The Motherhood in Motion series is a very special collaboration with ALN Images.
We had the chance to sit down with Sasha Willis, a local mom and entrepreneur, to learn about what she’s loves most about her days, maintaining her identity in parenthood, and how being a mother has changed the way she approaches her business.
Did you always know you wanted to be a mother?
No. Actually, for my 29th birthday my husband and I went to Greece. It was one of our best trips; we were just traveling, and sightseeing. We talked about it then, that we were fine without kids. If this was what life was going to be like without kids, then we were fine with it. I was of the mindset that if it happens, it happens. But if it doesn’t, I’m okay with that, too.
And then it did happen!
Yes! One son. He’s three.
So you’re in that fun stage!
Sure! Haha! We’re super lucky with my son. We always say he’s the perfect son for us. He’s super laid back and goes with change really well. I feel like he’s been here before. He’s such an easy going child and makes it so easy for us.
How are you, really?
I have my ups and downs, of course. But I’ve been really fortunate that our family lives in the area so I haven’t had some of the same struggles with school and stuff like that. I get the choice to teach him preschool and he goes with my mom and my mother-in-law everyday Monday through Thursday so I still get a little bit of time to focus on me. I have a really small circle and we’ve all been lucky enough to make a pod. Right when everything shut down we didn’t see each other for a month but then we were about to have get-togethers. The hardest thing for me, as much as I’m introverted, was not having the option to see people. I didn’t realize how much I liked being out of the house and being able to see the people I enjoy at work and friends. That was hard at the beginning when the only people I saw were my husband, my son, my mother, and my mother-in-law. Now that we’re able to move around a little bit more it’s much better.
For me, it actually meant I got to spend a lot more time with my son. Because I have a day job outside of my business and my husband is a police officer. Typically that meant me waking up at 5 in the morning, being at work by 630, and not seeing my son until I picked him up in the evening around 530. So I got to see him for about two hours a day. As opposed to now, I’m working from home so I get to wake up with him, we get to do breakfast together, we get just more time together. Since I was always working and he was used to playing with Daddy I used to not be able to play but now I’m allowed to play with them because he’s used to me being home now!
Has your own childhood impacted the way you approach motherhood?
I think so. I’m an only child and my mom was very intentional about doing activities and having educational learning time. We have a lot of subscription boxes that are like that and during this pandemic we’ve been doing preschool at home. A lot of that I definitely got from my mother. She was very much the mindset of “We’re gonna play and have fun but I want you to learn while we do that.”
How has your family changed since you’ve become a mother?
We want our son to have experiences as opposed to a ton of toys. We want to take him to new places and experience new things. Because of this last year, that hasn’t happened much. But, because he’s biracial, what we have found is that we want him to know both sides of his family. I don’t know much Spanish, but the little I do know, I teach him. Little phrases, words, and my husband is really good about keeping it going. And my husband will wake up and clean to 70’s Motown. We do Spanish Christmas Eve and then celebrate Christmas Day with my husband’s family so he sees that culture. That way, he gets both sides. That’s something that’s really important to us – that he knows who he is, all around. I speak more Spanish now than I ever did growing up because I want my son to know it.
What is your favorite part of your day?
Surprisingly, I didn’t think this would be my favorite thing at all, but Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I have this workout class I go to. I’ve been doing this since December so I’ve been able to get really consistent with it. I like it because it breaks up my day but it’s also my time. I’m not working, I get to take a break, it makes my afternoons and evenings faster. My son’s in soccer now so before that evening juggle it’s something I look forward to the most because it’s just for me.
Do you struggle to maintain your own identity outside of motherhood?
I try to be really intentional about that. I said even before I was a parent that I didn’t want to be defined by motherhood. I think that’s what happens to a lot of women. We become moms and then all of the sudden you’re just a mom and there’s nothing outside of that. So I try to make sure I feel like a person outside of just being my son’s mom. I was a person before he was here, I’ll still be a person after he leaves. I try to be very intentional about making that time for me and keeping an identity in the things I like to do. So like, with that work out class, I literally have it in my planner. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, that’s my time. I have girlfriends that I do wine night with and we put it on the calendar because that’s our time. That’s time I get to not be a mom and a wife. So I try to be very intentional about not getting lost in that.
Is there something within motherhood that you’re surprised you enjoy?
I knew I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom so I wasn’t sure how working from home was going to be for me, being with my son all the time. I knew when he was three months old that that life was not for me! But I do like getting up and making him breakfast, getting ready for the day, and that he looks forward to us reading together. He always comes to me when he wants to read a book. He goes to his dad for everything else; His dad’s his favorite parent! But I get to do the reading. That’s the time that I really enjoy with him because I know that doesn’t last forever. One day he won’t want to sit on my lap and read a book so I really cherish that time with him.
How has this past year been for you as a family of a DC police officer, particularly a police family of color?
I talk about this a lot in my business. I’m Puerto Rican and my husband is Black. So our son is biracial, he’s Afro-Latino. I have a very unique perspective when it comes to his job because even though he’s a police officer, he’s a black man first and we’re raising a little boy of color. So I have this worry on both sides. I worry about my husband, and his job; the things he has to deal with. But I also know that at the end of the day, when he takes off his badge, he’s still a black man. And I still have to raise my son who loves his dad, knows his dad’s a police officer, who’s around mostly family friends who are cops. I’m going to have to explain to him at some point when he’s older that most police officers aren’t going to love you the way that you’re daddy does. Most police officers are not going to treat you the way that your daddy does. That will have to be something he has to learn because he’s a boy of color in the country. I struggle a little bit in balancing that. My husband is good at his job, he loves what he does. But it’s when he doesn’t have that protection of his badge, the world looks at him a little differently.
Did motherhood push you to a place of being more vocal about your family’s experience in this country?
Definitely. Definitely. Like I said, I have a son who is Puerto-Rican and Black. He’s the cutest little thing now. But he will reach an age, probably sooner rather than later, that he will go from being cute to being seen as a threat to some people. People will look at him a certain way and be scared of him. I specifically remember, before I was even pregnant, when we had our last president win the election, I was on my way to work and called my husband crying because I was like, “How are we supposed to have a kid with this? He hates everything our family is.” And then I had my son, a boy, and I was like “Okay, now I have to teach my son how to be careful.” And my husband 6’3”, my son is three years old but he’s already over three and a half feet tall, so he’s big for his age. And that’s cute now, but as he gets older he’ll be expected to act a certain way because he looks older.
We’ll have to teach him that he can’t do things that other kids can do. He can’t wear his hoodie and run through people’s yards like white kids can. Especially where we are now, in Anne Arundel County. We moved from Prince George County where we were living in a predominantly black area and now we’re one of 2 families in our neighborhood of people of color. So, I think often about that. That I have to teach him that he can’t do certain things he’s seeing little white boys do because people aren’t going to look at him the same way. I wish I didn’t have to worry about those things for him or have those conversations with him. Right now, we don’t have to because he’s so little. But once he’s in school and it’s pointed out to him that he’s different from the other kids, those kinds of conversations will have to start happening. It’s the reality for a lot of parents of color.
Now, there’s a lot of white moms who are beginning to understand that they’re having conversations with their kids about looking both ways to cross the street because they care about their safety, but the conversations we’re having are “Don’t do these things, or you can be killed.” They’re different conversations. We want our kids to be kids; that’s the thing. But in communities of color, our kids are forced to grow up so much quicker because of the way the world looks at them.
I think more people are having their eyes opened to things that people of color have been experiencing for a long time. I think it’s been a sustained enough pressure where small changes are starting to happen but we have to maintain that pressure for things to continue to change. For example, with the Chauvin trial, I was nervous about what that outcome would be. My husband has his days off canceled, working 12 hour shifts in anticipation of the verdict. When he was found guilty there was a sigh of relief for someone like me because I can tell my son, “Even when police officers do bad things, they’re being held accountable.” But the problem is that those things shouldn’t be happening in the first place and I think we need to move towards. I think more people are open and didn’t realize these things are happening and they’re not one-offs. This is something that’s a problem. As long as people continue to apply pressure, I’m hopeful things will change.
What has being a mother taught you about yourself?
My son has taught me a lot of patience I didn’t think I had. He’s just always such a happy boy. He’s so carefree and easy going. Nothing really rattles him and he’s taught me so much in being like that. As an adult, that goes away and we stress out about so much stuff but he teaches me to be grounded. I love that he’s like that because he reminds me that we don’t have to be so worried when things don’t go the way we wanted them to.
Is there a passion or secret talent you realized within motherhood?
I had this idea that I would be this “Pinterest Mom” before I became a mother, and I’ve realized now that I’m not as much as I’d wanted to be. I think I’m really good at keeping our whole family on a schedule. I’m the calendar for our whole family – Keeping up with my husband’s schedule, my son’s schedule, my schedule and my own business. I used to not be as good with my time as I am now. Especially this last year, I’ve been forced to be more intentional with our time. I wouldn’t be as good at that as I am now if I wasn’t a mom. He definitely forces me to be very intentional with all of the things we have to do.
So, you have a full time career, your own business, and a podcast! Were you always someone who enjoyed juggling so much?
No! I went to college for business management and we had the option at my school to choose entrepreneurship and I purposefully didn’t choose it because I knew I wasn’t going to be an entrepreneur. You know, being from this area, I was like “I’m going to work in a government job and it’s going to be easy and that’s going to be it.”
I wasn’t going to be stressed out about anything. It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I had the idea to start a business and it’s changed and had many iterations since then but I definitely didn’t think I’d be the type that would have so much going on.
The podcast came after my son. I started it with a friend of mine and a lot of what we talk about is our experience being moms and being wives, and being women. My son definitely gave me more to talk about and a clearer idea of what I wanted to do. I think the way my business has pivoted in the last year is definitely due to motherhood. I do talk a lot about what’s going on in the country and how it affects my family – how it affects my son. So he’s definitely been the catalyst as to why my business has turned into what it is. The podcast happened in January of 2020, right before everything happened. But Creations by Sasha, I began in June of 2010.
How did Swirl & Sip come to be?
I had the idea of a podcast but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be about and I didn’t want to do it by myself. I have three other friends, they’re my “Wine Night Girls”. When our sons were first born, not even a year old, we started having monthly wine nights. We’d get together every month. At first our boys came because they were so tiny but then it turned into them staying home with dad and we’d just talk about life. I’d brought up on Instagram that I wanted to start a podcast and one of my wine night friends was like, “Oh! I’d do it with you!” We decided we’d talk about sort of the stuff we talk about at wine night – probably a lot like conversations other girlfriends have with each other. That’s kind of how that happened. Like I said, we started in January and had no idea the pandemic was coming. A part of the podcast is that we’d get together to record with wine. That was fun- trying to figure out how to still do that. Both my podcast and my business is meant to empower women. We dim our lights a lot, especially when we become mothers. I want women to speak their truths, whatever that looks like. Taking care of ourselves, being authentic – just live your life, be you – be proud of it.
Did you hold that same value for selfcare before motherhood?
No, I think I took it for granted. I had all the time so it didn’t really matter. But as a mom, I have to make the time for that now. When my son was really little I’d feel so guilty about even going to get my nails done. But then my husband and I went to Italy for ten days in 2019 and it was then that I realized my son does not really care that much about us. He was fine that we were gone, we would FaceTime him and he’d say “Hi, Mommy. Hi, Daddy.” and then would run back off to what he was doing. We missed him way more than he missed us.
In what other ways have you pivoted in your businesses?
Being at home and being able to work from home has given me a lot more time to also focus on my business that I wouldn’t have had the time to do. I’ve been able to focus more on better marketing and launching new products. Before, I just didn’t have time to do those things because I was at work from 5 in the morning to 5 at night so I really only had late at night to work on it before. Now that I’m home, I can go between my day job and my business. I don’t think my business would be what it is now if I was still going into work.
Creations by Sasha began completely different from what it is now. I actually started with scrapbooks. I’m a creative person by nature and I like doing things like that. That turned into stationery. I love having very extravagant parties and themes and I was always making and sending out my own invitations and event details. So my business turned into wedding stationery and event styling, I’d come in and do all the decor. Once I got pregnant, I couldn’t really focus on the styling piece anymore because physically it’s just hard. That’s when I focused more on stationery and creating products on the side. Ater my son was born, I just didn’t have the time to focus on couples and brides. Wedding stationery is hectic, a lot of stuff is last minute, and I didn’t really have the bandwidth anymore. So also in January of 2020 I pivoted away from that to a lifestyle brand selling products that I made. That allowed me to be more open about the things I want to talk about, such as my family and the things that affect us.
What do you hope your son remembers about his childhood?
I want him to feel like his home was full of love. He’s surrounded by his family. He gets to play and have fun. I want him to remember that we did things together, like family walks. Now that we live in Edgewater, we’re right on the water and my husband will take him out on the kayak. I want him to have memories of those things. Not so much the things he has, but the experiences he has with us. Hopefully that’s what we give him, those memories of happiness.
You can find Sasha regularly doling out inspiration over on social media and also currently snag a 15% discount on your first order! Be sure to also check out Swirl & Sip on Instagram and on all major streaming platforms.
Thank you, Alli, for the beautiful photography.