Weeping Willow

If I were a tree, I would be a great willow.

I’ve always loved the softness of their tiny leaves, the flexibility of their branches and their melancholy, weeping appearance.

When I was a little girl, I swung from the branches of three willows in my grandmother’s yard.

I hid amongst the sweeping, canopy in the summer afternoons of visits to Michigan.

This winter has left our trees snapped, cracked and broken. Branches are lying in the snow. The ice was too heavy for their boughs and even in the lit up, crystal beauty of the storm, injury occurred.

I have always hidden my broken branches.

In middle school, while girls giggled about their first kisses and sexual experiences, I struggled to know enough to be cool and not enough to be considered a slut.

When I was triggered by my relationship with people, places or things in the world, I withdrew. I asked my mother to pretend to tell me that I couldn’t go out so I could avoid seeing anyone.

I didn’t know the word ‘trigger’ at the time though.

As we approach the 6 month anniversary of The Firecracker Foundation, I have experienced what I can only compare to the feeling of astonishment. After we met our fundraising goal last year, I felt stunned.

I felt paralyzed. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to breathe, or bend or stretch.

I wanted to be still.

What is this that I am feeling? Why am I afraid to move?

I felt as if my movement would shatter the world.

I felt like if I stretched everyone would finally see all of the broken branches at my feet. I felt like my warm breath would melt the snow that had hidden them so well.

Because I am broken. Right?

That’s what I’ve been surviving. I’ve been healing all of the things torn away from me in childhood. I’ve been mending, bandaging and wrapping up wounds.

I’ve been hoping, for the most part, that I hid it well.

Look at that smile. Look at that capable, smart, creative girl. Look at that mother and wife. Look at that derby girl. Look at that giving, compassion loving lady.

Look but don’t look down. There are branches scattered all around me.

Sure, I’ve shared pieces of what I’m healing and where in this blog. I’ve definitely had tearful heart to hearts with friends too.

I still maintain that I have never met a thought I couldn’t share.

However, in some ways I’m still that 8-year-old girl hoping no one notices she’s really just dirty and broken.

Some of the branches I lopped off myself. Self destruction and worthlessness can make you try and burn off the things you’ve been convinced are wrong with you. True or not, the shears come out and you prune like Edward Scissorhands to make yourself normal like everyone else.

Or normal like no one else but less like you.

Here I am after the launch of an incredibly supported and embraced foundation and I am feeling through it all.

What is this frozen, stunned, catatonic state? Why does this growth and expansion make me so uncomfortable? Where has this journey brought me?

It has brought me to discover and examine the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I am not broken.

Maybe the branches at my feet are broken but I am still the tall, sweeping willow tree.

Is it possible that I have been hiding a secret deformation that never existed in the first place?

Is it possible that the abuse I suffered did not make me inherently dirty, misshapen, worthless, incompetent or broken at the core?

It is possible.

It is possible to heal from an injury without always thinking that injury somehow makes you a lesser human being.

It is possible for branches to break off of a strong, living tree. It is possible to love the deep, digging roots, the thick trunk and the wide spreading canopy of leaves without assessing it a lower value because of unexpected and undeserved losses.

I’m still pulling the word broken out of my trunk like a fence line tangled too close.

I’m figuring this one out. I’m letting it sink in.

It’s a whisper. It’s a half question, a wonderment. It’s the possibility that I made a false agreement with myself under duress.

I’m toying with a declaration:

I am not broken.

From the roots to the tree, let it be.

Love from the branches of a weeping willow,


Kicking Puppies

I have been a mother for 10 years and 6 months.

That is kind of a long time. Of course, relatively speaking.

I mean, it’s the longest I’ve ever been a mother.

Tonight my oldest son played in what could’ve been the last game of his first season of basketball. It was game two of what was also his first tournament.

Now, I try not to take the athletic endeavors of my children too seriously. I’m not looking for incredible feats of strength and awe-inspiring talent out of three boys who make peeing in the toilet look like a death-defying Olympic sport.

I’m just not.

I make sure they have water bottles. I get them to practice on time. I beg them to pay attention, cheer on their team and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP PICKING YOUR NOSE!

I really believe that their experience in athletics during elementary school should be a fun opportunity to learn things like dedication, sportsmanship, determination, commitment and teamwork.

I would hate to have one of them shake their fist at me about how I ruined their love of sports by middle school.

They will already have so much material for their therapist. I am not giving them more ammunition for their memoirs.

Tonight, after working and then getting lost, I arrived at the gym a little late. After a few excited squeezes from my two younger children, I found my seat just in time to see Isaiah get a rebound, shoot and SCORE…

in the other team’s basket.

Oh, the horror. Oh, the injustice.

I think it took him a trip down the court and back before he realized his mistake. I’m pretty sure a teammate let him onto it during a brief pause in the game.

I saw his face change. I saw the color rise in his cheeks. I saw his chin quiver.

I looked over at my guy and I said with an aching heart, “He’s really upset.”

Now, I come from a soccer/football/cheerleading/volleyball/band/choir mom. My mother went to all of our things and clapped so hard she burst blood vessels in her hands. She often came home with no voice from screaming for us and our teammates.

She did all of these things but barring terrible injuries, she never ever went onto the field/court/stage.

Okay, in all honesty, there were never any choir injuries but she could’ve rescued me from several solos where the words escaped me.

She never did.

She believed that the game was where we learned from the coach. Her job was to cheer, make sure our uniforms were clean and that we were well fed….and the millions of other things that mothers do for their kids.

So, I like my mother before me swallowed the ache in my chest as I watched my darling boy swallow back his tears. I watched him play defeated. I hoped that he would focus in on me, my smile and my all-knowing, nurturing vibe.

I think my vibe was coming in on the wrong channel because it didn’t connect.

A minute or two later, he went after the ball with three other little boys and got hurt. You know the injury. The one that’s more frustration and disappointment than actual pain.

Hello, insult. I’d like you to meet injury.

He came off the court in tears.


He was injured and so I had an excuse to look after my baby boy.

I sidled up to him and discovered that I was right. He was red in the face. He was frustrated and a little angry. I had him take a few deep breaths and when half-time came I sent him into the locker room with his team. He objected but I reminded him that’s where he belonged – with his team.

He came out and had a pretty good second half. His coach kept him in the game and built up his confidence with some intentional positive feedback. A solid two thumbs up and Isaiah was back in the game.

Good job, coach!

I saw it happen. I saw him come back to the game in that moment.

And then I almost lost my emotions.

I wanted so much for him to know that it was okay. I wanted him to let it go and move past his mistake. I wanted him to give himself some grace.

While playing roller derby with the Lansing Derby Vixens, my coach shared a podcast from Bonnie D. Stroir. It was called The Puppy Talk.

The basic idea is that as an athlete learning new things, it is our job to treat ourselves as gently as we would a tiny, sweet, little puppy.

Knowing Isaiah’s love of animals, I knew this lesson would really be something he’d relate to.

I was right.

I asked him if he would hit, kick or yell at a puppy for making a mistake.

Because he’s not a psychopath, he said no.

This is not my son.

This is not my son.

Phew. Parenting success.

I asked him if he would try to gently teach the puppy the right thing to do.

The answer was yes.

Ladies and gentlemen of the roller derby world, I told my son not to kick his puppy!

He then gently confessed that he got mad at the kid who accidentally hurt him.

This gave me the opportunity to share with him that it took me a FULL YEAR to be able to make nice with the women from the other team after a bout. I had to learn sportsmanship just like I had to learn how to play the game.

My son knows me to be kind and loving. He knows my relationships with the loved ones in my life. He knows my gentleness and compassion.

I told him that when I first skate onto the line, my teammates are my only friends. I want to devastate the other players. I want them to be frustrated by my tenaciousness. I want to kill their dreams.

Of course, he laughed and I admitted that it doesn’t always go as planned.

The point is, there’s a place for aggressiveness within the confines of sportsmanship. After the bout, you should all be able to share a drink at the after party… or a slice of pizza or whatever you whippersnappers are into these days.

If you’re not paying attention, this might seem like an ode to my amazing parenting skillz.

It’s not.

Even though, I clearly have it all together and am superior in so many ways. *choke.snort.laugh*

This is about how roller derby has made me a better mother.

It’s about Vito looking up at me and reminding me that every time you get up from a fall, you get a little bit stronger.

It’s about Isaiah reminding me that I should listen to my body and rest when I need to.

It’s about Isaac drinking more water so that he can be a better runner on his track team.

We learn as a family and roller derby is now just another tool helping me prepare my boys for a great future as exceptional men.

When Isaiah climbed into my minvan swagger wagon this evening, we talked about puppy talks, aggressiveness and sportsmanship.

Most importantly, I told him how much self-control, bravery and determination it takes to get back into the game after losing your emotions. I told him that I was so proud of his character and how much he’s learned this season.

He may never play basketball again. I don’t even care.


He’s already a better person.


Love from the bleachers,




Open & Emptied Out

Today I draw my knees into my chest and protect my heart.

I recognize that my normal posture is one of an open heart. I stretch my arms behind me and lift my chest, sharing that space with the world. A Care Bear stare, if you will.

Today, my heart needs to be encased and covered.

The weight it has been bearing through the creation of The Firecracker Calendar Project was great and beautiful. I have the names of survivors written on my heart like tattoos. I can see the letters scribbled along the walls beating my blood.

Their stories were heartbreaking and their bravery overwhelmingly courageous.

My breath was stolen, tears came often and I found it difficult to speak.

I am making this sound so terrible. It was not. It was truth cracking open and spinning through the rooms we shared. It was acceptance of the horrific and a moving into the brilliant.

I am probably not making any sense.

All I know is that although in reality the Creole Gallery was a perfectly appropriate space for our gallery showing, it was not large enough for the emotions in the room.

There wasn’t room enough for Chelsea’s spoken word piece. There wasn’t room enough for the moment a survivor’s foster parent thanked me for what I had done.

I replied, “Thank you for loving her.”

He said, “Loving her was easy. What you did for her was hard.”

Is there a room big enough for those words?

There wasn’t space enough for the youngest survivor in the room to smile under the crook of my arm and to be so loved by the other participants helping her down her own path towards healing.

The ceiling should have broken open and the walls should have fallen down to mirror all of the growth that was inspired by the experience.

Even in the midst of all of that incredible hope, light and empowerment, my heart ached. I still want to burn down the house and keep the foundation. For all that I am capable of changing; I cannot change the past for the beautiful men and women featured in Soulfire 2014.

I cannot change our past.

That hurts a little.


It hurts a lot.

I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.

I have been side swiped. That car came out of nowhere. I didn’t really expect to love them so.

And now I do.

So of course, because I love them, my heart breaks for them and the things I want for myself, I want for them too.

I wish to honor their bravery but more than that, I wish I didn’t have to. I want to go back in time and rescue them. I want to barricade the entry to the path they were set on by force because none of them deserve to be here. None of us ever do.

I look at their intelligent, compassionate, determined, strong, brave, beautiful faces and I cannot accept that they were hurt.

It has been lovely to be the only survivor I know. It has allowed me to live in a quiet place where my wounds never brushed up against anyone else’s. It has afforded me a space where I only had to be intimate with my own injuries.

Isn’t that the strangest thing? I was completely caught off guard – heart open – and in they walked.

To know them, is to love them. Isn’t that a saying?

So my knees are pulled into my chest today. I am coaxing my heart back like turning egg whites into a fluffy, white puff.

Fear not.

It’s always better to know and by my calculations, that means it is always better to love.

Open and emptied out,


Soulfire Photoshoot

Photo Credit: McShane Photography


Come Dance With Me

It has been nearly two months since #Stargazing2013.

I wore my Joanie dress. That’s what I love to call the green dress that I feel channels Joanie’s style from Mad Men.

The room was filled with family, friends and even a few strangers. I was nervous. I nearly lost my temper looking for my other earring. Emotions were running a little high.

Don’t worry. I founded it and kept my cool.

Once I arrived, warmth, love, hope and encouragement seemed to be hanging from the ceiling. It tinkled like crystal chandeliers and inspired hugs that rose out of the ground and up through entire bodies.

I told my story. I cried. I even got that verklempt voice. You know the one that sounds like a duck. I kept it together. Breathed. Paused. Continued.


It was not easy but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. Love is a funny thing that way. It inches stepping stones closer together and opens bolted doors to meadows filled with fireflies.

I shared my big and scary dream.

I started an organization that aims to -

Honor the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma with a community invested in the healing of their whole being.

It’s called The Firecracker Foundation.

I want to make sure that children who survive what I did, have the love, therapy and support they need to have a healthy and happy future. I think our community should be invested in their healing.

I know that we should not leave them behind to fend for themselves.

I asked everyone who attended #Stargazing2013 to join our community. I told them – you belong with us.

Everyone agreed.

Some donated. Some pledged. Some volunteered.

Offerings of gifts I do not own.

And then we set some stuff on fire.


You are looking at a very bad idea.

Sparks flew. The fire launched and it seems to be heading for a steady blaze.

Just a few days after the event, Louise Knott Ahern told my story in the Lansing State Journal and then it was picked up by the Detroit Free Press.

Thirteen men and women volunteered to share their stories and images in a calendar project that will be sold as a fundraiser. Their vision turned art photography will impact the hearts of fellow survivors and gift others a deeper understanding of what it means to have to live with the consequences of sexual trauma.

FC - Survivors 2013

Yoga studios around town are offering donation based classes to fund yoga classes for trauma survivors. The first one was yesterday and you can view a full schedule here.

My board of directors is training, strategic planning and committee building. Grants are being researched and programs are being built with the honor of our youngest survivors in mind.


Holy cow.

And how do I feel?

It’s taken me a few exhausted days of stumbling about to figure that out.

I am proud.

I am proud and deeply in love with what is happening around me.

I am proud, in love and filled with so much gratitude, I can hardly contain it.

And, if I were being completely honest, I would admit that I’m a little frightened.

A good healthy fear never hurt anyone. I’ve heard that pride goes before a fall but perhaps if it’s tempered with crashing waves of gratitude, I’ll be able navigate this sea without too many shipwrecks.

Most of all – more than anything – I feel…

Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange

I want the whole damn world to come and dance with me. 

Dancing so hard,


Humoring Isaac: The #DogOlympics2013

If you would like your dog to do the hurdles, then follow me.

I watched my 7-year old say those words. He had me spike his rebellious Mohawk that morning. It is rebellious not because I disapprove but because his curls make it very difficult to get a good spike. It’s more like a healthy wave.

He spun on his little Jordan clad heel and with a silver whistle in hand, he headed toward the wide field of grass in our neighborhood park. I watched a semi-circle of smiling adults with their dogs follow him to a station set up with the hurdles he had built with his father.

Some of our contestants were members of our family. Some were friends we consider family. Some were new acquaintances that chose to spend their Saturday attending Isaac’s Dog Olympics.

Each dog was wearing a bright bandana that my son had numbered using puff paint. Every dog owner filled out an event sign up sheet so that Isaac knew what event each dog would be competing in. Isaiah, Isaac and I sat down with construction paper, markers and duct tape to create 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons. Isaac and I made peanut butter dog treats shaped like hearts for the contestants.

I watched as my husband walked beside Isaac. He made a great assistant with a pencil tucked behind his ear and a notebook of paper in his hand. He allowed Isaac to lead the event making gentle suggestions here and there. Levi started out as the mascot and ended up pilfering Olympic cupcakes the Dragon Lady made with M&Ms to represent the well-known rings.

He did make the cutest mascot ever.

Dexter & Levi

Dexter & Levi
Photo credit to Jena McShane of McShane Photography and person to Best All Around Dog, Dexter.

Isaiah helped Hitaly with her second puppy. I threw away dog poop, compiled the event registration and offered hugs to all involved. I beamed with pride and laughed with friends who came to fill the role of spectators.

I stood at the edge of the crowd and let my eyes well up with tears.

I watched Isaac, my middle child, my little fish, my sweet boy, lead his family and a crowd of adults. I watched him envision something and then nurture it into reality.

In the weeks leading up to the event I explained the idea to a few friends. I felt like I was trying to justify humoring my son and this summertime project. I almost felt apologetic when I asked people to come.

Hey guys. So my kid wants to do this thing. Come. Or not. You know. Whatever.

It wasn’t whatever. It was big. I am so grateful that my family and friends were there to see it.

Because I can’t explain the big. I can’t explain why my heart has a happy ache as I sit and reflect on it weeks later. You had to see it. You had to be there to watch him confidently addressing and leading adults. If you could have seen him passing out awards to the many winners including overall winners.

Yeah. He thought of that.

Well, you can see some of it in our neighbor George’s photo gallery. I took a few photos too. If that’s not enough, you can see more from our guests on the event page.

When the event was over and Isaac and I were walking home, I asked:

“If you could give me three words that describe how you feel about the Dog Olympics, what would they be?”

He replied right away.

“Loved, passionate and fortunate.”

Let those words roll around in your brain for a minute. My willingness to entertain Isaac’s idea made him feel loved, passionate and fortunate.

I am having a blissed out moment in parenting.

I hope that with a little help, I planted seeds of giant self-esteem and empowerment in that universe sized heart he manages to carry behind a seemingly small cage of ribs. I hope that he always remember how we all showed up, chipped in, followed directions and let him lead. I hope we can do it all again sometime. 

And most of all, I hope that he can grow up feeling loved, passionate and fortunate. Because, holy moly, wouldn’t that be a Mission Accomplished for me and his dad.

Oh Isaac. I love you bigger than the mountains.

With admiration,


PS – To everyone who helped, words will never be enough. Your love for me pales in comparison to the love you give in abundance to my children. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


In Full Effect

I have a set of index cards on my coffee table that I have lovingly named…

The Flashcards of Destiny!

They contain the penciled in, erased and rewritten framework of the story I want to share at #Stargazing2013. There are about 30 cards. The first one says ‘gratitude’ and the last says ‘toast’.

The social media presence for The Firecracker Foundation is being built. Things are being signed, phone calls are being made and meetings are being held.

The Change. Rise. Crash. is in full, glorious effect.

I have been growing my hair out naturally. I have been on a pretty regular stretch of chemical relaxers since I was 12-years-old. Slowly and softly, my curls have emerged.

If my hair had a soundtrack in the first few weeks of new growth, it would have been Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy. I think now, my hair is singing, I Don’t Care. I Love It.

No, really. I love my curls so much it borders on vanity and preoccupation.

My life is growing out.

Did I ever tell you that when I was about 15-years-old and I was attempting my first round of counseling sessions, I had a dream of opening a home for girls who had been sexually abused like me?

I didn’t do it. Obviously. I let that dream slide. I studied music. I got married and had children. I ran a business and took a job in development.

I met those professional experiences, challenges and opportunities with great love and passion. I learned great lessons and then…

I resigned.

REFRAMING QUIT: It’s not so much quitting as… stopping, ceasing, retiring, putting it to rest, letting it fly, moving on, phasing out, bringing to a conclusion, taking a bow, changing course, clarifying, focusing, perfecting, shifting, trading up. ~ Danielle LaPorte, The Firestarter Sessions

I have opted for what comes natural to me. I choose my wild, curls that I have no intention of taming over hijacked and flat ironed into submission straight hair.

I stand in a vulnerable space. It’s the space between hopes of perfection and the knowledge that perfection will never exist for me (or anyone). I am floating between reality and unrealistic expectations.

Dream chasing can be self-deprecating. My faults are made clear - my inability to lose these last ten pounds, unwanted facial hair, that my best organizational skills still fall in the category of disorganized and on and on.

Deciding to go out on a limb for your dreams is a great way to clearly see in what ways you were unprepared to do so.

So what do you do?

Well, I don’t know but I can tell you what I did.

I climbed back to the hearty trunk of that tree and built a team, did some research and found some resources to carry in my deep pockets.

And when that runs out, I return and fill them again.

I know I am vagueblogging again. Trust me when I say, you’ll find out what the hell I have been up to very soon.

Nina Firecracker M-80 Lansing Derby Vixens Photo credit to McShane Photography.
Photo credit to McShane Photography.

I am learning to navigate this new and untamed landscape. I am grateful for all that has led me here and I am wickedly in love with what is being created.

I am choosing a different legacy than what was given to me.

I am powerful.





Open Windows and Flying Fears

The coffee is brewed and hot in the cup next to me.

I’ve managed to shower and eat before leaping into my office for some solitary writing time. Trust me. Incredible feats.

I do some yoga stretches, review my notes and settle in to meet my goal for the week – 1,000 words in my memoir.

I look up at the beautiful, 100-year-old windows facing my favorite color morphing tree (green in the spring, purple in the summer and fiery red in the fall) and spot a wasp hanging out against the glass.

I am going to get stung!

Yes. I am, in a small way, aware of the irrational thought process here but I can’t help but keep looking up at the window to confirm that the pain invoking wasp is indeed still buzzing against the glass.

It’s been 15 minutes of distraction. I have not written a thing.

However, due to my hyper vigilance, I know exactly where the wasp is…

Until I don’t.

Fudge! I am going to get stung.

So now I have to go looking for it. I know it’s here somewhere – hunting the innocent writer at her desk like a hungry wolf.

And I cannot find him or her. Are wasps like bumblebees? Are all the drones male? Is that a thing? I can’t remember.

All I know is that I am relieved that he has taken himself from whence he came.


And my computer screen blinks empty. Where was I? Oh yes. One thousand words.

Instead, I sit here living the proof -

It is impossible to accomplish anything with fear in the same room.

Tomorrow, I will brandish better weaponry. I will open a window and let fear fly away.