If you think the woman parked across the street is just a mom dropping her kids off at school, think again!
Ronda Kaysen: Charmagne Peters is a typical American mom. She's a Cub Scout den leader and a Daisy Scout leader. She shuttles her kids to school in the morning and drives the minivan to the office. But when she gets to work, things take a strange twist.
Charmagne might spend her workday strapping a GPS device under someone's car, or donning a wig and waiting in her minivan on a stakeout, or spying on an employee suspected of faking his workers' comp claim.
"It's incredible," Charmagne tells momlogic. "I have a very set routine during the day, and now -- in the middle of the day, while my kids are at school -- I get to do extraordinary cases. Things that you see on TV have just been segued into my life."
The Calif.-based PI firm is led by Chris Butler, a retired SWAT team cop. When he bought the firm from his boss, he initially hired your typical PI: a beefy, male retired cop. But he found that they made for lackluster employees. So he took a chance and hired on a woman with kids. She was a totally different kind of investigator. "She was fabulous," he says. After she left the firm to move to the East Coast, he started hiring more women -- specifically women with families.
"When men get together on a team, there's a lot of competition and everyone's competing against each other," Butler says. "Moms are all about helping each other. They all want to see each other succeed. It's a great thing to have on a team."
Butler now has five PI moms on staff -- one of whom is pregnant with her second child, and another who's pregnant with her first baby. The team investigates anything from cheating husbands to out-of-control teens to fraud cases. And the PI moms juggle their kids' schedules with undercover sting operations.
"If one mom has a soccer game, the other mom whose kid doesn't have a soccer game will take the case," says Denise Antoon, 40, who has three kids and was a lawyer before she became a PI. "I've found that this job was really unique that it didn't have these restrictions on it."
The moms all say that they feel their job is very safe. Safety, in fact, is their number one concern.
"I never put my kids in any danger," says Charmagne, who was a stay-at-home mom and a client of Butler before she joined the company 18 months ago. "My kids' safety is more important than everything."
Many of the skills that come with being a mom -- good intuition, the ability to multitask and make the most of your time and the ability to think fast on your feet -- make for a great PI.
"Moms can multitask," says Denise. "We have eyes in the back of our heads, and we have supersonic hearing."
The fact that these PIs are moms gives them a distinct edge: No one would suspect that the minivan parked across the street is a surveillance vehicle, or that the middle-aged woman who knocks at your door is really part of a sting.
It's not just unsuspecting cheating spouses who suffer from mom spies, though. It's not so easy being the kid of a spy, either. Imagine trying to pull a fast one on a parent who makes a living catching people in lies!
"It's kind of hard to fool her," says 16-year-old Nicole, whose mom, Michelle Allen, is a PI for Butler. "It's kind of pretty impossible to get away with anything, so I don't even bother trying anymore. It's not even worth it."
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|