For fun this past summer, I willingly chose to live with 13 strangers for a week. No, I wasn’t a contestant on Big Brother. (To be completely upfront, I don’t really even know what that means as I’ve never watched the show.) And to be more upfront, my housemates weren’t complete strangers—they were all fellow parents/siblings of my 12-year-old sons’ baseball teammates. So, in reality, I guess I really chose to live with 13 people with whom I’ve spent a lot of time watching baseball and sitting poolside at team parties and have really come to like. (For those of you whose kids have been on teams where the parents don’t get along, you can appreciate how great this is.)
When the boys’ coach announced he’d like to take the team to a weeklong baseball tournament in Cooperstown, NY, I offered to handle housing for the families (the team and coaches live on the baseball campus – it’s up to everyone else to find a place to stay). A group of us figured splitting a house for seven days would be less expensive than a hotel—and more fun—so we were game for staying together.
Planning went as smoothly as could be but the week before we left, I started sweating it. “What if we don’t all get along?” What if someone is a complete whiner? What if the plumbing backs up? What happens when people find out I can’t take less than a 10-minute shower…in really hot water? When I really thought it through, my biggest worry wasn’t about living through the week. My main concern what that I still like these people at the end of the week. Living together can kill a friendship as anyone with a roommate horror story can attest to.
I’m happy to say that the week was a complete success, at least in the house. (On the ballfield? Well, that’s a story for another blog.)
Looking back, here’s what I think were the keys to our happy baseball family:
Respect one another’s space—Everyone had their own personal space where they could get away if they needed to—and we used it. After a long day at the Cooperstown Dreams Park, everyone retreated to his/her own space to unwind and then came out refreshed and ready for the evening. Everyone needs a place to call their own.
Be flexible and respectful – Every person in our group went with the flow. No-one put up a fuss if they didn’t like their room, the house location, or having to share two bathrooms for 14 people. Like the dad who was an early riser and instead of traipsing around the kitchen making coffee at 6 a.m., he would walk the block to the gas station and buy a hot cup of coffee, then settle in the front room with his iPad, leaving the rest of us to slumber in peace. Love that kind of roomie!
Complain in private – I’m not naïve enough to think that the weekend went by without unhappiness on someone’s part but if that was the case, they kept it to themselves or a person close to them. One of the older siblings staying with us turned 16 the week of the tournament. Now, I’m sure that celebrating in Cooperstown with a bunch of his younger brother’s baseball family members was not his ideal celebration his but he maintained a good attitude (at least in public). I’m sure his mom heard a few choice words though!
Chip in – Everyone (ages 8 to 50-something) pitched in on everything from grocery shopping, to washing dishes, to sweeping the floor—without being asked. If only things could go so smoothly at home.
Pack a good attitude –We didn’t let things like five shivering days of sixty degree, rain-soaked weather dampen our enthusiasm. We did what we set out to do which was to cheer on our boys and have fun—despite the weather or our win/loss record. The good attitude prize has to go to the family who ended up having to sell their SUV to a dealership in Cooperstown after it broke down 10 minutes from the ballpark and would have cost more to fix than it was worth. They got a rental and moved on with a good attitude. (And now have a nice shiny new SUV to show for it.)
Play lots of ping-pong (or make time for fun)—Never underestimate the power of ping pong, air hockey and foosball to create camaraderie among friends. (The house didn’t have a dishwasher but came with a great gameroom – which made for better memories than machine-washed dishes).
Bring a professional chef – OK, it didn’t hurt that one of the team dads is a professional chef who loves to cook for crowds. A good meal makes for happy housemates!
I’d go on vacation again with this group in an instant. Do you have any good tips for vacationing with semi-strangers (or even a tougher group – family members?)