Spring Training

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or not. Depending on who you ask.

Spring Training is the time before baseball season where players practice in exhibition games. For me, Spring Training is me going cold turkey without my husband after several months of having him at home day in and day out. He leaves and is gone for about four weeks. Spring Training gets easier year after year, but I don’t think it’ll ever be easy. We just learn how to deal.

Contrary to other baseball spouses who may travel with their significant others to Spring Training, I usually stay behind. It’s always work, usually money. And soon it will be E’s school.

The first time my husband left for Spring Training, our relationship was in a rough patch, so his departure eventually meant that we broke up. Even though he may have felt sad for our breakup, all I knew was that I was heartbroken and mad while he was out in Phoenix enjoying baseball and sunshine.

The next year his job as pre-game and post-game show host required him to go to Spring Training as soon as pitchers and catchers reported—which is usually around Valentine’s Day. I was pregnant, and this would be our first big separation after his return back to the East Coast after the end of baseball season, and our reconciliation. My mood swings crept through the phone waves, and every solo trip to the grocery store made me angry at Major League Baseball all over again. (He was there for the birth, if you’re wondering. MLB couldn’t take that away from us.)

The year after our first Spring Training as a couple I spent it in Kansas City with a baby. I was teaching and trying to make progress with my dissertation. You could say my dissertation is the background of my relationship with baseball—my whole graduate career even. You can also turn it around: baseball is the background to my professional career.

When you’re in this position, you eventually figure out how to handle the distance. Video chat. Text messaging random thoughts or pictures of your adventures throughout the day. Emails with business that must be taken care of. Questions from well-intentioned people who didn’t know that their questions about my husband’s travels felt like pin pricks in my chest. “When is he coming home? Are you going? Do you have family who can help you?” Every answer carefully thought out. You don’t want people to think you can’t keep it together when you’re by yourself.

And I can keep it together when I’m by myself. After all, I lived by myself for a while. But I needed the company. I needed people to spend time with me. It seemed like it was during this period where I needed company the most. I didn’t want to feel alone.

I started to make up travel plans to New York City. There was always a conference or meeting to attend. That year I was pregnant I had not one but two baby showers. I was grateful for the distraction just as much as for the presents.

The next spring Training, I stayed in Kansas City, again. I was finishing my dissertation. It was the first time I sent away my daughter to daycare full time. My husband, the man flying to Arizona for six weeks, encouraged me to put her so I could dedicate more waking hours to writing instead of always fitting in dissertation work before I was fully awake or before I went to sleep. I needed the time, but I felt guilty that I was home alone and she was in the care of someone else. This prevented me from flying out to Arizona.

The year after, my husband left later, but only by a week. The play-by-play broadcaster doesn’t need to be there when pitchers and catchers report. We had an extra week and it didn’t make any difference because it would be three months until we saw each other again. It was his first Spring Training calling games for the Houston Astros. I stayed behind because I had a job and because someone had to pack up the apartment, right? Three months. 90 days total. I counted every day.

Every Spring Training seems to be rife with emotions. So many things going on.

I wonder if Spring Training in MLB is also a season for me, for my soul: maybe Spring Cleaning? Balance my emotional checkbook? Get back in touch with me and my goals? Every Spring Training up until this year had been intense, fraught, painful. Yes, painful.

I had to allow myself sometimes to cry, to miss him. It’s okay to get upset. I’ll have to make sure to teach our daughter that, even if some day that will come back to haunt me. Now I travel for work. She knows our work take us away from home for periods of time. She may think we love our careers and we love that it takes us away from home. We do love our careers. We do not love that it takes us away from her.

This year, things were different. Spring Training went by so fast, I didn’t even get to enjoy the time to check in with myself.

Because we’re finally both gainfully employed and not borderline broke, we could afford a trip to Florida to spend time during Spring Training. I’m still getting used to the baseball life, as you can imagine. However, Spring Training coincides with an intense time in the Spring semester: conference season. With my new job I have to attend academic conferences.

March was a whirlwind of activity. I finished putting together the rough draft of the newsletter and got on a plane to Florida. In between meals and sightseeing in Florida, I would check my email or double-check article edits. I then packed up for Baltimore to attend NASPA for work. While at NASPA I had to copyedit the manuscript and cover panels for future WIHE articles. My mother came to Baltimore to see me, and we spent time with family there. I then returned to Houston and met my sister in law at the airport. She’d be staying with us for a week and watch Miss E while I went to another conference, this time in Fort Worth. By the time she left on Thursday, I was already thinking ahead to what I wanted to take care of before my husband came back to town. This past weekend was the first free weekend I’ve had in weeks.

I may have overdone it this time.

Life snippets

Another installment of “False Starts,” this time the “Spring Training” Edition:

1) This morning I was driving back to our Kissimmee hotel after dropping my husband off at work (“work” being the Astros’ Spring Training complex) when R.E.M. came on the radio. Satellite radio allows for long-forgotten hits and random b-sides to find airplay again. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” played on the 90s alternative station, and it took me back to my pre-teen years. The pop culture references, foreign to my Puerto Rican life in the countryside, motivated me to find out who the heck Kenneth was and why R.E.M. were making a reference to Dan Rather. This was a little harder than it would be today, since it required me looking at issue after issue of music magazines bought at the only popular bookstore close to Sabana Grande. Pre-teen me would have loved the Internet. I’m almost certain that listening to R.E.M. increased my vocabulary by at least a grade level.

2) When my husband and I got married, we had no wedding rings. The officiant asked us during a pre-wedding meeting whether we would exchange rings. We said no. We didn’t tell him we couldn’t afford the rings. We just left it at “no rings.” After the wedding, with some wedding gift cash, we went to the KAY Jewelers at the mall in Overland Park, Kansas, and looked at rings. I hate those “every kiss begins with Kay” commercials, but we bought our rings there. They’re not a wedding band pair; we picked two rings from the “Wedding” case, two that matched and that we could afford. My wedding ring is a simple silver band with a small diamond. When I first got my ring, I couldn’t wait to wear it everywhere. Yesterday my husband remarked that I take my ring off all the time. I felt sad admitting to him that my ring fits too snug because of the weight I’ve gained, and so I take it off when it’s too tight.

A year and a half apart. Also, my lovely nail polish

3) The art in our hotel room makes me feel out of place. I’m sure it’s supposed to evoke warmth, sun, relaxation. In short, it’s supposed to evoke Florida. It has the opposite effect on me: it evokes Puerto Rico. I’m half expecting to step out of our hotel room and find myself on the streets of Isla Verde, or smell la AMA pulling up to the bus stop. But every time I step outside, it’s a hotel hallway. Every hallway on every floor looks the same. No San Juan. Nostalgia comes back in mysterious ways.

Hotel selfie 1

Hotel selfie 1

Hotel selfie 2

Hotel selfie 2

Hotel selfie 3 (also, possibly my new Twitter avatar pic?)

Hotel selfie 3 (also, possibly my new Twitter avatar pic?)





My Favorite Dinner Date

I drove around the restaurant in my rented red Chevy Sonic, looking for a way to get to the parking lot behind it. The temperature had dropped and I was hoping I could park behind the restaurant instead of a few blocks away. There was some rush hour traffic in downtown Madison, so crossing the intersection of Blair Street and E. Washington was crazy.

After many circles, including going down a residential street dead end in order to do a u-turn, I made it to the back of Sardine. I was excited to have found an excellent parking spot: right in front of the door. I had dressed up just a little bit for the occasion, wearing a new oversized caramel-colored sweater and a long-sleeved gold-striped white sweater underneath.

I walked in and sat at the bar. In the past, when I dined by myself I would request a table for myself so I could read, but my husband talked me out of it. He travels a lot for work, as do I, and refuses to take a whole table for himself. It made sense to me, so now I sit at the bar. It’s nice to be in the company of people at the bar, even if they are strangers.

Drink at the bar at Sardine

Drink at the bar at Sardine

I had been to Sardine a few weeks before, my first trip to Madison, so I was familiar with the menu. I ordered a lavender-infused drink (don’t remember the name, for it was French) and then asked for a warm duck confit salad and house-made cavatelli pasta. I’m not a French restaurant aficionado (can’t pronounce most of the stuff on the menu anyway) but I came to this restaurant as per the recommendation of a friend and didn’t regret it. In fact, when I was planning my second work trip to Madison I decided I would revisit Sardine instead of going to a new restaurant.

Earlier, in November, it had been a brunch place in Cleveland Cincinnati, Ohio. (Edit: This wonderful place is called Taste of Belgium, and if you’re ever in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood you should check it out!) I walked half a mile on a Sunday morning, a few hours before my return flight to Houston, to a place that had been rated highly on Yelp. When I walked in, I barely found my way to the hostess; that’s how packed it was. But the wait was worth it for the tastiest chicken and waffles I’ve ever had. I can still taste the sweetness of the belgian waffle mingling with the spiciness of the chicken breast.

Had to take a bite before taking the picture!

Had to take a bite before taking the picture!

Ever since I started graduate school I’ve traveled often. First, there was the trip once a semester back to Puerto Rico. Add to that my semi-regular bus/car rides to New York City to visit family. Then there are the academic conferences that you must attend as a graduate student (how this puts many graduate students in debt is another post altogether). In addition, my husband has almost always traveled for his work as a broadcaster, and I sometimes tag along by myself or with the little one. Now, I’ve started a new job that requires me to travel every month or so. I always like to try local foods when I travel, but when I travel by myself I make a point to try to treat myself to dinner.

I remember one particular academic conference I attended in Calgary, Canada. I was staying at a hotel far from the conference location (because it was cheaper, of course). I was alone and didn’t know anyone other than the people on my panel. After a full day of panels and academic conversation, I returned to my hotel mentally exhausted–and I was hungry. I walked downstairs to the hotel lobby, trying to figure out if I should go out and try to find a cheap alternative or if I should just walk into the little restaurant at this hotel. I went with the hotel restaurant.

I don’t remember what I ate or how much it cost or who the waiter was. Now what I remember is making that decision to treat myself to dinner in a new country at an unknown place. I also remember looking at the menu and sizing up what I could and could not afford (after all, this was dinner at the hotel restaurant). The meal wasn’t anything to write home about. But it was a nice little treat for myself.

I don’t remember when I started doing it, to be honest. As a graduate student I was always being trained for austerity. Eating at a restaurant seemed like a luxury, like money spent on something other than books (or conferences, for that matter). But even when I was away at conferences I tried to take a little time for myself. My advisor suggested, when I was prepping for my first academic conference, to always take a day to take in my surroundings, go out, take a break. That advice has stuck with me ever since.

Taking myself to dinner is a form of self-care, I’ve realized. It can be pricey, I know. I haven’t always had the money to treat myself to a dinner at a hip French restaurant, even if it’s in Wisconsin. I understand that treating myself to dinner entails privilege. Heck, attending those conferences as a graduate student entailed privilege: I had a fellowship, I took out student loans in addition to the fellowship, I had a credit card (that I had maxed out by the time I had a daughter, but that’s Another Story, Part II).  But I always try to go somewhere nice for dinner, somewhere that isn’t a sandwich or a pizza or takeout. I think of it as spending money on an experience instead of on a thing.

Eating out isn’t something I started doing as a graduate student either. I grew up in a humble household. We had a little bit of cash, but my parents were not rich by any means. We watched what we spent all the time—a habit that sticks with me today; I’ll buy a bottle of wine and cringe if it’s more than ten dollars. But one thing my parents would do from time to time was treat us to eating out. Whether it was a sit-down place or a kiosk by the edge of the road in some far town, we always took time to go out and eat.

As an undergraduate in San Juan, I had a friend who loved going out for dinner. We’d go out once in a while and check out restaurants; sometimes I paid and sometimes he treated me to dinner. I was still a poor undergraduate, you know.

My sister-in-law likes to remind me of the Italian restaurant we went to the day we first met, and I tend to think that it set the tone for our relationship: we bond often over food, even now that I’ve started eating meat again and she has become a vegan. When I traveled more often to NYC, we would always find a restaurant to try out, and we shared plates so we could sample more things for the same price. This Christmas we ventured out to a local farmer’s market in Houston and had breakfast on our laps.

So when I travel, I go out. I don’t do it every night (I followed up dinner at Sardine with continental breakfast at the hotel lobby and soup from Panera on my way back from work), but I try to at least find one night where I go and find a restaurant with some good Yelp reviews and see what the future holds.

What’s in it for me, other than good food? The feeling that I’m doing something nice for myself. I am sometimes hard on myself and on my eating habits, so I am trying to talk myself out of monitoring what I eat and chastising myself for what I don’t. But when I go out, I give myself a pass. I try to enjoy the food for what it is, and remember that this will not happen again. This plate at this moment? This is it.

One thing I learned when I decided to step away from my tenure-track dreams was that I wanted more time for myself and for my family. When I was on the traditional academic track, I felt I had no control over my days because I always had something to work on in the hopes that I would become a professor some day. So now I make an effort to take time for myself.

Self-care is important at any stage of our lives and that it doesn’t have to be about things. Self-care can be about experiences, sensorial and otherwise. It doesn’t even have to be about dinner you buy for yourself; that’s just the approach I take. It could be about taking the time to make a meal for yourself, carving time out of your schedule to make something that you like or that you want.

Taking myself out to dinner (or sometimes lunch or brunch) is me taking a time out for myself. Sitting down, looking at the menu, waiting for the food: this process allows me time to just be with myself. They’re moments of being, in a life where I’m always multi-tasking.