How To Parent Derby Style

I don’t envy anyone who interviews with me to be a caregiver for my son.  They have NO IDEA what they are walking into. “And how would you handle the following situation: you’re cutting vegetables with our 3-year-old son, he’s got a knife, and he tries to slice your hand.” I showed the interviewee the slice on my hand from earlier that morning.

“Oh.  A real knife?  He . . . cut you?”

We’re super lucky she took the job.  First day, she spied my derby clothes in the closet while helping to get the Bug dressed.

“Are those . . . umm, pictures of sperm on your mom’s shirt?”
“Oh yeah!  My mom calls me Spawn.  Sometimes I call her Breeder.”

We’re super lucky she kept the job.  Despite my roller skating habits.

Over a year later, our caregiver is giving Roller Derby a go, so is her partner, and so is my son.  And as we skated together this past weekend, I watched the derby girls “skate parent” the newbies on the rink, including my son.  And I learned a little bit more about empowerment.

Now I know all about Derby Empowerment – women suddenly embodying confidence at super hero proportions – exuding power, effervescence, and a blinding glow that rivals even the brightest summer sun.  I never thought about that process.  Exactly how does that transformation into glitter ridden, immortal rainbow unicorns come to fruition?  Is this some fairytale cult?  Or a welcoming not-so-secret society of universal acceptance and love . . . for the small price of sperm on your shirt.  Pictures.  Pictures of sperm.

I understand the process better now, and wanted to share my insights with you – about the parenting skillz of my clan of kindred spirits.  Following are two pictures – not of sperm, but of how skaters are raised.

Scenario 1. Gaggles of children on the rink.  Skates?  Check.  Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards, helmets?  Ha!  So not cool.  Nor are they available for rent.  Children laugh and giggle, playing down their skating skills.  They get out on the rink, doing their best to stay upright.  Falls are inevitable.  Not only do they hurt, but they draw laughter, embarrassment, and a new found desire to stay upright, even if it means taking less risk.  Popular children are the ones who don’t fall.  And after a while, everyone takes a break.  “Good” and “bad” skaters are sorted, no one pushes their limits, and success is measured by the number of times you fell.  It’s a social popularity scene with little to no support.

Scenario 2. My son gets out on the rink, unable to move without holding both of my hands.  He’ll let me pull him slowly, but he won’t push with is feet.  We make it half way around the rink in twenty minutes.  Suddenly he falls and says, “I just can’t do it.”  A derby girl saw the fall, and as she skates by she yells, “Great fall, Spawn!  You used your knee pads and fell super safe!”  He smiled, stood up, and fell again – this time with zest.  Another derby girl swooshed by.  She yelled, “Hit me, Spawn, hit me!”  With vigor, he chased her.  And on her next lap around, she slowed and let him hip check her.  Of course, it knocked the bloody wind out of her and she went flying, sprawled lifeless in the middle of the rink.  Spawn forgot about his inability to skate, grabbed my hands, and said, “Let’s get her again, Mom!”  Each time he laid a derby girl flat, ten others commented on his technique.  They suggested ways to skate faster, hit with more precision, and fall safely.  It wasn’t empty praise – it was targeted support.  He was suddenly taking a lap around the rink in less than five minutes, and telling me we needed to go even faster.  He was Spawn, destroyer and slayer of derby girls.  Other children asked to borrow his gear – perhaps feeling that those not so cool pads would make them as amazing as Spawn.  He had three girls lined up to try out his sweaty pads.  They surrounded us, chattering.

Watching the derby girls “parent” my son into skating, I started to understand the mechanics of derby infatuation a little better.  There’s an unconditional love and acceptance in teaching newbies to skate that’s absent in other sports, in other life lessons, in other relationships.  Derby girls take would-be-negative experiences and slap them flat on their backs, upside down, and smother them with sunshine.  “Girl!  That fall was AMAZING.  You almost fell backwards, but I saw you twist and go for your hip instead.  Soon you’ll be falling forward!  You have GOT this!”  No judgment.  No expectations of grandeur.  Only honest support.

What I love is that this support breeds internal drive.  There’s no external motivation born of empty praise.  Feedback is honest, specific, and uplifting.  You have thick thighs?  Fabulous.  Because once you build muscle, you will be able to squat, get low, and be a hitting force of nature.  Big butt?  God, I wish I had one.  Just think of your positional blocking potential!  Thin as a rail and worried about being pancaked?  Girl, you are going to be an evasive, evaporating, jamming machine!  Whatever your starting place, no matter your physical ability, all body types welcomed – derby is a contagious cestpool of triple rainbow bliss.  I’ll take two, please.  And one for my son, too.

Dr. Rachel

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