We just returned from a week of Spring Training, and as they say in baseball, it was a rough outing. In the baseball world, Spring Training helps players get back in shape after a long winter hiatus and prepares teams for the upcoming season. For my husband and I, the trip was about getting our recreational relationship back in shape after years of career and childrearing, as well as good training for our next season of life.
I have several friends who thoroughly enjoy Spring Training games in Arizona. My husband is a huge San Francisco Giants fan. So I hatched the brilliant idea of taking a trip to Scottsdale for Giants Spring Training. I went on-line January 9 at 10:00 AM when tickets went on sale, not sure if anything would be available for non-season ticket holders. When I gleefully discovered there were indeed tickets available, I binged on 5 consecutive game days. I was sure this trip was going to be a home run!
In the meantime, I’ve been taking golf lessons. I still stink, but at least I can (usually) make contact. We recently unburied our golf clubs and bikes in our garage excavation, so we decided to take them with us. My husband was playing quite a bit of golf when we first met, and riding bikes was a favorite activity in our early years. My husband volunteered to book the hotel and found a place that was walking distance to Scottsdale Stadium and surprisingly inexpensive. Man, this was going to be a grand slam homer!
In general, the trip was enjoyable and I would definitely do it again. We loved the scenic afternoon and sunset drive through the Mojave Desert. The baseball games were fun and it was interesting to see the different team stadiums. Three of our games were at the Giants’ stadium in Scottsdale, one was at the KC Royals’ stadium in Surprise, AZ, and the last was at the Dodgers’ facility in Phoenix. We found some great restaurants, including one quirky place in a former dentist’s office with a lovely outdoor patio in a mostly residential section of Phoenix, where a Charlie Byrd-type character with floor-length dreadlocks and an electric guitar was the entertainment. On Saturday night, we explored the Desert Botanical Gardens, where there was a special “Chihuly in the Gardens” exhibit featuring spectacular blown glass artwork intermingled with the cacti. I’d never seen anything like it and it was breathtaking.
However, the trip was no home run, but rather, as with any typical Spring Training, there were some errors as well as lessons learned. As I thought about our past trips and recreational activities, I realized that, in the first 23 years of our marriage, we had only two years without kids in the house. Even our activities during our courtship often included my stepson. We have been empty nesters the past two years, but until six months ago I was still working and most of the trips we took were to visit our son. Our married life has predominately been focused on children and work, not on leisure. So it is understandable that we may be a little rusty in the fun department.
So, in no particular order, here are my observations (or “Coaching Report”) of our Spring Training performance, lessons learned, and things to work on:
1) Don’t be overly chintzy on the lodging
Once we saw our motel, we understood why it was so inexpensive. After a lovely first dinner at an upscale pizza joint in Scottsdale, we arrived at the motel, and found that our room included absolutely necessary items but not an inch of excess space or additional amenities. We also discovered it emitted every sound imaginable. Cars, trucks, refrigerator, air blowing from the A/C unit, neighbors, babies, you name it. On top of the noise, the room had an odd odor. I don’t think I got a restful night sleep the entire time we were there. Granted we are now on a fixed income, but I am too old and have stayed at too many upscale hotels during my business travel days to go back to Motel 6. We realized how much an uncomfortable lodging situation detracts from the fun factor.
2) Be mindful of your partner’s preferences and temperament
After 25 years of marriage, I already knew my husband and I are quite different in certain key areas. But there is nothing like being cooped up together in a car and a tiny, noisy, smelly room like lab rats for a week to accentuate the dissimilarities.
First of all, my husband is not a morning person. He’s typically unenthusiastic about anything before noon. He may wake up at a reasonable hour, but he likes to putz around, catch up on his sporting news, and generally ease into his day. While I am not a crack of dawn person, I (especially since retiring) am probably most hyper in the morning and start to lose steam as the day progresses. To me, sitting around all morning is an unfortunate waste of half a day.
Second, when I go on vacation, I love to see and do as much as possible. The world is my oyster and I can’t bear the thought of missing something really cool. My husband, on the other hand, likes a slower pace and plenty of downtime to relax. Naps are one of his favorite vacation activities.
Somewhat related, I am also more of an extrovert than my husband. He can be quite sociable but he is also perfectly happy with solitude and finds extended bouts with people tiring. I, on the other hand, although not an extreme extrovert, am more energized by personal interactions and can feel isolated with too much quiet time.
With that as background, and in hindsight, it is not surprising that our two morning golf outings in Scottsdale were just short of disastrous. After our first baseball game on Wednesday (to which we arrived bleary-eyed and sleep deprived after our first night at Motel Chintzy) I insisted we check out the golf course and reserve tee times for the next two mornings (since the baseball games were at 1 pm). I also decreed that Saturday morning we would ride bikes. In my current just-released-from-prison-i.e.-retired state, I was determined to not waste a moment!
But as I should have more wisely predicted, when the alarm went off at 7:30 AM the next morning after another rocky night at The Chintz, I realized I had Mr. Grumpypants for a golf partner. My husband was clearly not happy to be rising so early and barely spoke until the 5th hole, and even then it was something like “Hey, can you move…. I can’t see the pin.” He had no patience and it didn’t help that:
1) I whiffed the ball more than I actually hit it
2) I was averaging upwards of 9-10 strokes per hole
3) We had a foursome behind us breathing down our necks
4) I kept asking if I should use a 1-iron (which apparently doesn’t exist), AND
5) I was texting on the course (which apparently is poor form)
Things improved somewhat as the day wore on, but I wouldn’t characterize the outing as Fun. I looked at it more as a character building exercise. I remember reading about how Tiger Wood’s dad would employ all sorts of purposely disturbing techniques (like yelling or suddenly rattling keys when Tiger was putting) designed to teach focus and resilience and I thought perhaps golfing with Coach Grumpypants would somehow make me a tougher golfer.
And then, if you can believe it, we went golfing again the next morning with an even earlier tee time! It was an only slightly better but similar experience and thus unfortunately, largely because of poor timing, our first golf outings together weren’t exactly the home runs I was expecting.
I finally got smart, and we moved our Saturday morning bike ride to that evening, which was much more pleasant. We rode a beautifully scenic bike path along golf courses, parks, a canal (where we stopped to watch crew racing), and stopped to observe another stunning AZ sunset.
3) Communicate, communicate, and communicate!
I would characterize communication as one of the strengths in our marriage. We have always been able to talk through issues and resolve conflict through communication. After we returned from this trip, we had our usual post-mortem debrief. We both realized that not everything went as well as it could have. We identified where we could have done better.
Through our conversations, my husband admitted he was deeply embarrassed about the motel room since he was the one who booked it, and that greatly affected his experience of our trip. Since he prepaid through Expedia, he felt powerless to remedy the situation so he didn’t address it. However, we concluded that we should have talked about it and our options on the spot, which would have at least called out the elephant in the room (albeit miniature pygmy elephant in that room) to alleviate any sense of shame.
We also talked about our contrasting temperaments and preferences and how we could better respect and accommodate our differences on future trips together. Some options may include “parallel play” in the mornings, where I find things to do on my own before noon, leaving him to his quiet time, or, for example, having only one golf morning rather than two. But in any case, giving each other space and permission to do things differently or separately.
We agreed the most important skill for us to work on is better communication earlier, before feelings get hurt and things go south fast. The two bad golf outings not only colored our later experiences in the day, but also provoked negative emotions that were hard to put back once they were out of the bottle. One of my disappointments at the time was that my husband agreed to my frenetic morning plans before we left on our trip and I felt we had a “contract”. But, as much as pre-trip communication and planning is important (and my husband may have honestly thought he would enjoy golfing in the morning) we don’t always know how we will feel until we are actually in a situation, so there must be room for communication and negotiation and change to address one or both partner’s needs in the moment.
All in all, I think we effectively did our own marital version of Spring Training on this trip. We worked on getting ourselves back in shape as a couple, identified areas for improvement, and prepared for the upcoming season. And maybe we learned something. We went golfing yesterday (LATE morning tee time) and had a great day together on the golf course. My first home run of the season!!!!!