Worn Well

How Whitney Mitchell’s Mother Has Reinvented Herself Every Decade

Whitney Mitchell and her Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, Teva Explorer Whitney Mitchell interviews her mom about raising three daughters while going back to college, her new love of CrossFit, and seeing themselves in each other. Words and Photos by Whitney Mitchell.

My mom and I are both Aquarians. We both live fitness. Together, we’ve fostered a deep-rooted love of Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s Wholesale Club. I used to push back on everyone that pointed out our parallels because I wanted to be my own person. But now that I hear my mom’s empowered voice within my own, I embrace that I’m becoming more like her. I see my mother as a human, doing her very best to be alive. I think sometimes we hold our parents to a different standard than everyone else in the world. But they are learning and growing at the same time as their children. I didn’t always understand my mother’s choices—I still don’t—but I recognize her curiosity and quest for reinvention in myself.

My mother carried me three weeks past my scheduled due date—offering more of herself than required. That act alone would set the tone for her position in my life, continuously giving of herself to me in ways I would never expect. I’ve seen her embrace reinvention without regard to any age-gated limitations; showing me and my sisters how to “run a marathon” of curiosity and discovery through our entire lives.

photo by Whitney Mitchell

Eileen Braxton-Mitchell.

My mother was never an athlete, but today she trains like one. She never felt like a stand-out scholar, yet after nearly 30 years as an educator, she challenges her students to think like they are. To me, she’s the mother of reinvention and gut-checker of timelines.

My older sister, Saudia Mitchell puts it best: “While we appreciated it, I don’t think any of us had an idea of just how invaluable a gift her lust for life was as we were growing up. Unlike other kids of our era, we were not confined to the borders of our neighborhood. The borough of Staten Island, the county of Kings, and the city of New York were all our backyard. We didn’t have a lot of money but we had a mother who was willing to explore and find free programs that taught us to swim, ask questions, and dream… My mother was ahead of her time, setting an example for assessing her time, not as what should have been but what could always be.”

To celebrate my mother, Eileen Braxton-Mitchell, I asked her a few questions that shape her ever-evolving story. I hope you see yourself in one of her layers.

Whitney Mitchell in Teva x Outdoor Voices

Like mother, like daughter. Eileen and Whitney wear the Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Shaded Spruce.

WHITNEY: What is your age?

EILEEN: I’m 64-years-young.

What age do you feel?

I don’t know what it is to feel age. I’ve stopped living my life according to a timeline around 40-years-old. Back then, I was exhausted and lost. I saw age and time in everything and I felt like my purpose was existing for family and work instead of discovering more of me.

Now, nothing makes me feel an age. I feel free. When I’m with you or your sisters, I feel like we’re the same age. Free and still learning. I want to try everything and go everywhere, and not just by cruise ship. I get excited knowing that there’s more to come with each trip around the sun.

Whitney Mitchell in Teva x Outdoor Voices

Whitney revisits the parks where she grew up with her mom on Staten Island, NY. Pictured: Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Fusion Coral.

What was life like for you at my age, 33-years-old?

When I was your age, I was in the second chapter of big life-changing experiences. The first chapter of my life was leading up to the death of my first born’s father—your sister Tia’s dad, Bobby. In chapter two, when I was 33, I had three girls (Tia almost 12-years-old, Saudia almost 7-years-old, and you at 2-years-old). I’d recently gotten married to your father and I worked a full-time job as a paraprofessional. I decided to jump head-first into pursuing a college degree in education. My adult life up until that point was family and work fueled by a high school diploma. I knew how to provide, but I wanted more.

I would bring you and your sisters to night classes with me right after work and get you all ready for school the next day, like a well-oiled machine.

I didn’t question if I was going to finish—it was more a matter of when and if I’d still have my sanity when it happened. It felt never-ending. Looking back I don’t know how I did it.

Whitney Mitchell in Teva x Outdoor Voices

Whitney Mitchell in Teva x Outdoor Voices

Pictured: Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Fusion Coral.

How have your notions of what it means to be a woman changed over your lifetime?

When I was young, my notion of what it meant to be a woman was associated with a title. More often than not that title was positioned around family (sister, wife, mother). During that time being a woman felt limiting.

There were no casual fitness ladies, bosses, or sport’s coaches being showcased for the beauty in their strength. We didn’t have access to information in the way that you all do now. We didn’t get to see each other in the way that you all do now.

The biggest shift in my thinking came when I had you girls. I learned what being a woman is through you all, while still holding onto the values and lessons my mother and grandmothers gave me. I saw myself in each of you and I wanted to make sure you all saw bigger than me. My title as wife and mother didn’t feel limiting, so I didn’t let them. I wanted you all to see me use those titles as a superpower.

Since raising you and your sisters, I’ve let my notion change as I change. In this chapter, to be a woman is personifying strength. In my case, physical strength. I’m finding confidence and becoming more of my womanhood through fitness.

Teva x Outdoor Voices

Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Shaded Spruce.

Teva x Outdoor Voices Collection

Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Shaded Spruce.

How have your notions of being a mother changed?

I’ve always felt like an entrusted guardian chosen to lead my girls for a short period of time and then transitioning to the position of giving them a guided perspective. I continue to feel a responsibility in showing what risk and faith look like through my actions and words.

I don’t know if my notions of being a mother changed so much over time; rather, the main difference in my feelings between then and now, is that I’ve learned how to not to lose myself while providing that guidance.

How do you maintain a sense of self?

Continued learning, alone-time, and a good workout are the sources of maintaining ME. While raising you all, I saw the strength in offering you space for creative thinking. I watched as pieces of me manifested in your actions into totally unique stories. You and your sisters show me the power of space through your individuality.

I’ve taken that spirit into learning more of who I am through fitness—that’s my ultimate source of energy. I get to do something every day that requires me to create and offer energy to myself while pushing past perceived barriers – the best type of “me” time I’ve known.

Teva x Outdoor Voices

Pictured: Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Fusion Coral.

Teva x Outdoor Voices Collection

Pictured: Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Fusion Coral.

Who are your role models?

My mom, dad, and my grandmother are my role models.  Grandma had her way of telling me to trust my own spirit. She would always tell me that I’m my own best friend. I held that with me in every chapter of my life. Once I started living by that, every action I took became clearer.

My mother worked hard to make sure we honored our family in the community. My dad was a force to be reckoned with. He showed me the power of family in his choices. He had an opportunity to join a minor league baseball team in 1955. During that time, players had to pay for their own travel and lodging. He knew he wouldn’t make a lot of money, so he chose to stay home on Staten Island with his family. He showed me sacrifice. And he showed me how to own your choices. Instead of baseball, he went to work at a car dealership as a mechanics helper and gave me the foundation I needed. I knew from then, roles and titles change, but family is forever—and only pride could ruin that.

As I continue my turns around the sun I hope that those around me see what they have helped build within me.

Whitney Mitchell in Teva x Outdoor Voices

Teva x Outdoor Voices Hurricane XLT2 in Shaded Spruce.

What’s something you always wanted to do but didn’t?

God-willing, I really, really, really want to compete at the Crossfit Games. I’d also like to open my own gym. I feel so free when I work out and I want to share that feeling.

What inspires your desire to try new things?

I live without a timeline. I live for right now and I want to know who I’ll become after every experience. You girls have inspired me to know that taking chances means opening yourself up for growth. I know every experience has positioned me to be better for the next. I took a chance on going to college at age 33, coaching a boy’s track team at age 46 and learning CrossFit at age 59. All three were totally unknown territory for me and all have become staples in my life that drove me to become a better person in every area of my life.

I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Teva Flatforms

Pictured: Flatform Universal Mesh in Bright White.

Teva Flatforms

Pictured: Flatform Universal Mesh in Bright White.

How has your expression through dressing evolved?

Growing up, my options were extremely limited. I got hand-me-downs from my mother and was forced to get creative pretty often. My mom was my first stylist. I remember wearing a sweater to school and my mom shifting it around and making it look like a totally different outfit for me to wear a day later. I would say my style was practical then and has since transitioned to athleisure chic meets contemporary regal.

Dressing is fun. I’ll try and wear anything. Each one of my daughters is an offspring of my style.  As they were growing up, each criticized my clothing but now I see their style has changed. (The shade of it all.)

WHITNEY: It’s true. I questioned your fashion when I was younger. When I was growing up in the 90s and early 00s, labels meant everything to me. You dressed in comfortable statement pieces and I couldn’t understand how to make a statement without a label. Now, I’ve stepped into the styling you’ve always championed. You never let time or trends shift your version of what styling looked like. I fully embrace knowing that you’ll love the things I wear and/or try to take style cues from me now.

What legacy are you working on instilling in the people you connect with?

I hope I’ve shown the people around me that my legacy is about persistence and taking chances.

Shop the Teva x Outdoor Voices Collection and latest Flatform Sandals at Teva.com