Thursday, August 25, 2011

Planning for Peanut: New Adventures in Pleasure Seeking

There's nothing quite like pregnancy to alter one's experience of pleasure. It isn't just about contending with the lack of booze or the dietary restrictions. It's also the fatigue, which (according to everyone I know who ever had a baby) is nothing compared to those long, sleepless days and nights of constant nursing and dirty diapers. Friends be warned - I'm not such fun company as I once was and it's only going to get worse before it gets better.

But I still long to be good company for myself. I've been surprised to discover a few new avenues for good time havin' ~

Non-alcoholic Beer

I know. It's sad. You know what's sadder? Fetal alcohol syndrome. Okay, I kid! Even if there were no such thing as N.A. beer, I wouldn't be pounding the real thing. But you see, I love the taste of the real thing and I miss it. Honestly, most of this stuff tastes like crap beer that I would never buy, but wouldn't turn down if it were the only option offered to me - think Rolling Rock (not Natty Light, which I would definitely turn down). So far, I've yet to encounter one that tasted even half as good as, say, Bass Ale (in my opinion, an excellent "macro-brew") but it's better than nothing. O'Douls tastes like shit and really isn't worth the bother. I tried one called Clausthaler that was okay, and I appreciated the German name and obscure label for contributing to the overall placebo effect. Ultimately, I think St. Pauli N.A. tastes best and now that I know they sell it at the grocery store where I work, I can get a 20% discount on it. Bonus!

That placebo effect is an interesting thing. At the end of a long work day, I do find a bottle of fake beer soothing. The flavor and the ritual have as much to do with that sense of unwinding as the actual alcohol content. And as I get deeper into the third trimester, I find myself "imbibing" more frequently. Somewhere in Chattanooga, a green glass recycling bin is overflowing with all those bottles I've emptied this summer.

Goes great with non-alcoholic beer! I learned how to drive just two years ago and at the time I wasn't particularly excited about it. It just felt necessary. I was 32 - twice as old as most people are when they get their first license - and I knew I'd eventually have a kid and would need to drive that kid places. As I've become more driving-dependent, I've come to find the experience less dreadful, though I would still prefer busing to work if I could.

But at some point during the first trimester, I began to find driving somewhat enjoyable. Perhaps it was the solitude or maybe it was the sense of controlling something bigger than me, which feels good when you can't control what's happening inside of you. Now that little Peanut is bigger and quite active, driving while listening to music is lots of fun. My favorite is driving to the gym. I bounce between the oldies and classic rock radio stations, sing loudly with whatever I hear and see how she rates my rendition with her kick-o-meter. So far, Queen is a big winner. She seems to like "We Will Rock You" best - that always gets a few solid kicks. By the time I get to the gym, I'm pretty pumped for a workout. Exercise almost always makes me feel better, so the drive home is even more fun. I'll grab a couple Tums from the stash in the center console and chug some water. Maybe I'll stop by Whole Foods to pick up some groceries and offend the yuppies with my sweaty clothes and foul smell. Then I hop back in the car and take a different route home, as I sing to a different set of radio jams. If I'm lucky, one of those three stations will play "Bennie and the Jets" and Peanut will kick a bit more. I now look forward to this ritual.

Cable TV
We'll be getting cable around the end of September, just in time for post-season baseball and Peanut's big arrival. I have this "thing" about not paying for cable - I'll certainly take it if it's free, but I resent paying so much money for something that's junk food to my soul. We got cable the last six months we lived in Michigan so we could watch Tigers baseball (reasoning that it would be less expensive to our budget and our souls than going to the bar to watch games), but once we moved to Chattanooga, there simply wasn't any need for it.

I changed my mind after a conversation with my friend J about life with a newborn. I asked her, "What do you wish you'd had during those early days with an infant?" She said she wished she'd stocked up on food she could eat with one hand. "Oh, and I wish I'd had a smart phone." Of course! That was the smartest endorsement for a smart phone that I'd ever heard. I know I'll have to get one eventually because it will become a social expectation, but I figured I had a few more years before I'd consider it. Suddenly, it started to sound like a really good idea.

But in recent days I've had to reconsider. I find myself too often sucking on the teat of the internet in search of good times, only to feel depressed and empty in the end. I don't know about you, but I'm no good at being online. I enjoy blogging, of course, and Facebook, but there's only so much I can get out of those activities. I'm just not that curious or creative when it comes to surfing. So then I look at Facebook again or I check my email again, and then I just find myself compulsively visiting the same few sites and getting nothing out of it. It's weird how addictive the internet can be, even when you don't enjoy it much. Do I really need to make that experience portable?

So I'm going to revert to the old evil, mindless activity and get myself some cable TV! I figure the novelty should last for several weeks. I'm envisioning life with a newborn as an experience akin to an intense Michigan winter, when the elements short-circuit your brain and it's best to just give up on the notion of going out much. J told me that she watched a lot of daytime TV. Perhaps I will rekindle my bizarre affection for Wendy Williams, though more likely I will record tons of M*A*S*H reruns on the DVR and further develop my Alan Alda obsession. If we're really lucky, there will be an on-demand karaoke station and we can see how Peanut feels about mom singing Queen, post-womb.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best Place Ever

Have you ever been really good at something that didn't make you happy? My former therapist insisted this was a sure path to misery. It was nine years ago when we got on that topic, right after my boss offered to change my part-time accounts payable gig at a non-profit community theater to a full-time accounting position. I would have to give up the more enjoyable other half of my job as a three-night-a-week house manager, but it seemed like the smart thing to do. "Tara, if you take that job, I'll kill you!" said the shrink. I don't think he really meant that, but the message got through my silly 25 year old's notion that I needed an occupation that sounded grown-up. I refused the position (though my boss was not pleased), continued doing the fun, other half of my job which later turned into a full-time position I actually wanted. I'm glad I held out. Being the head house manager was the most satisfying job I've ever had.*

That idea of holding out for what suits me has been on my mind since we moved into our new home two and a half weeks ago. I love it so much! Our last apartment was certifiably hip, a broad, loft-like space that occupied one half of a refurbished auto garage. It had poured cement floors, a functional garage door at the front, stainless steel kitchen counters, and a sliding wall to make two big rooms out of a single giant one. As Dan said before we signed the lease, "If we live here, this is the coolest we'll ever be." And every visitor agreed. Even after I announced my pregnancy, some insisted that we could adjust the space to be more baby-friendly and if I'd loved that apartment as much as I thought I should, I would have. But now that I'm here, I understand why I was so eager to leave. That place was great, but it just wasn't me. This new place is most definitely me.

I had a good feeling from the moment we walked up to this expansive front porch. And all the trees! Check out that stone wall edging the sidewalk across the street. This sort of prettiness makes me want to take the dog on more frequent walks.

The front hallway is flanked by the living room and dining room on the left and the bedrooms to the right. I love the curtained front door with the window above. In the upper right corner of the photo, you can see that I found a perfect spot for my "My Man Godfrey" mini poster.

This is what you see when you enter the house. Hardwood floors and natural light abound (again, that's me all the way). Being on the side of a ridge facing a mountain, with trees all over the place, I expected St. Elmo to be rather shady and dark. It is compared to the nearly treeless valley where we used to live, but we have about twenty times as many windows as we had in our old cinder block compound. All told, I prefer this deal - more indoor light and a lower outdoor temperature.

Our pretty living room. What amazes me is that we have enough stuff to fill this space, even though we moved from two rooms to six. I keep looking around, thinking, "Where did we get all this extra stuff?"

A special space for the dining room table? Having both the room and the table is a new experience for Dan and me. This is also the first time that we've shared a whole house together.

This is where we sleep. I guess the fireplace is functional, but I'm happy just to use the mantel. We may switch over to Bernadette's room (not pictured - there isn't much to see yet), if we decide that this is a better space for her.

This house would be the best place ever if it only contained this best kitchen ever. An island, are you kidding me? Not to mention the dishwasher and garbage disposal. Now that we have all those amenities plus a garage door opener, Dan and I like to joke that we are officially middle-class. Anyway, I've been doing a lot more cooking, which is good, because we can't afford to eat out so much with a baby on the way.

The back office, which our landlord laughingly refers to as "the third bedroom". Fortunately, we don't need a third bedroom. I intend to do a lot of writing here, though right now I'm set up at the living room coffee table, where I can sit on the floor and practice my tailor sitting (shout out to all you Bradley method birthers).

The view from our back deck, which sits above the basement-level garage. Once the landlord showed us this, I knew I'd be super bummed if we didn't get to live here. You can just barely trace the edges of Lookout Mountain beyond the trees; it will be more visible in the winter. One of the things I love about living on the ridgeside is that I can get an upstairs feeling at the back of a ranch style home. Architecturally speaking, I get to have it all.

As long as we're living in Chattanooga, we don't see ourselves leaving this place. More than ever, I'm convinced that renting is the wisest way for us to go. Even if we could afford a house of this size and in this location (doubtful) we could never afford to outfit it as nicely as our landlord has. And wherever we do go later, this is going to be one tough act to follow. But that's the adventure of renting. It's fun trying out different spaces and making it work for you. I'm glad we lived in the old Southside pad for a year. It really was a blast. But other than having a lot of crossbeams from which we could hang plants, I don't miss it. I much prefer this sense of being at home.

*I had to give it up later when my boss made me take a promotion that certainly paid better and was satisfying in other ways, but ultimately wasn't a good fit. It was quite stressful - I started smoking again and lost thirty pounds in the first six months - and perhaps it was too "grown up" for me. I always felt like I was play-acting in the professional adult world, where it isn't so much about how hard you work as it is about how you present yourself. I gave it a couple years before I decided to take a huge pay cut in favor of my personal life.