I COULD be in Malaysia today – it’s a humid 33 degrees Celsius in London as I sit in my garden amid freshly bloomed marigolds, lilies, roses, lavenders and lobelias.
The aroma from the chocolate cake baking in the oven relaxes me.
With a bit of imagination, it almost looks as though I live a charmed life.
A year ago, I feared embarking on an extended maternity leave, wondering how I would fill all the hours of my days and most importantly, who I was going to spend it with, my baby aside.
Of course, I did not know then that there aren’t enough hours in a day or at all to spend on your hobbies – wrongly assuming that I would be able to finish my novel in this “year off”.
With a baby who relies on me for her comfort and survival, I rarely get more than 15 minutes straight to dedicate to a task.
And you know what, in between cooking, playing and bathing your baby, loneliness hits you at times – something many new parents who live away from their families face.
I began to dream about moving to the countryside, assuming that London was much too vast for me and lacked a community vibe.
I looked for houses in Surrey and north of the country, imagining a life of simplicity and happiness, planting my own vegetables and growing flowers while looking out of the window to rolling hills, despite never thinking to work on my own garden at the time.
Then, when the option proved impossible owing to my hubby’s work, I stopped all the escape plans in my head and figured a more viable solution, something I should have done in the first instance – to befriend mums in my area.
I surprised myself by how long it took me to get down to it, when one of the incentives of having children is that you get to make new friends with other parents entering this new chapter together.
But I was much too shy and it took a friend’s advice to remind me that I could not rely on just that one friend for company as people live busy lives.
A head of psychiatry at Stanford University once gave a lecture on mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease.
The lecturer said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health was to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.
Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other deal with stress and difficult life experiences.
Physically, this quality “girlfriend time” helps us create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being.
Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities.
We share from our souls with our sisters and mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health.
The psychiatry lecturer said spending time with a friend was just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.
In my search for mummyhood solidarity, I ventured into a baby class, where one particular mum stood out.
She welcomed me with a big smile and mouthed a “hello” from across the room, something so unusual around this part of the country where most people would suspect you might rob them if you attempt as much as a handshake.
As the class began, the look of wonder on my baby’s face was priceless and as if to convey, “It’s so fun here, momma!”.
Later, I would discover that this particular mum was the reason there is a community of parents who meet regularly in our area.
Four years ago, when she was a new mum herself, where there was no professionally-led baby playgroup at her doorstep, she set this up.
She sought out teachers, made a website and created a buzz to attract visitors.
“If you build it, they will come,” the apt quote from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams comes to mind.
Having this realisation opened up a part of my mind that was not there before – if something that you are looking for isn’t immediately there, don’t bail out. Instead, dig deeper or create an opportunity.
Before you run off to the corners of the country, make sure you’ve given your best shot at improving your life.
The philosophy is much like life after marriage – if something is wrong with a house, instead of moving out immediately, fix it first.
As for the chocolate cake in my oven, I am sure it will go down well with the group of lovely mums I will be meeting for a picnic tomorrow, and it will take me no more than 10 minutes to get there.
So what is the secret to a successful life of a stay-at-home parent who lives away from family? I say, to have a support network of local parents at your doorstep.
And to plant flowers in your garden, of course.