My great-grandmother, Eva Marie, was the first in my maternal line to go to college. She went to Eastern Michigan University and became a school teacher. She taught in a one-room school house during the week, and went on Saturdays to Saganing Reservation, near her home to teach children who were excluded from the segregated school where she worked. Eva Marie continued teaching after she was married, which was bordering on disgraceful, and kept her position while hiding her pregnancy because to be pregnant in front of a roomful of children was considered positively vulgar.
Eva Marie kept an immaculate house. She scrubbed the sidewalk leading up to her porch on hands and knees, armed with a sudsy bucket and a thick-bristled brush. Her daughter, my grandmother, Juanita Marie, walked herself to and from kindergarten when she was five years old, and had countless chores of her own at that age.
Juanita Marie raised five children. She polished their shoes and loaded them into the station wagon on Sunday mornings for church. They were dressed in their Sunday best with socks on the outside of their shoes -- covering them, protecting them from scuffs and marks. Then, in the church parking lot, my grandma would whisk off the socks so the children could parade into the church perfectly groomed from head to toe.
When her youngest was in high school, my grandma finally felt it was time for her own schooling to continue. She went to Oakland Community College and then felt confident enough to transfer to Oakland University where she stayed until she received her Master’s degree in Social Work. Upon graduation, she requested to be placed as a teacher for inmates at the Oakland County Jail, a job she loved deeply and held until her retirement ten years later when her failing hearing and other health challenges made it too difficult to continue.
My mother, Maureen Jane, raised four children. She is also a teacher. She and my father were founding members of the third Waldorf school in Michigan. For countless nights throughout my childhood, she stayed up until three in the morning doing lesson plans and seemingly endless administrative work, waking up a few hours later before the sun rose.
My mother also hosted countless parties for family and friends. She set the tables with ironed tablecloths and napkins, crystal, silver, and vibrant fiestaware place settings. My sisters and I were dressed in Laura Ashley and Hanna Anderson dresses, hair braided or curled, finished with ribbons. Even yogurt was put into a bowl -- no serving containers on the table -- for weekend breakfasts with only our nuclear family.
I, Caitlin Jane, am also a teacher. I am raising two children. I was proudly pregnant while teaching kindergarten. School families and colleagues celebrated the upcoming birth of my first baby; they gave me generous gifts and hand-me-downs.
My one-year old went through a phase where she’d only wear red. Many beautiful clothing items I purchased for her went untouched. She hates having her hair brushed. We cannot have guests over -- this is too overwhelming for her, sharing space and attention is too hard. She cannot go to school or even eat yogurt, and you better believe her shoes are scuffed.
I cannot teach.
Because of the overwhelming degree of anxiety my daughter lives with, everything has needed to change drastically, including my own career plans.
I think about where I come from. This lineage of mothers and teachers, their great respect for working hard and doing things properly. I am learning to syphon out their strength, to channel all the grit and determination they have put into their lives, their children’s lives, me -- to pick myself up in my most difficult moments. And, slowly... When I notice myself feeling self-conscious, and slightly guilty for my daughter appearing in some public space in a frayed polyester, flower-girl dress she wore for my cousin’s wedding three years ago, strawberry popsicle smeared on her face... when I notice my own internal judgements come up, you know what I’m learning? I am learning that I don’t feel like berating myself and I don’t feel like pity. I don’t feel like turning this into a neatly-wrapped story of resilience and beauty. I do feel like looking at it honestly now. My life is different. This is how it is.
behind running girls.