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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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I’m not a monster. If anything, I’m usually an over-empathizer. I hear about someone else’s bad times and I immediately feel their pain, imagine myself in their shoes, and start emoting. So Friday, when the news broke about the Sandy Hook Elementary nightmare — about all those innocent babies being killed for no reason at all — I was shocked. I was transfixed by the news footage. I was outraged. I was disgusted. And I was so very grateful for my own children’s safety. I gathered my daughters in the room with me and kept them directly in my sight for so long that poor Lucy took her afternoon nap in her high chair. My son’s school bus couldn’t bring him home fast enough, and I greeted him at the door with a bear hug when it did.

And then my life went on.

We cleaned out the garage, hung Christmas lights and ran errands on Saturday and on Sunday we all went to the beach, as a family. I hadn’t forgotten the tremendous pain being felt in Connecticut. And it certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care. But it wasn’t happening in my life and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. So I just. kept. moving.

I read a news story yesterday where a woman in Newtown, Conn. was interviewed about all the community there is going through and she somewhat angrily wondered if the rest of America really understood or if everyone else had just gone back to life as usual.

That was a sentiment I could understand. For 10 years now I’ve been smack dab in the middle of the community fighting America’s longest war and I’ve written, literally, thousands of words pleading with the rest of the country to notice us; to notice our deaths, our widows, our maimed warriors, our damaged children, our broken homes, our suicides, and now, our budget cut fears. And, of course, millions of Americans have noticed, helped and shown support. But deep into survival mode I, like that woman in Newtown, could only see all that was crumbling around me, and those gestures and kind words from others weren’t enough — not when faced with the stupidity of pop culture and the ridiculousness of what passed for news. Drowning in a 24-hour-news cycle of Snookie, Kardashians and political sex scandals, it seemed like the rest of the country had no stomach for, nor interest in, all that was being destroyed and sacrificed in my world.

So, to that lady in Newtown, I’d like to say, “I get it. Maybe not like you get it, but I do care. We all do. We want to help but we don’t know what to do, so we just keep moving. You are in our hearts, our thoughts  and our prayers because we don’t know how else to help. But your deaths are our deaths, your pain is our pain, your heroes are our heroes. We hug our babies and we think of yours. We drive by our schools and we think of Sandy Hook. We are all with you.”

And I can’t help but think that during all these awful years of war there have been many Americans who read my words and wanted to say the same things to me.