Taking a beating…


Mommy and Daddy are fighting again.

It started as a normal enough fight, one about money. It’s always about money.

But then it got ugly. They started yelling, and threatening. Little Brother and Little Sister happened to be nearby. Daddy grabbed them and held a knife to their throats. Daddy threatened to cut them, to cut off the blood and oxygen their bodies need to survive. Not one to be swayed by manipulation, Mommy called Daddy’s bluff, saying, “Go ahead. I don’t care. You want to kill them? Fine. By. Me.”

Little Brother screamed, terrified. Little Sister’s eyes grew wide, showing her feelings of betrayal. These were their parents. The people they trusted. The people who were supposed to look out for them. The kids had done nothing wrong. The money problems weren’t their fault. They had simply been going about life, doing exactly what they were supposed to do, only to be caught in their parents’ unthinking, unconscionable crossfire.


And this, my friends, is how sequestration looks to those of us in the military community, and to any others who stand to be a big losers if nothing is done by Friday. It’s an imperfect metaphor, of course. It doesn’t even take into account all that members of the military have sacrificed for the nation during the past 11 years, sacrifices one would hope would elicit more — not less — concern.

The White House and Congress, or simply the two political parties, depending on how you think about it, are the parents — the people my community relies upon to provide what we need to sustain, quite literally, our very lives. And now, in their bickering, they’re holding us hostage, each hoping the other will blink before one of them slips up and kills US.

In 2011 the President, frustrated by a Congress that wouldn’t work with him, proposed this horrible idea of sequestration, thinking that surely Congress would never let it get that bad. And Congress, betting that the President wouldn’t let it get that bad, either, voted to approve it, the Budget Control Act of 2011. It was a nothing more than a political game; a do-you-still-beat-your-wife-question in the form of a Congressional Act. And so now here were are. The people who can actually do something to stop the looming disaster, won’t calm down and reason with each other. Worse, they’ve all shown that they’re willing to let innocent people pay for their mistakes.

But back to the metaphor, what do you think will happen when the fight is over? Do you think the kids will ever trust the parents again?

And now that we in the military community know that our leaders — ALL OF THEM — are perfectly willing to hold us hostage in order to win nothing more than political points, we can never again trust their intentions. This game of chicken has already done irreparable damage to the relationship between the military and our political leaders.

If this were a real family, and not simply an analogy, police officers and social workers would be called in because we, the responsible adults, would recognize that these parents are absolutely unqualified, and far too selfish, to be in charge of anything.

Drone Parenting


Hi, I’m Rebekah. I’m a ‘drone parent’.

(The picture above is a ‘helicopter parent’ — my sworn enemy.)

I watch my kids from afar. I do not engage in their every activity. I let them argue with other children and I don’t try to settle the arguments. I let them fall down, sometimes getting hurt. When extreme danger in imminent, I swoop in and act, otherwise I just survey the scene from a distance, like the pilot of an unmanned drone.

This is not negligence on my part. This is my parenting strategy, one advocated by experts like these and these. I believe in letting kids make (and learn from) their mistakes while the costs of making mistakes are small. I believe that if I protect them from themselves when they are little, they will not develop the judgement they need to make good choices when they are bigger and the costs of making mistakes are much higher.

My polar opposite is the helicopter parent but, being a drone, I tend to just ignore the helicopters. (I’m letting them learn from their mistakes, too.) But, being helicopters, it seems to be outside of their natures to just ignore me. Case in point:

Last night Bo, my 8-year-old son, had soccer practice. He’s too young to just be dropped off for practice so I have to stay and watch with my other two younger children. Rudy is 4 and Lucy  is 10 months, and neither is AT ALL interested in sitting still and watching their brother play soccer. Rudy wants to run and Lucy wants to crawl, and not even in the same direction. But I’ve found a way to manage both. The soccer area (there are several fields side by side)  has a six-feet-tall fence around the entire complex. There are no breaks in the fence and only one gate, which stays closed during practice. There are usually lots of other siblings running around and Rudy likes to play with them. My solution: I put Lucy in a jog stroller and walk laps around the complex while Rudy plays with her new friends. I’m able to constantly watch Rudy as she plays, even though I am not right next to her, and Lucy stays entertained and happy as we walk. (And I burn a few calories.) Rudy is a pretty obedient kid and likes to follow rules. She’s stays off the soccer fields and doesn’t go near the gate. She can see me at all times and knows to come and find me if she needs me, and I tend to walk right by her every five minutes or so.

I’m pretty proud of this plan. Rudy gets exercise. Mommy gets exercise. Bo gets exercise. Lucy doesn’t scream for an hour. Everyone is safe. Everyone is happy.

Well, almost everyone.

Last night as I was approaching where Rudy was playing at that moment, another mother stormed up to me, flanked on either side by three children who looked to be between 9 and 15. When I was few feet away she spat out, “Is Rudy your child?” (Naively expecting her to tell me how adorable my little girl is) I smiled brightly and said, “Yes!”

“When I asked her who was watching her, she pointed at you,” the lady said accusingly.

“Yes, I am watching her,” I replied (not quite as brightly as before. I was beginning to see where this was going.)

“Well, don’t you think you should be with her if you are watching her?” she demanded.

“No, no I don’t,” I replied and I kept on walking.

The lady’s jaw dropped and when I glanced back over my shoulder she was walking in the other direction, leaving.

I’d love to say that the encounter didn’t get to me, but it did. As parents, I think we all worry that we’re screwing up, and nothing makes us worry more than another parent telling us that we’re screwing up. I spent the next 20 minutes reminding myself that I am a good mom; that I am not negligent; that Rudy really was safe and had never been out of my sight. Then I went to my mean place and noted internally that the woman had three kids, all at least middle school-aged, who were weirdly attached to their mom in public…

But that’s not fair, so I’ll stop.

The thing is, if you do parenting well, you’ll work yourself out of a job. If you over-parent, you’ll find yourself parenting those kids well into their 30s and even 40s, and possibly parenting their kids, too.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Tag, I’m it!

…but I’m a slow runner, so I’m used to it.

My friend Lisa Cullen, the brilliant author of the brilliant novel Pastors’ Wives, asked me to participate in this little exercise in navel gazing. Never one to turn down an opportunity to check out my distended-from-three-pregnancies, still-pierced-because-I-was-in-college-in-the-’90s belly button, I accepted.

Basically, at some time a few months ago some writers came up with these questions and then sent them out to some writer friends, who sent them out to writer friends, and everyone posted their responses on their blogs. It’s pretty much a chain letter, but one for people who type all day and have books to promote. It probably started with Gillian Flynn and Nicholas Sparks, but now they’re down to me.

I tagged Lori Volkman and Molly Blake, and they should have their posts up next week, so be sure to click over and check out their belly buttons, too. (I hear Lori has an outie. Just kidding. The only thing I know about her navel, is that it’s Naval. BTW, is “Naval Gazing” the name of a military blog yet? It should be…)

I attempted to tag Siobhan Fallon but someone had already beat me to it. Still, you can read her responses here.

Anyway, read on to learn more about what I do when I’m trying to ignore my kids:

What is your working title of your book? Do I really have to answer this? Okay, It’s “Afghan Y/A Novel”. Makes you wanna just run right out and buy it, doesn’t it? Honestly, I keep waiting for that one brilliant line of dialog that is both foreshadowing and clever. It will course from my brain, through my veins, into my fingertips and just click itself out on the keyboard with a certainty like an epiphany. So, uh, yeah, for now it’s “Afghan Y/A Novel” — I suspect that at one point in time, before he stumbled into lightness, Milan Kundera was probably working on a book called “Somewhat Depressing Czechs in the ’60s” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez spent many months writing “Overly-dramatic Colombians” before he struck cholera-gold … I have faith. Someday my title will come…

Where did the idea come from for the book? The Hunger Games. I LOVED reading The Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins brilliantly wove together a tragic and riveting tale that also serves as a criticism of how modern Americans are so far removed from the realities of our own long war. At least that’s how I read it… Anyway, after spending most of this past decade trying to get people to be more interested in Karzais than Kardashians, it occurred to me that I could take a note from Suzanne Collins and present that message as entertainment! For children!

In the words of Madeleine L’Engle: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

What genre does your book fall under? I suppose the working title gives this one away, but it’s Young Adult. I think. Who knows? My early readers have told me that it’s too graphic and violent for kids. We shall see…

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Another horrible question! See, the thing is, I have three little kids. I NEVER go to the movies. The movies we watch at home are always on “Pizza Party Movie Night” (every Friday in the Sanderlin household, sometimes followed by dancing on the coffee table) and tend to feature cartoon characters in the starring roles. And I don’t really watch TV, but I don’t mean that in a “I’m-too-intellectual-to-watch-TV” way. Rather, I watch a crapload of “House Hunters International”, “American Pickers” and “Storage Wars” while I’m painting my toenails or watching the baby crawl. There are no teen stars on those shows. I even googled “teenage actors” to try to answer this question and pulled up an IMDb listing of 160 actors — NONE of whom I’d ever heard of. So I will pretend-answer this question using my only frames of reference:

Daniel Radcliffe, circa 2000.

Kirsten Dunst, circa 1998

Jerry O’Connell, circa 1986

Dev Patel, circa 2008

Jake Gyllenhaal, circa 2005

Russell Crowe, pretty much anytime

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? In the years following the war, the American ambassador to Afghanistan and his wife are kidnapped by the Taliban and their three children have to use wits and survival skills to get to safety and to help their parents.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I’m working with an agent now, so here’s hoping this book finds a home with a publisher.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  Well, I’ve been working on it for nearly a year now and it’s still called “Afghan Y/A Novel”, so you do the math… But, during that year I gave birth, moved 800 miles alone with three kids, and saw my husband off on his ninth deployment. (Guess where? Afghanistan! It’s much easier to stomach another deployment when I can think of him as my one-man researching team.)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? The Hunger Games and the Shipbreaker series by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? My husband, and all of the amazing troops and military families I’ve come to know since marrying into this parallel universe. Seriously. I know that’s a sappy answer, but it’s the truth. Scout’s honor.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It is very, very accurate. If you read about a place in the book, that place is really there in Afghanistan. When the children use a survival tactic or martial arts technique, those are tactics that would actually work in that situation.  My dream (though I’m told that the book business doesn’t really think like this) would be to incorporate some interactivity in the e-book version so that when the kids in the story use a technique, young readers can click on a link that will take them to a video of a survival expert demonstrating and discussing the technique. And then children can overthrow their parents! No, no … I don’t really mean that. (But, kids, it would work. Nudge, nudge.)

Missing (in)Action

Yes – this is for real. Today, one day before Valentine’s Day, the House Armed Services Committee invited the Pentagon’s top brass on a date to talk about sequestration — and then stood them up. (This was what the room looked like at about two hours into the meeting, toward the end. The screenshots were taken 5 minutes apart at 1:30. ) I can’t quite make out who the Representatives  there are —the ones who where there for their own freakin’ meeting, mind you — and I don’t really want to give them too much praise for simply doing their jobs (but, hey, good on ya’!), but I can tell you that the wall of uniforms in the top pic? Yeah, those guys — they definitely had better things to do.
(I mean, really, what was going on in DC today that was 1) so pressing that all of these Representatives couldn’t be at their own meeting, but 2) not pressing enough to require the presence of any of these military commanders? Maybe Beyonce was in town…)
***UPDATE- My good friend Ellery, who has been working in Washington politics for many years now, tells me that these pictures were taken around the same time the Majority called a vote on the House floor. In other words, the seats were empty because the Representatives had gone to vote. Fair enough. The vote, in case you are wondering, was “To amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to clarify that houses of worship are eligible for certain disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities, and for other purposes.”
So, yeah, that’s totally pressing… Totally worth blowing off the heads of every branch of the military right before Congress’ lack of action decimates the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, even as we are still dealing with terrorism and nuclear threats.
[bangs her head against the wall]
Here’s a list of some of the people who should never be allowed the privilege of (not) serving their constituents again:

Members of the Committee

For the 113th Congress, the House Armed Services Committee will be led by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) with Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) serving as the Ranking Member.  The following members will serve on the Committee:

Updated: January 9, 2013



On CNN.com today

Molly Blake  and I wrote an opinion piece (though it is completely factual) for CNN.com today about the disaster waiting to happen, and in some cases already happening, should Congress not step up and prevent sequestration. You can read it here.

We couldn’t go into the second and third order effects of sequestration because of space and theme constraints, but there are many. For starters, the economies of military towns will suffer greatly. DoD civilians will be the first to be laid off and many have already been issued furlough notices. Who among us can afford to lose a day’s pay each week? That will be felt by every restaurant, store, car dealership, real estate agent, and so forth and so on. Further, some estimates say that as many as 200,000 active duty troops could be dismissed from service. Aside from that gesture from a seemingly not-so-grateful nation (“Welcome Home. You’re Fired.”) those lay offs will further hurt any businesses located near military towns.

And then on to the third order effects, of which there are many. The non-Defense cuts under sequestration include programs like WIC, and in some areas 30 percent of WIC recipients are in military families. Also on the chopping block? Civilian mental health resources. So, in this, the age of PTSD and TBI plaguing the military community, and school shootings and other acts of inexplicable rage horrifying the nation, we’re actually considering offering LESS help for the mentally ill. God help us all.

It’s a very scary situation, and it’s even worse for those who are deployed now, getting ready to deploy, and for the people who love them. Without a doubt, troops in combat zones this year will have less training and equipment than troops have had in the past. And I just can’t imagine any member of Congress being okay with sending his or her own child or spouse into a situation like that.

A soldier of the 170th U.S. Army Infantry Brigade, returned from Afghanistan, reunites in Germany with his family.