Mums who Play: Interview with roller skater Zulfiye Tufa

Photo of Zulfiye Tufa rollerskating at a skatepark at sunset for Lunch Lady Magazine Parents who Play feature

This Mums Who Play Series is sponsored by The Natural Shoe Store, a store who stocks top quality, eco friendly brands that encourage everyday adventures (and lots of fun too).

Zulfiye Tufa became a single parent in late 2019. Months later, the pandemic hit and her hometown of Melbourne locked down. During this time she ordered some roller skates, and the simple act of playing transformed her life.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm 33 and I roller skate. I'm also a mum to a six-year-old son, and it's just us two. We live in Noble Park in Melbourne.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up with a lot of siblings. I have two older sisters and one younger sister, so there was a lot of playing. My parents were together and still are, so it was a very typical family.

One of my fondest memories is playing with my Dad. He used to play with me a lot, so that's a nice memory to have.

My sisters and I didn't have many toys, but we had each other and were always thinking up fun games. A lot of my childhood was spent playing outdoors.

Did you roller skate as a kid?

I had rollerblades for maybe a year, and I remember loving them, but I hung up my skates at around the age of 10. I didn't get back into skating until 2020.

What was your experience like of becoming a mum?

I became a mum at 27 and it was a shock to my system. Everyone says it's hard, but you don't know it until you live it.

I consider myself an extremely relaxed person. But for the first two years as a mum, I had this low-level anxiety like a constant background hum. I don't know how else to explain it except that I was never calm or relaxed.

I had taken time off from my job as a pharmacist and was spending all my time with my son. It felt like the hardest thing I've ever done. I enjoyed it, but it was tough. It was relentless. I had support systems but I didn't rely on them because I hadn't learnt to ask for help.

Did you parents have their own version of play when you were a kid?

They had four kids so they were really busy. I don't remember ever seeing my parents do physical activity—they usually worked or studied and had so much to juggle that I don't think it was a priority. Their focus was on securing a lifestyle for us. I'm sure they would have loved to, though, but they didn't have the chance.

Do you parent differently from them?

I do. But I can only parent the way I do now because of what I learnt from them. 

I think the main difference is that I prioritise time for myself more than my parents did. As a single parent, you'd think it would be the opposite because the image of single parenting is these people that don't get downtime because they're always working hard. And that's true for lots of single parents.

But I don't want to burn out. I know I need to look after myself to be a good parent.

In the past, I put my son first almost always. I'd play with him whenever he asked, and it got to the point where I felt resentful because I wasn't getting time to myself. And I realised that saying yes to him, even when I didn't want to, wasn't being authentic, and I think it leads to burnout. Plus, kids can tell intuitively where you're at and if you're fully present. I can be more present if I take time out.

Do you have support systems to make that happen?

I do. I live a street away from my parents and have a sister nearby too. I'd much prefer to live closer to the city, but I intentionally chose to live near my family to have that support network. I also have aunties and cousins that help me out with my son.

I find that I'm leaning on other people more these days because, without their support, it's a lot harder to be happy and feel like I'm living life instead of just parenting.

It really does take a village to raise a well-rounded kid, but that's also because kids need to learn from other people. I can't give my son everything because I'm only one person. This way, he gets an opportunity to learn from others. So, their support helps both of us.

Before you became a mum, how did you play?

To be honest, I hardly did. I focused a lot on study and work. The only thing that counted as playing for me was sewing. I'm creative, so I'd sew or occasionally dabble in an artwork.

And what does play look like to you now?

The creative stuff is still part of my life to a lesser extent, and I hope to bring it back this year. I've taken some time off work right now to bring more play into my life and get more creative. 

I think we often believe that working hard gets results, but sometimes you need to step back and invest in yourself first, and then the results come. When we have calm and quiet, you allow the space for new ideas to come to you. And then, when it's time to be productive, you can create. So, I'd say I'm in a dormant phase right now. I don't know what's coming, and it's a risk to take a break, but there is possibility and I'm open to it.

Tell us about how you got into roller skating in 2020?

It happened during lockdown. I separated from my husband at the end of 2019, and in January 2020, we started hearing about COVID in Australia. 

My first instinct upon separating was to earn money—I knew I had to be financially stable and make sure I could care for the two of us. So, I didn't buy anything for six months, which is unusual because I love clothes.

But after six months, in the midst of lockdown, I bought a pair of roller skates. We had moved into a new house that was pretty empty because I hardly had any furniture. And at night, once my son went to bed, I roller skated around the house. It was like a roller disco every night for several months. Eventually, I ventured into outdoor spaces on concrete and then into skateparks.

After my divorce, I felt like a failure because divorce equalled a failure in my head. Going through that process meant I had to shed this layer of worry that I carried around about what people think of me. How would I be perceived as someone who was divorced with a child? Once I shed that anxiety, it allowed me to open up to possibilities. When you don't care what other people think about you, anything is possible.

Learning to roller skate and sharing that journey on social media is a series of constant failures and embarrassing moments. But because I decided that I just didn't care anymore, and I had accepted: this is where I'm at and this is what I want to do—I just did it.

How regularly do you practice?

I practice once a week as a minimum. I started a group that meets every Thursday night because I didn't have anyone to skate with. But I usually skate three times a week.

Is that your solo playtime, or is your son involved?

Thursday nights are my solo playtime. I used to tell him that I had a meeting that night, but as he got older, I realised I needed to be honest because he needed to know that his mum deserved this. I deserve enjoyment, so I will go and enjoy myself, and I'll return a refreshed mum. So, these days, I tell him, "I'm going roller skating, and it's just for mum, and we can go another day."

So he decided that we should go together on Tuesdays, and that's our time together to skate.

Zulfiye Tufa and friends wearing rollerskates for Hello Lunch Lady Magazine parents who play feature

Were you nervous about going into skateparks?

So nervous! I thought, who am I? How dare I step into a skatepark? I'm a pharmacist! When I first put roller skates on, I felt intimidated. Maybe it's because I'm female, or because I look different and wear a headscarf. But I avoided it completely because I felt like people would think I didn't belong in that space. 

So, I used to skate on the basketball court next to the skatepark. I'd peer at the skatepark but continued skating on the basketball court.

It took me eight months to make my way into that skatepark. And it was only because I had made friends, and we started meeting up regularly at the basketball court. At the end of one session, we ventured into the skatepark. And eventually, we stayed for longer and longer. And in time, we skipped the basketball court altogether and went straight to the skatepark.

When I started skating there alone, none of the other guys would talk to me. They weren't rude but they also weren't friendly.

Then I did this 30-day skateboarding challenge where I skateboarded for 30 days, and that's what unlocked friendships for me. Many of the guys were like, "Oh, you're skateboarding now instead of just roller skating? How's that going?" All of a sudden these people were friendly.

Now, I try to say hi to roller skaters at the skatepark because I would have liked someone to go out of their way to introduce themselves to me. I try and pay some kindness forward.

I actually used to work in a pharmacy across the road from the skatepark, so it's very weird that I now work in the skatepark across the road from the pharmacy. My whole life has transformed since roller skating, really. My career has changed, I'm more connected with my body. And the whole concept of play has taught me so much.

What have you learnt from play?

I've learnt to be in my body and see it as strong and capable. I've learnt that play can connect people–I've found a community through skating—both in person and online.

I think play can also make you more open to trying other things.

My life is so far from who I used to be. I never exercised in the past. Roller skating and play has shown me that I can aim for possibilities that I didn't think were mine.

You said that divorce helped you conquer your fear of failure. What else helped you combat nerves?

Falling down is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to an adult. But I didn't see myself as failing with skating because I knew I would get there eventually. You just can't be good at it immediately or there would be no satisfaction. And from what I've experienced so far, if you keep trying, you'll eventually get it.

My main worries haven't ever been: I will fail, and this will be embarrassing. It's more: I'm going to fail and I'll hurt myself. My thoughts go more toward safety. But I think that comes back to the divorce and learning to care less about what people think.

The reason we care about failure is usually because we're thinking about how we will look in front of people. But the more we live our lives like that, the more we are venturing into their business. It's not really my business to think about what someone else thinks of me. But it takes practice not to care.

Sometimes I'll notice that I'm acting a certain way because someone is around who I might want to impress. When I notice that, I must remind myself to get back to myself and be authentic. I made my goal for 2023 to be all about being authentic. Worrying about failure is a secondary thing.

Is it important for you to take risks?

I don't consider roller skating particularly risky, but I do know that when I'm scared of something, that's where the opportunity for growth lies. Growth comes when you're outside of your comfort zone. So in that sense, risk taking is important.

Do you think play is important for mental health?

Absolutely. For adults, play is almost like meditation. Especially play that's physically based in your body. When I'm skating, it's usually for one or two hours and I'm completely in my body during that time.

We all know the benefits of meditation, and I extend those to play because the benefits feel similar to me.

I picked up skating when I got divorced, and I didn't realise it at the time, but I was allowing myself to get out of my head and into my body. Plus, it had the added benefits of physical movement and endorphins.

Do you notice a difference in how you parent when you don't get time to play?

Oh definitely. I get cranky! When I start getting annoyed by my son, it's the first sign that I'm not looking after myself. But when I'm in a good mood, I feel nourished and like nothing he could do would bother me that much. He could do something outrageous, and I think I'd be able to deal with it in a patient and understanding way. 

What do you want other parents to know about play?

I want to say something to other single mums who might read this. I want them to know that it's hard to find the time to play, especially if you don't have family or support networks around. But if you can find some time to use for yourself, please do it. It's not a selfish act. It will absolutely make you a better person and a better parent.

I also want to mention that play isn't always fun. It sounds like it should always be fun, but sometimes, I don't want to go roller skating. I don't want to put on protective gear or go out. Sometimes it's cold and it's a hindrance and I feel like I can't be bothered. But I know that after I do it, I'll feel better for it. So, go do it!


Lunch Lady Magazine partnered with The Natural Shoe Store for this interview with Zulfiye Tufa as part of The Mums who PLAY series. For more interviews in this series check out our chats with Lauren Hill here and Nici Ward here.

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