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8 October 2022

Today I accompanied Michael and his soccer team to support them while they play in a traveling Seoul city league. Over the past couple of weeks, I've become somewhat of a team, "soccer mom" as I bring them snacks for every game. One of the team leads even promoted me to "medic" and gave me a medical bag to help the players whenever they get hurt. Usually, I try to keep to myself and stay quiet because my anxiety around other people has been so bad these past two months but I have slowly been coming out of my shell.

Michael's teammates are really funny and have a close comradery with each other. They predominantly are active-duty Enlisted Air Force Airmen who play with a couple of Officers from the Air Force and/or Army. Michael is the only military spouse on the team. They usually think he is military, but he PROUDLY says, "No, I'm the Spouse. I AM the dependent. My wife is the military member." It feels good hearing him say this and seeing he is not ashamed of me and is very comfortable being a dependent civilian man; a concept I am still internally trying to believe can be true.

Even though I try to keep to myself and stay out of the way, his teammates seem to really like having me there, and like the snacks that I bring. It feels good to feel appreciated and around a team that encourages one another, calls each other out when correction is needed, can take candid feedback, laughs together, and accepts people as they are. They have trust. I want to feel the ability to trust others again.

As I listened to the blend of Haitian, Jamaican, New York, Latin, Western, and other accents they possess, it triggered a memory of a time I felt others really tried to help me feel included when I REALLY needed it.

Some time ago, I was doing some work where I had to fly on aircraft for extended amounts of time. While I knew the plane did not have a serviceable bathroom, I had to wait almost a month and a half for my She-wee (a device that helps women pee standing up) to come in. What was available to us were a bucket if you needed to go #2 (which was STRONGLY not advised unless it was an emergency) or a pittle-pack (which is a small bag one can pee in) for #1. When I saw the opening of the pittle-pack I said to myself, "I can't use this". The bag looked small. I was the only woman on my team and compound, and I didn't feel comfortable trying to use it.

Instead of using the pittle-pack, the days I would fly I would just dehydrate myself the entire day, go to the bathroom right before we left and hold my pee until we made it back from the flight. This tactic worked for a few weeks but started to cause my stomach severe pain. This also is a really bad thing to do because if in the event the aircraft went down and I'm in a survival situation, starting the journey dehydrated is dangerous.

One day my fellow crew members and I were talking about peeing. I shared with them about the pain I had in my stomach due to holding my pee. They strongly encouraged me to use the pittle-packs but I told them that it looked complicated and I don’t know how it will work for me as a woman. One of the guys opened the pack and gave a tutorial of how to use it. I told him that I don't know if it's wide enough to catch everything and he reassured me that it was. My all-Male crew compassionately encouraged me to give it a try. I said to them, "I'm scared I might get pee on the floor." One guy responded, "everyone gets a little pee on the floor." After their sincere encouragement, I gave it a try and never held my pee on the flights again. I went from never using the pittle-packs to filling up one to two of them each flight. I was able to keep myself hydrated and no longer had stomach problems.

I guess this story was triggered as I watched Michael's soccer team play today. There is typically only one to two women that play on his team while the rest are men. While I am so use to being in male dominated spaces that it doesn’t bother me, there is an added pressure that comes with it. And with being a minority of any kind, connection and being understood, or heard, respected can be a challenge depending on the personalities in the room. But this is also true whether you are a minority or not. It's a people thing.

I once read an article that highlighted a speech the former Chief of Staff of the USAF, Gen Goldfein said, "I have never been the only one of me in a room." Reading that made me ask the question, how is that possible? This made me realize that I at that time, had no idea what that felt like. I had never been in an environment where I wasn’t the only or one of the few women or black people. What was it like to have a world designed for people like you to ultimately support and be in a majority presence of people like yourself? I had no idea what that felt like until I lived in Maryland right outside of Baltimore. I was SHOCKED to go to the store and see that they had makeup or panty hose in my color, or hair products for me. Or food that I grew up with. My confidence increased and at the time I had no idea why.

I don't think the sole solution for placing people who are different is to defer them to find others "like them". While there can be much needed safety there that I believe can provide some needed self-care, I think that the actions of my male former crew members and Michael's soccer team, need to be more of a daily practice by those who are in the power positions. My male crew members were in the power position as the aircraft was designed with them in mind, their position, experience, authority and the reality that as men, they outnumbered me. They included me and helped me feel safe through teaching, encouragement and empathy to use the pittle-packs rather than critiquing me for my concerns about it. Most importantly, they made it safe for me to voice the issues I was having by their interest in opening a dialogue about peeing, while I had the courage to be honest and share my challenges.

I never saw myself as a "soccer mom" type, but it feels really nice to be appreciated and included even if my contribution is cheering others on and bringing snacks.


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