around naked still involves a covered bum with a diaper. That’s just my opinion and I really don’t get bothered by anyone who does anything different. For me it’s a choice family by family.

    January 5th, 2010 at 7:46 am

  4. Elizabeth W. says:

    For us – running around outside of the house or in pictures or in front of non-immediate family members while al fresco (our family’s euphemism for nakedness) stops around age four or whenever you reach the age where you start NOTICING nakedness. And I wouldn’t let anyone over two be naked in the yard or in a public place. I think if you are still getting your butt wiped daily by someone else, you are probably okay to be naked (senior citizens excluded).

    As for those cards – the 2009 one especially may be “art” to an adult, but if those two older boys’ classmates or cousins ever saw a copy of it, they would never live it down so IMHO it is putting young children in an inappropriately vulnerable situation unnecessarily. Plus I noticed that he said in his blog that the boys didn’t want to do it this year and had to be bribed with gummy worms – I think that right there tells you that while it was cute for a while, it is time to be done with the naked pictures.

    January 5th, 2010 at 8:37 am

  5. MoJo says:

    Definitely no nudies running around here. Age four has been our unofficial rule with our son & daughter to be more appropriate with the opposite gender parent. Daughter still showers with mom and son still with dad, but not the other way around. An impromptu river stop, when no one is around, is the only time when you will find our kids in the buff and out of the house. At almost age 7, our daughter doesn’t want her brothers watching her get dressed…can’t blame her. I can’t imagine that she would go for a xmas card like that. I think the cards are done tastefully, but that they can come up with a funny and creative xmas card next year that doesn’t require bribery.

    January 5th, 2010 at 9:47 am

  6. Allison says:

    We aren’t really a nude family. I think I took maybe a couple first bath pictures but in general we have always required either a diaper or now underwear for our son when he is running around the house. For me it is more of a hygiene thing then a nudity taboo. I don’t like the idea of a possibly poopy butt sitting on the couch or my bed. We also generally require our son to put on pants and a shirt if guest who are not family are coming over. My son LOVES his swim suit so we also have never had him even ask not to wear it when playing in pools outside. At this point we don’t worry about him seeing us naked when we are in the loo or the shower but will probably start worrying about that when he starts indicating that he wants privacy when naked.

    As for the guys Christmas cards I just don’t really see the point. Are he and his family nudists? If so I could see it, maybe but in this case it just seems done to grab attention which I don’t really see the reason for. Are Christmas Cards really the place for mildly controversial art? For me they are for sharing a little window into your family with your friends and extended family but mostly for Wishing others warm feelings for the Holidays. A way of remembering and connecting with our greater social circle.

    The idea of your nursing card sounds cute to me though. It was a representation of what your family life was about at the time of the card so that seems natural. Not like the forced pose naked picture that has no connection to their normal family life.

    January 5th, 2010 at 10:06 am

  7. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    2.5 year old son does not run around naked outside. Inside? In the heat of summer, I’d let him run around with just a diaper on if needed.

    when he’s potty training, one thing we are considering, though, is letting him run around in the backyard with no bottoms on to get the feel for when pee is coming without the mess!

    January 5th, 2010 at 10:09 am

  8. Penguinmommy says:

    The first picture seemed cute and kind of clever… the second one feels weird… plus Mom’s sideboob is pushing the line to me.

    As far as for us, I think the diaper rule is a good one. On the other hand the summer I turned five we spent at my granparents house on a farm in the middle of nowhere and were allowed to frolic naked. There are some cute pictures of us, sometimes showing sun-bleached hair bums with tans. It was one of the happiest times of my life and only family was around. I like having the pictures for the memories.

    January 5th, 2010 at 11:24 am

  9. Jenn says:

    Your own kids is one thing but if I had received that card in the mail I sure wouldn’t be displaying it amongst the rest of my cards. Who wants to receive nearly nude pictures of someone else’s kids and wife?

    January 5th, 2010 at 11:34 am

  10. Kelly says:

    I love, loVE, LOVE it that au gratin = naked in your house. I’m totally stealing/borrowing that when my little guy starts talking.

    January 5th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

  11. adrienne says:

    Note to Bob: Your wife is indeed as you describe “young and lovely.”

    Maybe you should let the kids beg off next year. The existence of this year’s card may make their upcoming adolescent years extra difficult.

    What kids really want photographic evidence offered up to their classmates showing them naked with their mom after babyhood? Awkward.

    January 5th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

  12. MIdge says:

    I guess we are less bothered by nakedness than many of the posters here. Our 6 y.o. daughter, 20 month old son, mom, and dad still shower together, about once a week. Kids bathe together often and enjoy running around “au gratin” (love it!) after the bath/before bed.

    I’m sure daughter will let us know when she’s uncomfortable, then we’ll give her the privacy she wants.

    We do keep nakedness inside the house, mostly because it never feels warm enough to be outside totally buff! (Yes, even in summer when it approaches 75)

    We’ve talked about how only family (and one set of very close friends) should see us naked.

    What about you, AJ? Do your kids bathe together?

    January 5th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  13. AJ says:

    Midge, our kids have bathed together on a couple occasions, but don’t do so regularly for a couple practical reasons. First, it could be a little traumatic to be sitting in a pool of water when your infant brother’s bowels release.

    My son is a bit older now, so that’s not so much a problem anymore. However, second, he has eczema, and so bath time is not playtime. We’re all about getting him in and out, dried and lathered up with moisturizer as fast as possible.

    As for the au gratin Christmas cards, I can understand it from the perspective of being different. One year I planted our 2-foot-tall ceramic Santa in our toilet (after a good cleaning) and then adorned his surroundings with lights and garland. I shot the photo in dim light to give the Christmas lights some effect, but no one realized on their own we had sent them a photo of a toilet bowl. Why did I do it? I dunno. I did some photography in college involving plastic gnomes and toilet bowls lit from inside; I’m just weird that way. Unless Cringely is a nudist, I expect it’s sort of the same thing… doing something unusual for the sake of it being unusual. Safe is boring.

    January 5th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

  14. Meaghan says:

    “First, it could be a little traumatic to be sitting in a pool of water when your infant brother’s bowels release. ”

    Twenty-four years later and I still remember being in the tub with my little sister and the horror that occurred.

    As for the nudity – if you have to bribe the kids, it’s time to let it go and move on to the next unusual bit. It may be even more surprising for just not being naked anymore.

    January 5th, 2010 at 4:13 pm

  15. observer says:

    toddlerhood is a good time to teach children about modesty. being naked around others should probably stop at about 2 years of age. unless you are potty training and have a fenced in yard, letting kids run around in their birthday suits in a front yard or other conspicuousplace is probably not a good idea, neighbors could call child services and cause an uproar. that would not benefit anyone.

    January 5th, 2010 at 6:31 pm

  16. Angelique says:

    I’m curious, any European thingareaders out there have a thought on this? I personally have never been bothered at all by nudity. A body is a body is a body. We all have them! Then again, I went to school for both a medical field and a fine art field…lots of naked people in both. I deliberately don’t make a big deal about nudity. We’re teaching our sons the concepts of privacy and appropriate time and place and personal space, yes, but we also are teaching them that there’s nothing wrong or shamefull about the human body. I grew up in a house where an occasional incidental viewing of naked parent (sharing a bathroom, changing clothes, camping in close quarters, etc…) was NO BIG DEAL and that’s what we’re going for with our kids. No naked Christmas cards, but no mad dash to cover oneself when walked-in-on.

    As for the art issue, in the age of the internets, I certainly wouldn’t want a naked picture of my child floating around for a pedophile’s pleasure. That’s waaaay different than incedental nudity at home.

    January 5th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

  17. Miriam says:

    I set a rule about no bathroom photos a couple months ago (3-1/2) after I found the pictures one of my girls took of her sister on the potty. At 3-1/2 they didn’t see anything wrong with it (and it was a hilarious picture) but I felt it was time to start with the idea of personal space. This was also shortly after I witnessed an older boy try to get one of my girls to jump and touch a stick and then he would give her candy.

    We still allow running around the home naked, but they cannot go to answer the door with me. My husband is uncomfortable with it (I’m not sure if he would feel the same if there were three boys instead of three girls) so when it gets close to the time he comes home I have them dress.

    As for the cards…meh. Not my cup of tea, but it isn’t something I’d run screaming from either.

    January 6th, 2010 at 12:22 am

  18. KB 111 says:

    Angelique – I’m not a European reader, but my family has hosted Swedish and Finnish exchange students. We occasionally receive photos of their kids (even as old as 12 or so) “at the lake” (read: standing naked in front of the lake) or other places — granted, it always makes sense (no nakedness for the sake of it; everyone’s naked at the lake). And while they were out here, had photos confiscated when trying to have them developed. :\

    January 6th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

  19. Mathias says:

    Here is the European (Northern-German, to be precise) view:

    With 10 Months my son is still way too young to think about this issue, in my opinion. We are naked in front of him (and he is in front of us) in all kinds of situations. I am really looking forward to letting him run naked at the beach or lake because he doesn’t need a diaper anymore. I am not sure if I will send “at the lake” fotos when my son is 12, but being naked at the lake will certainly not be an issue. I will be naked, too, when everybody else is.

    Overhere, it depends on where you are: There are beaches or lakes, where everybody dresses, and there are FKK places (try to google that…). In the sanua (Finish wooden hot room) everybody is naked. And even on beaches where no one is naked, changing clothes while shortly revealing your privates is quite common. All that stupit hassle with the towel which will fall down anyway! Ah, drop it! Let everybody see, if they like!

    The Christmas cards are cute, though I wonder, how they came up with that tradition. When 2 dollar worth of sweets is enough to bribe the kids, it’s not a big deal, I think. But this is obviously a very sensitive cultural issue: When there is the chance that one of the boys is embarassed when a friend sees the picture, its probably time to stop. And the embarassment depends very much on culture.

    Independent of cultural differences, it is always a good idea to teach (show, live, …) to children that nakedness is NO BIG DEAL (thx Angelique) and just some traditions or social rules force us not to be naked in public. I met people thinking that their whatever downthere is “dirty” and “bad”. That is really sad! Its a part of you, natural, beautiful, adorable, and can be very pleasurable!

    And a final story from my exchange year in Sacramento 1991-92: The first weekend my new host-sister took me skinny dipping in the American River with a few of her (male) friends.

    January 17th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

  20. Micaela says:

    I’m a little late but here’s my opinion anyway. I’m European (Portugual). My daughter is 19 months old. She runs arround naked in the house when she escapes from us… She sees me and dad naked in the shower or when we get dress. By the way, she is still breastfeed.
    Naked pictures? We have a couple of photos in the bath but no private parts are showing. I remember hating my naked baby photos.
    However, she never runs around naked outdoors. At the beach, she wears diaper and a t-shirt, to protect her from the some. Besides, with all the creepy stories about pedophilia, I prefer that way. And I don’t allow anyone I don’t know to take her picture. I had to ask 2 japanese girls to stop taking her picture this summer, at Versailles, in France. She is to small to protect her image, so I do that for her.

    December 28th, 2010 at 5:34 am

  21. Micaela says:

    I forgot to add tha here in Portugal is not very usual to see photos of 12 year olds naked… But we are mediterranean, we have a very different culture from northern europe.

    December 28th, 2010 at 5:37 am

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