Purvis’ current favorite graphic novel is Victoria Jamieson’s awesome Rollergirl. When we aren’t catching up on the sad tales of the Baudelaire twins, we read about Rollergirl Astrid who joins roller derby in Portland while undergoing a painful separation from her former best friend. I try to prepare Purvis for the inevitable friend pain ahead, or at least give her a place to turn when she finds herself in conflict with friends. Judy Blume got me through a difficult period when I watched my friends peel away one by one for reasons that I still don’t completely understand. (And I haven’t been able to find Amy G on Facebook to get the lowdown as to why she ditched me then led a fifth through eighth-grade campaign against me. Let the speculation continue.) All that I could ask for, outside of my friends taking me back, was understanding and commiseration from someone who had been through the hell of losing your friends.
Knowing that this pain awaits Purvis is a punch to the gut. I can only prepare her so much. She just has to live it. Already I see shades of things to come—stories about first-grade friend groups excluding wannabe slugs from their incomprehensible game, Slug Wars. Purvis is an OG slug, but I tell her that excluding kids is never okay. Someday she will be slimed by slug rejection.
When we read Rollergirl, she doesn’t focus much on the problems Astrid experiences with her friends. She is all about the roller derby. So when I saw in the paper that the Rose City Rollers junior roller derby teams would be derbying Sunday, I added the games—or as Purvis corrected me “bouts”—to our calendar.
“Maybe we’ll see Astrid!” she said.
“I don’t think so, sweetie. Astrid is a character. And I think the writer is a grown woman now,” I said.
Purvis looked doubtful. She would still be looking for Astrid.
When we parked near the Hangar at Oaks Park, Purvis practically started to run to the door.
“It looks just like it does in the book.” She gasped.
We stepped inside the cavernous hangar just as the home team Rose Petal All-Stars were being announced. The Rose Petals are the tween skaters, aged seven to twelve. Their bout against the Seattle all-star Derby Brats would run for shortened periods to accommodate the second bout of the teenaged team, The Rosebuds.
Purvis reasoned out the team names. “Because the petals are lighter, it’s for the tweens. And the buds are like the strong part, so it’s for the older girls,” she said.
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” I said.
We found seats at the back of a curve of bleachers. Music pumped. The announcer hyped up the crowd: “Who’s seeing their first roller derby tonight? All right!” Cool air wafted in through the open door into the hangar. The Rose Petals zipped around the track, their purple shirts accented by glittery shorts and black leggings. I tried to make out the derby names stenciled below their numbers. Dragon Slayer. American Gangsta. Trickster. Lucille Maul. Fantastic. I envisioned Purvis and I brainstorming our roller derby names after we finished figuring out what V.F.D. stands for in Lemony Snicket’s The Ersatz Elevator. (Spoiler alert—it stands for Volunteer Fire Department, but I am having too much fun theorizing to tell her. Her current pick, a reference to the evil Count Olaf: Villainous Fortune Devourer.)
Purvis passed the roller derby program to me, open to a page with the basic rules. “This will help you understand.” I skimmed the rules—the jammer tries to break through blockers in the pursuit of becoming lead jammer and racking up points. The lead jammer can “call off the jam” by emphatically putting her hands to her hips. If nothing else, roller derby has the best terminology.
“Can you tell me how it works?” I asked Purvis
Her frequent reading of Rollergirl was obvious. She’s read the entire book at least ten times and carts it to school everyday to read during her free reading time. She explained the bout, what a jam was, what the jammer was trying to do and then showed me examples as the skaters zipped around the rink.
I had the basic hang of roller derby by the time we hit intermission. I still don’t understand the strategy, how scoring works, or what constitutes a foul, but I know what a jam is and why being the lead jammer is so important. I also get why Astrid was so desperate to be a jammer. Purvis is too.
“Well, sweetie, first you have to learn how to roller skate,” I said.
“I can skate!” she said.
“You need to be able to skate without holding onto the wall and my hand.”
“I can,” she said indignantly.
Purvis’ image of her skating abilities is another one of those overconfident blind spots, much like her belief that she already knows how to play soccer and could walk onto the Thorns field with no problem should Tobin Heath be taken down by injury.
At a recent birthday party at a local skating rink, she frequently dropped to her knees when walk-skating around the rink became too taxing. One of her best friends, who logs hours skating in a nearby parking lot, zipped around like she had laced on her first pair of skates a few days after taking her first steps. Purvis is trying to convince her pal to take up roller derby, perhaps so she can live vicariously through her friend while Purvis works on her skating skills.
“We’ll need to work on skating a little more,” I said. “That’s no problem. We can get some skates and go over to Hosford to practice.”
“Oh! Yeah!” she said. “That’s a great idea.”
Time to start combing Craigslist for some size four skates for Purvis and some size elevens for me. May I emerge from this latest foray into sport without breaking my arm as I did when I was in fourth grade and the toe of my left skate had an unfortunate convergence with my right. Fun fact: roller-skating is second only to skateboarding in the breaking of kid bones. Or it was in 1982.
At the roller derby, we moved to the front row and watched the rest of the first bout. As I am wont to do, I got into it. I cheered when the Portland jammers pulled ahead of the pack first. I delighted when one of my favorites, the nimble Dragon Slayer, jumped over a blocker’s skate to zip around the track and rack up more points for the Rose Petals. My enthusiasm didn’t pass Purvis’ embarrassment threshold as it has a few times during close Thorns matches. I did not hiss curse words then immediately turn to my daughter and tell her to never say the thing that I just said. Most of the time she looks at me blankly. “What did you say?”
She’s still not totally clear on the f-word or is playing dumb for my benefit.
At the end of the bout, Purvis hopped up from the bleachers and walked to the track. She stepped over the thin rail of padding that surrounded the track. She beckoned me over with a flick of her hand. “Come on, you can stand on the track for the victory lap.”
Throughout the bout, she leaned over to tell me that she was super excited for the victory lap. I imagined the skaters zipping around the track to the cheers of the crowd. The victory lap was cooler than that: skaters whipped around with hands extended, high-fiving the crowd that lined the track.
The line around the track was already packed tight with admirers so I let Purvis do her high-five slapping of the derby all-stars solo.
I loved roller derby almost as instantly as I did soccer. I love watching the young women flex their hard-won muscles, be tough, hit hard, and exude bad-ass confidence while wearing glitter booty shorts. Or not. Roller derby fashion ranged from tomboy to exploded glitter-bomb. The vibe was inclusive. There is room for everyone, all styles, as long as they celebrate bad-assery. I liked that the comradery among derby girls extended beyond the boundaries of the team. The two jammers in the teenage bout smiled and laughed before the whistle blew and they hustled to push through the blockade of spandex and sequined butts and sharp elbows.
On the car ride to swimming class, the reason we had to leave the second bout early, Purvis made her intentions clear.
“Just think when I’m a teenager, I’m going to do roller derby, be a soccer player, and a wrestler!”
Just think indeed. An ambitious plan and I am behind her all the way. What is the optimum roller derby name for a soccer player-derby girl-wrestler?
Purvis’ proposed roller derby name: Rocket Fire.
Second choice: Lighting Bolt.
Josh’s suggestion: Her-cules
My suggestion: Cap’n Crunch. (Both Purvis and Josh looked at me quizzically. “But that’s just cereal.” Yeah, but it’s CRUNCH-y cereal. Get it, Cap’n Crunch? They didn’t get it.)