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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Baby on Bjorn or (step on a crack break your mother f-ing back)

“All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.”
― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

 

You can’t be invisible when you have a baby.  Even if you were a person who lived in virtual anonymity and walked through life and department stores without being noticed… When you have a baby… Even when you are pregnant… It changes.  Wherever you go, someone will notice you and they have plenty to say…

I was six months pregnant with my daughter, Harper, and standing in the waiting area of a Chinese Restaurant in Reseda when the hostess came up to me, and without asking, put her hand on my stomach and said, “What are you going to have?”

“Are you taking my order?” I asked, taken back by the strange gesture, “I need to see a menu.”

“No, no…” She said… laughing… “Are you having a boy or a girl?”

“Oh, right,” I said, laughing uncomfortably.  “I’m having a girl.”

“Girl,” the woman repeated, running her hands across my belly like she was rubbing it for good luck.  “This is a good year to have a baby.  This is the Year of the Pig.”

She gestured to a large Chinese Zodiac banner above the register which read YEAR OF THE PIG.

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Quite honestly, I felt like a pig that year.

I’d gained close to thirty pounds and I wasn’t exactly svelt when I started…  And a stranger rubbing my belly in public wasn’t helping.

“Pigs make good babies,” she continued, at the keen interest of everyone in the waiting area.  “They are friendly.  But you can’t force them.  Pigs will be friends, but only if you are gentle.  Be gentle with this baby.”

“Thanks.  I will,” I told her, wanting to put a period on the interchange so it would end.

But the woman kept her hands on my stomach for a moment longer, then looked at me like she was going to impart some kind of ancient wisdom.

I braced myself…. Imagining words of prophecy that I could write down in Harper’s baby book that she would one day read, and would give clarity for the rest of her life.

The woman leaned into me, smiled and said…

“I’m giving you a free appetizer.  Free Pork Buns.  My blessing for the baby.”

And that was the end of it.

Several more times throughout my pregnancy this would happen.

A friend I hadn’t seen in awhile came up to greet me… But instead of hugging me, she put her hands on my stomach. “I’ve always wanted to do this she said.” She ran her fingers around the full circumference of my belly, feeling under it, then resting both hands right in the middle.  “Your tummy is hard like a watermelon. That’s weird.” She laughed while she groped me.  “This is so cool!  Like a giant coconut!!! Could the baby bang her head in here?  Don’t jog or run too hard.”

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An elderly woman even snuck up on me in the grocery store while I was reaching for Triscuits.  She placed her small hand on my stomach.  “Can I tell you a secret?” she asked, speaking softly.

“Sure.” I told her…  And when I turned around, she took my very pregnant belly in her hands and rubbed me like Buddha.

“If your water breaks in the store,” she whispered, “grab a jar of peaches and drop it. Then, just walk out.  My daughter-in-law did that and it worked.”

“Really?” I asked her.  “Will my water break that hard?  Will it be like a river gushing out of me?  And what if I’m not near any peaches?”

“Well,” she said, looking perplexed.  “If the peaches are close….  Find some.  I guess a jar of anything could do… Even pickles…  It will save you some embarrassment.”

That was the most bizarre information I received while pregnant and begged the question… If you drop a jar of peaches in the woods and no one sees it, are you still liable?  And how could dropping a jar of peaches on the ground save me any embarrassment?

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I would be the woman whose water broke AND she dropped peaches.  Should I also accompany dropping the peaches with a loud exclamation like… “I’m sure glad my water did not break…  But I’m sure sorry I dropped these peaches and they splashed all over me like a flood of incontinence…”  Then I run…. No one would suspect anything I’m sure… No one…

The inquisitiveness of strangers continued once I had the baby.

Take for instance… The Baby Bjorn… I had a Baby Bjorn and I was very proud of it.  Baby Bjorns are the Mercedes model of free-handed baby carriers.  It was red and black and I found it actually looked quite slimming on me despite the human being dangling from the front of it.

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I would soon learn, however, that whenever you saddle a small human to your frontside and carry her in a contraption that fastens about your back, the way the Baby Bjorn does, you will be subject to LOTS of concerned people CONSTANTLY making statements about whether or not it is good for your lower back.

“Does your back hurt?” random people who’d never given a crap about me before, would say… “I don’t see how that could be a good thing. It puts too much pressure on your back. I don’t want you to have a back problem.”

WHO ARE YOU?!?!?   This thing was tested by loads of Swedish So-and-Sos. Can a mamma take a walk?

God help me… Once I ran into an actual Chiropractor while I was walking in our residential area. Harper had fallen asleep in the Baby Bjorn and this man stopped me and talked to me for ten minutes at least about his “concern” for my lower back. By the time I had gotten away from the good DC, I of course had his card and a promise to give him a call so he could “manipulate” me later that week.  Then Harper woke up, realized she was trapped in a straight-jacket, and proceeded to scream-cry the full twenty minute walk back to the house.

But the group of “back supporters” weren’t the only people I had to look out for.

Concerned old women who thought my baby was cold seemed to magically appear from thin air.

It didn’t matter where I was, either…. I could be standing next to an oven inside a tanning booth, surrounded by  Heating Lamps in the middle of the desert… But if Harper wasn’t bundled up like a papoose, these old women would step up and make comments like,  “Do you have a jacket for that baby?  I think that baby is very cold.”

“No,” I would say,  “She’s not.”

“Do you always take your baby out on such cold evenings?” an old woman sitting in a car actually asked me as I passed her on foot.  “It’s too cold out here for a baby.  You’re baby is going to catch a cold.”

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“First of all,” I told Driving Miss Daisy, “She’s not cold.  But anyway… Even if she was… You can’t catch a cold simply from being cold.  A cold is a virus.”

“You can catch hypothermia, though,” she called after me… “And your baby might get it if you don’t get her inside.”

Right… Hypothermia… On a freezing California evening in the middle of summer…I walked away from the woman between palm trees and a man mowing his lawn in shorts.

Then… There are the people at the grocery store… These people are terrific.  They love to talk to your baby.  Feel your baby’s feet and give unsolicited parenting advice that can range from what type of diapers to buy…. To what to feed the baby and the kind of formula to use…

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All this… while you clumsily try to get in-and-out before another major meltdown.  And when your baby does melt down, or is driving you crazy… And you think the line might stretch on for eternity…

Someone will always say… “Remember this time.  It passes so quickly.  It feels like my kids were that age just moments ago.”

One of my favorite poems by Kahlil Gibran says:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you.

Though it’s hard sometimes in a fast world with places to go and things to do… To appreciate those people driving me crazy with tips and anecdotes… I try to remind myself that from that first moment when a woman placed her hands on my stomach and gave me free Pork Buns, it was clear that Harper’s life didn’t belong only to me…  There was a world of people excited about her entrance into the world… Excited about her life, and the care of it.  Concerned about mine too…