Last week I introduced a three-part series called "Super Moms." This week my Super Mom is Amanda Doss, aka "Murder City Mandy" from the Bronx Gridlock, part of Gotham Girls Roller Derby here in New York.
I met Amanda recently at an October 2008 birthday party for neighborhood babies. She not only skates with Gotham Girls, but also runs two film production companies out of her home in Brooklyn and has a gorgeous little girl the same age as my Princeling. She is, basically, the coolest person I've ever met, ever ever ever.
I'm grateful to Amanda for letting me pick her brain about roller derby. I think it's important that mothers have lives outside of just family, or just work and family. Mothers are still women, after all, and women have interests and activities and lives and dreams.
One rainy afternoon we sat down in her kitchen while her husband watched the baby upstairs, and chatted about roller derby, parenting, and having it all.
Murder City Mandy, bka Amanda Doss
Photo credit: Jean Schwarzwalder
When did you get involved with roller derby, and what inspired you to try it?
I've been part of Gotham Girls Roller Derby - that's the league that I'm on - for three years. Prior to that there was a show on TV and it was kind of like, you know, reality TV where they followed people around a roller derby [team] in Austin. It was...not a very good show! It was like The O.C., kind of scripted but the actual derby play was real. And that I found riveting, so I kept watching the show. I thought, "This game looks really cool!" I skated in the 70s when I was younger and I thought, "I know how to skate." A lot of the people who were attracted to it were "alternative" types, kind of punk-alternative, and that's my aesthetic. I kind of felt like those were my kind of girls. [Laughs] That's when I got interested in it.
So I went online, I Googled it to see if anything like that was in New York. I always figured if it's anywhere else in the U.S., it has to be in New York, too. I found out that there was a league, but I missed the tryouts for that season. I went to a couple of games, I fell in love with it. I took classes to brush up on my skating. There's not really a derby skating class. We hold them now, my league, but three years ago there wasn't. There was a guy named Leslie, and he has a thing called "Skate Guru." He looks like he's in his 70s, like all grey, he's maybe five feet tall, and he wears all purple. And he's a total disco skate guy! [Laughs] He's hilarious, he's got, like, a long rat-tail. He's real character.
I took a couple of classes with him to get the basics of skating down. At the class I actually met a couple of women that I'd seen in line to see the games, too. They were taking classes so that they could learn how to skate and we decided to get together and start skating together, and, you know, train together. And then a fourth person joined and there were four of us.
We found out that New Jersey was starting a league and we emailed them to see if we could train with them. We didn't necessarily want to join with them. We just wanted to get more experience derby skating. So they invited us to come skate with them and before we knew it we were on that league. We were probably on that league for three months before trying out for Gotham Girls.
That year there were 120 people at tryouts for 12 positions. So 12 girls got in and us four that had trained together got in. I always felt that if you want to try out, find friends and work together. We pretty much, from the time we decided we all wanted to do it and we all met, for about seven months before tryouts, we skated together at least two or three times a week.
Did you, like, elbow or shove each other?
Not very much!
Did you feel competitive about the tryouts?
We were all very nervous that one of us wouldn't get on. I think we knew that at least one of us would get on, but we were very nervous, that, what if one of us didn't? Then we'd feel bad.
If one or more of us got on, you can still volunteer with the league, there are other things [you can do], like you can referee. We figured if one of us didn't get on, they would still try to be part of the league in some way. It's great that all four of us got on.
Today, I'm the only one who is still part of the league.
Two of them retired last year, and one of them moved away. She's in Ohio, but she's part of the Ohio league. The two who retired still help out. One is our manager and the other one is actually my "derby wife," which is your best friend in derby. She lives around the corner and I pretty much see her every other day. She comes to all the games still. I found my best friend through roller derby!
I've heard that roller derby has an enormous emotional and almost spiritual impact on those who participate in it. How did it affect you when you first started out?
When I first did it, I thought what I was going to get out of it was a way to stay in shape, to be athletic, because I hate going to the gym and I've never been super-thin and I've always had to work to not be fat, you know? So I thought this would be a great way... If you go and see a game you'll notice there's women of all shapes and sizes. I figured I could do that and I don't have to be thin or super-fast to play it.
Basically, it was a way to work out and to be a part of something that could be fun.
What I didn't know was that it's a community. Even more than spiritual, it's like a sisterhood that you would never expect to have. I've never been part of a team like that. You know that even though you're all really different and you have different personalities they're still going to be there for you, even in your personal life. That's really deep. These girls may not know everything about me, like there might be parts of my life, things they don't know. And I may not do things with them every weekend - I could if I wanted to because there's always something going on! - but if push came to shove they'd really show up. And that is one of those beautiful things that I never expected to get out of it. Like I said, I found my best friend through derby.
This horrible thing happened in a different state. There was a woman on the derby league, and she had a 3-month old. She was jogging on the side of the road and got hit by a car and killed. The baby was fine. Every league across the United States knows about this and has sent money. Our league has sent money for the education fund of that 3-month old baby. It's beautiful. It touches me that her daughter is going to have a connection to her mom and her mom's life. That is totally spiritual. [Amanda and I both wipe away tears.] Yeah, I cry when I think about it.
It's not just a sisterhood here. I can call any league in any state and say, "Hey, I'm in town, can I come skate with you?" and they'll let me skate with them or just hang out with them. We get emails on our boards from girls who are like, "I'm coming to visit New York, I need a place to stay."
I never knew what it was like to be part of a team like that. Everybody's rooting for each other. You don't have to be the best skater on the league, or be a star player, to know that you belong, that you are needed.
How did the rest of the team react to your pregnancy?
When I had my daughter, the first people that showed up at the hospital were my team, other than my mom and step-mom. The very first people were my team. There were, like, six girls in there!
I was the first one on the league that had a baby and stayed on the league. There was another girl on my team who got pregnant around when I did, but she left. She wasn't going to skate at all.
The derby girls gave me a baby shower. It was the cutest thing ever. They did a theme where my derby wife helped set up a mini-bookcase and they painted it in the four colors of our four teams. And then she asked everyone to buy their favorite childhood book and sign them. So now I have this bookcase of about 30-50 books, and they're all signed by people with their derby names. That's really the best gift because it keeps giving! My daughter will never grow out of it. When she grows up she'll have these kids books.
Does your daughter have a derby name yet?
Yes! When I was pregnant people were saying, "Should we call her 'Baby Murder?'" I was like, "I can't do Baby Murder!" So she's "Redrum," because that's "murder" backwards.
Does being a mom affect your role in Gotham Girls, and vice versa?
[When I started] I didn't realize how much of a commitment [roller derby] was going to be! The league is set up so that we're all skater-run and owned. We're not privately owned. We have to pitch in time outside of the track to a certain committee. Right now I'm on the Creative Committee, last year I was Vice President. There's a lot of stuff that we have to do. I'm in charge of checking all designs that go out to the public, and I have people under me. And then there's the Marketing Committee, and the Finance Committee. If you're on the league you're required to be on a committee and you're required to give at least 5 hours a week, or month, on them. The heads of the committee report back to the President whether or not you're giving your time. If you continually not [give your time] you can get kicked off the league. You have to help run the business. It's a lot more commitment than just showing up for practice.
On top of that you're required to make a certain amount of practices a month. We also have a league within-the-league and an interleague team, which I'm a part of. My team, the Wall Street Traitors, is going to Philly to play. Which is, again, that's a big commitment because I have to drive to Philly, I have to leave the house at 8:30 on a Sunday, drive to Philly, play, come back here in time for my practice at 5 and then practice for my Bronx Gridlock team for two hours, and then come home. So on Sunday, which is technically my day off, I'm not going to see my daughter at all. She goes to bed at 7. So that's... On game days, even if I'm not playing I have to work. I have to help put down the floor, I have to help them bring in a sport court, I have to help unload the trucks, put it down, work the whole game, and then pick up the floor, load up the trucks, and I don't get home until 1 at night. I leave the house at 11 to get there at noon and I don't come home until 1am. And the next day I'm dead! It's a second job sometimes.
I do have less time to commit to them because I'm a mom. But there are requirements. I can't not do it. I HAVE to do my committee, I HAVE to work on the days that I'm not there. I'm lucky because I have such a great family that supports it. But when I became pregnant, derby became something that we had to discuss. It's not like some people, like if you did yoga or Pilates you could be like, "Oh, I took a few months off and then I went back."
Yeah, I took a regular yoga class, not even a prenatal one, with a woman who was, literally, doing regular yoga until days before her due date. With modifications, but still.
When my husband and I decided to try to get pregnant we thought it was going to take a while. I was 38, I'd never been pregnant in my life, I'd had stomach and other medical problems in my life. So I was like, this might be really hard. We thought I'd go through the season and get pregnant at the end of the season. Well, I got pregnant within a month of trying! [Laughs]
We said, should I continue to do derby? At 38 I was at the point where, if we were going to start a family it had to be soon. I really wanted to do more derby because that was going to be my second year. But I also had to look at the big scheme of my life, and derby's not the only thing. I have my life, and I have plans, and I wanted to include a family.
But my husband saw how much I love derby, how important it is to me. At the same time I think there's kind of a sexy/cool factor that goes along with derby for a lot of husbands. [Laughs] Like, "That's my wife! That's kind of cool!" So for him, he really enjoys it too.
Derby is a great outlet for ME, too. It has nothing to do with work, it's just me. So my husband also thought that once I have a baby, to have something that's just about me, it's not about work, it's not about us, but I can just go and get it out. So he was very like, "Ok, you HAVE to do this." I said, "Ok, but that means three nights a week, I won't be home. I have to leave the house at 6 and I won't get home until 10." He was willing to take on that burden. And the nights that I have to go to one of the 9 games a season, he's going to have to either watch her or we'll have to have someone watch her. But he was willing to take that on.
You can't do it if you don't have the commitment and support. My mom and step-mom are both huge fans and they've both taken turns babysitting on game days so that my husband can actually go see the games, too. And sometimes one of them will come to the game and the other will stay here with the baby. But getting a babysitter on game days for eight to ten hours, I can't afford that, that's like an extra day!
So it had to be a family decision, not just mine or just mine and my husband's.
I've had to find a balance in the commitments, and it took a while. After I had the baby I was SO ready to get back on skates. I had spent a year watching people. I was showing up at practices because I was helping them manage and run the business but I couldn't skate! I was just so ready to skate. So I got back on skates-
How long after you had your daughter did you get back on skates?
Yeah, as soon as the doctor said I could. And I was so ready. After four weeks I was like, "I feel fine! Can I go skate?"
[Laughs]Did you give birth with skates on?
But, I didn't get so much overwhelmed, as I got annoyed, by all the time I had to put into derby. Sometimes it was hard for me to leave [my daughter]. I found I didn't want to go to practice because I really wanted to stay home with her. I leave at 6, right before she goes to bed, and I'm like, I WANT to put her to bed, I WANT to hug her, I WANT to kiss her. So I found I'd show up being a little down. Or, nights that she's teething or having a hard time I'd feel like calling my husband at breaks in practice like, "Is she ok???"
But I think I'm kind of now in a stride because now that she's almost one year old, I'm not as worried about those little things. I'm getting more used to it. I also realize how to let that energy go into playing.
It's not perfect. I'm also a perfectionist, and I used to be, "I have to show up to ALL the practices!" Now, as long as I make the quota, I try to be there for as many as I can. But for some days when my heartstrings are really pulled, I'm sorry, I can't show up. And there are a lot of people on the league who have other stuff going on, so they understand.
Are there other moms?
There weren't when I first started. Last year two other moms got accepted. They were already moms. They both were already moms when they already started on the league, which was nice. In that sense they knew what they were getting into. It's slightly different when you're the first mom. Right now we have a woman who is pregnant, and she's due next February. She's planning on staying. Her girlfriend is on the league, too, but may leave because she's had a lot of injuries in the past years.
That's the one danger. If you do something, if you break something, you can't pick up your child. What if you break a wrist? So that is a danger. There are a LOT of knee injuries. Occasionally an ankle breaks. Last year we had a collarbone break. I find that being a mom now, I'm a lot more sensitive to getting hurt in the sense that I might not push myself through an injury like I use to do. In the past I would have skated through the pain, but now I'm afraid. I don't want to make it get worse. I don't want to get to the point where I can't lift my baby, or stand. Maybe that's a good thing, because a lot of people do that, and then in three years they can't play at all. Maybe it's good that now if I hurt myself I'll stop and let myself heal.
When Redrum is a little older, will you let her come to the games?
I hope so! I really have dreams of her coming now. I didn't realize I'd be the type of mom who's like, "Ok, bed time's at 7!" But you don't know what type of parent you'll be before you become a parent. I think I'm relaxed in a lot of ways, but I very much believe that your child needs structure. They need to know routine. They're going to push on that routine, they're going to try, but as long as they know you're there, that makes them feel safer.
So we have a routine, we have a bedtime routine for her. I was like, "Oh, we can take her to a game!" But it doesn't start until 8 and it's loud, and it doesn't end until 11, and that's past her bedtime. So God willing I'll still be playing in 5 years when she's older and really can get it.
There are some daytime games and we took her to one. She didn't know what she was seeing, it was just blurs of people running around. There were a lot of people and it was loud, and she got scared and got fussy after a little while.
Would you ever let Redrum skate in roller derby?
The smallest skates are for two year olds, and I plan on getting her some! There are junior leagues. Not here, yet.
Maybe she can start one!
They modify the rules so it's not as hard.
How old are the girls on the junior league?
I think it's about 12 to 15, maybe 14 to 18. It's definitely more pre-teen and teen. But if I have any say in it, she'll do it.
There's a movie out now, "Whip It." They totally don't go by the rules. There's a lot of things that they modified for the story. But the one thing I think they really got is the spirit of "Be your own hero," which is the tagline for the movie.
I see women find their own voice. I think it helps women feel empowered. They're the ones that are doing all the work. They get to go out and hit some bitches! [We both crack up laughing.] And then you hit someone and afterword they'll be like, "You hit me so hard, that was great!" And you're like, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" We're women so we just apologize. Or you get really heated up in the game and you might yell at each other and get angry, and then after you hug and make up.
There are women of all shapes and sizes, and that's what's so cool. There are women who are 200-plus pounds, and women who are barely 100 pounds. There have been women who are under five feet and women who are well over six feet. All of them have a place on derby. It made me appreciate my size and my body type, and who I am, and the power that I have in a way that...you live here in New York and you go out and see all these models from the fashion industry and you have these expectations of what you should be like. Today I find myself caring less about that.
Do you think because of that reason derby attracts women who don't normally join teams or clubs or organizations?
That may have been how it used to be. Out of most of the derbies in the U.S., most are in smaller cities or suburbs.
In New York if you want something you have to really work at it, you have to really dedicate yourself. Because it's just not cheap and it's not easy [here]. We have girls that are commuting over an hour to practice, plus have to give all this extra time to jobs. It's not for the faint of heart. It's a real dedication.
I think at first the people who started the league may have been more, "I'm not good at sports and this is a way to have fun," and it was more a bunch of more alternative, outcast type people. I don't think it's that way anymore.
I also think we're more and more competitive. Our All-Star team won the Nationals last year. (We're gonna win again this year!) Our league is considered one of the best leagues in the nation. Up until the regional's, which was last month, our All-Star team hadn't lost a game in almost two years.
So the people who are trying out for our league are people who have skated before, and have moved to New York. Maybe 70% of our new members last year were transfers from other leagues. A lot of them have athletic pasts. Soccer, ice skaters, speed skaters, hockey players. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the minority now, someone who's not athletic. What makes people leave those sports and find derby is a certain attitude, a certain personality.
Which is good, we do want it to be taken seriously. This is for real.
How old will Redrum have to be when you let her get her first tattoo?
18! She has to be 18. I have a feeling she's going to rebel and say she wants plain clothes.
Oh, I know. I think especially in New York, and really in this neighborhood, we all want our kids to be unique and creative and independent. But the Princeling is probably going to become an accountant and move to the suburbs or something. He's going to rebel against me by joining a fraternity and popping up the collar on his Polo shirt.
Right! And probably Redrum will want a normal name or something.
At the end, though, as long as she's happy and not putting herself in danger, I'll be fine.
But, yeah. I got my tats before I was 18.
So who knows what she'll do.
My friend, who is my age, has a 20-year-old. She called me and complained that her son is getting all these tattoos now and it's not that he's getting tattoos, but he's getting really BAD tattoos! They're really ugly and say stupid things, like, "Die Young." I said, "Oh yeah, you have to sit him down and talk to him. If you're going to get tattoos, you have to make them cool."
You also run a couple of film companies. How do you manage to keep up with everything you have going on?
I have a partner in one of my companies, and we each do the work that we were doing on our own, but now we work together so neither of us has to work full-time. It's worked out really well, in that there are times when we have to work late into the night and then early the next day. And I'll say, "I'll work tonight, but you need to get up tomorrow and work." Or whatever. We'll switch.
It's been a conscious decision of, "Ok, I might not make as much money as I used to." But it really works well. And I find that our clients are actually happier because they feel like all the pressure isn't just on one person to get all the work done. They know we're going to cover each other for any mistakes. And then if a client relates more to one of us than the other we can also attract more clients. [My partner] actually looks way more conservative than I do, more straight-laced than I am. But the way I work is, I'm much more detail-oriented. I'm spreadsheet queen. I do all the budgets. She's mellower. I get riled up easily. We work really well together.
Also, I had all these requirements for a nanny or sitter, and everyone said I wasn't going to find that. But I wanted someone who could work late if we needed. And I work out of my home so I don't really start work until 10, so I need someone who can work from 10 until 7 so I have time to go to practice. I wanted someone who could work part time, but could do full time if we needed that. I had this whole list. And we found her! And she's great! I think ideally it's great when people live close to their parents and have a parent that's not working to sit for their child. But the second best thing is a really good sitter or nanny, and I know that my nanny loves [my daughter].
But because I wanted a sitter who would be flexible, I have to be flexible. There are days when she says, "Oh, my grandkids have the day off school, do you mind if I bring Redrum to the park with them?" And her grandkids are 14, 10, and 4. So I know she's going to pay attention to Redrum, so I'm not worried about her being with the other kids. I like that she's with other kids. Or she'll switch which days she works.
I lucked out, but I do have to compromise.
I'm the type of person that I get energy from energy. I don't like when things are slow. I feed off being busy.
But with a kid you just can't expect anything to be the same. With me, I made plans but learned to be flexible. The first three or four months of Redrum I didn't have a sitter. But she never slept for more than half an hour and you really can't get stuff done. It's challenging. It wasn't quite what I planned on, but it turned out fine.
Any advice for would-be filmmakers or derby girls out there?
I didn't know how great it was going to be to be a mom. There was a lot of fear. I'm 39 now. If I knew it was going to be this great I would have done it sooner.
I think you can do everything that you want to do. That's how my parents brought me up. If you have an idea, just go after it. Don't talk yourself out of it.
If you want to do the derby, practice, and do it. The fact that 120 girls tried out and I got on the team...I'm so proud of that. That's a huge thing for me! I feel very proud.
I don't consider myself a filmmaker, I consider myself a producer. I do mostly commercial work. My biggest regret is that I fought being a commercial producer for a long time. I was doing the filmmaking thing, but I didn't find it, for me, as gratifying as doing the commercial work. I kept thinking I was going to become a famous producer and it wasn't happening.
My biggest thing is to find what makes you happy, and don't do what you think is going to make you happy. I kept thinking if my life was [a certain way] and THEN I had a kid, I'd be happier. If I was this type or artist or this type of filmmaker, it's because I SHOULD be that way. An old-school punk rock girl should not be in advertising! But that's what I love. Why shouldn't I do it?
I think too many people do that, they wait for the perfect situation to have a kid or do whatever. And at some point you realize that there's always an excuse not to do something, so you have to say it's now or never.
Right. So I made my dream company. Maybe it's not doing as well as I'd love for it to do, but it's only in its second year. Maybe it will get that way. Or maybe something else will come along. Maybe we don't make as much money as I'd love for us to do. I'd love to have a big college fund for Redrum, and for us to be able to take vacations and do stuff. But we don't. But we have a lot more than I had when I was a kid. We have a house!
So in the long run my advice is to not wait for the perfect moment. Just MAKE the perfect moment.
One last question. Can my honorary roller derby name be Mary Death?
[Laughs]Excellent! Yeah, we can do that.
Check out Amanda's Murder City Mandy bio here.
Gotham Girls teams the Queens of Pain and the Brooklyn Bombshells will each compete against the Sockit Wenches of Seattle's Rat City Rollergirls on Saturday, October 24 at 8:30pm at Hunter College.
The Gotham Girls Championship Bout, Bronx Gridlock vs Manhattan Mayhem, will be on Saturday, November 21 at 8:30pm at Hunter College.
For more information or for game tickets, click here.
For more information on the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the official association of women's roller derby, click here.
Speaking of the Momasphere: For those of you who will be in the New York area on Thursday, October 29, I'll be part of a reading, panel discussion, and Q&A on the book, "Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?" by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei. Click here for more info. Come on out and say hi! (One of the co-founders of Babeland will be on the panel! How cool am I???)