The required annual training to keep my law enforcement commission consists of time on the firearms range with shotgun, rifle and handgun, re-certification of my defensive tactics and tactical baton skills, and two days of rather boring classroom presentations. I'm a tactical baton instructor.
I also have a rather full life as a working mom. So I have begun to question all the time I spend training to keep my badge and my gun. It's optional, my choice.
And it's not just about analyzing the best use of my time. It is about belonging to this culture, this all-important group of people who, because of their badges, have credibility within the agency. Promotions and friendships seem easier, and assumptions about my abilities more forgiving, because of my badge. There are about 30 of us anomalies - women - in the ranks, and while we cannot grow handlebar moustaches, we try to blend in as best we can. And I am an anomalous anomaly: mother of one, soon to be two. And, lemme tell ya, blending in is hard to do with monstrous boobs and a belly so big I can't see my feet anymore.
Last week I was at the annual training, where we sit in class and then do some defensive tactics and baton recertification. Maybe it's my super newly developed human resources ears, or my redheaded temper, or my preggers hormones, but several phrases and statements stuck with me during the classroom training:
- "Brotherhood" was used more than once to describe the group of people assembled there, even though there were women in the group.
- A presentation about search and seizure laws included a cartoon of detectives entering a room where a woman in lingerie was tied to a chair. A large female police officer was ready to search her while the two detectives watched. "Are you ready for your full body cavity search?" the detectives asked. "That's never a good idea," smirked the prosecutor giving the presentation, and snickers came from the audience.
- In the same search and seizure presentation, the presenter showed a video clip from My Cousin Vinny, where Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei were arguing about him going hunting. Tomei is dressed in a white lacy nightgown that barely covers her. The presenter says, "The guys in the room aren't paying attention to the dialogue here." More laughs from his audience.
Frickin' backcountry redneck sons a bitches. Anyway.
I worried about instructing my portion of the tactical baton class. There were six instructors, and we each had to teach about 10 minutes. I was assigned to teach strikes. Essentially, I had to hit the bag four times, and yell at the class for 10 minutes. The lead instructor had said, "Let's see how you feel, you may not feel up to instructing." I told him yelling and hitting are two things that pregnant women can do just fine, thank you very much. I also reminded him it wasn't his decision whether or not I would instruct.
I wasn't worried about the logistics. I have spent so much time trying to prove myself and blend in as a game warden, that I was worried that my shape - my pregnant body - would elicit smirks and snickers from the guys in sweatpants and camo hats. No matter that many have pot-bellies. Their bellies are earned from years of beer and junk food and driving around in their trucks. Here I was, bringing in a reminder of the feminine to a male culture. Of course I was worried. I didn't have my normal 5k, weight-lifting bod to disguise my curves.
As much as I would like for it to be, this post isn't about the subtle misogynism of the agency I work for, because there are many male game wardens - mostly younger Gen X and Y'ers - who don't perpetrate the ridiculous macho culture. This post is about how I take my worries about fitting in, and do the work anyway.
And I stood up in front of 50 game wardens, I puffed my chest out (not hard to do), stuck out my belly, waddled up to the punching bag, and with a strong snapping motion opened my baton. I gave my normal full-throated command - I do have a black belt in karate, after all - and smacked the hell out of the punching bag. Then I gave commands to the group, one, two, three..., to do their best with the strikes.
One of the other instructors interrupted me to tell the group to use their trunk muscles to really make the strikes powerful. It annoyed the hell out of me, because no other instructor was interrupted during their time.
I said, "Thank you John, for pointing that out." I pointed to my belly and said, "Some of us have bigger trunk muscles than others, so don't be intimidated." John's lucky I didn't point at his beer gut.
Frickin' backcountry redneck son of a bitch. Anyway.
My 10 minutes was over, and I survived. It would have been easy to skip this round, claim I couldn't do it, and make it up later. I'm glad I didn't. I projected confidence, even though I didn't feel it.
Besides, later on this year, I won't be pregnant, but I'll be breastfeeding. Waddling around with a big pansa is easier than leaking milk. If I am going to keep my badge, I will need to complete many hours of rifle, shotgun, handgun, and defensive tactics training. I'll be making time during the training to breast-pump; I'll be managing leaky nipples. Three years ago I chose not to pump while I was at the gun range for six hours (the only private place was a Port-A-Potty) and payed for it with double mastitis and a milk cyst.
Normally I compartmentalize my life: I am a mother at home, a worker at work. During this time, when the physical realities of motherhood need to be integrated into the law enforcement "brotherhood," all I can do is pretend confidence, and get the work done. Is it worth it, to keep this optional badge? I'm not sure. I'll make the decision when my head is clear (sometime in 2011 or so).