Poems & Essays

31 May

The Alchemy of Motherhood

In Mother Words Blog 3 Responses

I applied the base elements—bold red on my lips and my favourite camel coloured boots—and gave myself a brisk pep talk. It was the opening night of a writer’s retreat, and although I surely would have things in common with other attendees, I still had to schmooze with strangers. Hopefully, that subtle alchemy of lipstick armour would make the night into gold.

Dreaded small talk tends to open with, “So, what do you do?” and usually I could glibly reply that I was a writer even though I don’t publish much and my novel is perpetually in progress. But here, in a crowd of writers, there’s little traction with self-publishing or works in progress. So, what do you really do with yourself?

I’m a stay at home mom. I find myself sinking further into the floor as I realize that I’m a stay at home mom in a crowd of human rights lawyers, published poets, polyglot United Nations employees, international teachers, real authors of real published books, and a famous opera singer. There is the inexplicable regret and yet still, the not-regret of being a professional, a feminist and a full-time mother.

What is more valuable to me—an income or my time? Always, even those times when we had just a few dollars to last us a week, I figured my time was much more valuable than what I could be paid for it. I value the opportunity to prepare healthy meals nearly every day of the week for my family. I like experimenting, like making my own limoncello liquor, my own natural cleaning detergent, my own yogurt, chocolate and bread. I like weeding the big garden and taking care of the hens; I like having time to work on my novel, volunteering on projects close to my heart, and taking midday coffee breaks with my husband in his home office, being able to attend soccer practices with kids, go to school meetings and do homework with them. In this phase of life, all these things mean more to me than a salary. For myself, I work hard at having a life that is as low stress as possible and healthy and joyful and generous. When my littles look back at their childhood years, I hope they recall this time as being beautiful; they won’t realize that all the tiny details I’m able to tend to mean a sort of sacrifice on my part, one that enriches my life but not my bank account. I don’t expect I will look back on this time with regret.

All this is hard to express in small talk with strangers. So how can I talk about what I do when it is so expansive and sometimes so poorly appreciated by society? I’m all for reclamation and redefinition of words but I suspect that the SAHM label almost has too much baggage to be rescued. Since that night at the retreat, I spent time thinking about alternative answers that could be compelling to the predictable query of ‘What do you do?’ And, I think I’ve found my new job title.

So what do I really do? Believe it or not, I’m a full-time, modern day alchemist. Alchemy, after all, is mystery combined with spirit; it is a process and a slow transformation of primal matter into treasure. Mysterious, process, transformation. I’m not sure if I could think of a more honest description of what I do. There is a mysterious way that the tiny infants who arrived just a few years ago are now running around playing soccer and riding bikes and writing words in notebooks. There is the daily process of accompanying my boys in their learning and discovery. There is an amazing transformation as they grow from infant to toddler to child to adolescent.

Sometimes the refining process burns. There are endless moments filled with boredom or confusion, but equally there are times of discovery and beauty. There is the slow course in which they become more of themselves, and in the course of witnessing that, I become more of myself as well. We are being transformed by each other.

In my daily efforts at alchemy, I infuse raw materials with my love and flavour and creativity to change them into something that fills our lives with sweetness and beauty. I make garden produce into a feast, blank walls into a cozy home. I make words on a page into a story, and mostly, I get to hold the hands of little humans at the beginning of their life journey. I take on job descriptions of all types, for long hours and poor pay. My kids, my home, my life is the better for it. That crowd of beautiful writers and professionals whom I met at the retreat may have been rather honoured to have someone with my job title amongst their ranks.



Lisa Lopéz Smith is a Canadian living in a small Mexican town. She enjoys unique cultural perspectives and seeing how the culture and language influences the lives of her young boys. She has self-published three books, and her Mexican themed novel will launch in Autumn 2016. 

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  1. Candice

    May 31, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    What a wonderful response! I also dread the ‘what do you do?’ Or ‘what have you been up to lately?’ questions. I usually answer flippantly: “oh just chasing after these kiddos” And then feel disappointed in myself for perpetuating a label.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Amy Simonson

    June 3, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Oh my goodness do I hear you!!! I feel all of these things all the time! I don’t tell a lot of people I write because their first question is always, “Have you written a book?” And they won’t understand my answer: “Yes, I’ve written three novels, actually. They’re all sitting in a drawer, unpublished.” Or that I’ve published a couple of short stories and essays–coups as far as I’m concerned, but not much to those who don’t write and struggle with publishing. I’m also a SAHM, so I think if I tell people I write (but don’t have a novel published yet) they’ll think I’m just tinkering around with a hobby. So frustrating at times! Great piece!

  3. Vidya

    June 20, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Thank you! I love the term ‘ modern day alchemist’. I have been a SAHM for many years now and sometimes still struggle with fitting into a world of corporate moms. My heart tells me I have always made the right decisions but truly I have no trophy to show the world about what I have done with my time except a small blog. Yet I know I will not trade my time for anything in the world.
    So beautifully expressed , at times I felt the words were flowing from my heart!. Thank you


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