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When I first met my dear friend Salama McGrier, I was struck by two things: her inimitable sense of style and the loving and lively rapport she shared with her then seven year-old son, Kahlil.  In addition to working a day job, I learned Salama was a talented seamstress, specializing in artisan leather goods, having honed her skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology and through numerous internships with reputable designers. We hit it off immediately and effortlessly eased into a close-knit friendship. I soon joined the ranks of Salama’s comrades as another chica in a long line of women to call themselves an auntie to Kahlil, now ten years of age.  I’d always admired the way Salama prioritized her passion for creating beautiful leather clutches, bags, and accessories with the great care, respect, love, and quality time she gives her awesome son. As Kahlil told me, "I think the stuff my mom makes is really nice and that she shouldn’t stop making them. When she does her leather work it makes me want to continue drawing." Recently, Salama and I got into a conversation about the challenges of balancing daily life as a single mom, working to pay the bills, and grinding it out in her studio; creating one beautiful piece after another. As part of our Creative Resources series, Salama offered her guidelines on the ongoing process of balancing your creative aspirations with the joys and challenges of being a mother.

Create a Spiritual Practice

“Regardless of your religion, spirituality, or whether you’re agnostic or an atheist, it’s vital to create a sense of peace that you can return to internally when life is challenging. Be it through making time to run, do yoga, or meditate or whatever it is - it’s essential to have a spiritual core.  As a mother, you’re constantly multi-tasking; much of your energy goes to your child. It can be really difficult to be present. It’s one of the biggest challenges. When I wake up in the morning I feel like I have two brains working simultaneously – one is for my child and one is for my career and me. It’s almost like my brain is a set of Siamese twins - if one is lacking, the other suffers. I’m always thinking of how to make full use of my time. I wake up like, ok, I have to get all of this work done but then I have to think, what’s for dinner? What’s for breakfast? Are his clothes clean? Did I check his homework? Does he have snacks for when he gets home from school? So the challenge and opportunity is to always make sure I’m keeping both sides of my  brain alive and healthy. Fortunately, I'm a member of theSGI Buddhist organization and a leader in my district. I have my Buddhist practice and my Buddhist community, which I can always depend on to rejuvenate me when I’m struggling and reinvigorate my sense of purpose. It’s really important that we moms - and everybody really - have some type of spiritual center. It has nothing to do with religion, it’s about having a place you can turn to to keep you sane and centered.”

Allow Your Children to Teach You What You Need to Learn

“It’s hard to see your child struggling and you definitely see how kids struggle with their peers and studies in school. Like me, my son is very bright and very artistic. At the same time, he sometimes struggles academically. For me, it was the same. I used to have really low self-confidence due to my struggles with academics and so my art suffered. It was really hard for me to complete a project. I knew I could do it - but I was so afraid of not succeeding. Yet, when I would finish something, I would blow my own mind. Since I’ve had my son and have helped him deal with his fears, it’s made me realize I’m still dealing with my own fears.  Helping him has caused me to address and confront those fears, which I’ve only recently been able to conquer. For example, I had a sewing machine for 14 years. I had only used it once and I never sewed a complete garment or bag on the sewing machine. I was afraid of it because it reminded me of academics…it felt alien to me. I always sewed with my hands because my hands were moving with my body…I had full control over it. With the machine, I had to trust it, have patience, and learn it. With Kahlil, I would notice that he didn’t have patience learning new things and then I realized, wait - I don’t have patience learning new things. It’s a simultaneous learning experience when you have a child and it’s a beautiful thing. You can pretend you don’t see that, but if you choose to look past that and only see their flaws, and not how it’s reflecting back to you, then you’re missing out. Children are a new opportunity. Having a child has really pushed me. In the last ten years of my life I’ve become really strong. How can I tell him to pursue his dreams if I don’t? It’s really important to become those role models for our kids. How can we tell them to go to school if we’re not continuing to educate ourselves? Sometimes people can feel like well, I can’t pursue my dreams because I have a child but your kid will eventually leave. You have a 10 year-old kid? Remember when he was in your stomach? That was just a minute ago. In ten years he’ll be gone and then what are you going to do? You don't want to be in a position where you're clinging to your children because you didn’t pursue your dream.”

Sometimes people can feel like well, I can’t pursue my dreams because I have a child but your kid will eventually leave. You have a 10 year-old kid? Remember when he was in your stomach? That was just a minute ago. In ten years he’ll be gone and then what are you going to do? You don’t want to be in a position where you’re clinging to your children because you didn’t pursue your dream.

Introduce Your Children to Activities That You Enjoy and Feed You Creatively

“Ever since Kahlil was as young as four years old, I have been taking him to cultural and art events. We go to art galleries, or to see live music and I think it’s really important for his growth. I don’t just mean going to the Museum of Natural History, which is great – I mean that it’s also important to take children to more intimate creative spaces. They can explore and get a feel for the different kinds of people who are around and for the environment...I’ve often taken him to shows where friends of mine are having openings or performing. It sends him a message that it’s important to show support for people in your community and to support the work of your friends and peers. It’s a win win situation for both of us because it’s something that I enjoy doing and draw from for my own inspiration. I’m bringing him into my world and making him a part of that instead of keeping him separate and I’m allowing him to form his own opinions about that world. It also gives him a respect for what I do. This past weekend I was part of a craft fair at 3rd Ward. Kahlil was a huge help with setting up and preparing. He understood why I was working late into the night to makes sure I had enough product. He's also not afraid to share his passions with me. Kahlil loves anime [Japanese cartoons and computer animation] and he’s gotten me into that. I wouldn’t have known about that world had he not introduced me to it and so we’re both sharing our lives with one another. I started sharing my interests with him early on and that made him more apt to share with me so now that’s a ritual, we’ll watch anime together on the weekends and it really inspires me visually, in terms of my own art."

Use Your Resources

“Don’t wait for your friends to ask, ask for help. It can be very challenging as a mom to ask for help. There’s a stigmatism that people are just dumping their kids on other people. You don’t want to impose or feel like you’re asking for a handout. It can be hard, but you have to ask for help. The thing is, is that people are more prone to want to help people who are helping themselves. If people see you actively working on your art, business, project, or career they’re going to be more willing to support your efforts. Some women will substitute their dream for their child but you have to be careful that you’re not using that child as an excuse. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It can be a natural thing that can happen. I don’t think anyone has to give up their dreams because they have a child. You have to reorganize your life. You have to believe that your life is infinitely expandable. I don’t care how old you are, you can always start a new career but you have to push hard for it. I know that’s not easy. Sometimes I want to just lay in bed and evaporate [laughs] but then I’ll see a women with three kids who is grinding and that puts things in perspective. Don’t be afraid to make requests of the people in your life who love and support you. You don’t have to carry all of the weight alone. People will help, but you have to ask."

Take Small Steps Daily

“If you’re working on a project or feel like you need an artistic outlet, just do one small thing a day. Those little things add up; some days I would feel like I didn’t do anything. Then I look back and I can see how much those small efforts I made paid off. You set the intention and things start coming towards you.  I knew I wanted to work with leather. One day I was walking home and I found a bag of leather remnants, which I took home. It turns out there was a husband and wife who had an upholstery store across the street from me. They saw me one day looking around in their garbage for more leather and they said, ‘you know, we have tons more to give if you’d like some.’ I ended up walking home that day with two industrial garbage bags full of leather which I’m turning into amazing tote and clutch bags. The point is, is to get started. When you have a child, you really start to think about how you’re spending your time. I remember thinking I had no time before I had a child and now I realize all of the time I actually had! You have to cut out all of the things you’re doing that are not serving you. When I started to make more time to do my art, I lost the desire to drink just to get drunk or to spend my time in ways that weren’t beneficial and I was way more happy and satisfied in those moments.  I would say to moms, just start today. Just do a little. In order to be a great parent, you have to be a great person and you have to be happy with yourself. You can’t be your best if you’re not happy with yourself. I think it’s really important to take care of yourself. Do little things that are special for you. Nurturing yourself is very important. If your art is what nurtures you, it has to be a top priority.”

You can check out more of Salama's line, here: LEATHERSHMEATHER on Etsy.

Words by Jahan Mantin

All photos by Tom Tumminello

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