Lean Out


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.


On CNN.com today

Here’s a link to my opinion piece on CNN.com today. Check it out.

12:45 Update: So the CNN commentary seems to be turning into something that would make for fascinating fodder for a psychology class. People really do bring their own perceptions to everything they encounter. The vast majority of the comments on the CNN site are from people who were offended by what I wrote because of their own direct connections to the Iraq War. They seemed to take from the commentary that I believe Iraq to be a less noble war than Afghanistan, when not only did I NOT say that in the commentary, I actually said just the OPPOSITE. In fact, in the 3rd paragraph — very near the top of the piece — I say this:

“…my reasoning has nothing to do with the actual fighting that took place there. I am grateful because, to many Americans, Afghanistan is still the “good” war, the one we had to fight. Iraq was the war that many never understood nor supported.”

This is sad on so many levels. Personally, it’s frustrating to be completely misunderstood when I think I stated clearly, early on and repeatedly in the commentary that I don’t see any difference between the fighting that has taken place in the two countries and that I’m grateful my husband served in Afghanistan (and not Iraq) because it means we won’t have to suffer the comments of the fools who want to mouth off on the Iraq war. But the commentary being so misconstrued is sad for me on a larger scale because it means that  there are so many veterans and military family members who expect to see their service disparaged that they instantly jump to that conclusion.

So, if you’ve clicked through from the CNN piece because you’re just mad as hell at me and want to sound off some more, please read the commentary again and consider the actual words it contains before doing so.

10 p.m. Update – At this point I would like to offer my very sincere apologies to those who have served in Iraq or whose loved ones served there — and most especially to the surviving spouses of troops killed there — for any offense this commentary caused. It was never my intent to offend you guys, in fact, my intent was simply to inform people that the “what a waste” type comments are hurtful. To think that I have hurt in you in trying to put out that message is distressing to say the least.

Right now I am attempting to circulate this apology among the Gold Star community and I hope that any of you reading this will cut and paste it and pass it on to friends you may have in that community:
Dear Surviving Spouses & Gold Star Family members – I hope that you will accept this apology and know that I would apologize to each of you individually if I could. I am very sorry if any of you believed that I was implying in the CNN.com piece I wrote that there was something less noble or honorable about serving in Iraq than serving in Afghanistan. That is not my belief and certainly not the message I had hoped to convey. Rather, the point of that commentary was to say that, because of the media coverage and public opinion surrounding the Iraq War, people sometimes now make ignorant comments about Iraq to military family members. As the wife of an Afghanistan veteran, I am grateful that they don’t say those things to me. Apparently I failed as a writer in conveying this point and I am sincerely sorry for any grief I may have caused any of you.

Very Sincerely,
Rebekah Sanderlin


In addition to the apology, I’d also like to say that this has been such an unexpected experience and I’ve spent most of the day talking with friends about how this commentary has been received. The response from readers, from what I’ve received in emails and comments here and elsewhere on the web, has been about 50-50, with 50 percent being totally offended and 50 percent thanking me for writing the piece. I’ve never written anything that received such a mixed response, and certainly not on such extremes, so I’ve been trying to figure out how it is that so many people can read the same words and yet have such different — but still very intense — reactions.

I have also been amazed at how many readers who say they were offended by it also say that they have never had anyone speak to them negatively about the Iraq War. This blows my mind. I hear those “what a waste” type comments about Iraq almost every week, and that’s why I was motivated to write this piece. I actually moved back to my military town from my hometown during a deployment a few years ago largely because those comments became too much for me to bear. (And, for what it’s worth, my home town is in a “Red State”!)

Readers who are themselves civilians (and by that I mean that they have no direct connection to the military — for these purposes I’m going to group military family members in with troops themselves) have written to say that they appreciate the commentary and do not understand why it has caused such a stir. Likewise, I’ve heard from a number of readers who used to be active duty or married to someone on active duty but now live in civilian areas who have said that they really appreciate the sentiments I expressed in the commentary. Almost without exception the critical responses have come from those who are OIF veterans, married to OIF veterans or who lost a loved one in Iraq. While it absolutely breaks my heart to have so offended the very people I consider to be part of my own military family, it also tells me that a lot of people in military communities do not realize what is said about the war in civilian communities. This is scary. Civilians elect Congress and Congress dictates both the military budget and where and when our troops go to war. I’ve written a lot these past years about the military/civilian divide and I suspect that this is one more example of how our military communities are becoming islands.

Please — and I’m speaking now especially to those of you in the military community — know that if I had only intended with this commentary to speak to other military family members, I would have written the commentary here, on my own blog. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have written it all as there’s no need to tell you all that talking bad about the Iraq war is hurtful to those who’ve sacrificed there. You don’t need to be told that — you already know that. Instead, I wrote that piece for CNN because I wanted to reach a wider audience — I wanted to reach the very  people who make those comments. And they do make them, whether we want to accept it or not.

Finally, and this is a fairly minor, technical, point, but I used quotation marks in the commentary around the word good (in the sentence that describes Afghanistan as a “good” war) because I was quoting those who call it that, not because I think that myself. I do not see either front in the war as being “good” or “bad”.

Again, I am sorry for any hurt that I may have caused you, but I do ask again that you read the commentary and the words in it and judge it, and me, based on what I actually said — and not what you perceived that I meant.

Many thanks to all of you who have taken your time to comment here and elsewhere on the web and to email me. Though a lot of what you said has been quite stinging (and not all of it constructive), I do appreciate that you have shared your time and thoughts with me.