Betty Duffy

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I'll spare you much further account of my vacation.

Once we get to the lake, it's the same almost every year. There are certain things that must be done, like my husband takes the big kids to Pierce Stocking to climb the dune. I've done it once, and don't especially enjoy it, especially when pregnant. There's also fishing, which I don't especially enjoy. Some of the boys like golf, which I don't especially enjoy. And there was the camping on the beach episode, which I didn't especially want to do again. Sometimes my brother brings his boat, but not this year. And sometimes I ride the bike or play tennis, but not this year.

So when we realized that time was passing and not everyone would get to do what they wanted to do, we made up a little calendar for our remaining days. My mom wanted to go to a farmer's market. My dad wanted to ride his bike around the lake and take the kids fishing. My husband had all the things listed above to do. And I had...well, I wanted to...hmm...

"Complain when everyone else does what they want to do," filled in my husband.

That was it! With the caveat, that I wanted to do it while sitting on the beach, which my dad shortened to B&B, for "Sit on the beach and bitch."

The trouble was, no one really wanted to do it with me.

Lots of people wanted to go to the beach and swim, however (B&S), like the eight children present on vacation, who wanted to bob around in the water from morning til night, masked in goggles, sheathed in sunscreen, pushing each other off the raft, and diving for zebra mussels.

I did get in the water at least once every day. There's not really anything better than being pregnant and feeling weightless, the pleasures of buoyancy from your head to your tropi-cobana toenails. So I'd float around on a noodle or something, until a school of children would doggie paddle out to me, soggy noses and teeth gritted just above the surface of the water.

"We're coming to enjoy your company, Aunt Elizabeth!"

"Well, dagnabbit!" I'd answer because the unspoken subtext here was that they would spend the next fifteen or so minutes trying to dump me off my flotation device. It never gets old.

Back on the beach, I could contemplate one of my favorite subjects of complaint: maternity swimsuits. It just never failed, that I'd emerge from the water at the end of the dock like Ursula the sea-squid, and someone on the beach would snicker, "What are you wearing?"

"Why, this poorly supported garment with failing elastic, was on sale at Target, but it almost covers my under-belly, and it has a skirt, so I'm not sure what's so funny about it."

I realize what designers of maternity suits are up against--they've got to fit women whose stomachs are increasing at a rate of about a centimeter a week, and the suit is supposed to fit all summer long. It has to stretch, but supposedly only in one place--around the abdomen (not the thighs and arms). It's a bit of an engineering dilemma, one that would cost a bit of money to remedy. But women don't want to spend much money on a suit that will only be worn one season. So...

B&B: I've never been much of a beach beauty. The bikini debate is lost on me because there has never been a time in my life when I've had the figure or the desire that might make wearing one an appealing prospect. I look better in clothes than without them, and so every couple years, there's another few inches or so that I'd like to keep covered. Several years ago I gave up on shorts. This year, I've been feeling the call to cover my upper arm.

Coverage is my friend, which has nothing to do with modesty. Just vanity and sanity--because going around half-or-barely clad for me would require a certain amount of self-deceit--weird self-talk like, I love my stretch marks because they remind me of the blessings of having children. This kind of stuff plays better in one's head than on the beach where the sun sheds light on the dimply truth whether we like it or not.

I have a hazy memory of a roommate in college who, by voluntary circumstances, found herself on the front lawn of a frat house wearing only her scivvies and wielding a hose at a huddle of jocks on the porch, while yelling, "Don't mess with the girl in the thong!"

Two things in this scenario are certain a) No one messed with her, and b) this situation could only have occurred to a girl who was absolutely certain she looked fabulous in her underwear. It really is a testimony to the invincible power of body confidence in the young and beautiful.

Though I remember feeling the pangs of injustice regarding her perfect figure in comparison to my own imperfect one, in hindsight, I consider it a blessing that she was she and I was me.

I do wonder, in the modesty debate, how much of the call for modesty in others is a back-handed expression of envy or inadequacy on the part of the moralizer. When I see other women, especially younger women who look dynamite on the beach, it makes me feel inadequate. Trouble is, dynamite-looking girls still look dynamite in a muumuu. And people who feel threatened by the youth and attractiveness of others will still feel threatened no matter how much fabric covers them.

I'm recalling a letter I received when I was twenty-two, and I had given a talk for a Regnum Christi event, wearing a tweed suit with an ankle length skirt. There was a slit up to the knee so that I could walk, and apparently, when I sat down, one of the conference attendees caught a glimpse of my slip. She then wrote to tell me that I was an obstacle to her husband's holiness and that I should not wear skirts with slits in them. I still have the letter.

I have to admit, I was flattered by it more than anything (though, on a side note, when I showed the letter to my spiritual director, she laughed it off and said that people were always complaining that the Consecrated ladies dressed too provocatively).

It had almost not occurred to me that older men might look at me, and I was sort of amused that this woman considered herself guardian and custodian of her husband's purity. How many such letters had she sent out? And was it worth it? Had she succeeded in guarding her husband's soul and changing the hearts of young women everywhere?

She hadn't changed mine. But where virtue is lacking, often time fills a void.

Now I'm planning next season's post-pardum swim attire, and I think I've found my swimsuit at Vermont Country Store.

I saw an older woman at water aerobics wearing this suit. If it could take the raw ingredients of her aged body--a mole-covered back, a thick middle, a thin layer of thigh-skin that in another suit might have looked like the gathered end of a raw hot dog--and make them look serene and graceful, that's the suit I want to wear.


Peter and Nancy said...

Bleah. Swimsuits. I think in the future, I'm going to buy surfer-type shirts and exercise/bike shorts. I like those better than the swim 'skirt' options.

I am not really an "activity" type of person -- more of a conversation/appreciating nature/hiking/reading type. This puts me at odds with the game/sport/activity loving people on vacation.

nancyo said...

This year I had to make an appearance on Ipanema Beach in Rio, and let me tell you, there's nothing weirder than wearing a 1 piece bathing suit in Brazil. Nobody does that, no matter their age or body condition (or lack thereof).

And fwiw, I've loved your vacation accounts and would be happy to read several more.

BettyDuffy said...

What would I have to do in order to have to make an appearance in Rio?

You know, I've heard that about Brazilians--or maybe it was something else I heard...

P. and Nancy, It's always a balance keeping people happy on vacation. I've learned to let the activity people go and do what they will do. I always have fun when I try going too, but it takes a lot of energy just to consider it.

nancyo said...

Well, here's how it worked for me: I visited my 24yo daughter who has picked up and moved to Brazil. We tooled around the country together for 9 days. I say I "had" to make an appearance - lounging on a beach is her favorite activity, but I'd rather visit old churches and museums. We humored each other - striking our own vacation balance - and it was a lovely trip. I need a better suit AND a better cover-up for the next trip!

Emily J. said...

Nancy's comment about Brazilian beach wear reminds me of what our cousin was told by a lifeguard in Greece when she appeared poolside with a tankini on: "Take it off! You cannot swim with your shirt on!"

Aww, sister, you know I'd rather be on vacation and able to B&B with you! . . . after climbing Pierce Stocking, riding around the lake, and visiting the farmer's market.

BettyDuffy said...

Em, I did miss griping to you about your constant activity level.

Hope said...

Your comment about stretch marks made me think about a recent conversation I had with a friend about reconstruction surgery post breast cancer. She is not a candidate for using her own skin because she hasn't enough belly fat. I told her I had enough for 14 fake boobs. Then I realized every single one would have stretch marks straight through it.

I've had the same one piece bathing suit for years. Haven't had a bikini since a yellow polka dot bikini (true story!) in my teens. Sigh.

val duffy said...

oh i totally would have been down for b&b with you, that's pretty much all i want to do lately!

and if you're covering up, you've gotta go retro/classy or else you just look nerdy. like these...

mrsdarwin said...

Notice how they put the awesome cover-up swimsuit on a skinny mannequin.

I don't have a great innate sense of modesty (though that's getting better over the years) but vanity has kept me from revealing too much over the years. That, and the necessity of shaving when other women have absolutely no body hair. That very real obstacle to showing it all off has done more to keep me covered than fat, stretch marks, or my Sense Of Responsibility For Our Brothers.

Janielu said...

Ha ha. Remember when I let you and megan wear two OECD suits and play in the sprinkler? I think I was your hero for the day. I still have the photo. Jane

Janielu said...

I meant 'two piece suits'...J.

BettyDuffy said...

Jane--I DO remember those suits! You took us to Marshalls and bought us bikinis--the only two-piece I've ever owned! Though I had to hand it down to my big sister when I grew out of it.

BettyDuffy said...

You were my hero long before that, by the way--probably beginning with oreo pie, or the gingerbread houses.

Matthew Lickona said...

That is a great swimsuit.

Lizzie said...

Tops of arms are my weak point too! No more sleeveless dresses for me unless I'm wearing something over it too.
Your holiday sounds wonderful - I see-saw on the agragrian life thing too and then always come back to realising that at this time of life, city living is just right for me and my son.
I have been praying for you and your pregnancy this summer. Keep up your fab writing...including accounts of your hols. They're so vivid and a pleasure to read. God bless x