From the mouths of babes

My kiddos, CJ, age 11, and J, age 15, and I had an honest conversation. I asked them questions without prompting and here is what they think of their mom.

Me: What is something I say a lot?
CJ: Yes, I love you.     J: Damn it.

Me: What makes me happy?
CJ: Me     J: Scottish men

Me: What makes me sad?
CJ: When I’m gone     J: School

Me: How tall am I?
CJ: 5’4″     J: 5’4.5″

Me: What’s my favorite thing to do?
CJ: Binge Hallmark Movies     J: Look at kilted men on the internet

Me: What is my favorite food?
CJ: Eggs     J: bread

Me: What is my favorite drink?
CJ: Water     J: Wine

Me: If I could go anywhere, where would it be?
CJ and J: Scotland

Me: Do you think you could live without me?
CJ and J: No

Me: How do I annoy you?
CJ: I don’t know that I want to roast you, Mom
J: By insisting you’re 5’4.5″

Me: What is my favorite TV show?
CJ: Big bang theory      J: Scottish porn (Outlander)

Me: What is my favorite music to listen to?
CJ and J: Classical music

Me: What is my job?
CJ and J: Teach ESL

Me: How old am I?
CJ and J: 38

Me: What’s my favorite color?
CJ and J: Blue

Me: How much do you love me?
CJ: More than the sky     J: (hides in closet)

So We Ran

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I found her lying on the cracked linoleum floor, soaked in a pool of her own blood. The door thrashed on its hinges as the wind whipped through the tiny kitchen to blow the papers she had stacked with painstaking precision around the room. A blizzard of fluttering white swarmed my mother, the rarest of winter roses, who blossomed beneath the papers’ hurried flight, her body blooming in vibrant, rich pools encircling the fragile remains of her broken shell. 

Her eyes were still open, and her pupils dilated until the irises were nothing more than brown rims around fathomless black pools. Fear hung heavy on the air, its metallic tang fueling my own anxiety until an erratic thrum pounded through my veins, urging me to flee.

I knelt beside her and took her hand. Her eyes rolled in her head, but my whispered “Mama?” focused her gaze on me. She squeezed me hand and whispered, “Run,” then took a shuddering breath, a wispy fragment of remembered humanity, and died. 

I took the stairs two at a time, woke my younger sister, grabbed our emergency packs we stored underneath our beds and fled into the enveloping darkness. 

We ran. We ran through the night, past towering pines and over beds of fragrant sweet grass. No one who followed would notice the path of our hurried flight. We were surefooted and silent as does. Even the animals  avoided us, perhaps because we still smelled of fear and grief, so we ran unhindered farther and farther into the forest. The dense foliage hid us from circling helicopters, their angry buzz becoming less incessant the deeper we ran. Even the search dogs’ barking grew fainter, their scenting abilities confused by our masked scent. Day after day, we ran.

At least with our feet in motion flying across the fragrant forest floor, we could pretend for just a little bit longer she hadn’t died. We could imagine a childhood free from paranoia, locked doors, furtive whispers and from hiding in plain sight. We could convince ourselves she had been a normal mother who taught us to bake instead of how to load and shoot a weapon in less than a minute, or that family trips had been to the mall and not survival training deep in the wilderness. That photos on the wall were of family members and loved ones, not a complicated web of key government officials and their biographies she had forced us to remember.  While running, we could pretend her mania had been the over protective instincts of a single mom and not symptoms of a deeper disturbance.

Because to stop running was to give up hope. It was admitting the monsters she had warned us about weren’t real, a truth more frightening than the evil who trailed us even now.

Running held back fear. Running kept us alive. It was the only thing we knew how to do.

So we ran. 

(C) Sara Ackerman, 2017

10 Lessons in 10 Years

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Today I celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary. When I see that number on the screen, I think, “Wow, it’s only been 10 years?” Because it feels like I’ve known my husband forever.  I can’t help but get nostalgic remembering our younger selves, our eagerness at setting up house, those early fights as we adjusted to living together, our joys, our sorrows. In honor of my anniversary, here are 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Marriage.

  1. Be willing to compromise. And then gradually move all his stuff to the basement. It’s sneaky, I know, but is his commemorative bobble head of Wayne Gretsky (or whomever is hot in sports right now) going to go with your carefully coordinated oasis of muted blues and soothing browns? I think not. When he asks, you can always say the plastic bobbing head and its gap-toothed grin gave you nightmares.
  2. Timing is everything. Don’t tell your husband you’re pregnant after returning home from the ER at 3 in the morning. Just don’t. You won’t get the reaction you had hoped for, and there’ll be hard feelings all around. Wait until he’s conscious and has had his first cup of coffee. It’ll still be a shock, but at least he won’t stare at you blankly and then roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. Listen. Be prepared to hear about all the indignities he suffered with the children. Your indignities pale in comparison to the horrors he’ll experience as a new father. Never mind what your children did to your body, no. Hand a naked baby to your husband and then have your little bundle poop all over him, well, you’ll never hear the end of it.
  4. Make time for each other. We go out by ourselves at least once a month. If our parents can’t watch the children, we hire someone who we’ve thoroughly researched to care for our angels. Alright! Let’s be honest. There were days we’d have let rabid wolves watch the kids just for an hour of two of peace, days when we kicked the kids out of the car at grandma’s curb and kept rolling as our tires squealed down the street.
  5. Take plenty of naps. Or whatever you want to call it. We tell the children we’re tired and going to take a nap. Some parents say they have to pay bills or fold laundry. Others say they are going to be on the phone with Santa, so they’d better be good and leave them alone. Who am I kidding? That’s us. We’ve used all those excuses (and more) to carve out some time for intimacy. It’s important. Do what you must to ensure it happens.
  6. Lock your door. See number 5. Saying you’ll be on the phone with Santa is too big a temptation, and little ones get curious. Enough said.
  7.  Guilt has no place in a marriage.  Those early days in our marriage,  my husband picked up a lot of slack as I ran between meetings, classes and rehearsals. There were times  I felt guilty for leaving him alone with a four year old and a newborn, but the guilt fades each summer I’m off of work and home with them for three months.  Do you know how many hours that is over 13 years? Neither do I because all of my cognitive functions have been turned to mush after being home with them for all that time. SAHM, I don’t know how you do it, but bless you.
  8. Laugh with each other. Married life is tough enough but without a sense of humor, you won’t be able to stop yourself from strangling him when he retells the story about how the deadly combination of frozen car windows and a bout of your flatulence nearly killed him and the kids on the highway. For the last time, I had a stomach bug! You don’t smell all rosy when you’re sick, and no, the baby wasn’t sick when she pooped on you either. Baby poop looks like that. They poop all the time! She’s nine, now, so let it go!
  9. Make plans for the future. Right now our plans include what we’d want brought to us in prison if the teenager mouths off at us again and one of us snaps. Hey, it keeps us grounded, and thanks to episodes of Orange is the New Black, we’ve got a good idea of what to ask for. (Calm down, all you Nervous Nellies. We love our eldest and would never harm her. But seriously, which do you think would be better in her old room: a home gym or a writing lair?)
  10. Say “I love you” at least once a day. Usually one of us grunts it as we fall into bed after a long day of working and taking care of the children. As we roll onto our backs and stare into the darkness, our hands clutched together in sheer exhaustion, it’s comforting to know we have each other as we face a new day.

Happy Anniversary, darling! Lets hope the next ten go more slowly so we can enjoy every minute of it! 

Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Little White Lies. In honor of my anniversary, the raffle  starts today and goes through June 25th.
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©Sara Ackerman, 2016


Last night my husband and I sat down to go over preliminary plans of the new house we are building when we started talking about doors.  I have never given much thought to the doors in our current house–they are hinged, have a knob and open and close. But when my father, who is also our PM, told us new building code required the instillation of larger, handicap accessible exterior doors, I started to think about all the doors in my life, most specifically the doors at our current home.

There have been ten broken doors in our home, one broken door for every year we’ve lived there.  There was the year the winter was so bad the brand new, double-hung patio door we installed cracked and broke. That was a cold and expensive repair. Then the next winter our exterior storm door caught a strong northern wind and ripped it right off its hinges. One year our front door froze shut and all our guests had to enter and exit through our garage, and then the next year our garage door broke and we had to dig out our front door keys and enter and exit through that door.  (That wasn’t nearly as bad as the time we forgot both the garage door opener and our keys and had to break into our own home to get in. Worse yet, the time the baby was sleeping in the house and my husband went back to work, locking me and the eldest out on the deck. I had to walk barefooted to the neighbors and called him to come home and unlock the door).

But not all of our door problems have been bad. The first summer in our home, we took off the front door and painted it a beautiful burgundy.  It was hung and curing by nightfall. That night, the three of us– my husband, our eldest and I–slept out in the living room, the cool June breeze blowing through the screen as our front door dried.  Or there was the time I was showering and our youngest, almost eighteen months at that point, was knocking on the bathroom door yelling, “Mama, you in ‘dere?” over and over again. Knowing she couldn’t reach the knob to open it, I ignored her, that is until my husband opened the door and let her in. She was over to the shower and climbing into the tub–fully clothed–before I even knew she was in the room.

In the earlier days of our marriage, I admit my husband and I had our share of angry door slams, those loud growing pains any married couple experience as they attempt this thing called ‘communication’ and ‘co-habitation.’ At almost ten years of marriage, we have this communication thing down, and have enjoyed a quiet, ‘slamless’ existence for many years. Now it’s our daughter’s turn. I swear the minute she turned 13 this last December, a copy of “How to Piss off Your Parents in 10 Easy Steps: Lessons in Door Slamming, Sarcasm, Eye-Rolling and More!” miraculously appeared in her hand. The house is not as quiet anymore, though when she attempted to enact the “How to Make your Point by Locking the Door” lesson, she learned quickly what a room without a door was like.

There are also many more closed rooms at home these days with signs like, “keep out!” and “knock before entering!” adorning the exteriors. I liked it when the doors were closed because it hid a young, giggling six year old in a fun game of hide and seek. Those precious brown eyes peeking out from behind the door to see if mom had found her yet are not as common these days. Instead I receive petulant glares and reminders to knock.  Out of respect for their privacy, I do, and I always close their doors when I leave.

Artwork has metamorphosed my doors, as well. Where once my eldest hung pictures of broccoli trees, stick people and square houses there are now magnificent detailed portraits hanging on her closet door. Cute cartoon animals and comical, talking fruit are displayed there as well, a testament to my daughter’s creativity and her changing personality. Grade reports have replaced chore charts. Calendars of our families activities have taken the place of crayon drawings of our stick family. I still have some of those stick family pictures saved downstairs where I can see them, but they are not hung on the door anymore because they are ‘too embarrassing.’

Another door broke at home this week. The knob busted and when my youngest needed a band-aid, I couldn’t get the first aid kit. I brought one from downstairs and went back to work. When I finished, I found my husband trying to get the handle off, so I grabbed a screwdriver and helped. After unhinging the door and popping off the broken handle, only then did I notice the cut on his head.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The door hit my head when I popped off the hinges.”

“Sit down. I’ll get the first aid kit.”

And so I tended my husband’s cut and head wound, an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if the door hadn’t broken.

“I’m going to get you some Tylenol and an ice-pack.” To his skeptical look, I said, “This is me taking care of you.  I got this”

I understood why he was worried. Six months previous he had hit his head and was bleeding, and I was unable to help him because I was trapped in a debilitating and terrifying flashback. But time and a broken door allowed me to help my husband. It was a step, an opening in a door that has held me captive too long.

This new house is going to be different, though it will definitely have its share of doors, I am sure. New doors, broken doors, closed doors, slammed doors, plain doors, ‘knock only’ doors, fancy doors and ‘keep out’ doors, but I am ready to take each change in stride, ready to see what the future brings.

“So every door is a 36 inch door?” my father asked, bringing me back to the white plans and our new home.

“Yes, why not?” I said. “ Let’s leave our doors wide open. ”


Mother Nature is Trying to Kill Us and Other Truths I Learned From Camping

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It’s that time of year when modern woman feels the need to shed her technology driven urban life and to step back a little. Reconnect with nature. Get back to a simpler time. With an over-packed car, traveling music and a spirit of adventure, my family set out on a camping trip to the North Woods of Wisconsin this past week.

Now, I’m a fan of nature. I like trees and flowers and animals like most everyone else, but I wouldn’t call myself an Earth child. And after this vacation, it’s safe to say that I might never become one, either. Because as much as that primitive side of me wants to be one with nature, I don’t think I’m cut out for it, Here’s why:

1. Kamikaze deer are lurking behind every bush and tree.

I always felt sorry for Bambi’s mom–the shy, gentle mother of the forest king shot down in the prime of her life by a ruthless hunter. At least that’s how I always saw them, but ponder this. What if deer are actually highly trained kamikaze fighters sent in as a first line of defense against aggressive humans?

It seemed like every back road we turned on some crazy deer bolted out in front of us, dodging from side to side and in front of our vehicle before running into the bush. Just when we thought it was safe to proceed, there would be another one darting around the car. Had I not had my eyes peeled for these suicidal cervidae, we would have had Bambi’s Mom Revisited for my girls to see in glorious 3-D Technicolor.

2. Turkeys are the a-holes of the bird kingdom.

Picture this: A back road in the middle of BFE towards twilight. Our Subaru takes a hard left turn on a gravel road and encounters a turkey. We slow down, yet the turkey remains in the middle of the road, staring us down. Now, cue the music from West Side story. (You know the scene I’m talking about when the two gangs meet and dance about in tight pants?) My husband advances slowly. The turkey hops towards us and fluffs out it’s feathers, a clear sign of aggression. We honk the horn. It hops again and then from out of nowhere a line of birds form behind it, bobbing and weaving on the road before us. (If they’d had fingers, you can bet they’d be snapping them!) The steely light of battle enters my husband’s eyes, and he revs the engine squealing the tires as he powers forward. Finally, brute force (and two tons of man-made machinery) breaks the line of squawking birds and sends them back to the underbrush where they belong, but not before one of them poops on my car.

I hope I eat that one for Thanksgiving this year.

3. I am the mosquito queen.

I know how improbable that sounds given I lack antennae, a thorax or the need to suck the blood from innocent mammals; however it is true. How else is it possible for one human being to be bit in spite of being covered head to toe in Deet and mosquito repellent netting? Since the odds of that happening are fairly slim, I must conclude that I am the queen and my loyal subjects were happy to see me. They converged en masse to pay their respects and though the mosquito netting packaging assured me I’d not be bitten, I did not escape their overzealous welcome.

4. Teaching girls to pee on the trail is traumatic.

There we were in the middle of nowhere, the nearest facility with indoor plumbing miles away. Inevitably, that’s when a small voice pipes up insisting that it is time to answer nature’s call. Driving back to the lone gas station that looked like something out of a 50s noir film thirty miles up the road is not a possibility, especially when there is a child doing the cross-legged potty dance in front of you.

Being the good mother that you are, you take the child to the nearest tree and have her drop her drawers. Demonstrating how she needs to push her butt up and out into the air, you tell her to have at it, completely forgetting to tell her to aim away from the cloth of her pants pooled around her ankles. Quickly, but not quickly enough, you grab at her pants, and that’s when you get peed on.

Flashbacks of sleepless nights, urine soaked clothing and leaky diapers changed in out of the way places resurface and soon you are in the fetal position crying on the forest floor while your husband and two offspring laugh uproariously at your expense.

Pay back is a hell, my darlings! Wait another forty years and I’ll be the one laughing!

5. See #4. I like indoor plumbing.

Nothing quite says ‘I love you’ like your husband spraying a continuous cloud of Deet on your butt when you have to drop trough and pee in the woods.  And no mosquitoes dared to interrupt me, whether from the noxious mist of Deet that hung ominously around my posterior or because even they recognized the Queen needed a moment.

**I’ve given my husband his orders. The next vacation will be somewhere on a beach with cabana boys bringing me Mai-Tais and some muscled beefcake named Raoul or Jean Claude rubbing coconut oil into my skin. Oh, and I told him he and the kids could come along, too, if they wanted. **
This post was featured on Hahas for Hoohas June 18, 2015.