Down and Derby

I am an aggressive girl. Ever since I was a child, I have tapped into an electrical current of bite and gnash. Imaginary games involved slaying Minotaurs with bows and arrows, rescuing drowning princes and frozen kings. Wild horses were tamed and ridden up into tree tops and through creek beds. My face violently slick with mud and ash, I was ready to take on any tribe, any army, any beast.

But time after time, I met my surprising ruin in encounters with other women.

My closest friends have consistently been boys, men, male. My closest, inconsistent companions have been girls, women. Why is it that the befriended women in my life have been so historically disappointing? Is it my own expectations of what friendship truly entails that have set me up for failure? Perhaps, it is the aggressive nature of my energy and action that keeps women from staying close. Maybe it is my own desire for intimate, honest relationships that frighten would-be sisters away like so many rabbits in a field.

I played roller derby for three years. My youngest son was 6 months old when I showed up for my first “fresh meat” practice. I picked up the skating skills quickly, likely because of my background in ice hockey, in-line college adventures in New York City, and late 80’s passion for quads. But I was also motivated to be a part of this community of outsiders.

At an early age, I experienced how rich life could be when surrounded by those who are different from you. As I grew into adulthood, the friendships that I sought pushed me outside of any perceived comfort zone into unfamiliar territory of sound, smell, taste and color. Some of my dearest friends to this day were met in places where I was so clearly either unwelcome or out of place that people stared, glared or did their best to ignore me.

My first roller derby practice was similar. Sure, a few ladies smiled. One seemed ecstatic about a potential new skater (I would later see this same woman brought to tears repeatedly throughout her time with the team). Mostly, I was met with silent sideways looks. It didn’t bother me. I spent four years at an all girls’ school during the charming and sweet years of seventh through tenth grade- I was familiar with the judging gaze of young women.

But derby seemed different than junior high. Of course these women were withdrawn, hesitant about a new-comer! They were used to being judged, used to occupying the fringe. A rainbow of hair color, storm clouds of tattoos covered bodies that seemed to testify to the true diversity of the game. That first display was splendid.

Then there was the game of derby: A beautiful symbiosis of violence and dance, of communal effort and individual skill. I jumped off of the cliff’s edge of motherhood, marriage, work, cultural normalcy back into the frigid waters of blissful subversion. Roller derby soaked my life, in what I thought was the best way. But like any time spent in the cold waters of snow melt: what was at first refreshing quickly becomes dangerous.

derby4 nilla

Photo by Tyler Shaw

At my first bout, one of our star players seriously injured her shoulder. Over the course of the next several years, she would undergo two surgeries and rack up thousands in debt. She wasn’t the only one… Derby is unforgiving.

I became a coach in my second season with the team. I felt close to the source of empowerment that was at the heart of our organization’s mission. Eager to influence the expansion of our collective goal, I set out to lead under an inclusive banner. Even as I worked with my teammates to develop a greater sense of community, I witnessed strife upon strife. I began to hear the whispered talk, the swirling gossip, the criticism insensitively voiced. I spent hours in meetings building, forming, honing just to be met with late night calls and emails declaring isolation. Often I found myself in the center of the critique, in the intersection of clashing personalities. My kids were feeling my anger and hurt. My husband was witnessing the decay creeping into my hope for my place amongst these women. I resigned my leadership role.

I kept skating. I kept knocking girls down. My husband joined me in co-ed bouts that we had been invited to. I knocked boys down. It was awesome.

last bout- zooPhoto by Dan “Jugglenaut” Purdy

My body was starting to show signs of wear. I spent a few months secretly wrapping my ankle before practices and bouts so that my teammates wouldn’t worry. I continued to be a voice of positivity and I didn’t want my own pain to distract. Bones and muscles often speak louder than any pep-talk, however. I spent some time trying to heal. I got better equipment. I rested. I felt like I was letting people down.

Meanwhile, ankles and arms were snapping like so many branches on a dead tree. Girls were getting hurt constantly. We focused on strength training to protect our bodies. We worked on evading those nasty hits meant to harm. And in the middle of all of the physical brutality, the apologies seemed to stop. The division that I had seen quietly and privately expressed was bleeding out onto the track.

Still, new skaters kept coming. The team kept winning. Our bouts were packed with fans. Friendships were forming and sticking. So much was right and good!

derby teamPhoto by Dan “Jugglenaut” Purdy

But not with me. Many of my trusted compatriots left the team, pushed out feeling unappreciated and burnt out. Some stuck with the team even though it wasn’t fun or life-giving anymore. My own friendships had come undone. My best friend (and former derby wife) on the team stopped talking to me. Nine months later she finally told me why. My big “sister” and I had to go to mediation to resolve our differences. I miss those women and the friendships I hoped we would have long after our derby days were done.

And that’s the thing about derby- it ends. Your body can’t sustain that level of abuse for decades. Skating counter-clockwise day in and day out alone, will wreck havoc on your equilibrium. Throw in a couple cracked ribs, deep bruising and a misaligned spine every few weeks and you’ve got a recipe for suffering well past the season’s last bout.

Is derby worth the risk? For some the answer is a resounding yes! For the women who swear that derby saved their soul, there is no substitute. For the women who finally found their family among the misfits on the track, this is home. For the men and women who know that they are a part of something powerful, satisfying and rich, then of course they’ll take the injury along with the healing.

For me, I did take the risk and I made it through with minimal medical bills, an intact marriage and a lot of great stories. But when I think back on my time with my derby girls, I feel sorrow. The loss of mutually supportive friendship, the broken promise of an interdependent community and the dissolution of the idea of belonging leaves me melancholic.

When I finally informed the team of my departure after 3 years, only two people contacted me in the months following. There were over 80 people on the team when I left. I had served as coach, captain and teammate. Yet, when I run into my former teammates in this small town, we greet each other with genuine warmth. There is a shared experience that derby offers, even if the demonstration is fickle, non-committal and often reserved- just like a woman, just like me. Maybe that is the truth that underlies my high-hopes and bastard expectations: the nature of women is that we change, we are slippery and sharp, we will not be what is pre-supposed.

I am discovering a renewed hope in my relationships with women. Now that I have more time and emotional energy to invest, I am finding that I have had steadfast sisters all along.

nilla and teezy

Photo courtesy of Anne T. Kibler

But the bruise that derby has left on my heart remains.

derby2 nilla

Photo by Dan “Jugglenaut” Purdy

Color Me Badd

Best name for a tanning salon: Color Me Badd. In Detroit. In the nineties. When I went back to take a picture of this magical gift of culture and signage, it was nowhere to be found. I swear, it was real. (This was before the true coming-of-age of the interwebs, mind you.)

Today was a colorful day, and not always in the best sense. My son contributed some colorful behavior: slamming doors, yelling, crying, etc. And I offered some colorful language, out of earshot of aforementioned kid, barely. Once that was resolved and Thing 1 was off to kindergarten, I made rainbow popsicles with Thing 2.

We used orange juice, ’cause it’s what we had, added some Elderflower syrup, dropped in some food coloring, and poured it all in the amazing Zoku pop maker.

IMG_5737IMG_5745“The colors match my sweater!”

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It was a great lesson in color mixing and a decent lesson in patience. While we waited for each color layer to freeze, Judah and I played Chinese checkers for added flair (It was his idea that we each use two colors of marbles).

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Bright, fun and delicious.

Paper Hearts and Promise Stones

As a child I remember walking along the rocky shore of Martha’s Vineyard feeling the ocean-smoothed stones warm and roll my feet. Like exotic birds’ eggs washed ashore, each was a treasure, alive with possibility.

I still feel this way about certain stones- their vibrancy of being.

In Virginia, we are closer to rivers than to oceans and we still discover amazing rocks. Unearthed, churned and placed just so on the green edges of watery arteries.

Promise Stones have a ring of contrasting material that course across a rock like a wedding band. My mother showed me my first Promise Stone on that island shore of my childhood. My husband and I have collected these stones here and there on our travels and have embedded several in the floor of our bathroom. Some from Martha’s Vineyard, where we were married. Some from the river down the road. And some from places in between…

stonefloor

stone bathroom

Remarkably, it seems that when I am most questioning presence, they turn up on curb-sides and in fields.

Last weekend, I found myself asking for a reminder.

This is a difficult time of year and changes are swirling like the froth of rapids. We took a family excursion to Sugar Hollow, a beautiful stretch of land and water in the national park. The boys each brought a Playmobil boat to send down the river where dad was waiting to fish them out of the freezing rush. I stole away for a short time and came across scattered Promise Stones.  Strong, solid stripes of quartz wrapped around the rocks like tendons or ribbons on a gift.

It may sound sentimental and superstitious, my fondness for Promise Stones. But that’s okay. I’d like to wonder at nature and my place in it. Even if it means seeing love in a rock.

stone bw

Happy Valentine’s Day.

bowl of cardsalwayscardheart point

Super Choice Champion Chart

Since the end of winter break, it’s been a ragged transition into the heave and ho of routine. My five-year-old is especially having a rough go of it…

There have been several freak-outs and not a few fights.

Tired tears are flowing soaking many late, late nights.

I’ve had it with the shouting, the whining and the like.

And if I see those eyes roll once more,

I swear I’ll wreck your bike.

I’ve got something for you, you snotty, hissing child,

(Especially my first-born, who is neither meek nor mild)

Shut up. Sit down. (And here comes the kicker…)

“I love you, sweet boy. Have another sticker.”

So, under the wise and loving guidance of my step-mom, I made each of the boys a behavior *star* chart. First night: great success!

I’ll keep you posted…

judah super choice chartpierce super chartIf you want one for your sweet, obedient child, I am taking orders for custom charts :).  They are 8.5″ x 11″, laminated for use with dry-erase markers and so stickers can be removed/reused. trouble.trace@gmail.com

Vacate

According to Merriam- Webster’s online dictionary, vacation has a few meanings.

My favorites are:

-a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation

-an act or an instance of vacating

Let’s follow that…

Vacate, according to the same source, is defined as:

-to deprive of an incumbent or occupant

Ha! So, when we talk about Christmas/Holiday Vacation we’re basically just talking about being absent from where we are generally expected to be. Keeping that in mind might make a huge difference in how we judge the resulting experience of our “vacation”. So what if the kids forgot to pack their manners? Who cares if the husband/wife/uncle/dog is anti-social during prescribed family time? Four hours of sleep a night? Eh, you’ll get over it. The point is we are vacating. No one said anything about naps, foot massages and deep, uninterrupted conversation and/or reading sessions. That’s something else. We are just depriving our occupancy- as a family.

That said, we had a stellar family vacation this Christmas. And I would like to take the opportunity to offer you, dear reader, some insight into why and how one can experience a true family respite, not just time away from the grind.

– Loosen your expectation.

Rigid demands, especially emotional ones, will restrict living in the moment and limit the unexpected delights of relational opportunity. If you expect that you will be able to sleep til noon every day of vacation, you will be disappointed, and if you’re like me, pissed when the kids come in and 6 AM to “snuggle”. But, if you allow for flexibility in your expectation, all of a sudden snuggle time becomes the highlight of your week. Along the same lines, if you expect your spouse to have the “just be happy- we’re on vacation” attitude, you could miss out on some really productive, possibly messy, relationship work. Expect surprises.

aaron and p legobed

– Voice your priorities and choose some common goals.

“I can’t read your mind,” my dad once told teenage-me. So true. Sometimes I can’t read my own mind…

My ideal vision of marriage, or community for that matter, is: moving together toward a common goal. Determining which goal is the challenge and it requires conversation.

Leading up to our recent vacay, I told Aaron that my main priority was to be with him, to clock some serious presence hours. I also stated my desire for frequent jaunts to the beach and limited screen time, but those were secondary to just being around each other. It worked out well. Aaron and I had plenty of time together and everything else sort of swirled around in a holy mess of family living. We came home heart-full.

-You don’t have to spend heaps of money to feel satisfied. (But you should be willing to spend a bit.)

Basically, you don’t want money to become the focus either by scooping it out to every shopkeeper and restauranteur that you run over or by holding it so tightly it becomes another family member.

Florida has some seriously great thrift second-hand shops, so I packed some cash just for thrifting. That way, I didn’t feel like I had to spontaneously have internal debates over the financial impact of certain frivolous purchases. We also decided, as a family, to eat at home as much as possible. There was one dinner out and one night of Chinese take-out (of course), but the rest of the meals we spent cooking for and serving one another. It allowed my normally critical sons to slather on praises for their Lolli’s food. “This is the best dinner ever, Lolli! I love this stuff! Can I have some more, please?”

-Take risks.

Start an off-key sing-a-long. Wrestle on the living room floor. Put your mother-in-law’s dishes away, even if you don’t know where they actually go. Best risk that I took on our vacation: jumping into the ocean solo on a very cold, blustery day. Also, eating homemade almond crescents every day… Safe is boring.

wrestle time

– Disconnect.

I’m talking about phones, internet (especially the wastebook), video games, etc. You might only see these people once a year, look at them. I’ve also seen how screen time, especially video games, set a attitudinal tone that is hard to interrupt. I don’t know if it’s a brain wave thing or what, but my boys jellify and hype-up simulataneously after they hit the three minute mark- all of my boys, if you catch my drift. Everything in moderation, people.

-Flat-line your schedule.

Kill it dead. There is nothing like the vultures of appointments, meetings or expected emails/phone calls/faxes/telegrams to dominate your time away. (Remember the definition of vacation?) That said, our expectations are pretty loose, so we’ll take what we can get!

-Give yourself some transition time.

Especially on the return. Back in the real world familiar things are moving: cogs and gears and whatnot. Allow yourself space and time to fit back in. Also, make sure you’ve cleaned the house (and fridge) before you leave on vacation! There is nothing more demoralizing than coming home from a lovely time away to a cold, stinky, dirty-ass house. Oh, and make sure there are clean sheets on your bed, too.

boys home asleepFirst day back home…

– Share your joy with others.

As a culture we are pretty good at sharing in each others’ sorrow and suffering but not so great at sharing joy. Often jealousy weasels her pretty face in there and blocks the glory of full-life shared. Practice joy-dumping and happy-carrying: it deprives the soul of the occupant of fear. And that’s the best vacation of all.

fam beach

Common Nonsense

What exactly are “common sense” solutions?

The problem is not obvious. The break is not clean. The parts are no longer available. We can’t fix what we do not understand, what we are ill-equipped to repair.

Ten years ago, my dad called me to tell me that my mom had died. It was a cold February night in Brooklyn. “Is Aaron there?” My dad asked. He wasn’t. “Do you know where to find him?” Yes, what is this about? “Are you sitting down? You need to sit down… Christy, your mom is dead.”

I can feel my heart racing even now. I can hear the world become muffled by a blanket of that falling moment. And then the blanket lifted. Sounds became sharp, piercing. Color radiated and hummed. Texture vibrated. I felt peace and energy and unremitting comfort. This is so good, I told my dad through tears. She is free of the limitations of this world. The brokenness, the despair, the relentless hoping, the unseen faith of waiting and struggle and perseverance. We prayed together, voicing our gratitude for her shared life.

And then I ran.

I ran like one runs in dreams- with the swiftness of purpose, without noticing my breath.

I found Aaron, my then fiancé, in class. He gathered our things, he gathered me, and we drove through the vivid night.

The cause of death was unclear. She had been home alone, reading on the back porch (Her Bible was open to Isaiah 61, amazingly.). She had walked my sister to school that morning, spoken with my dad at several points throughout the day. Nothing had seemed out of place. She was healthy, sound. But when my sister came home and found her lying on the floor, she knew something was wrong. Caroline hid in her room until, not five minutes later, a friend called to speak with my mom. Caroline explained that she couldn’t wake her up and that she had some blue spots on her face. The friend immediately called 911 and came to get Caroline, who was 8 at the time. My dad received the call a short while later from the police and came home with a friend. “She looked cute.” He told me later when I asked if she looked like she had suffered in those final moments. “She looked cute.”The house was treated like a crime scene. Forensic officers were dusting for prints, checking for evidence, looking for pieces. Nothing.

My mom’s body was taken to UVA Hospital for an autopsy. My dad picked up my sister. And then called me.

One week later, there still were no answers. My mom’s body was sent to Richmond for a second autopsy. We were told it would be at least a month before we would be given any  indication as to what shut her body down.

There were no answers. The cause was unknown. There were no replacement parts.

And this was an immense and beautiful blessing.

We had been dropped into an ocean of grief, of loss, of confusion but there was no memory of blame, no point of origin. We were here, in this moment, breathing, floating. The ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s’ were harbored elsewhere, along with their distracting, false hope of rescue. Instead, rafts, life boats of friends and family sailed to us and we bobbed along together.

Eventually, a medical “explanation” was afforded us. But it was superfluous. Basically, it confirmed what we already knew: this was unavoidable and it is final. This we all know. This is our shared knowledge- our common nonsense.

So, loose the weak thread of comfort that we seek in reason. Un-knot the net of tidy solutions. Release our captive souls and those we hold prisoner with our tear-blurred judgement.

Even in the distorted face of a killer, there is the knowledge of pain, the lie of being alone, and the hope for satisfaction. As ugly and horrific and terrifying as it is, we share this pain, these lies and this hope. It permeates our collective, finite humanity. And yet…

Death itself is dying. Decay is submitting to life. Isolation is fading into community. The shredded cords, the frayed ties, our broken heart-strings are woven into the warp and weft of peace.

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Incidental hugs

He looked defeated as he stepped heavily down the bus stairs. It was as if the big yellow box exhaled my five-year-old son onto the gravel. And there he stopped. He didn’t want to walk towards home and he certainly didn’t want to turn around and hoist himself back into the heaving bus.
His eyes were a little pinkish around the edges and his kindgartener-sized back pack slumped around his shoulders.
“How was school?” I asked the tried and true mom question.
“I don’t know,” Pierce responded like the mini-teenager he has become.
“Please walk with me- I’m cold and want to get home.”
He wouldn’t move, his blinking reptile shoes rooted in the grey dust and chilly air.
Finally, after many halting steps, I picked him up and carried him home. He kicked and pushed the whole way, but every time I gave him another chance to walk he seized up, overcome by his will to be immobilized.
Frustrated now, I plopped him in his room and gave him some “settle down” time.
Ten minutes later, his cries changed from angry vocal pushes to lonesome whimpers and I recognized myself, the child that I continue to be. So I held my son, held myself, and listened.
His day had been difficult. There was an incident at lunch when his curiosity led to unintended and challenging consequences. He made a mess of things and then cleaned it up, ashamed and confused. Fear had entered the equation after the equal sign. Somehow the sums and differences balanced out but he wasn’t sure how. “I don’t want to tell you,” he managed, ” I don’t think you will like it.”
“Maybe not, but I will always love you. No matter what your choices.”
Finally, fretfully, and with the gentle, innocent prodding of his little brother, he described the ordeal and named his part.
I watched the fear rush out of him, exhaling much like the pneumatic bus doors. Fear, shame slimed with tears and snot, my son found himself, again, walking on solid ground.
This morning when I walked with him into his school, he was ambushed by two girls. On the left, the one whose lunch he had knocked on the floor yesterday. “Pierce!” She exclaimed with a broad smile. Two pink backpacks jostled towards him. Two puffball pony tails bobbed with the dance steps of four running feet. And my son, my broken boy, was covered, surrounded by the loving arms of forgiveness and joy and my own child-heart was whole again.

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In this dark season of waiting, may you find the solace and comfort of humble joy, fierce love and courage in community.

Man(ta) Ray: Surrealist bicycle seat

Bikes are pretty rad.

I lost interest in the two-wheeled transport a few years back when my bike was stolen from behind the Virginia Discovery. I had been up all night helping Aaron install one of his exhibits at the children’s museum, and when I finally left around six in the morning, my turquoise Mongoose, that I had ridden since seventh grade, was gone.

A friend found me a cheap beater bike, which I rode until a few weeks out when the whole gear/pedal/crank mechanism blew apart all over the road. Springs and nuts were literally rolling down the street. I carried the floppy, broken pile back home and ran to work instead.

I was done with bikes. They had broken my rusty crank shaft of a heart and it was time to move on. (I guess that was about the time I started roller skating, but that is a whole other story…)

So, now here we are, a full-on biker family. How did this happen? Well, our two kiddos hit the ground rolling, as it were, with the whole bike thing. We started them off on small bikes and took off the pedals so they could push with their feet and balance fearlessly. (You may have seen those snazzy strider bikes that are essentially the same concept, only they cost as much as a functioning bike and once your kid is ready for pedals they are done with the strider. Lame-ness.) Our boys both asked for their pedals when they were ready, and Pierce was zipping around at age 4 and Judah at 3.

Recently, I happened upon a yellow(!) Specialized at the Salvation Army for $25, and I fell in love all over again. I took the bicycle over to Community Bikes and got Honey tuned up. The volunteers there were superb. She needed a new thingamazoo, which they had and installed. Now she rides as smooth as her namesake.

While we were at Community Bikes, Aaron bought a couple of bike seats- also known as saddles to rip apart. Now, a horse riding saddle-maker by trade, he set out to use his skill and ingenuity to make something fantastic for a bicycle.

To him, the bike saddle conjured images of a manta ray. He researched rays, ordered some eyes from a taxidermy supply company, and came up with a quirky, yet slick piece of equipment.

I can’t wait to try it out on our next free-wheelin’ family bike adventure!

Scarf it Up

Delicious DIY project of the day: cheap, cheap T’s sliced into tasty scarves.

Dirt-cheap t-shirts have become a vice. I have a basket full, just waiting for some scissor love. I have made costumes, bags, headbands, dresses, play food, and more out them. Locally, I paw through the 5 for $1 bins at an otherwise obnoxious, and (for the sake of peaceful small-town living) unnamed) thrift store.

I even found a book on altering t-shirts second-hand. (Yes, I am a firm believer in the Thrift Guides from a strange and frugal spiritual realm.)

T-shirts and me go back a long way. In high-school I was making dresses and pants out of vintage He Man sheets and the like. And then I started chopping t’s.

Here are some more recent additions…

Usually, I won’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on a t project, but every once in awhile I settle in for a half hour or so of pinning and sewing.

Today, I made some scarves while I watched old school Speed Racer cartoons with the boys.

  • Lay out the t on a cutting mat
  • Slice off the bottom hem
  • Cut 1 1/2″ strips horizontally across the shirt (not a continuous spiral) up to the bottoms of the sleeves

  • Pull and stretch the strips to lengthen and so the edges roll

  • Cut an extra strip that is about 18″ in length from the chest area of the t to use a a tie for the bundle of strips
  • Stretch the extra strip and wrap the bundle of strips
  • Stitch the ends in place

  • Wear and pretend that the vines/octopus tentacles/mutant earthworms are strangling you, fashionably

What are some t-shirt projects that you love?