Writers at Work Fiction Prize

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I have some great news, Dear Ones! I recently found out that  my novel, The Rattlesnake Princess, received the Second Place Fiction Prize from the 2016 Writers At Work Fellowship Competition. This is absolutely thrilling, and makes me crazy excited for all of you to read the first chapter of my yet-unpublished novel, which I am including in this blog post for your literary enjoyment!

If you have the time, and are so inclined, I encourage you to take a trip to Utah in June so you can experience for yourself one of the most celebrated writing conferences in the Midwest. Writers At Work is a prestigious writing organization that has been offering master classes and workshops for thirty-two years. They have a week-long intensive conference, where writers meet up at the remote Alta Lodge in the Wasatch Mountains. Instructors at the conference offer classes in Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction. Past conferences have featured writers like Amy Tan and Sherman Alexie. This year, the featured fiction writer is Peter Ho Davies! If you have never read his book, The Welsh Girl,you must pick up a copy immediately. Also, his book, The Ugliest House in the World is one of my favorite short story collections.

Each year, WOW offers prizes in Fiction, Poetry, and NonFiction, so if you have something you would like to submit, gear up for the 2017 Fellowship! Submissions begin in November.

Great things are on the horizon for Jurassic Mom. Feel free to read, share, and enjoy the opening of this novel, which is so very close to my heart.

 

THE RATTLESNAKE PRINCESS

BY Amy Bridges

Chapter 1

Haley Monroe burned her Daddy alive one cool West Texas night. Right after Johnny Carson’s opening monologue, but before his first celebrity guest, Haley’s Momma gave Daniel Monroe a gasoline baptism while he was passed out spread-eagle in his La-Z-Boy. Then, Haley threw the match.

With the remote control in his right hand, and a warm Bud nestled snug between his thighs, he didn’t smell it, didn’t know a thing was different, until the flames enveloped his highly combustible liver and he blew up from the inside out.

He ran a drunk man’s sprint onto the front lawn, swearing four-lettered revenge, his dying breath a curse on the two women responsible for his undoing. Then, he dropped his charred remains atop a Texas tumbleweed, that blazed up like a firebomb, starting a small grass fire, his fat sizzling up like bacon, right there between the gladiolas and the morning glories.

It was the middle of October, and Mrs. Kirkley across the way, erased it as nothing more than a Halloween prank, nothing more than “a couple of hellions setting cow pies on fire.”

Haley Monroe sat shotgun in the front seat of her Momma’s green Thunderbird, and with dry-eyed determination, watched the events unfold, breathing in the smell of death, the flames reflected in her brown southern eyes.

The final memory of her father carried with it the flavor of embers and campfire, of ash and bone.

As her mother locked the car into drive, the grisly scene transforming to dust in the distance, Haley Monroe, popped the lid on a warm Coca-Cola. The sticky-sweet syrup coating the back of her throat went down like an unholy communion, shared only with the woman beside her.

Both women agreed. The hot carbonation was almost enough to cover the after-taste of the corpse. In that moment, they washed away the flavor of Daniel Monroe.

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That is how Mrs. Beaumont told it to Momma and me that June afternoon over jalapeno corn bread and red beans.

“The Monroe’s are nothing more than pure Texas trash,” she said soaking up bean juice with corn bread cut in a perfect triangle, her cranberry-colored lipstick leaving traces around the corners of it. “Nothing but trash. And you mark my word. Haley Monroe will be pregnant before she’s out of high school.”

“Oh, Loubelle,” Nancy Chronister piped up, grabbing Mrs. Beaumont’s sleeve with her two inch Lee Press On’s. “You do love to tell that story. It’s such a nasty thing to tell at a Pounding. You’re gonna scare Babe.”

The Womens Missionary Union, or the WMU as they called themselves, were a group of sixteen concerned Southern Baptist women who got together once a week to discuss all the lost souls in South America, Africa; all the countries where children walked around with un-wiped runny noses and ate rice for every meal. In line with their mission to reach out to strangers, they had given Momma what they liked to call a Pounding, which was a storage closet full of canned foods and cleaning supplies to start our new life at the parsonage.

That past Sunday, the WMU put an announcement in the bulletin, inviting all the ladies in the church to welcome the pastor’s wife.

When we’d arrived at Mrs. Beaumont’s that Saturday afternoon for the Pounding, we’d walked into a living room that had more canned goods than a Piggly Wiggly. Square in the center of the room, the ladies had erected a green bean pyramid, which they’d surrounded with smaller pyramids of carrots, black-eyed peas, and stewed tomatoes. Fresh jars of chow-chow and sweet pickles lined the window ledges. The coffee table was a Betty Crocker fantasy full of cake mixes, popcorn kernels and semi-sweet chocolate chips. There were even small jars of decorator sprinkles, and yellow stars, their pink caps sealed tight with plastic wrap. Towers of Comet and toilet paper surrounded the television, with about every cleaning supply imaginable. I squealed with excitement as we walked in the door, feeling like the first prize winner on The Price Is Right.

It looked to me like we’d be eating green bean casserole until the day I graduated high school. And, we’d be drinking sweetened, condensed Hawaiian Punch right along with it.

Momma stood in her pink pumps and checkered sundress, surrounded by cream corn, and thanked the ladies, the Lord, and the Jolly Green Giant.

Then, we’d all retired to the backyard for lunch.

“Babe’s old enough to know about Haley Monroe,” Mrs. Beaumont said, looking my way, with a crooked smile. “Why, this whole thing took place five years ago. Haley was all of twelve years when it happened. How old are you honey?”

“Thirteen years and a month,” I told her.

“Thirteen and a month,” she chuckled back. “You’ll quit counting months soon enough. You’ll quit counting years, too.”

“Not everybody counts backward like you do, Loubelle,” Nancy Chronister smiled.

Loubelle Beaumont’s backyard smelled like honeysuckle and looked like something featured in Better Homes and Gardens, the southern mansion issue. We were sitting right up next to a fountain that had a swan spraying water out its beak into a pool filled with goldfish, and four live bullfrogs. During the chatter, I’d managed to get a hold of a frog’s hind legs and stuck the thing deep in the pocket of my skirt. I was attempting to feed it a pecan, when Momma, between clenched teeth, told me to “let it loose.”

Then, she crossed her two forefingers together.

Whenever Momma crossed her two forefingers together, it was a secret and silent signal for me to cross my legs because I was sitting spread out like a boy. Momma said the perfect way to sit is to cross your legs behind you in an S, just like Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy used to. There was nothing in this wide world more uncomfortable than sitting like that. It burned me a good one the way boys got to throw themselves around and spread out whichever way they chose, and I cursed Jackie O. every time I thought of it.

“I’m gonna turn you into a lady if it kills me, Leah Simmons,” Momma said at least twice a day.

Momma only called me by my full name when she was burning mad because she knew how much I hated hearing it. Leah was an ugly four-eyed girl in the Bible that somebody was tricked into marrying. When I first heard about where my name came from in Sunday school, I nearly marched myself to the courthouse and got it changed. I was adamant everybody call me Babe.

“Haley Monroe was last year’s Rattlesnake Princess,” Mrs. Beaumont said, interrupting my thought. “Not a one of us knows how she got the title, but you can be sure, not a thing like that will happen again.”

“They had those outside judges, that’s why, Loubelle. Plain and simple,” Nancy Chronister said. “Had that Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader judging. Didn’t know talent.”

“That won’t happen again,” Mrs. Beaumont said once more for emphasis. “The Rattlesnake Princess is only the greatest honor bestowed on any young girl in this town. Stillwater prides itself on its world-famous Rattlesnake Roundup. Why, it’s the largest extermination of rattlesnakes the wide world over.”

“Nearly ten-thousand a year,” Nancy Taylor piped up. “All of them dumped wild and hissing inside a pit the Junior Chamber of Commerce calls Satan’s Closet. It’s something all right, quite a sight to behold. Nothing a person will ever forget, that’s for sure.”

I felt myself growing queasy at the thought of ten thousand rattlesnakes.

“What do they do with the snakes at the end of the roundup?” I asked.

“At the end of the roundup, the snakes are all slaughtered,” Mrs. Beaumont said, as though the answer was obvious. “They chop off their heads, and use the venom in research facilities all over Texas. Without question, it’s a very important event, and certainly, nothing short of a Texas-sized embarrassment to have Haley Monroe parading her butt around like she owns the place. If you ask me, those two women ought to have turned the fire on themselves while they were at it.”

“What an awful thing to say,” Momma said almost as instinct.

At that, the ladies grew quiet as Mrs. Beaumont stared Momma straight through.

“You’re sensitive,” she said, her eyes squaring off with Momma. “You’ll see soon enough. There isn’t a place for that here.”

Silence was thick in the air, before Mrs. Beaumont continued with the same tone as before.

“Daniel Monroe was a notorious drunk. He used to stand outside the bathroom door and watch Haley Monroe urinate. Used to have his way with her on those nights. Her mother worked late at the hospital.”

I cringed, unable to imagine a person so horrible as Daniel Monroe.

“Trash. Shot up the house, even killed that yellow lab of theirs,” Mrs. Beaumont said.

“That dog Herman gave them,” Nancy Chronister chimed in.

“That’s the one. Cutest little thing. Haley’d lope around with it down by the railroad tracks. Couldn’t tell which one was the dirtier. Barked its guts out. That’s why he shot it.”

“That’s not a reason.”

“Of course it’s not a reason, Nancy. I wasn’t justifying it. Daniel Monroe got his, didn’t he? He got set on fire. “

And for a moment, the clinking of teaspoons and the soft chatter among the ladies settled.

“They weren’t gonna charge Haley, not as a juvenile, with that kind of abuse hanging over her. And when it came to Cheryl, Haley’s Momma, why, the jury didn’t think twice, didn’t deliberate more than thirty minutes, before they marched in with ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’ After that, Haley moved in with her grandmother up on Bluebonnet Street, and Cheryl got her own room in the nut house outside of Big Springs.”

This is where Mrs. Beaumont leaned in real close to Momma and me, like she was telling us the biggest secret in the wide world over. “Thing is, not a person alive, save Haley and her Momma that coulda testified to that. Sure, they got John Stevens to say Daniel Monroe hot rodded cars back in high school. They got Stuart Reynolds to attest to the fact that Daniel Monroe drove drunk. But not a soul came forward and said the kinds of things those two women claimed. Not a soul.”

I looked over at Momma, whose back was arched in just the slightest way. I could see the rising of her chest moving up and down beneath the picnic blanket print on her sundress, moving like her mind was running the hundred yard dash, and her body was feeling the effects of it; breathing the way she does before she lays one into me for “sassing back.”

“The truth was consumed in the same fire that incinerated the heart of Daniel Monroe.” Mrs. Beaumont sat back in her chair, and ran her tongue across her lips, as though she were cleaning them off from the story.

Almost as an afterthought, Mrs. Beaumont looked over at Momma.

“The fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil,” she said. “Proverbs 8:13. You have to watch where you step foot in this town, Sara. Some folks say Stillwater, Texas exists solely for the purpose of ridding the county of rattlesnakes. There are rattlesnakes lurking in every corner here. You have to watch where you step.”

Momma said nothing. She crossed her legs behind her in an S, and took a bite of her pecan pie.

The Force Awakens Me- BEWARE!!! Spoilers!!!

Jurassic Mom has been away doing many things, dear ones. For starters, I’ve been working at a travel site, writing many things involving fun and frolicking. Soon enough, I will link some of them here, and we can all celebrate my adventures around these continental United States.

But, without a doubt, 2016 will bring back more blogging, and what better way to start than with a celebration of my new favorite movie, The Force Awakens.

Almost two years ago, when I first began writing this blog, I began by relating my love for the timeless classic, Jurassic Park. I spoke of a lover I once took many years ago at a Renaissance Fair, and the comradery we found watching Jurassic Park together. Though the romance didn’t last, my love for the timeless classic has never ended, and I remember it here, along with my life as a mother, and more-and-more, my adventures on this lonely globe.

Which brings me to my latest most favorite adventure!

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I was always in love with Luke Skywalker. While other girls would melt over Han Solo, who was clearly the chosen Romeo of the series… Luke always made my heart go pitter pat. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always had a thing for nice guys… Or perhaps it’s because I’ve always had a thing for orphans… But whatever the reason, I was always deeply connected to Luke Skywalker. As a young girl playing in cotton fields in West Texas, I would often find myself stomping through the dirt holding onto a tumbleweed that I would pretend was R2, and I’d imagine I was Luke Skywalker’s bride.

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I would write love notes to Luke Skywalker on the pages inside my three-ring-binders.  I would scroll my name out… Amy Skywalker… or Amy Lee Skywalker… Or sometimes Mrs. Skywalker… I would pretend I’d mothered his twins who I’d given the boring names: Roger and Rachel …. I would wrap two cabbage patch kids in blankets and climb trees with them. I’d pretend we were all on the Millennium Falcon, but we weren’t fighting as much as we were just traveling around space and professing our love to one another. Sometimes I’d take a large brown bear into the tree that I’d pretend was Chewbacca.  Sometimes I would imagine Leia was there. But I never included Han Solo because I thought he was an asshole. I would occasionally jump from the tree and pretend I was running from Darth Vader, but eventually I’d end up on the Millennium Falcon again changing a diaper.

My Dad was a Baptist Minister at the time, and when I wasn’t space traveling to Tatooine, I spent hours of my life with my butt glued to a church pew, singing hymns and throwing back shots of grape-juice communion. It was during those years that I would get bored of the hymn lyrics and make lyrics of my own. I distinctly remember rewriting a popular song we all sang weekly called ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB… about the blood of the crucified savior … To these lyrics….

Are you washed in the Force? In the life-giving blood of the Force?  Is your saber polished? Does it shine like fire? Are you washed in the blood of The Force? 

If you want to really enjoy that timeless classic, and add The Force lyrics yourself, Willie Nelson does it justice here:

I would sing Are you Washed in the Force as loud as I could on Sunday morning and no one was the wiser. Or perhaps they knew I was singing it, but they didn’t care because they were all pretending to be Luke Skywalker’s wife, and singing these lyrics along with me. Even to this day, when I hear the simple Baptist ballad, I don’t think of the blood-washed image it’s meant to convey, but instead I am brought back once again to a time when I was married to Luke Skywalker, and we spent our time loving one another and caring for our twins, while evading the Death Star.

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You can imagine, then, my delight as the release of The Force Awakens approached. The trailers represented the presence of Leia, her idiot boyfriend, and Chewbacca. But none of them represented a good wide-shot of Luke Skywalker.

Nerds on sites I  frequent had plenty of opinions on Master Skywalker. There was quite a pre-release consensus that he had fallen into the grips of the dark side, and would be returning to do the work of Darth Vader. On these sites, I was diligent in my support of Skywalker’s ethics, defending a man who had killed his own father in defense of the Force, and who as a direct student of the greatest Jedi ever to have lived (Obi-Wan), would NEVER go to the dark side. “Could a man who carried Yoda on his back and faced his greatest fear in the Darkside Cave where he confronted his destiny and didn’t run from it ever go to the dark side? NO!!!” I wrote to a moron named StarFace22  who thought Skywalker would be the Dark Lord over Kylo Ren in Force Awakens.

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Trust me, I hope everyone who harbored any thoughts that Luke Skywalker would go into the “family business” and rebuild a Death Star, feels like an idiot now that they’ve seen The Force Awakens.  HERE THAT, STARFACE22????  I THINK YOU’RE AN IDIOT, AND NOW THERE’S PROOF!!!!

But to an adult woman like me, who felt nervous about coming face-to-face (or seat-to-screen) with the beloved husband of my youth, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Could Master Skywalker live up to all that I’d remembered as a young pastor’s daughter with innocent dreams in a cotton field? I’d seen pictures of Mark Hamill the actor online, and while at first glance, I thought he looked like a plumber… I was still excited to see my love once again in the world in which we’d first met so many years ago.

My eight-year-old daughter, Harper, was of course going to go along with me and my husband to see The Force Awakens. We had shown Harper the original trilogy and gotten her up-to-speed on the prequels (we would never force those on her).

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Before the movie started, I looked over at Harper and told her… “You know, when I was your age, I had the biggest crush on Luke Skywalker. I was soooo in love with him.” She got a repulsed look on her face and said… “Really? Why? I hate all boys.. But if I was going to love any of them, I’d pick Han Solo. I would never pick Luke.” And then the lights went down, the movie started, and I sat shamed in the dark.

To say I loved The Force Awakens would be an understatement. I LOVED EVERY SINGLE THING ABOUT IT… I cried when Rey and Finn first entered the Millennium Falcon, and I cried when Han Solo and Chewbacca walked on board it. I had a deep and emotional connection with that space ship that I never realized and so did both men sitting next to me, as I noticed them wipe away tears when that star freighter took flight… The moment Rey takes Luke’s old light saber into her hands, I cried, and of course the unforgettable scene with Han Solo and Kylo Ren hit me like a train, and I needed time to recover from it…

But that final moment, when Luke is standing at the highest point atop his hidden cavern in the galaxy, and he turns those blue eyes toward the screen… I saw the boyish love of my youth, wearing the robes of a seasoned Jedi but carrying within him the spiritual countenance of Obi-Wan, and I totally melted… And then felt utterly justified in loving him all those years ago.

And then I saw the greatest difference of the Star Wars of my childhood, and the Star Wars of Harper’s. In her Star Wars, the Jedi is a woman who insists on taking care of herself… Who shoves past the attempts of others to save her… Who doesn’t beg for help and cry out for someone else in the galaxy during her moment of greatest need…

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All of this made me wonder… If young pastor’s sons across Texas, are now hanging onto the tumbleweeds that they’ve named BB8, singing Are You Washed in The Force… And imagining themselves married to Rey…  Maybe they are planning their weddings in their grandparents old barn, using quilts and cow milking stools, and thinking of how many children they will father, and what they will name the boys. And if I happen into a small southern church, and I hear the familiar ballad I once sung as a child, I’ll know… Such is the force of cultural programming.

That final moment, when Rey meets Skywalker at the top of the cliff, and he turns around… His salt-and-pepper hair long and perfectly styled… His beard is rough and his countenance is that not of a plumber, but of a Jedi Master that could still go one good round… He looks at her, like he almost doesn’t want to accept his old light saber, like maybe the responsibility it carries is a little too much. Defending the Force is hard work, after all… Not just anyone can do it.

I couldn’t help but ask myself… If the Jedi had been a woman so many years ago, would I have pretended to marry a Jedi, or would I have pretended to be one?

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Woman Inherits the Earth (or) What Happens When the Dinosaurs are all Women

“We tend to refer to some of the dinosaurs as male – Such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex; we call it a ‘him’ – but in fact they’re all female. And believe me, they can’t breed.”  –  Dr. Henry Wu, Chief Geneticist (Jurassic Park)

“We are becoming the men we always wanted to marry.”  – Gloria Steinem

 

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Today, dear students, we return to the text by which this blog originated… It has been some time since I’ve written from the source that serves as our ultimate parenting model here on this site, the great parenting classic, JURASSIC PARK, which was where this blog originated.

After viewing the recently released trailer for JURASSIC WORLD, I knew a post about our holy text was due.

I encourage you to take moment and view the JURASSIC WORLD trailer in all its glory, paying particular attention to the fierce dinosaur and the gorgeous nerd-girl magnet, Chris Pratt.

I know very little about the new movie, JURASSIC WORLD, but I was excited by Chris Pratt’s line: “She’s a highly intelligent animal. She will kill anything that moves.’

This lets me know that JURASSIC WORLD will continue the tradition of the previous volumes with an all-female park, where the most vicious and beautiful creatures are ALL WOMEN.

This is the formula for Jurassic Park… The scientists involved in planning the paradise park always underestimate the power of the female dinosaurs. They think they can control them.

In the end, though, not only are these women smart enough to figure their way out of the park… But they actually find a way around the breeding, and create more and more dinosaurs… Effectively making Jurassic Park a lovely community of single mothers, defending their young, and carving a place outside of the smart and methodical men controlling them.

This is why today we will focus on the strength of the Single Mother.

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I was reminded of the most memorable single-mother I ever knew when I was a kid. Her name was Jolene Dickson. She had a small house on the outskirts of Rotan, Texas, Population 1,547.

I befriended her daughter, Tammy, when I was eleven. Tammy and I would ride our bikes around town. We’d watch Friday Night Videos and deep-fry canned biscuits, dip them in sugar, dance around the house to Boy George, then practice French Kissing on pillows.

Jolene or Tammy never really talked about Tammy’s Dad, and I never met him. I remember one time Jolene was sitting with my mother in our house talking, and she said:

“People always tell me they’re sorry about my divorce. I tell them, you ought to be sorry about my wedding. That divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me. If I could re-do it, I would’ve set up a receiving table and served thin mints and Devils Food Cake the day of that divorce, but I was too damn exhausted from the marriage. So, I just ate pizza and thanked God for my freedom.”

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Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen a number of my friends move in-and-out of marriages. I have several friends who are single moms. So… When I decided to do this blog post, I contacted a few them and they were happy to talk to me.

When I spoke to these awesome moms, what I found was not only a recipe for success as a single parent… But a recipe for success in life. I will share the wisdom I’ve garnered with you now, and you can pass it on to your young.

1) It is okay to ask for help.

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My friend, Susan, who is a trial attorney, was in a tough spot when she became the primary custodian of her seven-year-old. Up until that time, she had been self-sufficient, but when she had to financially support her home with little to no help from her ex-husband, the cost of a full-time nanny to help her out with last-minute problems was too much.

“I had to rely on my friends and my mom,” she said. “I was always a person that was in charge… Could do everything myself. I felt helpless and embarrassed at first, like I was a burden on my friends.”

Susan said one day she had a revelation that changed the way she viewed her life. “I became a person who needed help. I had really always needed help, I just never admitted it. And I provided something for someone else… The opportunity to give… If a person tells me ‘no’ I can accept that. But many people are looking for ways to give, and I offered them an opportunity to do that. I think I got caught up in my marriage, not realizing how much I needed other people. When I became a single mom, I couldn’t help but need them.”

Reading Susan’s story I was reminded of the security breach in Jurassic Park. When Dennis Nedry, the duplicitous computer scientist, shuts down the park’s security system, and drives in a rainstorm to deliver dinosaur embryos to a competitor, he wrecks his jeep, and faces off with one Dilophosaurus.

He laughs at it, backing up slowly… In fear, the creature spits goo in his eyes…

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What Nedry doesn’t realize is that Dilophosauruses understand the mentality of single motherhood. Quickly two others appear to the aid of the first, and with little effort, they gut him using their sharp hook-like talons.

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There’s strength in numbers. Asking for help is a good thing.

2) Create your own identity

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One of the most interesting women I spoke to about this was a friend of mine from college named Spider. Interestingly enough, when I knew Spider some years ago, that wasn’t her name. Her name was something more girly and I’m not going to use it, as she doesn’t use it anymore. Spider changed her name after her divorce, and I always wondered if it had to do with her new role as a single parent, and she told me it did.

“The decision to change my name is very much connected to being a single parent. When my husband left, without warning, it felt like an end; an end to my life as I knew it. I knew I wanted to – had to start a new life, a life of being strong and independent, of being the mother my children needed and the woman I wanted to become. Spider embodied all that I wanted to be; strong, but playful.”

Spider took on her new role fiercely.

“I am always, always on. I am the only person responsible for dealing with kid raising, which means a great deal more pressure to always make the right choice or have the right response…to which eventually I have had to acknowledge that I am human, and will make mistakes. I make a habit of apologizing to my kids when I do fail to handle things perfectly all the time….Having the kids all the time, on my own, means that I have to forgive myself for sometimes falling down – because I’m sick, or tired, or emotionally done – and forgive that in those times, the kids have more electronic time than I would prefer, and the chores don’t get done. In addition, there are a lot of things I did as the stay-at-home mother that have simply had to fall off my list or become less frequent– baking, hosting parties for the kids, helping out other mothers.”

Asking for help… Forgiving yourself… So far, these are life lessons I can use.

3) Be proud of who you are:

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My friend Jennifer, a brilliantly witty writer who divorced after fifteen years of marriage and two kids had this to say:

“After my divorce, a part of me was excited about dating again… But suddenly, I began to panic. I wasn’t twenty-years-old anymore. My body didn’t feel the way it used to. A lot of the confidence I’d had was gone. I wasn’t tan or in great shape. I’d spent years singing Old MacDonald in the dark, and rarely shaving my legs… I faced a large and expensive battle with my ex-husband and I emerged like a shriveled white cave worm, crawling to light… I’d even developed something called a Uterine Hernia… My Uterus was literally starting to fall out of my body… I was reminded of the words of actress Olivia Wilde, who lamented her first marriage publicly, when she announced… ‘That man has killed my vagina.’

I remember saying at the time… ‘I married a Tax Attorney who murdered my vagina and then used it as a home-office tax write-off.’

But I got back on my feet. I bought a new razor, pulled up my uterus, and started to meditate and drink more green tea.

I am proud of who I am now. I may not be twenty-two anymore… But I have some things most twenty-two year-olds don’t have… And I’m NOT talking about my stretch marks or my sagging uterus. I have a sense of humor. I have a LOT of common sense and also book sense. I know I’m not as neurotic as I used to be. I know what is really important in life. I still sing Old MacDonald in the dark. But this cave worm has become a butterfly… Or at least a moth.”

4) Don’t let someone else determine your worth.

I’ve been close to my friend Johanna since childhood. Johanna became the primary parent for both her children when they were still toddlers and she faced most of her battles alone.

“Most teachers/daycare employees always treated me like I was some dumb pregnant teen that had no clue. There were undertones in conversations… Like here’s the mom who isn’t going to pay her bill on time or remember her kids’ lunch money. I hated that! With time, most of them realized they had stereotyped me. Let’s face it, you can look at any parent, single or not, and name at least a few things wrong with their parenting style.”

In fact, three of the five mothers I interviewed expressed this same obstacle when dealing with childcare workers underestimating them.

Johanna goes on to say… “But really, at the end of the day, it’s made me a stronger more confident person. It’s made me better… more appreciative of the little things.”

5) Endure the race.

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My friend, and fellow Jurassic Mom, Jessica, caught my eye last month when she successfully completed a half-marathon. It wasn’t any average race, though, this was a twelve-and-a-half mile zombie run… A run where zombies chased her all the way to the finish line.

Years ago, when Jessica’s marriage ended unexpectedly, she was left as the near sole-custodian of her two elementary-school-aged boys. Jessica had never finished her degree, and when she became a single parent she felt the need to finish it more than ever. The amount of endurance was intense.

“I had to keep pushing forward regardless of no money and no support. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about a myriad of problems that most people take for granted. I just kept going, regardless of whether or not I was tired. I had papers due. I was working one full-time job, and one part-time job. My son had entered his teenage years, and once I got a call at three AM and had to go hit the streets looking for him. The next morning, I got up after an hour of sleep, took a test, and went to work. I was proud of myself the day I graduated with a degree in Justice Administration.”

I asked her if she thought about any of those thing when she completed her Zombie Run.

“It was incredibly cathartic for me. I was never a runner, or a person who had time to exercise. But when I started running… I had to concentrate, to focus. I thought of so many things I’d accomplished as I ran. I thought of the endurance it took and how I had taken the challenge and succeeded. Running a long distance is 90% mind and 10% body. So is single parenting. At some points you feel like you are going to break, but you have to keep going. You have to move onto the next day… I’ve outrun a lot of zombies in my life.”

In THE LOST WORLD, the second volume in the JURASSIC PARK series, Michael Crichton writes, “For our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt.”

Outrunning zombies. Establishing a powerful super-identity. Laughing at yourself and appreciating who you are. Refusing to let another person determine your worth… Some of these innovations might be unique, but these are the ingredients for a powerful and adventurous life.

In closing, let me just say:

God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs. Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.

Amen.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Draw Me Like One of Your French Girls… A Mother’s Day Aboard the Titanic

For Mother’s Day this year, we took a trip to Buena Park to visit TITANIC – THE EXPERIENCE because nothing says Mother’s Day like reliving the greatest and most memorable maritime disaster of the twentieth century.

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My six-year-old daughter, Harper, has become OBSESSED with the TITANIC thanks to one evening she spent with her father.

While I was hanging out with friends, Erin and Harper stayed home.

As I headed out the door for my night out, Erin and I had this conversation:

Erin:  I’m gonna make mac and cheese and I think Harp and I will watch a movie.

Me (rushing to get out of the house):  Great.  Do whatever.

Erin:  I’m sick of watching kids movies.  I think she’s ready for something else. What could we watch?

Me: I’m in a hurry and I don’t want to make that decision. Turn on Netflix.  She likes Jumanji.

Erin:  I’m sick of watching Jumanji…

Me (trying to apply makup without having a conversation):  I don’t want to be part of this decision.  You guys figure it out.  

Erin:  I kinda want to watch JAWS.

Me:  What?!?!?  Are you kidding me?  No.  She’s way to young for that.  There are shark attacks in it.  She’ll be afraid to go to the beach.

Erin:  She can watch something that’s PG, right?  I’m here… I’m a parent, I can guide her through the movie…

Me:  I don’t want to hear a lecture about what PG is…. You’re giving me too much information right now.  Don’t destroy her mind while I’m out…

When I got in from one of the best evenings I’d had in awhile with my lady-friends… Erin was playing GTAV on the couch and Harper was in bed.

Me:  What’d you guys end up watching?

Erin:  I found a classic.  We watched TITANIC.

Me:  YOU WATCHED WHAT?!?!?!

Erin:  Don’t worry… I fast forwarded through all the naked parts.

Me:  Did you fast forward through all the parts of death and drowning?

Erin:  It didn’t scare her… She seemed interested.  It’s historical.

Me:  Historical?  Schindler’s List is historical… I don’t want to wake up with a million questions from her about death by drowning…. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, you have to deal with it.    

The next morning… Harper was up bright and early talking my ear off about the TITANIC.  “There weren’t enough life boats,” she told me.  “Those guys in First Class just kept playing their violins until the ship cracked in half and everyone slid off and died… It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen…”

This is how we ended up at the TITANIC EXHIBIT for Mother’s Day… A semi-permanent museum, built where the Movieland Wax Museum used to be… A titanic event in it’s own right…

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After a delightful brunch that included a strawberry martini for me…

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And also… The coolest gift ever of a STAR WARS Mother’s Day shirt….

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We went to the exhibit.

 

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When you first  enter… TITANIC:  THE EXPERIENCE… You get the opportunity to have your picture taken in front of a green screen…

 

AMY HARP TITANIC LIFEBOAT

Looks pretty scary… Doesn’t it?  I get cold just looking at this thing.   Over a thousand people drowned and/or froze to death in the icy waters of the Atlantic that horrible night of April 15th.

This is how we remember them.

Clearly, we as a society, are totally over it.

When we began our experience, we were greeted by a woman dressed as a chamber maid…

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She spoke with a soft Irish accent and introduced herself as “Molly,” which is, I think, the name of all Irish chamber maids.

She then, handed us each a boarding pass that had a name on it.

“This is yer ticket to board the Titanic, ya see?” she whispered.  “Each of ya has the name of a passenger… At the end, you’ll learn the fate of yer passenger.”

Harper was a young nun in third class.

I was to play the role of a 45-year-old woman with three kids (Jurassic Mom)  who was also in Third Class.

Meanwhile… Erin drew a National Dog Show Judge riding in First Class.

I think we all know who will be the survivor on this ship…

With that… We boarded the ghost ship.

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The exhibit is quite interesting and it contains lots of dishes, sinks, china cabinets, even an uncorked champagne bottle that has been carefully brought to the surface from the wreckage.

A first-class ticket on the Titanic cost the equivalent of a hundred grand in that era…  Nowadays, for about two-thousand bucks, you can get an all-you-can-eat Midnight Nacho Buffet, a trashy magic act, and half-priced rum punches on the Lido Deck… All thanks to the Titanic…

Back then, though, the high price promised First Class passengers private bathrooms, fine cigars, and the assurance that not even “GOD himself could sink that vessel.”

Welp… Two out of three aint bad.

The passengers would all laugh maniacally, as they toasted their Brandy snifters and said things like… “HA HA HA!!!  Nothing will sink us!”

“Die here?  Dressed like this???  Puh-leez!” they would shout while they ate oxen tail soup off china later found at the bottom of the Atlantic.

When the captain got word that they would be traveling through icy waters, they all gleefully shouted!!!

“YAHOO!!!!  Let’s see how fast this thing will go!” 

Then… They hit the iceberg and died.

Ha. Ha.  Joke’s on you, Richie Rich.

In an effort to prove how cold the water actually was that fateful night… There is a large block of ice in the shape of an iceberg… When I touched it, I thought as they must’ve thought that very night… “Wow.  It’s really cold.”

 

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And then I thought… Ugh… Think of all the people that have touched this thing… It’s one thing to die in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s another thing to catch the flu from some snotty nosed brat from Pomona.

I walked away somberly hoping they sold Titanic hand sanitizer in the gift shop.

At one point, a man dressed as The Captain walked through and said to me and Harper… “Good day, Ladies.  I hope you are enjoying the Titanic.”

I leaned into Harper after he left and said… “That was a ghost.”

“No it wasn’t,” she said, unaffected and annoyed.

Then, a voice came over the speaker…”BOARD THE LIFEBOATS,” the monotone and ghostly voice instructed us.

Erin, Harper, and I all three got in a lone wooden boat in a large black room with a screen in front and a picture of a sinking TITANIC.

Molly, the  Irish chamber maid from the beginning, reappeared.

“Imagine if ya will… sitting alone in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean…” she whispered in the low but serious tenor of the Lucky Charms Leprechaun…  

“To yer right is darkness… To yer left, nothing… Ya huddle together helpless, but fer the strangers around ya… None of ya knows yer fate… In three hours the Titanic will sink.”

Molly got worked up talking about it… And I nodded my head and kept a somber expression, to show my support of her dramatic reliving of the downed ship.

At the end of her monologue, she just looked at us silently as we heard the sound of the dark ocean….

Whoosh…. Whoosh… Whoosh…

We stared at one another in the dark.

Whoosh… Whoosh… Whoosh…

“Wow,” I said, finally breaking the silence because it felt weird staring at Molly like that.  “It was a really terrible tragedy, wasn’t it?”

Molly didn’t answer my question.

Instead, she looked toward the door.

“Ya can go now,” she told us.  “Find out the fate of yer passengers.”

As we entered the next room, I could faintly hear the voice on the speaker… “BOARD THE LIFEBOATS,” it said… Then Molly’s Lucky Charms accent… “Imagine if ya will… sitting alone in a lifeboat…”

In the final room was a wall, with the names of our passengers listed.

Erin… The First Class Dog Show Judge… lived, of course… Shoving his way past throngs of women and children to get his old butt on a lifeboat…

Harper and I… weren’t quite so lucky.

“We’re both dead in the water,” I said to Harper.

Though Harper had appeared emotionless throughout the exhibit, when she heard the fate of her passenger, she looked disturbed and like she might cry…

I looked over at Erin and said… “Um… Maybe I read it wrong.”

“Yes,” Erin lied… And then looked up and down closely as if scanning the wall…”Right, Harper…  Mom didn’t read it right.  No… No… The nun didn’t die.  You lived.  Just like me, the Dog Show Judge… We both survived!”

Harper jumped up-and-down and shouted at the news, the two of them high-fiving.  “Yay!” she said.  “Me and Dad both lived!  Only you died, Mom!  I lived!!! The nun and the Dog Show Judge lived!!!”

And with that… she wished me a Happy Mother’s Day and we headed back to LA.

Look… You can listen to me ramble all day long about the power of the Titanic Experience… But nothing I could say would mean as much as this short film about our time there and the impact it had on our mortal souls: