Confident Mom Interview #4: Roller derby mama Erin Clark
How about a little dose of “bad ass”?
I had the pleasure of meeting Erin Clark during my time as a copywriter at an ad agency. Erin managed a couple of the accounts I worked on. At that time, she was at a crossroads–dealing with the fallout from a divorce and wading further into the waters of single parenthood. She was always very honest and open, whether about what the client was actually saying and demanding (no sugarcoating, but no panic either), her addiction to designer jeans, or her motherly pride and concern about her girls, who were “tweens” at that time.
Unlike me, she doesn’t have a self-torturous tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario. She’s a stunningly positive person, as evidenced by her near-permanent smile. Inhumane deadlines and outrageous client demands couldn’t diminish it. And it turns out, concussions, bloody noses, and cracked ribs can’t either.Those are the three injuries she’s sustained in less than one year on the track in the Jet City Roller Girls, a flat track roller derby league based in Everett, Washington.
Here’s a woman who can push through fear, take a hit, and get back up again. A valuable lesson for any mom. (It’s a particularly well-timed message for me.) Here is my interview with the newly transformed Erin Clark, or as she’s known in the rink, Devilynn Syde (#666).
Life and Times of Stella: Motherhood is not so new for you. But roller derby is! Wow! What prompted the decision to become a derby girl and how has it affected you?
EKC: Prior to derby, my hobbies consisted of watching TV and shopping on eBay. Not very productive, and certainly not healthy or character-building. I’d always been envious of those who had hobbies they were super passionate about, hobbies that were an away-from-work outlet… something that provided different challenges, and an opportunity to meet new people. Derby has provided this–and then some. It has, quite literally, turned my world upside down. It is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and my girls, without question.
My interest was initially piqued by a friend of mine telling me that he had taken his family to a Rat City bout, and his comment, “I can TOTALLY see you doing roller derby.” I thought about it for a minute, and ultimately agreed. The girls and I went to our first bout, I got some information about how to get started, and dove right in. The toughest thing was deciding which league to try out for. I ended up deciding to give Jet City (the Everett league) a try, for three reasons: one, they had a boot camp coming up, Rat City did not. Two, a friend from my childhood was on the league and had nothing but good things to say. Three, Jet City teams practice twice a week… Rat City had up to five practices per week. Not ideal for a single parent. I went with Jet City, attended boot camp, and was picked up by Camaro Harem.
Life and Times of Stella: How hard was it to enter the derby world? How were you tested and challenged along the way? Ever want to give up or were you 100% confident and determined the whole way?
EKC: “Booty” camp was HARD! I skated a ton as a kid, and occasionally took the kids to Skate King for a public skate as an adult…but derby is an entirely different form of skating. A whole new world. There were nine girls in my booty camp. Booty camp is eight weeks long, four practices per week. I was one of the weaker skaters when I started. I went to each practice feeling sick to my stomach. I knew the entire league was watching me, and I genuinely felt like I sucked. I definitely was NOT 100% confident, at any point, during booty camp. There were several times that I considered quitting, due to not feeling good enough. I was tested and challenged at every single practice. I never considered myself a competitive person… derby has brought that out in me, in a big way. Initially, my goal was to not be the worst skater in camp. Towards the end, I strove to be the best. Mostly, I just didn’t want to look like a dumb-ass. Despite growing as a skater in that eight-week period, I wasn’t sure I was good enough to be picked up by a team. The anxiety and pressure to succeed during that time-frame was probably the most intense and overwhelming experience I have ever had.
Life and Times of Stella: What lessons has derby taught you? Are there lessons or benefits that moms in particular can glean from derby?
EKC: The most important thing derby has taught me is to be patient, and always always ALWAYS focus on the positive. Learning to play derby is an evolution. It is impossible to be awesome right off the bat. It takes time to learn the rules and master the skills. Allowing yourself to get easily frustrated… or bashing yourself for all the things you are doing wrong… have a negative impact on progress. I did this at first, and learned my lesson the hard way. It is SO much more productive to focus on the things I am doing well, and recognize that there is always room for improvement. This is absolutely something that can be applied outside of derby. I’m typically a glass-half-full person anyway, but I definitely find myself using this philosophy more in my parenting now vs. my pre-derby life.
Life and Times of Stella: What do your daughters think of your roller derby career? Are they proud? Inspired? Jealous?
EKC: My kids absolutely LOVE the sport and are having a great time. I sincerely hoped that would be the case, but of course you don’t really know until you try it out. I didn’t jump into this lightly. One of the main reasons I took on this endeavor is because it is family-friendly… and is something all three of us can participate in together. I had many conversations with my daughters prior to trying out. I needed to make sure they would be okay with the time commitment (which is huge), and an interest in the game itself, as I fully intended to drag them with me to all associated events and activities. They are both very involved (Elly plays, too), and really enjoy the community aspect. Like me, they now have a wider circle of friends who love and accept them. They are both very proud of me. They like to tell their friends that their mom is a derby girl. I know it was my involvement that inspired my younger daughter to play. My older daughter doesn’t feel it is a good fit for her (she doesn’t like the idea of hitting/hurting people) and has definitely expressed some jealousy as a result… but I try to shift her focus to other areas of contribution. She is a fantastic photographer, for example. So, she can take pictures of her sister and me playing. [insert big smile]
Life and Times of Stella: Best and most challenging aspects of roller derby life?
EKC: The biggest challenge is by far the time commitment. I’m skating five times a week. In addition to my own team/league responsibilities, I’m also coaching a junior team (Elly’s team), which takes up even more time. I love it, but as you can imagine, it takes a huge toll. I’ve lost touch with my family and non-derby friends as a result. Dating is pretty much impossible. I have a hard time keeping up with domestic tasks. I’m away from my daughters three nights a week. I just don’t have enough time to get things done. It’s hard. The other big challenge is being okay with my skill level… accepting that I’m still a work-in-progress. Staying positive, when I’m not nearly as good as I want to be, is a struggle.
The best part of derby is by far the support and encouragement of my teammates… and being surrounded by such a fantastic group of women. I’ve never played a team sport before, so this feeling of unity, the pursuit of a common goal (outside of a work environment) is new for me. It is truly hard to put into words how amazing this feeling is. But, suffice to say, I absolutely love it.
Life and Times of Stella: How old are your daughters, and what is the biggest parenting challenge you face right now?
EKC: Emma is 14 and Elly is 12. They are good kids overall, but of course there are challenges. They are in their teen years, and they are girls. In this day and age, that alone is a scary thing. The way that girls dress and interact, and their accessibility via online networking tools, goes WAY beyond what I experienced at their age. It requires close monitoring and boundaries. Because I’m away from home quite a bit, I have to be extra diligent here… which is often hard. I trust my girls, but don’t trust others. I do what I can to keep them on the right path and, of course, safe from harm. I worry about both my daughters, for different reasons, but don’t want to be one of those paranoid parents, ya know? In general though, I’d say the biggest challenge really is their access to things and people that should be off-limits.
Life and Times of Stella: You said that as always, you’re open to discussing anything. So, exactly how long ago was your divorce, and how did it affect you and the way you mother your daughters?
EKC: My ex and I separated in September of 2005. Our divorce was final in February of 2006, so I’ve been divorced for four years. We attempted to co-parent the kids, but had an exceptionally difficult time communicating, so never really got the hang of that. So, we pretty much each parented in our own way when the kids were with us. When my ex moved out of the state (December of 2007), I retained sole custody of the girls. The girls visit their dad a few times a year, but I am ultimately responsible for their parenting. This was a bit of an adjustment, but we’ve managed and are doing fine. It sometimes sucks to be doing everything by myself… but I like to think that I will eventually have a partner who will help balance things out. That is a whole other topic, though.
Life and Times of Stella: Is there anything you worried about when they were little that you now realize was a total waste of time? Help us worry less!
EKC: Hmmm. This is a good question. I’m not an excessive worrier by nature. But there are two things that come to mind. One: Don’t compare your child to others. Just because someone else’s kid does something earlier than yours does NOT mean there is something wrong with your child. All kids develop at different rates. I remember that being a concern when my girls were younger. Another thing… if your child wants to express herself/himself by wearing clothes or a hairstyle you wouldn’t be caught dead in, let them. Trust me, you’ll have bigger battles later. Your child is not you, after all. Individuality is a good thing–even if you think it means your kid might be perceived as weird.
Life and Times of Stella: What is your biggest fear and biggest hope for your daughters?
EKC: That’s easy. My biggest fear is that my kids will be harmed in some way, or go down a bad path and be unhappy. My biggest hope is that they will work hard and be successful and happy. I could expand on either statement… but it really comes down to unhappy vs. happy. I choose happy!
Life and Times of Stella: Advice for other parents of girls? Especially those of us with ones that are wee and, try as we might, can’t predict all that’s in store.
EKC: I think the biggest thing is teaching them how to be safe and use good judgment at all times. I encourage openness and honesty in my house, something that wasn’t truly valued in my upbringing. Remember what it was like for you as a child or teenager, and recognize what options are available for your child in this day and age (specifically, things that could get them in trouble). Assume that they will want to experiment and stretch boundaries. Be available to guide them in the right direction when they are tempted to try things you disagree with. Be willing to talk about things that make you–or them–uncomfortable. When they are old enough, be honest about the challenges and temptations in your past. Allow them to learn from your mistakes, and expect that they will make their own.