Monday, March 28, 2011

One More Way for Me to Be a Freak

I really don't try to be this way. But I see life is a constant challenge to be truer to oneself, and this just happens to be another discovery.

Dan and I were having dinner the other night, discussing where we will move after we vacate out current space. As cool as it is (and it really is)

it just doesn't feel right for raising a baby. Of course, as one nosy mother told me yesterday, I can (and ought to, she implied) adjust any living space to fit my future kid's needs.* I suppose that's true, but I'm looking forward to getting out of this place for several reasons. One, it's pretty expensive per square foot. Also, cement floors and cinder block walls make this place a bitch to heat. Perhaps most of all, my pets have turned our see-through garage door into their performance stage for people walking to and from our neighbor's martial arts studio. If I see one more kid with his face pressed against my window, pounding the glass and whining, "Where's that cat?"...

So yeah, we're looking to move to another rental when our lease expires at the end of July. We're tempted by the bougie north side, with its rolling, woodsy hills and its proximity to useful, bougie businesses and Dan's work. But the north side's major draw is its excellent school district, which isn't relevant to us for the next five years.

"I'm leaning toward Orchard Knob or Highland Park," I said between nibbles. "We can get way more bang for our buck over there. We're gonna need a lot more space."

"Yeah, and if we're still in Chattanooga when the baby is ready to go to school, we can move to the north side."

I think I actually groaned - a sad, defeated, little groan. "Yeah. And then we'll pay, like, twice as much to buy a house there as we'd pay anywhere else in the city."

Dan looked up from his burger. "We don't have to buy a house."

I swear that a trumpeting angel descended from heaven (that I don't believe in). "Really?" I whispered.

The thing is, I have no interest in homeownership. But I'm still so far from being completely comfortable with my inherent freakiness that I bow to the sway of conventional wisdom until I'm given "permission" to consider my true desires. I know, it's sad, but at least I do figure these things out eventually. I'm lucky to have a bold and like-minded partner.

To me, any one of these three reasons would justify buying a house ~

1) You plan on staying in the same place for a very long time, and you believe your source of income is secure

2) Even if you don't plan on staying in the same place for a very long time, you're reasonably sure that the return on your investment will more than equal the money and time that you have invested in that property

3) Homeownership is a heartfelt personal goal, a form of self-fulfillment

I get that these three conditions are widely applicable, which explains why so many people want to own houses. However, when I ask myself if any of these apply to me right now, my answers are ~

1) No

2) That remains to be seen

3) No

Dan and I had talked a bit about buying a house when we first got together, but the discussion was more or less meaningless until he finished grad school and we got around to moving wherever his job would take us. Now that we're here, we both realize that this isn't something either of us really wants. That could change, but I honestly feel relieved.

"Danny, I don't want to obsess over walls."

He laughed. "Walls?"

"Yeah. Every time someone I know buys a house it seems like they spend all this time painting walls. And only then can they get everything set up in the house but pretty soon it's time to paint the walls again. I hardly ever care about walls. I'm usually fine with whatever color it is. I don't notice the things that bother other people."

I realize that this sounds nuts, but I swear to Jeebus that wall control is one of the main reasons people buy houses. And when I googled the phrase "I don't want to own a home," I found this weird dude's blog. Among his many personal reasons to not own a house

Walls. You can’t change the walls when you rent. A lot of people seem to want to tear down walls. Or paint them. Sometimes when you rent you can’t do these things. Well, make sure you have a landlord that lets you tear down walls. There must be some ancient evolutionary tic that makes us want to tear down walls or put nails in them or paint them. I don’t get it. I like the walls to stay right where they are.

"I like the walls to stay right where they are." I get that! You see, I enjoy the adventure that comes with occupying a new space that I don't get to define. As the blogger himself says in another paragraph, "I like to change things every once in a while." And part of that change is adjusting your stuff to a different environment. Though my current kitchen kicks ass with its stainless steel counters and giant sink, there's not much cabinet space and no drawers. Finding a place for our silverware and utensils was a challenge. Still, I figured it out. Our next place will probably have drawers, maybe even a garbage disposal! But it will lack something else that I'll miss about this place. And I'll make that work, too. To me, it's all part of this fun little game I like to play called, "Let's see how much money I don't spend at Ikea!" Rental living is a fun creative experiment for cheap people like me who don't enjoy accruing stuff, but still crave a little variety.

I like parameters. I like walls that I can't change. Sometimes I like forfeiting control because then I have one less thing to think about. I've already decided to spend the rest of my life in a partnership with one person. And together, we've decided to sacrifice the better part of ourselves to a little person. Those are some pretty big steps, but I haven't had a second thought about either one. But buying a house? That just doesn't register as a desirable investment. Again, I suppose that could change, but I've known for many years that I wanted to get married and have a kid. I've never felt that way about owning property.

*I automatically distrust strangers who give such specific child-rearing advice, and trust me, she had plenty.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Baby Fate

As I begin this post, I'm sitting in a rather charming Chattanooga cafe. There's a Persian rug and some leather couches to my left, a bustling little business district view to my right, and some vaguely familiar indie rock playing on the speakers. I can't help thinking of a certain cafe in Ann Arbor, where I used to spend hours reading, writing and wasting money on cappuccinos every day. It reminds me of being in my mid-twenties. I'm feeling an unreasonable and unfulfillable urge to time travel. I am, again, nostalgic.

But whenever I get caught in one of these romantic snags, I always think of that line from They Might Be Giants' "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppethead" - truly, "it was not, not, not so great." I find comfort in that lyric, because I'm prone to painting that past grass greener than it actually was. I fixate on a good memory - a certain song, an outfit I loved to wear, or a fun day at an old job - and forget the often unpleasant context surrounding that treasured detail. Would I really want to relive that stuff now? More often than not, I must admit that the song didn't age so well, the outfit would be too girlish for a woman my age, and thank goodness I no longer work for that boss!

I have to engage in this internal dialog more often now that I'm pregnant. I haven't blogged specifically about this biggest change of my life thus far, so this is as good a time as any. I'm pregnant - hooray!!! Yes, it was planned, as much as it ever is. Despite my mother being a propagation pro (she birthed seven children, and is my chief go-to expert), I was actually worried that I might have trouble conceiving. In any case, I assumed I'd have to wait at least a couple months, like most women coming off birth control. Ha! I took my last pill on December 31st and was pregnant twelve days later. There's no shortage of surprises in life, no matter how much you think you've planned.

I don't think that any amount of time between quitting BC and getting pregnant would have prepared me for the overwhelming, overnight change that occurs when you realize you're sharing your body with another being. Suddenly, wine with dinner or the occasional cigarette was no longer an option. But that, at least, I anticipated. The decreased energy level, the need to feed myself on a very regular schedule coupled with the frustrating aversion to food - that's taken weeks of adjustment. And it hit me so fast! One day, I was totally fine working a job where I stood in one spot for several hours, cooking and dishing meaty tidbits for grocery store customers - I mean, it could get boring, but I took satisfaction in doing it very well. A week later, I couldn't stand there for more than an hour without wanting to puke, pass out and die. I didn't have the verve to hold myself up, much less perform my usual Jedi mind tricks. That was to be my last day of work.

I feel really lucky that my boss was so understanding, even offering to give me some work if/when I get my second trimester energy back. Kindness from others, especially other parents, has been one of the best aspects of this experience so far. As my friend M observed, "You get so much positive attention." I was worried it would be like getting married, when I got all kinds of unsolicited advice and questions about decisions that didn't occur to me (mostly because I didn't care). Or worse, would people bombard me with pregnancy, birthing and child-rearing horror stories, just like all those bitter freaks who decided to tell me all about their divorces right after saying, "Oh, you're engaged? Congratulations!"? Fortunately, none of that has happened. The thought of babies generally incites upbeat responses, even amongst those who don't want 'em for themselves. And my pals who've recently had babies have been especially awesome - check out this super sweet hand-me-down from new parents J and P ~

I especially value this sort of support as I've struggled to adjust to the new reality. Yeah, yeah, I know it's gonna be a helluvalot crazier for us when the kid is actually here. But for the pregnant lady, the "old" life is already over. I am officially, completely disconnected from mid-twenties me. I can't drink coffee all day and beer all night, which I don't want to do anyway, but as long as I want to be a healthy host to this kid, I don't have a choice. I used to sleep grudgingly, because I felt like I was missing out on life. Now, I'm a regular old napper. I foresee sleep becoming the next great fix, maybe even better than caffeine. But most daunting is the notion that every future decision of consequence will be considered with this child in mind. So, I find myself fondly recollecting when I was single... 'cause that was awesome, right? Actually, being single mostly sucked. I think the best thing about it was that I only watched the TV shows that I wanted to watch. But as I said, the urge to romanticize the past has always run strong within me. Now that selfish independence isn't an option, I find myself wanting it.

It's very easy to feel extra sorry for myself when I'm queasy and tired. Honestly, I've been pretty bummed for most of the past month. But a few recent developments have aroused my old pep and enthusiasm. A brief visit with family in Greensboro, NC reminded me that there are parts of the south that are much cooler than this town.* Verdant Spring, warmth and sunshine are certainly reinvigorating. I've got a new workout that increases my energy more than it makes me feel ill. Dan finally (though very gently) complained about my household laziness, which has encouraged me to be more productive. But the best occurrence was seeing our sonogram! Last Friday I experienced my first transvaginal ultrasound, which is sort of like a pap smear with a more pleasant instrument and a cool visual aid. I now know what my uterus and ovaries look like, but better than that, I got to see my little friend and hear its heartbeat - 171! That put so much in perspective. When my heart rate is 171, I'm in the middle of an intense cardio workout. Until week 14, this kid is going to be working that hard nonstop, which means I'm working, too. No wonder I'm so freakin' tired all the time!

I encountered a couple other revelations on Sunday. As I was laying in bed that night, I read that the cause of my recent constipation (according to my OB's info guide), "is due to a slowing of the bowels that allows an increase in nutrient absorption for the baby." In a sense, my kid is dumpster diving, finding nourishment in the stuff that my body was ready to throw away. Now that's a thriftiness I can respect! Learning that made the discomfort less bothersome. Still, as I laid in bed, I found myself feeling anxious and unable to sleep. My stomach wanted something but I didn't want to overstimulate it with food. Milk suddenly sounded like a really good idea (when I'm nauseous, it generally sounds like a really bad idea). I poured myself a glass, took a swig, and discovered a gustatory bliss I had not experienced in weeks. To me, right now, milk tastes like liquid Christmas cookies. It makes sense, of course - the baby wants calcium. But this was the first time I found that a food tasted better to me than it ever had before. I had no idea! That's a special bonus that the old me just didn't experience.

*Of course, there are plenty of great places in the north, but I heard about y'all's winter. I won't be ready to return to that for a very long time, if ever.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Busy Body

About four months ago, I embarked on a body-changing adventure which will hopefully lead to positive, lifelong ramifications. Surprise! I'm not talking about pregnancy. Suck on that, pals.

Please pardon that flash of hostility. I blame the hormones. It's just that ever since I announced my pregnancy, I've had this sinking feeling that my new motherhood status is quickly becoming the only thing anyone cares to know about me. Granted, slow-cooking this kid inside my loins is the most important thing I'm doing right now. It makes sense that it's the number one subject that most everyone wants to discuss with me. But I do have a couple of other things going on. Obviously, I still write; it may not make me any money, but I try to treat it like a job (I've never had as much passion for an actual job). Anyone who knows me well enough to bother reading this blog probably gets that. In regard to the rest of my life... though I've touched on the subject in the past, I guess I haven't been entirely forthcoming about the other major use of my time.

I workout. Lots. Certainly not as much as C, the young woman at my gym who first convinced me to get a personal trainer, or T, the trainer who has taught me almost everything I know about fitness. But I've definitely worked out more often in the past four months than I did during the entirety of my 20s. More importantly, I've worked out intensely, using a combination of weight-training and increasingly difficult cardio routines. I push myself, I don't allow many excuses, I willingly look like a fool in front of my more skillful gym-going peers, and sometimes - though not often - I cry from sheer frustration. I'm far from my optimal physical shape (though I'm still unsure of what that is, I know I definitely want a much lower body fat percentage) and I'm still overweight. Nevertheless, I'm enormously proud of what I've accomplished in this time, and I'm excited that this is only the beginning.

I wish I had some simple measure to tell you how far I've come, like, "I've lost twenty pounds!" My weight hasn't changed that much, probably because my muscles are much bigger as a result of, um, usage. I can say that I've moved a comfortable notch down the belt (two notches if I want to hike my jeans up to my waist, which I don't). I now have plenty of breathing room when I button my favorite blazer; there's a third button by the lapel that I just discovered last week! Best of all, I've subtracted 2.5 points from my body fat percentage, and T assured me that such a difference is "huge". I don't know enough to make that assessment on my own, but I trust his judgement.

That trust has been the foundation for all of my progress. I was incredulous the first time T assigned me a mile run on the treadmill. I was okay with every other cardio device, even the upright bike and the stepper, but I feared the treadmill. I had Looney Toons-style visions of being flung through one of the plate glass windows, leaving just a jagged, Tara-shaped outline as a reminder of my prematurely dead self. So when I first got on that treadmill, I very gingerly worked my way up to a 4.2 mph jog. I didn't get thrown, but more impressively, I did the whole mile without stopping or slowing down. I ran into C in the locker room after that and told her the news. I'll never forget what she said. "Tara, you're working hard!" I was just about a month into my new regimen, but that recognition felt like a diploma.

When I spoke to T about it a few days later, he congratulated me, then asked what my mile time was. "That's good, but next time I want you to run fast. I don't care if you slow down to jog or walk, but I want you to go faster. See what your time is then." I did exactly what he said, and knocked no less than five minutes off my mile time. And I didn't slow down, either.

T has taught me so many exercises that I simply couldn't do the first time. He included most of those in my assignments anyway, and I just had to trust that I could succeed eventually. The mantra that I run through my mind in these situations is, "The only way there is by trying." I'm surprised by the number of times I've actually gotten "there". My favorite example is the full-body crunch. I think I laughed when T told me how to do it. I was to lay on a weight bench, with my bum near the edge and my legs stretched out in the air. Then I was to hold the edge of the bench and pull my chest and knees together. I've got a lotta leg and I couldn't keep those limbs taut for more than a couple seconds, much less lift them and my upper half into a crunch. T still made it part of a five day workout, which I was supposed to do for four weeks straight.

My first effort to do a set of full-body crunches was humbling. I huffed and puffed as I struggled to hold my balance; I doubt that I got my back even an inch off the bench. I had to look pretty funny to bystanders, but no one laughed, if they noticed at all. Sloppy as my form was, I counted each mangled attempt as a rep and repeated fourteen times. As I tackled each set (I did three total, with sets of dumbbell flies in between), I cared less about how I looked. I was doing my best, as my sweat-drench shirt could attest. I got better at it each week. Even knowing how hard I tried, it seems a miracle that by week four, I could do a solid set of fifteen full-body crunches with a modicum of grace. That makes me proud.

These long-term assignments have been instrumental in getting all that I can from my limited training schedule. I can afford only two training sessions a month. When I signed up for this, I had no expectation that T would provide me with all this detailed homework and I can't really express how much I appreciate it. At first, a twice-a-month consultation seemed like it could be a waste of time. But I've been able to work so much on my own, that I've actually built up three unused training sessions since the last time we met.

About a week and a half ago, the need to meet with my trainer became apparent. I'd known for several days that I was pregnant and of course I'd been wanting a fitness professional's opinion on how I should adjust my regimen. The timing was good, as I'd started to tell my friends and family the big news. I was a little over two weeks into the new assignment - two days of mixed cardio and weights, a 5k run on day three, rest on day four, repeat for six weeks - and then the morning sickness hit. Instead of getting easier, my routines were wiping me out. The running seemed to increase my sense of nausea. I found myself slacking. I skipped working out one day, then again a couple days later, then two days in a row. By the beginning of last week, the almost constant nausea and fatigue left me feeling bonkers. I made myself workout on Monday and though I found myself skipping again on Tuesday, I had to acknowledge that exercise was the only way to restore some of my energy. I was determined to get back on track. I just needed to learn how to tailor my workout to my first trimester symptoms. I guess I needed a kick in the ass, too.

That was the same day I found out C and T no longer work at my gym. I have no idea what the details of that change are (I get the feeling they went out in an awesome blaze of glory, and since I've starred in a couple of those departure stories myself, I can only hope they are well and continuing to enjoy themselves... I have a strong feeling that they are). I wasn't prepared for the initial sense of devastation. Dan could hardly believe my teary-eyed reaction to the text message news. "You did all this work, Tara. You're going to be fine!" Of course the gym would have to provide me with a new trainer - we do have a contract after all - but would that person be willing to give me multi-week homework assignments? Would they get the fact that I came into this clumsy and atrophied, very recently and with a non-specific desire to be stronger and healthier? Would they know anything about training a newly pregnant woman?

I've calmed down in the days since. The gym manager assures me that my new trainer is experienced and educated. We meet on Thursday morning. In the meantime, I will stick with the current assignment, but at a more moderate pace (I most definitely slow down and walk during those 5k runs). I've come to realize that what I actually miss most about C and T is the subtle yet frequent encouragement they offered - the approving smiles when they would see me check in day after day, the high fives and the goofy nicknames ("Hey, Champ" - I've never been a "Champ" before!). Just like working at a job, I workout better on my own. I enjoy the solitude of the run, the silent number-Mississippi timekeeping, the internal mantras that keep me from giving up when my body is screaming, "Enough!" But just like a job, I need to poke my head up every once in a while and see that someone other than me is aware of my progress. In lieu of a stunning and obvious measurement, I need that occasional reassurance that I have made a different person of myself. After all, I'm with me every minute of every day. It isn't always so easy to tell.