For my Aunt Sylvia. A woman of great strength and grace, and to all the strong women in the world who are not afraid to shine, stand out and speak up!
A little over five years ago we moved our family across Canada making Edmonton our new home. My husband was already working an advancing job in the Oil Sands and he saw and seized an opportunity that wasn’t available to him in our small town in Nova Scotia. I was overcome with fear. Despite our struggles, financial and otherwise, there was a comfort in raising our girls in our country home just minutes away from the support of our family and friends. The thought of moving to a big city again, as a mom and a wife, not a young and carefree youth, crippled me with certain fear. The inevitable happened, people started telling me how much I would hate it and how I would be back in less than six months. The thought of slinking home after selling my home and moving my family 5000 miles away was even more unnerving then the alternative; trying to make it work.
As a young woman living in the city I saw beauty in the diversity of people and places. University students, rappers, professionals of every age and race, sharing space in a perfectly imperfect way. I loved the city, it offered me a place to be myself and the opportunity to embrace a way of life that was new and exciting for me. I remember living in London, Ontario and walking to the all night diner at 3 am for scrambled eggs. The diner wasn’t fancy and it didn’t have a clever name. The neon sign simply said diner, open 24 hours. There were only a few two seater tables and a large communal bar-like round counter with stools where you could grab a seat, order from a menu on the wall and watch the cranky, elderly gentlemen behind the counter quickly prepare your palettes desire. He was like the ‘soup Nazi’ from the popular Seinfeld episode. If you spoke out of turn or made a snide remark there was ‘no food for you’ and there was no changing his mind. He fascinated me, this old man with the hard shell exterior and a work ethic not matched by his youthful counterparts. The food there was amazing and I was careful to eat quietly and not interact too much with the other late night clientele, lest they didn’t know the rules I didn’t want their ignorance to reflect on me. There was a quiet respect between the old man and myself and I know I had gained his trust. On more than one occasion I caught him observing me with a hint of a smile.
As a parent moving her children to the city I didn’t feel the same kind of enthusiasm. We enjoyed lazy days at the beach and Sunday family suppers at home in Nova Scotia. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of traffic on our quiet country road and the sounds of the night were reserved for crickets and coyotes. I think what I feared the most was the unknown. Take away my home, my friends, and my extended family….who would I be? Would I belong? Haley was young enough to just want to go wherever we were going, she could appreciate the excitement of the journey. Morgan however was old enough to mourn all she was leaving behind and too young to realize that if you keep a relationship alive in your heart that distance doesn’t matter.
Quite quickly I realized that my attitude about the move would prove essential in a smooth transition for the girls. I ignored the people who told me how much I would hate it and grasped unto the enthusiastic well wishes from people I was close to. I would always have a hometown, a place where I was born and raised, and a place that would always have my heart. Embracing a diverse and dynamic city like Edmonton, immersing my family in its vibrant culture would not diminish my ties to my home.
That first summer we visited the grand Rocky Mountains. Their soaring snowcapped peaks reaching for the sunshine as their feet refreshed into iridescent glacier water. The mountain air that filled our lungs breathed a new life into our souls and motivated us for the journey ahead. The remainder of summer was full of sporting events, backyard barbeques and concerts. The kids loved the city, they loved city transit. They loved being a part of a grand scheme.
Summer faded into fall, Morgan started her new school while I stayed home with Haley. Morgan struggled with a place to belong in school and though she made new friendships quickly she suffered their ups and downs. She always enjoyed and excelled at sports but fought with the idea of being her best. She found that shining at sports didn’t always sit well with her female friends and I strained trying to explain to her the beauty in being the very best you can be. Somebody who is not afraid to shine will always be the brightest light in the room.
At ten Morgan was maturing into a sweet girl but her body and her emotions were at war with one another and I wrestled with trying to parent her through it. We had always been the best of friends and she felt she needed a friend, not a parent. I began to foresee a future of reasoning right and wrong with a pre-teen who knows everything.
One lazy Sunday we three girls were curled up watching Whip It. Whip It is a fun, inspirational sports film with a female dominated cast. It is full of charm, and good natured wit. The allure of the movie, based on Bliss, a former beauty pageant contestant turned Roller Derby player is that it isn’t sappy but it portrays women as strong, sassy, funny and real. The film explores the game of modern roller derby, albeit in an over the top way and studies female relationships in an entertaining way. In a tough as nails, action packed roller derby scene my ten year old daughter said “I wanna do that!”
“Really?” I replied, “Roller Derby?”
“Yes, definitely”, she replied.
She was a girl in love.
The next day I was driving the girls to school and we got a sign, in the form of an actual sign. There was a sign on the side of the road that said “Junior Roller Derby, ages 12-17, wanna try?”
Morgan excitably pointed out the sign and begged me to call. The age said 12 and she was only ten but I guess I could make a phone call.
Turns out it was a very important phone call. The lady said that they had been considering taking younger girls and to bring her to practice Sunday. I decided to take her Roller Skating at the old Sportsworld that Friday to see if she liked it. She was off like a shot with a smile on her face. I tried too, I hadn’t been on quad skates since I was a kid and my legs were super shaky. It was also hard to keep my balance with Haley hanging off me. Haley was six at the time and hated roller-skating. She ripped the skates off her feet so fast you would have thought they were on fire. Morgan however had found her new love.
From that first Sunday till now has been quite a voyage. A little league that was once the appendage of an adult league became its own society run by parents and volunteers with the common goal of empowering youth, allowing them to embrace their individualism in a fun, safe and respectful environment while learning the sport of flat track roller derby. As a founding member and board member I have been humbled and moved by the determination of these young skaters and the strong women who give their time to teach them a sport that they are passionate about.
As a parent I have always strived to teach my girls to be strong and independent and never be afraid to be the very best they can be. Traditionally females are taught to be feminine, quiet and sweet. Roller Derby is a non-traditional sport and it teaches girls lessons that are very valuable in today’s society. It teaches them to be strong and competent and competitive. A competitive sport such as roller derby teaches girls to embrace the skills they learn to be stronger individuals with healthy self-esteem and body images.
Often in society men are rewarded for strength, competence and aggressive behavior while for women it is frowned upon. Strong women are frequently viewed as a threat in today’s society and instead of learning to be fearless and independent they are learning that being feminine is measured in their ability to attract members of the opposite sex, not rocking the boat, allowing the men to do the heavy lifting, in sitting pretty so to speak. As a parent I prefer that my girls make their own definition of the word feminine. One that exceeds physical beauty and embraces independence, personality, uniqueness, strength and capability.
The sport of Roller Derby is played by strong and enduring women all over the world. Those that coach the sport are resilient and passionate. They are their own heroes, and heroes to the girls that they instill the same robust qualities.
Haley is a Derby girl now and she is navigating her way, finding a place in a sport that envelopes everyone.
I am proud of Morgan Mayhem and Haleylujah. They are flawlessly imperfect and definitely not textbook young ladies but I believe that they are amongst a movement of young women that will shove through the walls that society has built up, unravel and redefine the roles of men and women. They will know when to be strong, when to speak up and when to stand their ground. They will never be afraid to be “as good” as their male counterparts and in fact will struggle to be better.
They will never be intimidated by the term ‘male dominated’, they will believe that means ‘female friendly’
The definition of ‘feminine’ is in need of a serious revamp. Females in sport are changing what it looks like every day. From where I stand it looks like, determination, skill, endurance, passion and strength.