Moms in Sport

This is an article I wrote for Birthing magazine last year. Since writing it, I have returned to playing competitive roller derby for the CRD Jane Deere and B-52 Bellas. I’m also still coaching the kidlets.

Andi Jamming
Photo by Brangwyn Jones

My name is Andi Linquent and I started playing roller derby in May 2010. My children were 2, 4, 7 and 9 at the time, and I was transitioning to single motherhood for the second time in my parenting life. I had spent the previous three years working towards a university degree, raising children, running an online business and generally not saving much time for myself. I was angry, depressed and resentful, so I decided to make a change.

Sport was nothing new to me; I spent a significant chunk of my life training in Muay Thai and playing baseball. I love team sports and I love challenging myself physically and mentally. My love for sports and my desire to be physically active had not changed after having children. What had changed however, was perceived risk and responsibility and societal expectations, making participation in sport much more challenging. It was no longer simply an activity I engaged in, but rather something that I had to justify and defend involvement with. 

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That’s me in the silver leggings, jumping. circa 2010/2011

The idea of risk and responsibility is fairly unique to mothers, and particularly single mothers, where society gauges the validity of mothers’ participating in certain activities based on their perceived level of responsibility. The line of thinking is that mothers cannot engage in any sort of risky activity because of their responsibilities as a mother. After all, if I were to hurt myself while engaging in said risky activity, who would take care of the children? Think of the children! The thing is, fathers don’t usually get the same reactions when participating in sport or various “risky” activities. They do not carry the burden of “risk and responsibility” because of sexism. There, I said it, and I don’t even care. 

When I joined roller derby in 2010, I had to answer a lot of questions from friends, family and even complete strangers. People were concerned about my priorities not being in proper order, and they assumed that because I participated in a sport (a full contact sport at that), I did not prioritize my kids. This could not be further from the truth. I justified playing roller derby because physical activity and sport are priorities to me, and I know that lessons are best taught to children through example. I knew that if I wanted my children to grow up to be autonomous people who make time for themselves, then I had to model that.

Though I knew I shouldn’t need to justify my participation in roller derby, I still did. I had my justifications at the ready, sharing them with inquiring minds and using them to keep my guilt at bay. Mother guilt is another one of those things that arose because of unrealistic expectations, socially constructed gender roles, and the social policing that occurs within our own circles. The fact that I even had to justify making time for myself is problematic. How about mothers should make time for themselves simply because they are worthy of taking time? Again, when a father participates in a sport, his intentions and priorities are usually not in question. I’ve never been one for gender roles and living up to society’s expectations of what a “good mother” looks like, so the assumptions and judgments did not deter me.

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Roller derby is unique among sports, because it is woman dominated. However, just because a sport is woman dominated, does not mean that it is easily accessible to mothers. I was lucky enough to be involved with a league in Lethbridge (Lethbridge Roller Derby Association) that was kid friendly, and having space for children to play while we practiced was a priority. The onsite space for the kids made it accessible for me as a single mother. The league in Calgary however, during the same period, was in a phase where kids were not allowed at practice. This had a negative effect on the members who were also mothers, making it difficult for many of them to attend practice. The policy went out with a new Board of Directors, as some of the mom members had decided to join the board. 

When I joined Calgary Roller Derby Association (CRDA) in 2012, kids were once again allowed to be in the practice space. As a parent, I still ensured that my kids had activities to keep them busy, and if they were excessively loud I attended to them. Sometimes there would be an older child there who would help wrangle the younger children. I had no problem bringing my children to practice with me, just as I had no problem attending their activities. 

August 2015 marked my last summer playing for the CRDA All-Stars, and ultimately my competitive play in general. Our team was traveling to Vancouver for “Derby Night in Canada,” and my partner and I decided to turn that trip into a family vacation. We loaded up five kids, all our stuff and my derby gear and drove out for a week. I was guilted by people in my life who thought it was selfish of me to drag the children to my sporting activities and try to pretend it was a holiday. I’m laughing right now while typing this. My children still, to this day, tell me about how they want to go back to Vancouver, and how it was their favourite family holiday. Now don’t let that fool you into thinking my kids don’t go anywhere, because they do. All my children have done more traveling than most people do in a lifetime. They are very privileged, mostly thanks to their other biological parent. They loved that holiday because it was the family spending time together doing fun things.

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Years after I started playing roller derby and bringing my kids to my practices, I am witnessing the effects it has had on my children. Three out of the five kids actually play roller derby (started in 2015), and I am their coach. They are strong, motivated, unique individuals who love to skate fast and learn the sport. They love to challenge themselves and work to improve their skills at every opportunity they get. They tell me they love it when I coach, and our time on the roller derby track has become some of our most valued family time. 

Little bone breaker - Hellz

Up until September 2017, we were driving from south Calgary to Airdrie for our junior roller derby practices. It took us roughly an hour to get there, and winter night drives could be pretty scary. I was coaching there as well, so being late or missing practice was not really an option. The long drive and the inaccessibility (particularly for parents who don’t drive) motivated me to start something a little more accessible. I worked with CRDA to create Calgary Junior Roller Derby (CJRD), and held our first practice in September 2017. Although it has been a ridiculous amount of work, it has been worth it. I get to lace up and skate with 25+ kids who all blow my mind each and every week. There are four or five coaches at every practice, most of whom are members of CRDA. What a huge change from seven or eight years earlier, when kids weren’t even allowed in the practice space. Watching and participating in the evolution of local roller derby has been quite the ride. 

CJRD team photo

Currently there are 17 moms who skate with CRDA, out of approximately 80 members. Some moms bring their kids to practice, others leave them at home, but there is an understanding that there will always be children kickin’ around somewhere. Out of those 17, only one currently plays for the all-star team, which is a slight decrease from between 2012-2015 when there were two to three moms at any given time. There were four mothers on Team Canada’s 2017/2018 roster. 

Roller derby is a fantastic option for women in sport, and there is no doubt that many will find the physicality, empowerment and camaraderie they seek in such activity. There is still a lot of progress to be made when it comes to mothers in sport, but with the “by the skaters, for the skaters” motto that most roller derby leagues follow, the more mothers that join, the more mother friendly it will become. 

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The social expectations and discourse of risk and responsibility continue to restrict mothers from participating in sport, so when it comes to making sport accessible in general, the work needs to take place on a larger scale than just individual sport leagues. That said, small changes made by individual leagues are a great start. Whatever the case, I personally found my participation in sport to have a positive effect on my parenting and myself on a whole, and I would highly recommend giving it a go. Ask for help where needed and remember that you are worth taking time for yourself without justification.

OUT

 

The Glorification of Busy

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We are a busy family. With eight people in the house, I think it’s nearly impossible to not be busy. Even without registered activities, we stay fairly active. But to be completely honest, the registered activities are taking over our lives. We have brownies on Mondays, roller derby on Tuesdays, soccer on Mondays/Wednesdays/some weekends, in the fall we have football nearly every day, and in the spring we have baseball two nights a week. I coach roller derby and have volunteered to coach baseball this upcoming season.

I. am. going. crazy.

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I’m tired, she’s tired, we’re all tired!

Last week my ex gave me crap because our son’s baseball tryouts fall on his weekend, and his football games in the fall were on weekends. The thing is, I completely understand his frustration and would be fine without all the scheduled activities. But, here’s the kicker: that same ex took me to court for custody last September, and listed the “lack of activities” on his affidavit as one of the reasons. He actually took me to court and told his lawyer, who told the judge, that I “simply did not have the time” for organized sport and he saw that as a detriment to their upbringing (in actuality, I had the kids registered in activities, but we also took breaks). So now I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, I’m damned if I do AND damned if I don’t.

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These things are good for them, I get that! But when does it become more of a hindrance than a bonus? How do we find balance?!

I want my kids to be able to just run to the lake and play a game of shinny with their friends, play basketball at the local school, or play street hockey in someone’s cul-de-sac, but the reality is… it doesn’t happen. This lifestyle of organized sport has taken priority over the spontaneous sport and activity, and I don’t know how to change it. This morning Ashton and I went to play football in the snow with another family, and it was fantastic! We need more spontaneity when it comes to play and sport, and all the organized activities makes it nearly impossible. And what makes it even harder is trying to co-parent with someone whose values don’t align with mine. I’m constantly trying to keep him happy as to not end up in court again, but also try to salvage some sanity and happiness in the process.

It’s very difficult.

But we will prevail.

I will hopefully find my sanity in the summer.

Kinda a big deal

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Pic taken from the Calgary Stampeders Twitter profile

Ashton is playing football this season, for the second year in a row. His team name in Lethbridge last year was the Bulldogs, and this year it is also the Bulldogs. He loves it. He loves it more than I ever thought he would. Dakota is also playing football, and Ashton loves doing the same things as Dakota, so this works out quite well. Dakota is currently playing on the senior team for his high school, and although he was initially told that he may not see any field time (being one of the younger players), he has played every game. I am incredibly proud of both of my boys. Being committed to a team, and showing up when you’re needed, is something we value around here.


So this weekend, Ashton got the opportunity to play during the halftime of a Calgary Stampeders game. In order to play, the league had to win a ticket selling competition. img_2346We had to sell tickets to the game, where a portion would be donated back to the league and then the winning two leagues would duke it out at McMahon Stadium in front
of 30,000 crazy fans. So we sold tickets. Ashton’s teacher bought tickets, along with his friends’ families, myself, Dakota and his girlfriend Bri, and a handful of other supporters.

We won the competition, and Ashton got to play at halftime. Holy hell was that kid excited! I have never had an opportunity quite like that, but I can imagine the adrenaline and excitement for all the Bulldogs as they ran on to that giant field. The music, the lights, the big screen, and the screaming fans… how amazing. They played there little hearts out for about ten minutes, and exited the field with smiles so big the entire stadium could see them. Afterwards, all the little Atom players ran to their families in the stands and were greeted with hugs and so much love. So many proud parents, friends, and family members were sitting in those stands. I hope Ashton remembers this day, and looks back remembering how proud he felt in the moment, and how loved he is by so many people. That kid is loved.

I don’t know how to tell you all this, but this kid… he’s kinda a big deal (even if he looks like a tiny little ant in these pictures).

Participaction

We live a pretty busy lifestyle, with the sheer volume of us in the house. All the kids have their own activities and all the adults have work and other activities as well. My activities have been put on the back burner for now while the kids’ activities take precedence. But what I do enjoy, is finding ways to be active with the kids. I find that there is so much pressure for our children to be overbooked in organized sport and activity, leaving little room for random happenings of activity or neighbourhood games.

The glorification of busy is a real thing, and although I have tried to avoid being too busy, it seems we are right in the thick of it. Even if the kids have just one sport each, it’s busy. There’s five of them! I try to make opportunity for unorganized spontaneous activity wherever possible.

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The kids showing me a “shortcut.”

For instance, the kids and I rode our bikes to their school this morning. And in the evening, Lindsay took the girls on a trail run while Ashton was a football. The more opportunity we have to be active WITH our children, the better. I find that not only does it keep them active, it keeps them happy and secure in our relationship with them. Transporting kids to and from sports does not have that same effect. The organized sport is good for team work, structure, and honing in on a specific skill set. I am also a proponent for sport, but there needs to be balance.

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Lindsay loves running. She’s not in any organized sport, but her activities are running and yoga. I love yoga too, and not so much the running. Years of roller derby has left my knees pretty awful, and they can’t take too much running. The kids however, have found a new love of trail running! So this is the activity that Lindsay can use to bond with the kids, and they have so much fun doing it.

I am thankful for these moments of activity that we get to share with the kids. All our stress lessens and we all just enjoy each other’s company… along with the activity of course.