The post-sick haze hung over us like an ominous cloud. Two weeks of the summer flu circulating through the six members of our family left me drained and without enthusiasm for everyday life. Even a week after everyone was recovered, I still struggled when the alarm went off, feeling like I could not face humans, responsibilities, or the summer heat beating down on me from dawn until dusk. I was in a funk.

My grandmother came to visit when we were sure all the germs were fully dead and I wouldn’t be responsible for giving an 85-year-old woman with compromised lungs the flu. Don’t be fooled by the age or the lungs: my grandmother is a powerhouse, and she arrived with a mission, as usual.

“I’m going to deep clean your house and then we’ll sort a few things,” she said, and I nodded knowing that she would not let me help her deep clean because I am bad at it and she is not.

I also knew that since she was going to be moving non-stop for hours a day without taking breaks, I would find some way to be busy next to her, moving my unmotivated bottom no matter what. No one wants to sit on her butt while a woman in her ninth decade of life pulls dust bunnies from underneath the dryer.

I miraculously found a way to get up with the alarm. Yes, I was still tired, but I imagined my grandmother in the kitchen making pancakes as my four children surrounded her begging to be fed. The least I could do was fend them off so she didn’t trip over them.

One goal: get up and keep Nanny from being attacked. I could do that.

I did much more. I painted a door, reorganized my closet, and sorted through old tools we never used. I sat down to eat lunch with Nanny, because when she’s around you’re not allowed to grab leftovers off the kids’ plates and eat while standing. I went to bed at a decent hour properly exhausted, and I didn’t randomly check my email often because I was too busy.

By the time Nanny left a week later, I felt both great and petrified because I was sure the days would attack me in force now that she wasn’t there to help me remember to take it one task at a time.

***

Our neighbors asked if we could feed their dogs while they were on vacation, and we offered an enthusiastic yes. We don’t have any pets, but it’s not for lack of our kids’ begging. This was the perfect opportunity to be around animals without actually owning them.

Shortly after Nanny left, we started dog-sitting. This meant that when my alarm went off before the sun even rose I already had a plan.

One goal: feed the dogs. I could do that.

We watched the sun rise from our neighbors’ yard each morning. At the end of the day, we went back over and watched the sun set, running in the yard with two old dogs, no technology in hand. I noticed the ever-changing colors of the sky and the thickness of lush grass. I memorized the looks on my kids’ faces as a dog as big as they were kindly tried to fold into their laps.

My days were bookended by a task that put me in sync with nature and animals at sunrise and sunset. Life slowed into a beautiful groove that felt more than manageable.

***

My daughter was going to day camp for the first time, so our days continued following a pattern. I needed to be up at a certain time to prepare everything and get out the door with all the kids.

One goal: get Wren to camp. I could do that.

For five days I did, and by then I noticed something. I enjoyed mornings, sunrise, and slow living with a purpose. My grandmother’s presence reminded me to treat meals like luxuries, to know what I planned to accomplish the next day, and to engage with the people right in front of my face. The dogs gave me moments of peace planned into every day, easy reflection time to breathe in fresh air. Camp gave me jobs to do to ensure my daughter was prepared.

All of them helped me focus on one thing at a time, something I had lost the ability to do in the midst of doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits, and falling ill myself. I recovered from the flu only to awaken to a wrecked house, stir crazy children, and the feeling that I would absolutely never catch up or feel at peace again. A kind human, two loving canines, and day camp helped me find that peace, that motivation to get up and give the day another try.

One goal: take it a step at a time. I can do that.