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Gonna buy me a ticket, to the end of the line
Wanna feel the air, breathe the countryside
As long as those wheels keep rollin’, I’ll be satisfied
Gonna ride, ride, ride”

-Robert Earl Keen, “Ride”

Nothing against Sheryl Sandberg, but sometimes you need to Lean Out, or as my friend Lori might say, Lean the fuck out. Or maybe Lori wouldn’t say that at all…I don’t want to put words in her mouth. Anyway…

Sandberg, as only my dog is unaware, is the COO of Facebook and the author of a book called “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”. And, for what it’s worth, I agree with what she says in the book. Or, at least I think I do. I haven’t actually read it. But, if women want to succeed in the workplace, we have to lean into our ambitions.

But what if our ambitions are not in the workplace?

So much has been made about the choice women face between focusing on a career and focusing on raising children, and the miserable tugging one feels when attempting to succeed at both. (A tugging I once heard a working mom describe as, “I’m a piece of meat that’s being fought over by wild dogs,” which sounded about right.) But this debate usually focuses on only two choices among the pantheon of options: workplace or home. And what if we want both, and neither?

I have a career, albeit an unorthodox one. I decided in 2004 that I would never again sit under florescent lights if I could help it, and I’m going on nine florescent-free years now. I love working, which is to say, I love doing work — but I hate riding a clock. I am not lazy, but I am ridiculously selfish with my time. I would much rather work more for less on my own schedule, than work less and earn more, but allow my time to belong to someone else. My personal mission statement? I will work my ass off for you, but I will do it when and where I choose. I want that time to myself so that I can use it for myself, but also so that I will have the time to give  to others. My motives aren’t all greedy. Now, all of that said, I am not my family’s primary wage earner. Far from it. My current situation wouldn’t be possible if I weren’t married to man who earns enough for me to have these options. But, because he’s in the military and gone more often than he’s home, my hybrid life choices actually serve us well.

And so this summer I chose to Lean Out. Way The Fuck Out. In fact, today is Day 31 of my 2013 Lean Out Experiment, also known as a roadtrip, or as I’ve told my kids, Our Great East Coast Adventure.

IMG_8240For 31 days my children and I have traveled, burning up what might have been a monotonous summer. With my husband deployed, we are lacking that nightly “Daddy’s Home!” marker that means a day has ended.

Instead of letting each blistering day blend into the next, we have spent much of this summer touring the eastern seaboard, starting in Florida, moving all the way to Maine and then back down to Florida again. Seeing old friends, making new friends, learning our nation’s history. Eating lots of ice cream. Watching boats be built. Laughing. Picking wild blueberries. Sampling flavors of honey.  Singing with street musicians. Finding common ground.

 

 

Savannah, Ga.

Charleston, SC

Fayetteville, NCIMG_7809

New Bern, NC

Virginia Beach, Va.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Mystic, Conn.

Lincolnville, Maine

Boston, Mass.

New Haven, Conn.

New York, NY

back to Virginia Beach

Oak Island, NC

Wytheville, Va.

Nashville, Tenn.

— These were our stops.

Places chosen because of their historical importance, their beauty, their concentration of people we love or simply because they were there and we were tired.

IMG_8227We splashed in fountains, practiced pirate accents, heard ghost stories, tried to touch the Liberty Bell, collected rocks, pictures of bridges and friends, ogled fake dinosaurs and sat on a hard bench in a 300-year-old-schoolhouse, where we were reprimanded by a stern school master. We learned that sperm whales are called such because they were caught for their sperm.

We ate cheesesteaks, lobsters, crab cakes and Boston cream pie — and lots of pizza, everywhere. We looked for Charles Dickens’ ghost. We walked around a life-sized replica of Stonehenge made entirely out of styrofoam. We got lost on subway lines, many times, and had to ask strangers for directions. Many times. We smiled. We chatted. We hugged. We lingered. We got lost in Yonkers. We discussed the merits of Minecraft with a British school teacher who was on her way to educate second graders in Japan.

IMG_8005We paid too much to fuel up, but got to reminisce about Mike McGill and Stacey Peralta with a middle aged gas station attendant. We had lunch with an old friend we met for the first time. We over-tipped, but heard a waitress from Haiti share dreams of traveling west. A transit officer from Sri Lanka wistfully told of plans to one day retire to Maine. A couple from Minnesota mentioned how anxious they were to get home to see their first grandchild. A mother from New Hampshire admitted that she worries for her son in Afghanistan.

We held hands.

A parking garage attendant from Egypt insisted we take his short cut, which required a trip through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel — and cut almost two hours off our Google Maps time. A man from Honduras allowed that people rarely bother to talk to him.IMG_8045 We laughed with him as he helped us catch tiny fish in nets.

We hiked a lovely mountain in Maine, and were rewarded with a view, a stunning, sweeping, suck-in-your-breath-and-just-look view. We fell in love with three little boys there, and vowed to visit them and their parents every year, one way or another. We explored an island accessible only by boat with its most interesting and knowledgeable resident as our guide. We learned how adult lobsters get caught, and how baby lobsters get free. We ate gourmet cheese and crusty bread while perched on the sort of rocky coastline that doesn’t exist anywhere in the south. We ate more ice cream. Much more ice cream.

We traveled nearly 5,000 miles, for more than a month, and never encountered even one unpleasant person.

We leaned out. Way the fuck out. And it was beautiful.

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It’s National Ketchup Day! But why should you, er, give a squirt?

Well, you probably shouldn’t except that by pure stroke of luck this very first National Ketchup Day also happens to be just days after The Washington Post published this article and this equally incendiary graphic to make the case that military families are over-compensated and coddled. And they used ketchup — namely, that the Camp Lejeune commissary carries 15 brands of that condiment — as proof.

I was in the commissary at Eglin Air Force Base on Monday and snapped this picture. Looks like there’s only six brands here.

ketchupThe story makes the case for doing away with commissaries. But the larger problem with the story and the graphic, the thing that has many of us turning tomato red, is the implication that we are given too much, that we are pampered, that our compensation is somehow too heavy a burden for the country to carry. (Yes, please insert irony here.)

It seems so obvious to us: If our lives are so good, so easy and so privileged, why isn’t everybody signing up? And yet The Washington Post story doesn’t even address that.

Perhaps most maddeningly, the graphic states our military salaries have risen 90 percent since 2001 (wonder what happened that year?) but DOESN’T EVEN MENTION THAT TROOPS WERE DEPLOYED INTO HEAVY COMBAT FOR ALL OF THOSE YEARS —AND STILL ARE. In other words, that troops drew extra pay for being gone and being in danger and that the Department of Defense had to find some way to attract people to dangerous work that requires long absences from home. The story says enlisted service members now earn more (the horror!) than many civilians with two years of college, but doesn’t mention that service members as a whole are far better educated than civilians as a whole.

(So for those doing the math, that means the Post was comparing civilians with two-year degrees to service members with likely the same or better degrees, and with multiple years of service, and in an in-demand field, and deployed into combat for as much as a year at a time, but was SURPRISED to find that service members earn about the same when, presumably, the Post believes they should earn a lot less. Hmm, snobby much, WaPo?)

And, of course, the story also doesn’t mention the other ‘casualties’ of military life. Things like the fact that most of us live off only one income because frequent moves and frequent deployments (i.e, single parenting) make it all but impossible for military spouses to find and keep jobs and that very few of us live near relatives, meaning we have to pay a premium for child care. The story does mention our ‘subsidized’ daycares, but doesn’t note that for many of us the cost of sending our kids to a military daycare is no less than the cost of using a civilian-run one, and in some cases the military ones cost us more. Or that the vast majority of us don’t live on military installations, and so using those ‘subsidized’ child care centers is highly impractical.

But how would The Washington Post have known those things? That’s all insider information. You’d have to live this life, or be close to people who do, or (gasp!) interview a few of us to really understand those things — and I’d bet a 32-ounce bottle of Heinz there aren’t many in The Post’s newsroom who’ve ever taken an oath to serve. (And, eek!, talk to us? … we couldn’t expect the Post to do that… our lower class-ness might be contagious… but, tell you what, you bring the notepad and I’ll supply the hand sanitizer, WaPo — After all, I get it at “near wholesale prices” at the Commissary…)

Still, it’s National Ketchup Day! And you need some ketchup-y fun. So here’s a factoid:

* Didja know that during World War II ketchup was sometimes made from bananas as there was a shortage of tomatoes (and pretty much everything else)? And during World War II ketchup was one of many food items subject to rationing. (Rationing, for those who don’t know, was the process of only allowing people to buy a limited number of in-short-supply items so that troops fighting the war would have everything they needed. The government decided to ‘ration’ these items rather than just let the prices go up because they wanted all Americans to feel the pain of war equally. The novelty…Can you imagine?

*And speaking of World War II, didja know that just after the war about half of the graduating classes of Princeton and Harvard entered military service for a tour of duty? Today, less than one percent do. I don’t have a link for that because I got that from a book written by the prophets Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer, a book called “AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service — and How It Hurts Our Country.”

(Okay, so Kathy and Frank aren’t really prophets, but the book — published in 2006 — seems downright prophetic now. Also in that book: The draft was created during World War I because SO MANY sons from America’s elite families were volunteering to fight — and die —  that leaders worried there would be no one left to lead the country after the war.)

The main point of the book is that so long as those in America’s upper classes continue to believe that military service is only for the less fortunate, the gap between the civilian and military populations will continue to widen, and that gap is bad for the military and bad for the country. (The gap, by the way, is the ugliest form of NIMBY-ism imaginable, as it justifies letting those deemed less fortunate do the harshest, most dangerous and most deadly work for those more fortunate.)

But even Kathy and Frank didn’t predict the ugliness we’re seeing now: that when the fighting and dying seemed to be, er, dying down, the most fortunate would look for ways to duck out on the bill …Why, that would be like waiting until AFTER your immigrant maid sanitized your toilet to tell her you were docking her pay…

But that’s exactly the kind of thinking The Washington Post seems to be advocating. With several thousand words of prime newshole, The Post tells its readers: “Why are we paying them so much? They’re supposed to be LESS than us.”

Sigh… well, since those in The Post’s ivory tower newsroom covet our ketchup so much, I say, LET THEM EAT KETCHUP! In fact, I say, let’s give them some ketchup. Mail your bottles, jugs, packets or even just coupons (I sent 114 ounces of tomato-ey goodness) to:

Rajiv Chandrasekaran
1150 15th Street, NW,
c/o The Washington Post Company
Washington, DC 20071

And take to Twitter to send your tweets and ketchup pics. @rajivwashpost and @washingtonpost #ketchupgate #LavishMilFamCondiments

 

 

 

I don’t blog much anymore. That’s not an accident or an oversight. There’s a three-syllable reason for it: I’m-bit-ter.

I started blogging about military family life way back in 2006. This little blog turned 7 last month and, like most 7-year-olds, simple words are no longer enough. I’ve written hundreds of unchallenging, light-hearted posts about the oh-so-funny aspects of military life: the acronyms, how civilians don’t ‘get’ us, the Murphy’s Law-stuff that happens during a deployment. These posts were fun to write and, I’m told, fun to read.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my husband’s 9th deployment: it all stopped being funny.

Sure, it was cute and fresh in the early days of my military marriage, which also happened to be the early days of this, the longest war in our nation’s history. But it stopped being cute when the number of my friends now permanently residing in Arlington kept growing. The amusement disappeared when prosthetics became a common sight. It stopped being fresh when I realized that I don’t know most of the other wives anymore because so many of them are the second — or third — wives. It stopped being amusing when the children in my community — kids who have sacrificed their very childhoods for this once-great nation — couldn’t get the resources they need to keep up, and it seemed that America was demanding they sacrifice their future potential, too.

I can actually mark the exact moment when the novelty wore off, when I began to really doubt my choice to participate in this challenging lifestyle. It wasn’t during yet-another memorial service, yet-another deployment, or while attempting to talk yet-another military wife out of suicide. For me, the novelty wore off in March 2011, when it looked certain that service members would not receive paychecks because of a likely government shut-down. I remember standing in the checkout at the Commissary and seeing a story in the Army Times by the cash register about what soldiers could do to survive at home if and when they didn’t get paid. The betrayal was standing there with me, beside me, as real and as palpable as an impatient shopper.  That’s when I realized that America doesn’t — pardon my language — give one flying fuck about us. And that’s when every difficult aspect of military life began to seem not like a gift I was happily giving to a grateful nation, but like another piece of me that was being gobbled up by an entitled, enabled, ungrateful, addicted monster.

Since March 2011 it’s only gotten worse. My military community has been kept dangling over a fiery lake of burning threats by Congressional leaders and a President more concerned with defeating the other party than with upholding the sacred agreement they entered into with the greatest group of patriots this nation has ever known.  They throw us scraps in the form of speeches and do-nothing committees, but we know better now: We are soldiers in the hands of an angry government. Except — except it’s all a game to our political leaders, and we are the pawns — the disabled, disaffected and increasingly divorced pawns.

As I wrote to my Congressman a few months ago when Congress sat back and allowed our nation to careen into Sequestration: “Military life is hard, but we signed up for ‘hard.’ It’s challenging, but we signed up for ‘challenging’ … We accept all of these hardships and challenges willingly. What we did not sign up for was our nation breaking its promises to active duty, veterans and military families in the name of politics. These cuts will not be ‘painful’ as you say. They will be MURDER.”

My niece graduates from high school this week and in the coming years several of my nephews will, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I would encourage any of them to join the military lifestyle, as either service members or as spouses. A few years ago I would have said, unequivocally, yes. Even as two wars waged, casualties mounted and the fighting seemed endless. Even as I, literally, wore holes in my funeral dresses — it was a lifestyle I would have recommended. Because it was worth it. The mission was worth it and the other people in the military community were — and are — worth it.

But the nation? Not so much. Not anymore.

So here it is now, Memorial Day weekend, those three days each year devoted to grilling, parties, furniture sales and, oh yeah, dead troops. I’ll be thinking about all the incredible people I’ve known who rucked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, knowing that the sacrifices they made — the ultimate sacrifices — were absolutely worth it for the mission and for those on their lefts and their rights. But worth it for the country? Not even close. This country didn’t deserve them.

“Shit, girl, I know, I got a red fox and that sumbitch is always escaping.”

(Can I just say that most days I love Florida, but some days I realllllllly love Florida.)

The woman who said that had to say some variation of that same sentence four times before it dawned on me that she meant she had a red fox as a pet. And that her pet red fox was always escaping. And when I finally realized that that’s what she meant, all I could think was, “Well, duh, it’s a fox,” but not, “Who the hell has a fox as a pet?”

 

Because I’m from the South. And we will domesticate anything.

First, though, I should explain that this conversation took place yesterday, on the playground of the Presbyterian church about a quarter mile from my house. My dog Hank, a yellow lab — a very much domesticated breed of actual pet — had again escaped because, well, duh, that’s what Hanks do. This time Hank made it to the Presbyterian church where the friendly neighborhood fox owner/preschool teacher corralled him onto the playground because it was fenced in, and then called me to come get him because my number is on his collar.

But sitting here now, mulling over that exchange, I got to thinking: why are Southerners so eager to bring the outside, in?

When I was growing up in Nashville my guitar teacher (because everyone in Nashville has a guitar teacher)  had a flying squirrel he had “tamed”. (in quotation marks because that thing was anything but tame.) He kept it in a drawer when students were there for lessons, but sometimes he opened the drawer and, as you might expect, the pissed off flying squirrel would, well, fly.

 

It was awesome.

A few years ago my husband and I were at a gun show in Fayetteville, NC (I know, I know, a gun show…what did we expect?) and we were talking to an exhibitor about dogs. We had just gotten Hank and in those days we talked about dogs to anyone who seemed even mildly interested. We should have guessed by the airbrushed image of the Indian chief, in front of a dream catcher, backlit with moonlight, on her t-shirt that she wasn’t likely to own, oh, say, a Jack Russell. But as she told us about her dog’s remarkable hunting and guarding abilities and how important security was up in the mountains where she lived in a house “off the grid” (said with great pride) we broke down and asked what breed her dog was.

“A wolf.”

We waited for more then finally asked. “A real wolf?”

Turns out she found him as a puppy and kept him.

 

Which shouldn’t have surprised my husband as much as it did. For years I’d heard him talk about the freakishly large, freakishly aggressive, pointy-eared cat his grandmother in Virginia used to have. When I finally saw a picture of the “cat” it all made sense.

It was a bobcat.

“He liked her, but he didn’t like anyone else,” was all my husband said, shrugging, as he looked at the picture with fresh eyes and found that he agreed with my breed classification. Which, by the way, puts his grandmother almost on par with the guy in NC who uttered the greatest sentence I’ve ever heard: “I got this here baby tiger at bike week in Daytona.”

There is so much right — and wrong — with that.

All of which brings me to the greatest what-were-you-thinking exotic animal story I’ve ever heard. My friend Valerie, who grew up in Jackson, Tenn., recently told the story of her sister Vicky and a pet cougar named Tico:

“Vicky was in high school and her boyfriend got her the baby cougar as a gift,” Valerie said matter-of-factly, as if everyone gives their high school girlfriend a deadly feline as a token of affection, “but Mama said she didn’t want that cougar in the house and wouldn’t let Vicky bring him inside.” (Logical.)

“So Vicky took Tico everywhere with her, but she had to leave him in her [Mazda] 626 when she worked her shift at Walmart, and Tico would get so pissed!” 

(Okay… pet cougar… locked in a car … in the Walmart parking lot… who wouldn’t pay to see that? )

 

“Tico shredded that 626 so bad and eventually he got so big Vicky couldn’t keep him anymore and so she gave him back to her boyfriend.

(Who did what with him? We don’t know. Maybe he took him to bike week in Daytona.)

 

 

 

2013 Parenting:

6 a.m. Wake-up

6:17  Hit snooze for the second time

6:30 Get up, make bed, let the dog out, make the coffee, wake the kids

6:36 Scream upstairs “If you don’t get out of bed now you’re going to be late and miss the bus! And I do NOT want to drag everybody out of the house just to drive you to school!”

6:45 Pour the cereal. Pretend it’s nutritious. Deliver silent self-lecture on how eating cereal with milk is no worse, and probably way-better, than something totally unhealthy like Toaster Strudel. Give the kids vitamins as a back up measure. Remind self to buy kid version of fish oil to add to their regimen.

7 – 7:37 Walk in circles around the living room, alternately yelling at kids to “hurry up!” and “put on your shoes!” Add in three extra laps while trying to remember what I was walking to get in the first place.

7:38. Crap. Totally forgot to let the dog back in. He’s not in the yard. Must have jumped the fence. Again.

7:47 Walk with kids to the bus stop, two minutes late. Again. Spy the dog in the distance, running in circles on a neighbor’s lawn. Reason that he must have learned that trick from me. Debate whether to a) go with the kids to get the dog and risk missing the bus; b) leave some or all the kids at the bus stop and run for the dog, risking them being kidnapped or hit by a car(s); or c) wait for the bus and hope the dog stays put or finds his own way home. Opt for c. He doesn’t stay put. Silently hope that he doesn’t find his own way home.

8 Turn on “Oscar’s Oasis” for the preschooler and put the baby in her “cage”. Turn on my computer and check Facebook. Recall that once upon a time I had dreams and goals but am too tired to remember them, much less care. Play “Gems with Friends” on my phone instead.

8:12 Notice that I have 43 emails alerting me to LinkedIn connections and endorsements. Vow to figure out how LinkedIn works. Tomorrow. Perhaps that’s the key to making this work-at-home thing profitable.

8:17 Read an article about how tween girls are bullying each other on Instagram. Now I have to figure out Instagram, too, including learning that the cool kids just call it “Insta.” Post the article to Facebook.

8:27 According to friends’ comments on my Facebook Instagram story post, predators are stalking kids who play online video games (like Gems? NO!!!) and using social media like Facebook (duh), Twitter (that’s still around?), Pinterest (thought that was just for craft projects…what’s next, Etsy?), Tumblr (huh?), Reddit (wha?), GooglePlus (that took off?) and MySpace (WTH – MySpace? I have to worry about Facebook’s trashy cousin again?) to meet and groom kids… Sidebar: start wondering why anyone needs StumbleUpon? Stumbling upon things is the easiest thing to do online without help… My friends recommend keeping track of all of my kids’ accounts and passwords and monitoring these daily, if not hourly. A few even reference the violence in video games and how it causes sociopathic behavior. They say that kids should never be allowed to play video games without a parent watching. (What?!! Well, then what is the point of video games?!!)

8:43 Eye the liquor cabinet and wonder if it’s too early for a cocktail. Maybe one with coffee in it? I’ve had LinkedIn and Twitter accounts since 2009 and still haven’t made time to monitor MY OWN feeds. I don’t even know MY OWN passwords. Realize that there’s no way I’ll ever remember those long-buried dreams if I’m up to my earlobes in under-age Insta feeds.

9:05 Click on Pinterest to look for a crock pot recipe. Am re-directed to a galaxy, nay, a universe, of mommy-blogs. Wonder who in the hell has time to photograph a sage-rubbed roasted chicken with all this newsfeed stalking (and, um, parenting) we’re supposed to be doing?

9:37 Have finally cleared the inboxes for my seven (why?!) email accounts. 236 messages (in addition to the LinkedIn alerts) have come in since 11 p.m. 222 are advertisements from companies I’ve bought something from in the past. Seven are newsletters from charities I’ve donated to. Four are related to the kids activities. Three are actual, honest-to-God, missives from actual honest-to-God people. Remind self to unsubscribe from all these mailing lists. Attempt to do so but 12 minutes and 2 successful unsubscriptions later, quit. Maybe if I just start a new email address I can ignore these accounts…

10 Google various therapeutic programs I’ve been meaning to research for the kids. Horseback riding, scouting, karate, swimming…  Realize that every kid needs therapy today because every kid has been diagnosed with a condition. When I was a kid we called these therapy sessions “lessons” and “sports” and we called the conditions “weird”, “annoying”, “energetic” and “rude”.

10:15 Put the baby down for her nap. Thank God. She was making me feel guilty with all that quiet play she was doing in her cage.

10:32 Phone rings. Lady says she has my dog. Consider asking her to keep him… Get the baby up, put the kids in the car, go get the dog.

11:30 It’s too late to make up the missed nap. Lunchtime!

12 Try to keep the baby awake for just a little bit longer by playing “crawl parade” on the floor with both girls. Crawl parade is hell on the knees. And boring. The girls love it.

12:17 Still crawling. Maybe this will be the next exercise craze. Maybe next year Beyonce will release an exercise video called “Crawling Back to Sexy” or something. It could be like hula hooping. Reflect on the posse of overweight ladies I saw hula hooping on the sidewalk last week. They would look no more ridiculous crawling.

12:19 The TruGreen guy is looking in the window. Watching. How long has he been there? Put the preschooler at the table with a coloring book and lay the baby down for a nap before answering the door.

12:43 Am now a TruGreen customer. Not really sure what TruGreen is, just wanted the pushy salesman to go away. Google TruGreen. It’s pesticides. Realize that pesticides on my lawn don’t really mesh with my commitment to eat organic this year. Vow to cancel TruGreen. Decide to blame it on the hubs in order to spare myself the last ditch “don’t cancel” sales pitch.

1:04 Back to the computer to do some worky-work, as opposed to mommy-wifey-work.

1:30 Still haven’t put anything in the crock pot. There’s still time if we eat late and use the “high” setting. Look at JustaPinch.com and Recipe.com, then decide to use the tablet because it’s more portable. Browse the Epicurious and Cook’s Illustrated apps for recipes.

2:30 Crap. Got lost in a world of electronic recipes and phone calls from doctors’ offices. Throw some chicken breasts, potatoes, onions and carrots into the crock pot, make a wish, and hope the crock pot will work its magic. Toss in garlic salt as an afterthought. Wonder if the garlic salt contains iodized or sea salt. Briefly consider if any of the veggies are on the “Dirty Dozen” list of things to always buy organic. Glance at the massive size of the chicken breasts on top of the veggies and guiltily recall the “Food, Inc.” documentary. Consider building a chicken coop and raising chickens in my own backyard. Remind self to call TruGreen and cancel. No point raising chickens on chemically-treated grass.

2: 39 Ugh. Realize that if I raise my own chickens for meat then I’ll have to slaughter, pluck and disembowel them, too. Google “slaughter chicken.” Vomit in mouth. Decide that steep price for organic chicken is really not so steep.

2:47 Google “pest control”. What use is going organic and chemical-free inside my home if I’m paying Terminix to spray the outside. Maybe I should cancel Terminix, too? Still haven’t called TruGreen…

3 Who knew you could kill ants with Borax? Damn you, Pinterest! I’m sucked in again!

3:23 Child #1 is home from school, soaked. Wants to know why I didn’t pick him up from the bus stop. Doesn’t understand when I explain that I was busy saving our family from pesticides and hormones.

3:47 Homework is hell — on me. His meds have worn off and the privacy cubicle we erected as a homework station has only peaked his little sister’s curiousity. She keeps whining that she wants a cubicle, too. Fine, let her think that. Twenty years from now when she’s working under florescent lights in a room filled with softly playing radios and cat meme screensavers she won’t want that cubicle so much, I think.

4 Recall something about lost dreams. Start walking circles in the living room. At least the chicken in the crock pot smells good.

4:13 Yell at kids to get their cleats and shin guards on for soccer, er, therapy. Yell, “If you don’t get in the car right now you’ll both be late!”

4:32 Realize, five minutes away from the soccer field, that today is my day to be “snack mom” and I have brought no snacks. Give self silent lecture on how ridiculous it is for parents to sign kids up for sports/therapy so that our little fatties will burn 220 calories and then we fill them with 550 calories worth of Rice Krispies Treats and Gatorade. Decide to pretend I didn’t know it was my turn. Aren’t these kids all about to eat dinner, anyway?

5:25 Home for the nighttime rush: dinner, more homework, baths and bed… and then it all begins again tomorrow.

Lean in? Lean in?!! — I just wanna lie down.

03. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

Whew! It’s been a crazy-fun time in el globo de Sanderlin. I’m not sure if that actually means anything in Spanish, but it sounds right to me. I just got back from a family trip to Costa Rica and while I was gone this essay I wrote appeared on the New York Times’ At War blog.

You can read my response to the Huffington Post story about how the military has been “lavished” with money lately, here:

http://www.bluestarfam.org/blog/view/context-is-critical

 

Blue Star Families Logo

 

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.

 

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.

…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.)