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.


Shut the Front Door

It happened the other day.

I was at a get together with a bunch of other families. Kids running everywhere, people chatting, you know the drill. Anyway, Lucy, my almost 5-month-old baby, got hungry and I went to make her a bottle.

A dad was in the kitchen as I was making the bottle and he quipped, “Did you hear about what they’re doing in New York with the formula?” and a whole breastfeeding/formula feeding conversation ensued. He wasn’t criticizing me for giving her formula, nothing like that, but I still found myself getting defensive. “Well, I’m still breastfeeding,” I said. “I just supplement with formula. You see, I started feeding her rice cereal a couple of weeks ago and my milk supply has been dropping ever since. This happened with my other kids, too. I mean, I still pump all the time and I nurse her as much as I can to try and build my supply back up again, I’ve even tried Brewer’s Yeast,  but…” And on and on I went. It’s like I was reciting Chapter 10 of “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”.

The poor guy didn’t know what had hit him.

As the mother of an infant during The Great Formula Feeding Debate of 2012, every mother’s every feeding decision has become some kind of political stance. Worse, our culture can’t seem to decide what to think about breastfeeding. If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a bad mom. But if you do it in public, you’re an exhibitionist. (Which, I guess, means that society has decided what to think: Mothers shouldn’t leave the house until their babies are at least one year old.)  Just weeks earlier I had felt obliged to hide out in bathrooms and cars to nurse Lucy while out in public. It was either that or subject the poor kid to having a blanket over her face on a 100 degree day. I’ve probably wasted gallons of gas sitting in a running car while Lucy took her sweet time suckling. Fortunately, there’s a DVD player for the two older kids, who also often had to hide out with me.

(I suppose I’m part of the problem. I’m no prude, but I don’t like the idea of just letting it all hang out, and I definitely don’t like the looks I get when I do nurse in public. I mean, I went to Mardi Gras — twice — in my early 20’s and managed to never show my tits, so I’m certainly not going to do it now…  in Walmart … after nursing three babies … when no one is offering beads.)

And then this week the whole” legitimate” rape/abortion thing hit the news. All of a sudden people — ahem, men — were everywhere talking about what women should do with our uteruses. (uterii?) First the boobs, now the uteruses. It all makes me long for Victorian times. I can’t imagine a politician back then getting up on a stump to discuss women’s private parts.

I get it — as mothers it’s not just about us. We are blessed to carry these precious lives inside of us and we have the beautiful opportunity to feed them nature’s most perfect food. We are tasked with providing for another life, a truly remarkable privilege. In fact, it’s all a misty, watercolor, Hallmark card … until you’re bedridden with preeclampsia, or in your 30th hour of labor, or the doc forgets to give you something for the pain before he stitches up your hoo-ha, or your nipples are so sore, cracked and bleeding that every time the baby eats she looks like Dracula after a kill. (All things I have personal experience with, btw.)

My point? Motherhood is intensely personal and often intensely painful. So people — ahem, men — need to shut the eff up.

Let’s try this, ladies: The next time some guy wants to talk pregnancy, abortion or breastfeeding with us, let’s turn the tables on him. “How’s your scrotum?” we should ask. “Are you wearing boxers or briefs? You know, tighty whities aren’t good for the boys — too constricting. And do you masturbate? Daily? Doing so helps prevent prostate cancer, you know…” Or perhaps the even more personal, “How much time do you spend with the children you’ve made?”