Rilla at the Roller Derby: On Raising Dangerous Women

She was throwing the most epic tantrum of her tiny life. It had only been 18 months, but she had already had some good ones. This one though. This one took the cake. She was red faced, back arched. She was face down on the floor of a public restroom and every time I tried to move her to the side of the doorway, she would scoot back to the middle. Every single other woman who walked into the rest room had to step over my daughter’s anger just to use the toilet.

It would have been the most mortifying moment in my entire parenting career.This screaming public display of tiny angry feminine rage would have been the worst moment of my entire motherhood. It would have been horrifying and mortifying.

But we were at the Roller Derby, so Rilla fit right in.


My friend Megan, having heard countless stories of the antics of my two girls, (and the proud way I was telling them) suggested that they might like the roller derby.

Let me tell you about the Roller Derby. Well, let me tell you about what I know about the roller derby. I have no idea about points and scoring. I am not really what makes a really talented roller girl. I know they skate in a circle, and that pushing and bumping and very agressively blocking and getting passed each other are totally part of the game. I do know that thick eye liner and bright lipstick is war paint. I know that awesome knick names you choose for yourself are part of the culture. I know that if you are looking for a lady who is not afraid, you should probably look at the roller derby. There is pushing and yelling and growling. On roller skates. It is awesome.

The ladies of the roller derby don’t really believe in being too much. All kinds of ladies are welcomed, especially women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it.

And that is what Rilla was, right there on the bathroom floor. She was a tiny woman who knew what she wanted. She wanted a drink of the soda I had bought to keep myself awake. Two kids under three is not ideal for those of us needing a solid eight hours of sleep. I was at my wits end, sitting on the bathroom floor next to her, watching to make sure that no one stepped on her, that she was safe. I was not able to stop her from screaming.

And it would have been mortifying. It would have been terrible, but we were at the roller derby, where people understand the neccesity of a woman in this world, getting a little rowdy. They value a girl who is in charge of her own voice, who demands to be seen. So instead of shooting me dirty looks as they stepped over my screaming daughter on the dirty floor, they told me I was doing a good job.

Lady after lady in the bathroom of the roller derby stepped over Rilla and smiled, told me I was doing a good job, told her she had a promising future in the roller derby. They were glad there were girls in this world, learning to assert their large opinions from their tiny bodies.

I should have been crying, instead I was empowered.

 Because dangerous women recognize dangerous women. They aren’t intimidated or ashamed of them. They don’t see other dangerous women as competiton. They see the potential, look it dead in the face, and call it out in their peers.

I hope, later in life, Rilla will pick better battles. I hope she will care less about whether or not she gets my soda, and more about injustices of a larger scale.

But I hope she maintains the fierceness of her fight. I hope she knows her voice is powerful and that sometimes it is important to disrupt the order of things to get heard. I hope she is always savy enough to know what might make the biggest scene, and I hope she has the gall to throw her fit right there. 

And I hope that there are dangerous women around her, telling her the fight in her is good, letting her know that they are proud of her.

10 thoughts on “Rilla at the Roller Derby: On Raising Dangerous Women

  1. Pingback: » Rilla at the Roller Derby: On Raising Dangerous Women

  2. I was a little girl with dramatic tantrums and strong opinions. I held my first and only hunger strike at age 4. I demanded my own knife to cut my own food. That strength and my faith have gotten me through quite a number of traumatic experiences without harm. I love hearing about your daughters.

  3. Beautiful. As an English teacher and a Mum, I love so much of what you write – I identify with it and am inspired by your words all the time.

    This reminds me so much of my girl. As a survivor of a terrible 2 phase that lasted from around 14 months until 4, I felt so much gratitude to every ‘witness’ who told me to hang in there, that I was doing a good job, who smiled at my daughter in the midst of her screaming, red-faced, hyperventilating tantrums and said something like, ‘she’s determined, isn’t she’. Through my frustration and self-doubt, I kept reminding myself that I was raising a strong, determined woman who will not be told what to do, who will fight for what she wants, and that I would be grateful when she was 16, 18, 20, 22. That remains to be seen, but as my now calmer but still strong and determined 5 1/2 year old continues to grow into herself and has found more socially-acceptable methods to deal with her frustration, I am so grateful that I didn’t listen to well-meaning advice to be stricter in disciplining her – that I knew, despite the difficulties, what a blessing that strength was. And as grateful as I am for my strong older daughter, I am also grateful that her 2 year old sister isn’t the same – I couldn’t have gone through it again!

  4. I think I have raised dangerous children who are not afraid of stepping up and having a say about injustice. Two daughters and a son whose passion I know all too well. I continue to try to guide them in their passion and in the fights they choose to take on. Not all fights are worth stepping in to.
    There are some fights that are fights where you jump in with a few punches then exit; there are those that you continue punching until your punches have been felt; and there are those fights where you fight on and on until if and when you are taken out.

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