El Traje de Bano

She is fortunate she does not have to shop for el traje de bano.

Words written in my novel so far: 25,398

Miles run today: 4.5 (in the rain! Heaven!)

Bathing suits bought yesterday: 0

I remember sitting in the Language Labs at college, playing and rewinding conversations in Spanish. On a tape deck.

“Cualeselnombredesuperro?” “Jose.”

Csudfdosaugfoisdgjkinagoinsdoisdfogoisagjosd.

“Cualeselnombredesuperro?” “Jose.”

And rewind again.

See, the problem was not that I was horrible at Spanish, but that the people talked so darn fast. Speedy Gonzales fast.

And my brain needs some processing time, muchacha. Even in English.

I had taken Latin in high school, and I remember it to this day. I remember a lot of Spanish words, too. Just not strung together, like in a cohesive sentence.

My Spanish I grad student teacher had a big head, long dark hair in a ponytail and a serious manner. She couldn’t have been more than eight years older than I, but the gulf between us felt insurmountable. It was clear she had been too busy speaking Spanish and writing dissertations to join the rest of us in the 1990s.

The fact that twenty-five real live people sat in her classroom each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m. seemed to surprise her each time. She spoke the real Spanish Spanish, none of that foolish Mexican stuff for her. So each “denada” morphed into “thaynathah.” It was very proper, but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d developed a lisp.

One day, a few weeks into class, we got to study something I could wrap my head around: la playa (the beach). The textbook had lots of children’s storybook illustrations of sand and sun and buckets and towels. I was in my element.

After our teacher introduced us to these fun, new beach words, she arrived at our next class with a box of beachy things. She attempted to overcome her schoolmarm rep by jumping into the room with a beach ball and shouting, “Pelota de playa!” and tossing it at an unsuspecting boy. She pulled out all sorts of la playa-ready items: a beach towel, sunscreen, a bucket and shovel… and passed them around the room, with each of us repeating the Spanish words aloud.

And then she pulled out a bathing suit.

“El traje de bano!” she shouted.

We all sat in horror as she passed the bathing suit to the boy in the first row. “El traje de bano,” he muttered, trying not to touch it too much as he shuttled it down the row.

The boys held it gingerly by one strap, tossing it like a hot potato, but I was fascinated. Did they really make bathing suits with busts that big? Without exaggeration, my bikini top could have fit into the bust of that suit seven times over.

It was mesmerizing.

As the suit got passed to me, I marveled over the almost-steel-plated bra part of her traje de bano. It could serve as a bullet-proof vest in a pinch.

Fast forward to yesterday.

My kids were fighting, and I was done, done, done with the mediation. Punishment: no pool. And: they had to go shopping with me. At the mall. For bathing suits. Because, as every good shopper knows, this is the time to get a whale of a deal on bathing suits.

So we headed to the department store bathing suit area.

You can now start calling me a Tweener, because here were the two types of suits: El traje de banos that are too matronly for my 84-year-old grandmother, and bikinis that only pretend to cover parts I’ve managed to keep private, lo these many years.

There was angst. There were suits examined in M, L, even XL. The XL ones appeared to have no more actual fabric than the M ones, just a band that stretched farther in a horizontal fashion. Do they think people who require an XL bikini bottom have three foot hips and no bum? I am mightily confused.

My kids stood outside the dressing room, and I emerged to find them inside a rounder of beach cover-ups. I wanted to join them.

We were much more successful at the LEGO store.

All of the LEGO figures were wearing more fabric than a traje de bano.

Conclusion: I will require more traje de bano fabric if I buy a 50-percent-off bikini roughly the cost of completing three freelance articles. I shepherd dos ninos to la piscina each day… help a Midlife Tweener out, el traje de bano designers!

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My Favorite Place, Submersion and Truth

Nothing better.

Days in the ocean: 4

Miles run with my husband: 7 (ha! tricked him again!)

Words written in my novel this week: 0

My apologies to all my fellow bloggers whose writing I’ve missed the past few days…

In the vein of those corny plaques you can buy about fishing and golf, I’m of the opinion that a bad day at the beach is better than a good day most other places.

I have never been to the beach in June here in the South where the weather was so cool, the water so warm. It was pretty wacky.

My husband’s parents are here from England, and my mother-in-law is used to swimming in bone-chilling water and shares some DNA with polar bears, so she was fine. The rest of us plunged into the waves and tried to stay under the water as much as possible; to venture out into the wind was an act of foolishness.

Wind, huddle, wave buffet, laughter.

I try to remind myself to stay submerged when I write. Sometimes I find it easier than other times.

When I first started writing for the newspaper, I feared personal columns. There were a couple of columnists who wrote about their lives, and I cringed when I thought about exposing my feelings, the lives of my family and my past to public scrutiny. What if I wrote something that no one could identify with?

What if I wrote that I loved the beach, and people thought I was crazy? Only kidding. Everyone loves the beach, right?

Well, not my mom.

But anyway, a weird thing happened when I started writing longer fiction: I was able to let my feelings get all mixed around in and mushed up in my characters. And then, when I started blogging, I was able to spread my feelings all out in a messy way, smeared all over the blog entries.

And then, that whole thing that’s supposed to happen when you’re middle-aged and forget to stand up straight to pull in your belly or when you throw caution to the winds and ditch the mascara for the day without caring happened to my writing.

I realized that by staying in the water and not trying to keep coming up for air, my writing improved. Or at least, it improved from my rather limited perspective: all of the truth spilled out of it.

How do you access truth in your writing? Do you ever have a cringe-worthy moment when you write something personal that you wouldn’t want a reader to know? Or do you feel free?

A Stroll Down the Nature Walks of My Youth

Bee. Flower. Yep. Seen it.

Nature walks, Indian mounds, forts and gardens we visited when I was a kid: 547

Average temperature (in degrees F) when we visited: 97

Amount of whining involved in any trip with me as a child: too much

I went on a field trip with my son’s fifth grade yesterday. We were at the school at 6 a.m. to get on the buses and arrived back at 8:30 p.m.

When I am nominated for sainthood, please vote for me.

We visited a battleship, an aquarium, the beach and a fort. I was in charge of four boys. We spent the most time at the battleship’s gunnery set-up, with all four of them crawling over the various killing implements, trying to figure out which one would do the most damage in the least amount of time.

Here are my thoughts and memories about sightseeing; about being a kid and being an adult with kids:

1. Nature walks. My parents were much better than I am about taking us around to see whichever sights there were to see. Their favorite was nature walks. Nature walks are, well, free, and they are extremely nature-y.

As an expert now in the area of nature walks, I can tell you that no matter what the venue, there will be a nature walk nearby. The Washington Monument? I’m sure there’s a nature walk. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse? There’s a nature walk within spitting distance. Grandfather Mountain? I can definitely attest to that one, because my husband and I started walking on it, and I had on flip-flops. It wasn’t exactly a flip-flop kind of nature walk.

When I used to whine about nature walks, the air being stagnant and 98 degrees, the bugs getting all excited at the tribe of four dumb humans stumbling onto another feast opportunity, my parents would always say, “I bet your kids are gonna love nature walks!” Then they would laugh maniacally.

They do.

I recently took my kids to a little lake nearby to throw a frisbee and jump around. They ran up and down a hill for 30 minutes. Up. And down. And up. And down.

Then…  they volunteered to go on a nature walk. I know. Weird, right? We started walking around that lake, and it was all nature-y, and I was fine because it wasn’t too hot, and I had on running shoes, and we all talked and had fun. And after almost an hour and a half, my daughter said, “Do you think we’re almost there?” And I assured her we were, although I was starting to doubt it myself.

They never once complained. That, my friends, is some kind of weird karma.

2. Forts. I love history. Really, I do. I almost majored in it in college.

However, forts are not my most favorite thing in the world. Yesterday, we visited a fort with my son’s class.

We listened to a guy talk about weapons; he was pretty entertaining, talking about murdering people and how the bayonet they had back then was designed to kill you slowly after causing copious infection. Now, it’s been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

I wanted to throw in that AK-47s might be the real reason bayonets aren’t today’s most popular killing machine, but I restrained myself. It was thrilling; the boys were completely silent.

But then we started walking around this path that was basically around this bunch of odd little hills, and then there was a marsh (ahem, wetlands) and lots of wind.

My son pulls on my sleeve and whispers, “This is pretty boring, Mom.”

To which I said, in a totally grown-up and appropriate way, “I know.” I even added an eye roll. “My mom and dad took me to lots of forts, especially when it was really hot.”

He looked at me with pity and said, “Dude.”

Precisely.

3. Battleships. Boys like battleships. I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the same kind of thing like when Lyle Lovett was asked, “You seem to attract a lot of women. What’s your secret? What have you learned about women?” And he said, “Women like to eat outside.”

Battleships have claustrophobic little rooms and labyrinthine passageways where you lose track of which direction is fore and aft. The bathrooms offered no privacy, and there was only a tiny surgical room, even though the movie they showed described several of these ships having enormous holes blown out of them.

They reek of war and salt water and metal, and every boy I asked said that the battleship was the best part of the field trip.

We were eating lunch, and I overheard some of the boys talking.

“Dude, did you see that well? Like, what if you fell into it?”

“Dude.”

“No, well, actually, if you read the plaque, it said it wasn’t a real well. It said…” the boy broke off in mid-sentence, sensing the metaphorical sharks circling. It was the sound of his popularity in serious jeopardy. “I mean, I didn’t really read it, but the name of it just…. nevermind.”

4. The beach. I am firmly of the opinion that beaches are for getting wet. There is, like, all this water and stuff. Looking at all the water without getting in is like looking at a thick slice of homemade chocolate cake and saying, “Well, that’s some nice cake.”

Guess where we went yesterday? The beach. It was in between lots of other activities, and the teachers had prepped the kids for weeks, telling them they absolutely, positively could not get near the water.

Yep. You guessed it. Several of them rushed the water like malicious little lemmings.

And I just want to say, I almost did, too. It’s a pain to be a grown-up sometimes.

5. Gardens. Gardens are pretty. They have lots of flowers. And nature. And they’re peaceful.

They’re not great places for kids.

My parents took us to lots of gardens. And now, in a kind of hazing mentality, I have taken our kids to gardens, too.

We went a few weeks ago when they had the day off school. My friend and I took our four (combined) kids to the nearby Duke Gardens. It was hot that day, just like I remember.

She started out by yelling, “Don’t run!” as they dashed away down the garden paths. Isn’t that silly?

Garden paths are not walking paths for kids; they are mazes, designed for getting lost. Quickly. Let them. The funny thing about kids is that eventually, they get hungry. Or thirsty. They’ll find you.

Our kids managed to completely destroy the lunch of at least one college-aged couple in love who thought the gardens would be a great place for a peaceful, romantic lunch date.

One day, that will be my kids and their dates. And I hope they will remember how dumb they used to think people are when they’re in love. Karma again.

I hope you have enjoyed my meandering journey down a nature path. The next time you go, remember to bring water, wear sturdy shoes and never, ever tell your kids to walk. There will be plenty of time to walk when they’re 40.