A Very Haunted Jurassic Mom: MOMMIES OF THE CORN

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There was a time in my life when I was afraid of the dark… I was a complete baby about everything, always needing to sleep with a light on.  After an overly scary episode of Scooby Doo, I would practially wet my pants running to my parents bedroom, in need of a cuddle…

I would like to say this fear of the dark went away as I aged, but it didn’t.  When I got married, my husband (Erin)  said to me one morning… “Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, and you sit up in bed and cry out for your mother in complete terror.  I try to wake you, but it’s like you’re in a trance.  It’s kind of discombobulating.  Do you realize you’re doing that?”

It’s a good thing we didn’t live together before we were married, I doubt the marriage would’ve taken place if we had.  Would you have agreed to marry a person who had never been to war, but suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because they watched POLTERGEIST when they were too young for it?

Me neither.

I’m glad to say, though… That after having a baby, nothing scares me.

Here is the cold hard truth:  You can watch every scary movie on earth… Go to every haunted house in the world… And you will know nothing of fear until you’ve stood awake at two AM staring into the contents of a sick baby’s diaper,  frantically googling the different colors and consistensies of poop, to determine if a trip to the Emergency Room is in order.  Is it White?  Yellow?  Green?  The dreaded Coffee Ground consistency????

Oh… I KNOW FEAR…  My Baby 411 book is worn out from midnight panic searches.  Zombies and monsters are no match for a good dose of Mommy Fear…

Which brings me to this Halloween Tale of Terror that I like to call, MOMMIES OF THE CORN.

It happened last Tuesday evening as the sun descended into the mountains surrounding the San Fernando Valley.

For those who don’t know… The San Fernando Valley is located in Los Angeles.  It is a labrynth of strip malls and fruit stands, of Latin markets and the occasional gentleman’s club.  In the middle of the San Fernando Valley, in an area known as Woodland Hills, which is a stones throw from the famous Spahn Ranch, the land occupied by Charles Manson and his bald murder-groupies the summer they all went on a killing spree…  Nestled within Woodland Hills, is a local community school known as Pierce College, where, every Halloween, there is a giant cornfield.  It is a famous staple of the west valley.  Unspeakable horrors come to life within this haunt known as CREATURES OF THE CORN.

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Cornfields are a symbol of horror….  Take any number of movies… The aliens that rise up from the cornfields in the movie SIGNS…  The evil moster children from the CHILDREN OF THE CORN movies…Corn is a plant that grows in abundance throughout America and shouldn’t be frightening in-and-of-itself…

Some of the products derived from the corn are scary… Corn syrup… That’s a scary product.  Go on a tour of Monsanto, and be terrified.  Take a walk through the McDonalds factory, and see the loads of corn syrup and their impact on childhood obesity and watch your skin crawl…

But oddly… No one is all that scared of corn syrup.  We are really only scared of the cornfield.

So… In true Halloween style,  Erin and I took Harper to the pumpkin patch at Pierce College and Erin dared me to go into the corn maze alone.

“Sure, I’ll go,” I said, completely unfazed by it.

“No, you won’t,” he said, remembering the many nights he’d heard me shout “MOMMY” from our marriage bed…  “You walked out of the Blair Witch Project… That’s the least frightening horror movie ever made.”

“That’s before I had a baby,” I told him.  “I’m not scared of that stuff anymore.  I’ll go in by myself.”

In truth, I had no other choice  but to go in by myself.  I certainly wouldn’t drag Harper into CREATURES OF THE CORN. And Erin and I couldn’t leave Harp to roam the night with the Carnies… So I marched up to the ticket booth, bought one for myself and headed into the dark.

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As I entered the cornfield, the darkness enfolding me… What should’ve been a terrifying and lonely feeling just felt like a nice walk to me.

As the light grew dim, and I was surrounded by cornstalks… I remembered the first advice the pediatrician gave me because it sounded like the instructions a person might be given when taught to survive a Zombie Apocolypse…   “Your baby is small,” the doctor said.  “It’s important she not get sick these first three months… So please, don’t go to malls or churches.  Anywhere there are large groups of people.  Try to go to the grocery store without her… But if you must take her with you, only go to the store at night.”

No malls or churches? Only go out under cover of night?  Am I new mother or is this a scene from The Walking Dead?

I walked deeper into the corn.  I’d encountered nothing so far.  I looked to the side and observed a scarecrow, hunched over in the midst of some corn.  When slowly, the scarecrow made eye contact with me, took off a black cloth to reveal terrible Zombie eyes.  The scrarecrow was alive….

Just like in a scene from 28 Days Later, this movement signaled other movement, and within a matter of seconds I was surrounded by Zombies from all sides… Their skin was the color of grayed and rotten flesh… Some with only half-faces… Making the moans and chortles of hungry creatures in agony… All of them death rattling around me… Getting close… Right in my face.

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There was a time when this would’ve terrified me.  That was before my five-month old baby started projectile vomiting for no reason… And it wasn’t like any vomiting I’d ever seen… She would make a kind of choking noise and move her head back and forth like a cat releasing a fur ball.

“DID SHE PICK UP A COIN OFF THE FLOOR?” I remember my husband and I frantically asking each other. She kept making this gagging sound… So at 1 AM… Because, like a haunted house… These things ALWAYS happen in he middle of the night… I shouted in complete hysterics.. “I THINK MY BABY IS CHOKING!!!!!” I was wearing cat pajama pants and a sweat shirt.  I grabbed the closest shoes I could find… A pair of 6 inch stilletos.. And with no makeup and my hair completely unbrushed, I ran for my Toyota like a person escaping a disaster movie.

The diagnosis in the ER after a three hour wait? Basic flu. No prescription. Just pick up Pedialyte and feed it to her constantly (not an easy task, ask anyone).

I hurried on past the initial zombie attack completley unfazed, then made my way toward an old shack in the center of the corn. As I entered the shack, I observed, hanging from the ceiling, twenty-or-so pig carcasses just swinging there in the wind.

BORING!!!

There was a time when this would’ve really gotten to me, I thought, as a large pig creature emmerged from among the dead swine and lunged toward me with a rake…. But that was before  I was alone one afternoon, and  my baby fell hard into the edge of a coffee table.  She began to scream, and I could see a large bump developing on her head… This, I would learn, was a good sign… But at the time… I thought it signaled brain swelling and I called 9-1-1.  After three vehicles from the fire department showed up at my house, I had an informative conversation in my living room with a Fire Chief who told me, it’s usually an emergency when a baby loses consciousness.  Otherwise, I could drive the baby to the doctor myself… Still, we boarded the ambulance and found out everything was normal after seven hours in the ER and a skull x-ray.

“You don’t scare me, Piggy Pie!” I said to him smiling before exiting the Swine Shack.

There were a few more uneventful zombie attacks before a masked man with a chainsaw emerged.

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I could tell that during another time, this would be the part where I would run screaming from the field and laugh with my teen friends before we all made-out in cars and ate funnel cakes.

But that would not be happening that night.

Instead… I slowed down and stood next to him.  The loud sound, which is, by-the-way, not nearly as loud as a colicy  baby wailing into the night, didn’t really bother me.

“RUN!”  The man shouted, holding his chainsaw in the air, as he ushered me along.  “Get out!”

I walked slowly from the corn, only coming in contact with one final creature.  A sweet soul of a zombie… A woman with long hair and a filthy dress.  She had skin the color of mud and her eyes were dark…   She fell to the ground as I walked out and she begged, “HELP ME…  HELP ME…”

Been there.  Done that.

“You remind me of myself when I was a new mom,” I told her before I walked out.  “I never slept and I think I had that same dress.”

I stepped comfortably from the corn, listening only to the gentle sounds of the chainsaw and the screaming of teenagers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playground Politics

My earliest memory of politics came during the presidential election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. There was a girl named Misty in my first-grade class in Texas who was a master of the playground. To this day, I still have a clear vision of Misty pumping her legs back and forth on the swing set, chanting… “Reagan! Reagan! He’s our man! Carter belongs in the garbage can!”

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I remember Misty getting riled up during milk break, once. “Man, I wish I could vote,” she said. “If Jimmy Carter keeps being President, our cars won’t have any gas.” I remember being troubled by her statement. we lived in a small town then, and the closest Pizza Hut was a good 40 minute car ride away. I had never cared about politics until that moment when I realized my own enjoyment of supreme pizza and a good game of Ms. Pacman might be threatened.

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The day Ronald Reagan claimed his victory, Misty came into class elated and declared to all of us… “That peanut farmer finally got the kick in the nuts he deserved.”

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So, it really shouldn’t have surprised me when Harper came home from her first day of first-grade having had an intense political conversation with a playmate.

Me:  So, who do you sit next to in school?
Harp:  A boy I just met this year. He said Barack Obama is a liar. Is that true?
Me:  What? No! That…That is not a nice thing to say.
Harp: I told him George Bush is a liar.
Me: OK, well…Also not nice. What’d he say?
Harp: He says George Bush chopped down a cherry tree. Is that true?
Me: Wrong Geor…Nevermind. No, not true.
Harp: His sister says they are going to give Barack Obama a peach and then he will move out of the White House. Is that true? They aren’t going to give Barack Obama a peach, are they mommy? You know how much I love him.
Me: What?!?! OH… Impeach him… No. No one is giving Barack Obama a peach.
Harp: I told him we went to the Ronald Reagan library this summer and he didn’t even know who Ronald Reagan was.
Me: (Stunned) And this kid has the audacity to call himself a republican?

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For those who don’t know… Los Angeles might be the most liberal city in America, but just North of the San Fernando Valley lies every young republican’s mecca… The Ronald Reagan Memorial Library in Simi Valley, California.

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My friend Jolene was visiting with her kids (Marina and Spencer) from San Diego, so we all ventured deep into the heart of republica-ville, that shining city on a hill, Simi Valley!

The powers that created this wonderland took Reagan’s words literally. The library is smack dab on top of a large hill. Lights ablaze, it is a shining city on a hill, or at least a shining building. As we wound our way up Mount Reagan, Jolene (a fan of Reagan) took a moment to say… “I’m really excited about this. We should enjoy learning about the California Governor and former President… And not be too sarcastic about it as we go through.”

Clearly, that remark was meant for me, a liberal…. But in all sincerity, I had no desire to be cynical about the former President. His life is an important part of history. And in my child’s mind, he was responsible for a lot of the pizza I ate in the 80s.

Harper, Marina, and Spencer were all excited about the trip. They had never heard of Ronald Reagan and I thought of teaching them Misty’s swing set chant, so they could say it loudly as we explored… But I thought of Jolene’s words and decided to stay quiet.

Here is a picture of them in front of a Bronze statue of The Gipper:

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And here is another one of them looking distinguished in front of the Presidential Seal:

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The Reagan Library is large and takes around five hours to go through. Yowch! You heard me right. It is HUUGGGEEE!!!

It starts at his childhood and has actual essays and homework assignments completed by Ronald Reagan. There’s even an old yearbook he signed showing he was always the master of the one-liner… “Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music,” he wrote to a friend in high school. Smooth.

As I ruffled through Reagan’s clothes, his books, his military letters and private trinkets from his young adulthood… I thought of my own death and how one day someone might be ruffling through my own historical items…What kind of things might they find?

All the boxes of uneaten Nutri-sytem stored in my garage…
All the different scented candles…
My old porcelain clown collection…

What had I written in someone’s yearbook? Nothing as good as what Ronald Reagan wrote… “Life is Grand…One sweet song… Start the music!”

I couldn’t remember anything I’d written in a yearbook. Maybe… “You are totally tubular!” Or “Wow! Can’t wait til we are all 21 and drinking Zimas together!”

The Reagan Library was making me feel uncomfortable… Like I needed to start saying more positive things, and writing it down on people’s stuff… And also cleaning out everything in my house… I really needed to get my crap together. I may not ever have my own library when I die… But someone will certainly go through my stuff, and what will they find?!?!? I do have a gratitude journal… But most of the items I’m grateful for are things like… The smell of bacon… and Coffee from a French Press. I need to start being thankful for bigger more important things!!!

LIFE IS GRAND! ONE SWEET SONG! SO LET’S START THE MUSIC!!!

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It was around this time of my anxiety attack, that we entered the area of the recreated Berlin Wall. Kids can run and play amidst a large re-creation inside the museum… There are holes in the wall so people climb back and forth exploring it… I wonder if the original planners of the museum envisioned people reenacting East and West Germany… Sneaking from one side to the next… trying to avoid gunshot or life imprisonment and/or torture…

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But the kids just chased each other and hid around it. At one point, while Harper, Marina, and Spencer were running and playing around the remains of the Berlin Wall, Harper stopped for a moment, and said… “Why would Ronald Reagan want to tear down this wall? It’s so much fun! I love this wall!!!!” Spencer also piped up and said, “I love the Berlin Wall! The Berlin Wall is my favorite wall!”

Moving on to the next section, was a large area dedicated to the threat of communism throughout history. Large pictures of Chairman Mao, Stalin, and Castro looking angry are blown up in a dark room and backlit.
“These guys are mean!” Harper said, having never been told about any of them. “They don’t like to smile,” Spencer observed. And in truth, the pictures of the despots really show them at their worst. There are no pictures of Kim Jung Il enjoying a nice plate of Korean BBQ with his family. And no photos of Moammar Gadhafi laughing as he throws back a cold brew with his buddies Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

While Spencer and Harper sat quietly in a corner watching a movie about the Arms Race, I took a moment to explore various artifacts from that era, which highlighted meetings and conversations between Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev. I was reading a hand-written thank you note to Ronald Reagan from a former Russian prisoner, when Harper walked up to me, and with a solemn face said… “If you get pregnant in Russia, they’ll put you in jail.”

“No, they won’t, Harper,” I said. “You could always get pregnant in Russia. It’s never been illegal to get pregnant.”

“Yes it was!” she told me. “I heard it on the old telephone.”

I saw then, that Harper and Spencer had been listening to “Testimonies from the Gulag.” This is a section of the museum featuring stories from people who had survived the Soviet labor camp.

When I walked over, Spencer was listening to one of the testimonies as well. “Miss Amy,” he said…. “These are just like the old-timey phones you used to use when you were a kid. It’s like we’re in the old days again.”

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As we exited the Communism Section, Spencer turned to a museum full of people and in a loud voice he raised his hands in the air and shouted, “I HATE RUSSIA! I HATE RUSSIA!” Mission accomplished, Reagan Library!

“No you don’t,” Jolene quickly corrected him. “None of us hates Russia. None of us hates anyone. It’s just a place full of people like us.”

We rushed out of that section and into an area where Nancy Reagan’s ball gowns were displayed and also the game boards featuring her JUST SAY NO (to drugs) campaign.

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I was reminded of a performance I saw in high school during a pep assembly, when a group of men too old to be Rock Stars, but too young to be parents, showed up dressed like Def Leppard and announced. “Nancy Reagan sent us here to play some rock- and- roll for you kids and tell you to JUST SAY NO!!!” The band played thirty minutes of unmemorable music, but I remember the drummer had drum sticks that looked like skeleton bones. I don’t remember much about the concert, but I do know I’ve never had a drug problem. Thank you, Nancy Reagan.

Our tour ended in a large and beautiful hangar, which houses the actual Air Force One used by Reagan and Carter (the nut-crunching peanut farmer).

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We toured the plane, which was interesting and stocked with jelly beans (Reagan’s favorite candy). At the end, we sat down and had some nice refreshing bottled beverages called LENIN-ADE another homage to the threat of communism.

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The trip to the Reagan library was more than I expected. It wasn’t just a historical tour, it was like walking back in time, and remembering some moments in life that I had forgotten.

The Reagan Library concludes with the handwritten letter Ronald Reagan wrote once he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He famously says… “I will now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.”

I thought of all the people I remembered as I walked through the Reagan Library, people in my childhood, my teenage years… All of us moving toward the sunset of our lives. As we drove away, I told Jolene about Misty, and we laughed and all paid homage to that young republican.

To Harper on Her Seventh Birthday

Dear Harper,

This morning when you wake up, you ask me to feel your legs to see if they have changed overnight. “Do I feel longer or older?” you ask.

“I think so,” I tell you, “Do you feel older?”

“No,” you say. “I feel the same.”

I tickle you, and you start crawling around like a baby, sucking your thumb, and saying, “This is how I was seven years ago.”

“No,” I tell you, “You just cried when you were born.”

“Tell me the story of when you said my name,” you say.

It’s a story that we both love, and I tell it to you often, but always on your Birthday because the story that you’re talking about happened on the day you were born.

And so, I tell you the story of your birth, and how when you entered the world you cried and screamed as loud as you could… And the nurse took you to the corner of the room before I held you, so that a doctor could check you and the nurses could clean you. I could hear you crying, and your cry didn’t sound so much like a cry as it did the sound of a little cat.. And I was thinking about cats when they brought you over to me and held you against my chest, as I couldn’t hold you, because I was strapped down to an operating table… But they pressed your face into my face, and you yelled and screamed right into my face.

“Hi, Harper,” I said to you over the sound of your cries.

And like that…  When I said your name, your screaming stopped.

“She knows your voice,” the nurse told me.

And the nurse held you there, in the stillness for a few moments. You looked in my direction, but I knew you couldn’t see me. Your eyes weren’t developed and I was only a shadow speaking out of the darkness.

“What a pretty girl,” I said to you then.  The sound of my voice was a compass to you, a lighthouse in a world that was strange and new.  “What a pretty girl.  Your name is Harper.”

You were quiet, and I could see your chest rising quickly, your tiny heart nervous, but safe inside the sound of my voice.

When they took you away, you started to cry again, and I lay there in silence as the doctor quietly put me back together.

I knew I had been part of something deeply profound. And I thought then, under the silent hum of the lights and the sterile white of the room of all the times I had tried to pinpoint the “best” moment of my life… And how I had never been able to equate one single moment as being the “best”… But in that short moment between the two of us… There it was.

Now… If anyone asks me, what the best moment of my life is… There is no hesitation… No cataloguing of loves lost or won, of prizes gained… Of rewards monetary or otherwise… The best moment of my life has been narrowed down to a minute in the operating room on September 30th, 2007, just after 10:50 AM when the sound of my voice alone was enough to calm your fear.

“I love that story,” you tell me, as I run my fingers through your fingers.

Your hands are almost half the size of my hands now.  In seven more years, they will probably be the same size.

“Do you remember anything about that day?”  I ask you.

“No,” you tell me.

“What do you think the best moment of your life is?” I ask you.

“This one right now,” you answer.

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