Monday, January 28, 2013

The protector

I am the type of person that remembers the most mundane and random details from my life. But I can not for the life of me remember a specific date. I know it was summer because I was wearing shorts. And I know I was 13 because my little sister was almost 3. But I do not remember the exact date that I was sexually assaulted. Maybe because for nearly 20 years, I've tried everything in my power to forget.

I have struggled with this post. Do I post? Is it too personal? Will I offend people? What will people say or think of me? Am I ready to tell this story so publicly? Will it be a positive message?

When it comes down to it, this is MY blog and MY life. If my story helps just one single woman realize that they can be ok after a sexual assault, then my post was not in vain. And besides, I need to get this OUT. If nobody reads it, then so be it. This is my way of coming to terms with what has happened and this post is for me. I will remain as anonymous as possible and only refer to 'him' as H. Some that have known me for years might figure out who H was as they knew him as my foster brother that lived with us for about a year.

A few weeks ago I got a text from my sister that said "hey, thought you'd want to know H hung himself". At first I squealed with delight because the person I've hated for 20 years was finally dead. It's morbid to think or even say, but I have wished him dead. For years I've had vivid dreams of being back in that moment and how I'd kill him instead of having what happened, happen. I think my subconscious was trying to tell me that I didn't have to be the victim if I didn't let myself. He didn't have to win. Anyway, within a few hours of finding out he was actually gone, my feelings about the situation started to change. I went from ecstatic to extremely confused. 

I got online and tried to find his obituary, to no avail. I searched his name all over the internet and came up with nothing but a couple petty crimes...which surprised me given what he had done to me. I had assumed for 20 years he was a predator and was probably rotting in a prison cell. 

A few days after the initial news was brought to my attention, I found the obituary. He was in fact gone, and he left behind 5 children, something I never even considered to be an option. In my mind he was still the slimy 15 year old, not a grown man with children. I began to cry. I began to think of him in a different light. I began to wonder what type of man he had become. I began to feel sorry for his children being left without a father. But what if he wasn't even a good dad? What if he was exactly the sleaze ball I'd always pegged him to be? What if they were better off without him? Oh my the thoughts I were having were too grown up, too mature. Why couldn't I just stay happy that my perpetrator was finally gone? I realized I didn't hate him anymore if I was actually having sympathy. But I was still angry with him. I was angry I never got a chance to see him as an adult. I wanted so desperately to stand face to face with him and have him (and me) know that I was all right. I had turned out just fine. I was not a victim. He did not win.

When it happened I didn't go into a deep depression right away. I didn't cower from him or hide from him in our home. Instead I gave myself a job. I gave myself the most important responsibility I could think of. I wasn't able to protect myself, but I had to protect my little sister. She wasn't quite 3 and I promised myself that I would have killed him with my bare hands if he got near her. That I would lay down my life before I let anything happen to her. I hadn't been protected, but I would die trying to protect her had a situation arisen. It was now my self-appointed obligation.

I was 13 years old and I kept a knife under my mattress, you know, 'in case'. I kept a hawk eye on his every move if he came out of his room. I made his life miserable making sure he stayed away from my sister. I did everything in my power to alienate him from my family; they were my family, not his. To the best of my knowledge, he never hurt my sister in any way. I'd like to think it was because I protected her, but my now adult mind knows it's probably because he really wasn't a pedophile. He was a horny teenage boy with impulse control, among other issues, but he was not a pedophile.


Fast forward a year. My mom and step dad divorced. H no longer lived with us. I was a freshman at a new school trying to make friends. I had yet to tell a soul about what had happened to me. Once it was official that H wouldn't be around, I knew my sister was safe and out came my emotions. I cried uncontrollably for hours on end and days on end. I attempted suicide several times but each time couldn't bring myself to go through with it. Being 14 is rough as it is, but being an emotional basket case and dealing with all of those emotions alone, is even more rough. Somehow I always found an inner strength to go 'just one more day'. Somehow I knew I couldn't let him win. I was better than that. And I still had a little sister to protect.

Then one day it was too much of a secret to keep bottled up inside. I turned a corner at school and there stood H. He was standing in my hallway, smiling from ear to ear with a grin I could only describe as evil. And I couldn't breathe. I ran to the nearest bathroom with a couple of my friends following behind me, confused. I spilled my guts to them. M and G were the first to know what had happened to me and they didn't judge me. Instead, they walked out before me and became my look out for the rest of the school year. Before a corner was turned or a stair well was climbed, one of them was ahead of me making sure the coast was clear. Slowly I regained my confidence that I really was ok and he did not win. That became my mantra, 'he can't win' and it's still a term I use today when struggling with something. I can't let 'it' win. I can not give up.


I hadn't seen H since that school year. But I realized when I found out he was gone, that I had searched for his face whenever I went to his town. I realized that I had hoped to run into him one day. I wanted to see the man that I considered a monster. I needed to see if he was as evil as I remembered. Most of all I needed to stand in front of him and not panic. But he hung himself and I'm angry that he took the coward way out. I'm angry that he let 'it' win. And I'm furious that I didn't get the chance to look him in the eye and tell myself that I WON! I am not a victim and he did not hold any power over me. I am all right!


I don't know how many women would say something like this, but what he did to me made me who I am today. At 13 years old I gave myself the job of the protector. I have always felt an immense responsibility to protect those that I love. What happened to me years ago is also a part of why I coach cheerleading. Of course I love the sport, but more importantly, I love the girls. I was alone and scared at their age and I never want any of them to feel that way. It is a horrible way to live. So I have given myself the responsibility of being their safe place should they ever need one. And they know it. I make sure they know it.


I could go on and on about how OK I am, but the truth is, I'm not sure who I'm trying to convince...you or me. I know I'm not a victim and I know I'm a strong individual, but sometimes I wish I'd have never given myself the job of being a protector. It is a hard reputation to live up to and at times it's simply exhausting. For example, with my sister. I still feel the need to protect her despite her pleas for me to let her be an adult and figure things out on her own. I hope she knows I only do it because I love her and it's always been my job and I just don't know how to be anyone else. 


I am the protector.



Sunday, January 27, 2013

Where is she now...

A year ago I had the honor of photographing Miss Courtney Slatick. I had the goal of helping her raise awareness of her rare disease, SMA Syndrome. She had the goal of not only raising awareness, but putting out a positive message to women of all ages, that despite the tubes that were hanging out of her body, she was still beautiful. You can see the original blog post, watch her video and see her photos from that session here: http://laughlovephoto.blogspot.com/2012/03/beautiful-and-brave-sma-survivor.html

When I met Courtney I knew right away she would do great things with her life. She had a positive attitude and a survivor mentality. She had a motivational drive within her that I knew would propel her to achieve any goals she set. I could tell she was a fighter and instantly the image of "Rosie the Riveter" came to mind. I have waited a whole year to do my take of Rosie and it was a year well worth it. Here's Courtney with her own "Yes, I can" attitude!


 In the last year Courtney has gone through school to get her CENA Certification to 'give back' as she says. She wants to take care of people the way she was taken care of. She wants to be a message of hope to people that might need a positive influence during their time of illness and need. She wants to follow in the footsteps of the great staff at Michigan's Mott Children's Hospital. 


Although she still struggles with her SMA and it's side effects, Courtney's back to living a normal life. She's back to playing volleyball with friends. She's back to a tube free stomach and eating real food. And she's completely head over heels for a wonderful young man. When I asked if he was her 'forever', she giggled and said 'oh, I hope so!'. Eek, I just love happy endings...


To keep up with Courtney's story, become a fan of her Facebook page for SMA Syndrome Awareness.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

*Smitten*

As a creative person I find the store-bought Valentine's cards repetitive. Given the option my son would probably give Star Wars cards every single year. I feel that in the profession I'm in, I need to step up my Mommy game and provide him with more fun options. I also blame Pinterest for giving me a complex as a Mom! 

Anyway, to remedy this I'm going to be offering affordable Valentine's Mini Sessions so your kids can have creative and fun Valentine's to hand out to their friends and family! You will get your choice of 2 digital images with print release to create your own Valentine's cards or 30 custom designed bookmarks that the kids can sign their name own name on. These bookmarks are double sided keepsakes that will have photos on both sides; much more exciting than a Yoda face on a disposable piece of paper (although my Tyler would argue that opinion)! You could easily punch a hole in a corner of the bookmark to attach a piece of candy, pencil or other surprise with a ribbon. If your child is not school-age, that's where the digital images come in handy. With the print release you can create your own Valentine's for grandparents, or print updated photos for your wall! 


Here's the details:


Who: This is for children only.
When: Sunday February 3rd, 2013
Where: 134 W. Chicago Blvd. Tecumseh, MI 49265
Time: Sessions starting at 10 a.m., with a limited amount available. Each session is 10-15 minutes.
Price: $65 includes session, and choice of 2 digital images or 30 custom bookmarks. All ala-carte add-ons are only $15!
Look: There will be 2 studio set-ups for 2 separate looks. You can choose, or we can move quickly and get both looks. There will also be a large selection of props to choose from to ensure originality between siblings and friends!
How to book: email laughlovephoto@gmail.com or call (517)442-5114 to get scheduled today! Session fee is due at time of scheduled session.
Bonus: Since this is my first official mini-session in the studio, I'm going to offer some grand opening bonus surprises at the session. These are bonuses you will NOT want to miss out on, so get scheduled today!
Fine Print: Offer can not be combined with any other discount or coupon code.




Friday, January 4, 2013

Fine Art Friday {January}

I am fortunate and honored to be a part of an incredible group of female photographers that sell on Etsy. The group is fPOE for short and we work together as a team. We cross promote by making treasuries on Etsy, we support each other behind the scenes in our Facebook group and we share valuable information that can take years of research to figure out. This group has quickly become my 'safe place' on Facebook and I consider each and every one of them a friend and colleague. The camaraderie in our group is rare amongst females and it is greatly appreciated! And this hasn't gone unnoticed as our fPOE team is among the nominated teams for "Team Spirit" on Etsy. YAY TEAM!

When a photographer is asked who they're inspired by, many will rattle off well-known portrait photographers. They may be well known because they host workshops or just have a large Facebook fan base. But the fPOE ladies are the photographers and artists that inspire me the most. They create highly sought after home decor and wall art out of their photos. And there is no right or wrong way that they've done it...something that many portrait photographers like to argue about. Creating art is something that I've tried to do since before I was in business as a portrait photographer. It's a little known tid-bit, but I had an Etsy shop before I started portrait work. I guess you could say my heart is in the art.

For a couple months I've been posting a new photo onto my Facebook page every Friday. I've called it "Fine Art Friday with fPOE" and I've encouraged other fPOE ladies to post a new photo as well. It can be a photo taken years ago, but it had to be newly edited. I've had a few ladies participate, but honestly, every Friday can be a tedious task and one that can easily be forgotten. So I've changed my plan up a bit for 2013. Fine Art Friday will now occur on the First Friday of every month. This should give us all, including myself, plenty of time to procrastinate. This idea is also in hopes that I'll actually use this silly blog! LOL

Before I post everyone's photos, here are some valuable links if you'd like more information about the fPOE team:
fPOE Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/femalephotographersofetsy
fPOE Special Virtual Events FB page: https://www.facebook.com/FpoeArtistEvents
fPOE Blog: http://www.femalephotographersofetsy.blogspot.com/
fPOE Etsy Team Page: http://www.etsy.com/teams/5940/female-photographers-of-etsy

Here are the first submissions for 2013's Fine Art (First) Friday with fPOE in no particular order:


Angsana Seeds
Title: "Peace"
Description: Golden flare from the setting sun cast a vivid glow onto the
rice paddy fields in the land of a thousand smiles - Thailand.


Catino Creations
Title: "Cold Creek"
Description: Rare snowstorm in Texas on Christmas Day.


Lost in the Valley Photography
Title: "Coffee Time"
Description: Since the weather has turned to freezing, I've turned to still life photography.
It's a fun way to sharpen my skills and prevent me from
landing in the winter doldrums. It also lets me 'play' with all the many
collections I have around the house!
Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/LostInTheValleyPhoto



Amy Tyler Photography
Title: "Billy G"
Description: This is my friend Ingrid's little billy goat.
I was so drawn in by his soulful eyes, I just fell in love.
The eyes of my subject are always the most important part to me...they tell a story.
Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/AmyTylerPhotography
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmyTylerPhotography


Karen Webb Photography
Title: "Queen Anne's Lace"
Description: Taking a visit to our newly purchased farm house decided
I would take some pictures of the snow. As I was driving up the gravel drive
this image of the Queen Anne's Lace caught my eye, being so delicate, rustic and wintery.
Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/KarenWebbPhotography
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Karen-A-Webb-Photography/120539554701700


 Laughter and Love Photography
Title: Sole Survivor
Description: In a rural community with never-ending dirt roads and run-down farms,
it's not an uncommon sight to see orphaned silos.
And when I drove past this silo this morning in the sunrise and snow,
he looked like a sad 'last man standing' out in the cold.
Etsy shop: http://www.laughlovephoto.etsy.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/laughterandlovephotography




Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Olivia Act

There's an Alan Jackson song about September 11th, perhaps you're familiar with. In it he sings "Where were you when the world stopped turning...". Of course I know where I was, who I was with and most of all, I will never forget how I felt. I had hoped that would be the only time in my life that I'd have a world event impact my heart so deeply. Unfortunately, on December 14, 2012 another tragic event rocked me to my core. But it affected me differently than 9/11 because this time I was a mother and this time it was innocent children, the same age as my son. It sparked a feeling inside me that can not be explained into words, but the best I can muster is that it was fear, it was a breathtaking heartbreak and it was also an incredible gratitude that my children were safe.

As the Alan Jackson song asks, 'where were you...', I have never felt more safe than where I was that day. I happened to have both children home sick and we were all napping in my bed snuggled together. The safest place on Earth if you ask me. When we got up from our slumber we resumed our lazy, sickly day. I checked Facebook and instantly couldn't breathe I was crying so hard. The status postings, the sharing of the news stories, it was surreal and I kept wishing it wasn't true.

Twenty six lives were lost that day. Twenty six innocent lives. There were 12 girls, 8 boys and 6 adult women. I had no words then and I still have no words today.

A few days after the tragedy a photographer decided to do something. She decided to honor the lost children because she noticed one of the girls named Olivia had recently had family photos taken. The photographer's own daughter was named Olivia, so this struck a chord as well. She thought about how much little Olivia's family must cherish those photos and being a photographer, it was a skill she could utilize to help another family have photos to cherish. She offered a 30 minute session to a deserving family and asked her Facebook fans to submit their nominations. Other photographers saw this and jumped on board, so the original photographer, wishing to remain anonymous launched The Olivia Act. You can find the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheOliviaAct
You can read blog posts and find a list of participating photographers from around the world (including myself) here: http://www.theoliviaact.blogspot.com/

Anyway, after seeing a few photographers post about their participation in The Olivia Act, I was on board too. I offered a 30 minute session with $50 in print credit to a deserving family, to be nominated by my fans. I expected some great stories of struggle and perseverance, but I didn't expect to cry with almost every email I received. I ended up with 11 nominations. Not only am I blown away by the stories, but the nominators made my heart proud. They took the time to nominate these families. They took the time to type out LONG, eloquently written explanations as to why these people deserved a 30 minute photo session. They are what 'paying it forward' or 'acts of kindness' should look like. And most of all, I'm honored that these nominators trusted ME with these deserving family's memories. That makes me darn proud.

So without further adieu I am happy to announce that after reading these emails over and over again and reading a couple to my husband for his opinions, I decided to pick 2 very deserving families, for 2 very different reasons.

Family number one was submitted by their friend that wishes to remain anonymous, I will only refer to her as "M". The email from M was one of my first submissions. It was a short nomination because you could tell M wasn't exactly sure what to say because she was in shock. She said she could 'go on and on about what a great mother her friend Jill was, what a great family they were, etc.' But what made Jill most deserving in M's opinion was that Jill Wyatt and her family were on their way to Connecticut to lay their niece Allison Wyatt to rest. Allison was one of the 12 little girls lost that day. I couldn't believe someone from this little community in Michigan had ties to Connecticut?! My heart broke immediately for them. While I can not do anything to ease the pain for the Wyatt family, I can offer to preserve their memories. So, Jill Wyatt, I would be honored to photograph your family in memory of your niece, Allison.

The second nomination came from this family's dear friend Renee. Eloquently and from the heart the email told me about her friend Jessica Johnson's health issues. Jessica has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a terminal illness. An illness that had her doctors telling her she wouldn't live past 18, yet here she is 34! Her medications and CF complications caused her to develop Diabetes, which led to her doctors telling her she'd never be a mother. Yet her son Samuel is now 2! The story of overcoming and beating the odds, proving doctors wrong and most of all becoming a mother made my heart pound with joy for Jessica and I'd love to give this photo session gift to the Johnson family...as Renee said, for Samuel.

The rest of the emails were wonderful and deserving as well. And honestly, as awesome as I think The Olivia Act is, I must tell you that I sat here after publishing the contest thinking 'what gives me the right to decide who is more deserving than another?!'. So I am going to email every submission with a VERY discounted offer. Because everyone is deserving.

The following is a list of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims. Please do not forget them.

- Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/06, female
- Daniel Barden, 9/25/05, male
- Rachel Davino, 7/17/83, female
 - Olivia Engel, 7/18/06, female
- Josephine Gay, 12/11/05, female
- Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 04/04/06, female
- Dylan Hockley, 3/8/06, male
- Dawn Hochsprung, 06/28/65, female
- Madeleine F. Hsu, 7/10/06, female
- Catherine V. Hubbard, 6/08/06, female
- Chase Kowalski, 10/31/05, male
- Jesse Lewis, 6/30/06, male
- James Mattioli , 3/22/06, male
- Grace McDonnell, 12/04/05, female
- Anne Marie Murphy, 07/25/60, female
- Emilie Parker, 5/12/06, female
- Jack Pinto, 5/06/06, male
- Noah Pozner, 11/20/06, male
- Caroline Previdi, 9/07/06, female
- Jessica Rekos, 5/10/06, female
- Avielle Richman, 10/17/06, female
- Lauren Rousseau, 6/1982, female (full date of birth not specified)
- Mary Sherlach, 2/11/56, female
- Victoria Soto, 11/04/85, female
- Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/06, male
- Allison N. Wyatt, 7/03/06, female