Resilience, an interesting word and idea on many levels. Strength – with age I notice it takes more consistency to maintain than when I was younger. Beliefs – what do I believe I am capable of and need? Needs, perhaps entangled with beliefs in ways that are not true or at least can be evaluated. If I am open to change.

The Request
When my niece asked if I would fly out and help take care of their baby for two weeks, my initial reaction was that I did not want to go. I had visited two months earlier, shortly after their second daughter was born, and was reminded of the work and physicality involved with caring for young children. My body was unaccustomed to holding babies and playing on the floor! I also felt reluctant to take more time from work.

So when asked to come help, while they awaited an opening in daycare, I had reservations. Initial thoughts: All the bedrooms are upstairs – how will I avoid pain in that one knee that sometimes acts up (I’d stayed in a hotel previously); all the lifting and up and down off the floor will be too hard on my body; then there’s my work commitments, and personal routine. I live a quiet low-stress life. However, some part of me felt I needed to go.

Mental and Physical Preparation
After saying yes, I had several weeks of prep time. I stepped up my exercise routine and told myself I would be fine if I were a little stronger. I would organize my schedule around my niece’s night shift and her husband’s day shift so that I could continue to work plus have my own down time. Several friends expressed skepticism. They had raised babies of their own, whereas I had not – my stepson coming into my life at age four. My only baby duty was when my grandchildren were tiny and would come stay for a night or two. It then occurred to me there would be many nights I would be in charge of the overnight feedings of a hungry infant. Out the door went a thought that undergirded my decision to go – that as long as my sleep schedule was not interrupted, I would be fine.

Be Open, Creative, and Adjust
It is such an ironic mixture of love and chaos being with a young family! It felt exciting being greeted at the airport by the little almost-three-year-old running down the hall with an arm full of flowers for me! The ride home included stops for shopping and eating. We were all off our schedules that day, including children’s naps and mealtimes! From there, I would say the first few days my body was in shock – from changes in food, activity levels, physical requirements, and learning new things.

The family was on a defined schedule. There was planning meals, food prep, parents’ jobs (she a night shift RN, he a day shift CFO) and daycare, baths, bedtime stories, bottles, cleanup. At the end of the evening when dad would come back downstairs, having put big sister to bed, we’d sort of collapse on the couch and laugh. We had lovely chats about parenting and life while the baby would drink/dose/drink until finally finished with her bottle. That meant we could go to bed.

We devised a plan to place the baby’s bottle paraphernalia in a cooler and bring it upstairs so I wouldn’t have to go down and up in the middle of the night. I learned to sleep lightly so I would hear her stir before a full-on cry. We would all be up and ready early in the morning for another day of work and school. I was uncomfortable carrying the baby up or down the stairs, so dad brought her down for me before they left. In a few hours mom would be home and rest with the baby, creating quiet space for myself. My niece and I had lovely special moments during her windows of availability.

By the second week I was adapting to my new routine. I was feeling more settled, could feel I was gaining physical strength and was not sore at all, and was losing weight. During this week we experienced schedule changes due to illnesses, periodically keeping the 3-yr old home from school, and preparing for then cancelling a birthday party.

My Take-aways
Get regular exercise. For those two weeks I was up and down stairs multiple times a day. I cannot even estimate the number of times I picked up and put back down the baby from the floor or from her pack n play. I experimented, activating core muscles, keeping aligned and balanced. Holding and carrying her engaged my upper core, neck, and arms. Once home, I found I could continue a variety of the moves intermittently through the day, often easier than setting aside space for a long workout. Now I walk up and down stairs multiple times a day just for exercise. I use weights or place a heavy object like a large jug of water on the floor and use squats and core muscles to pick it up, raise, lower, repeat. Rather than sit on my cushy furniture while watching TV, I sit on the floor. The firm surface keeps me aligned and erect and works leg muscles when I rise.

Notice posture. The only time my knee acted up was when I was feeling stressed and rushed and forgot to be present with myself. My posture was off. I relaxed, breathed, gently shook my limbs, and realigned. A great reminder that some of the aches I had become used to did not necessarily need to be there. I use mindfulness and lessons from yoga to notice my posture – sitting, standing, walking – throughout the day.

Be mindful about eating portions. I am a slow eater. Other than the baby, who was just getting into baby-led weaning, everyone else ate quickly. The parents were teaching that it was impolite to leave the table before everyone was finished. I did not want to sit there eating with everyone done and waiting! So I ate less. Surprisingly, I never found myself hungry and barely snacked in between meals. I carried this forward once home. Although when eating a dish I really love I sometimes forget, mostly I have reduced portion sizes and am doing perfectly well. I love how my body feels when, rather than in that full state, it feels light and just right.

Play with children. Playing, dancing, and other activities with children is a workout and is fun! The connection, joy, and laughter very healing. What a gift my niece gave me! Initially I felt resistant to all the time on the floor or on tiny little chairs! Oh, my resistance… it needed to go! The children and young parents just wanted to have fun, and this was my opportunity as well. I recalled how it was when my grandkids were little. I would put all my worries and responsibilities aside and just play. I came home with many fond memories of time spent with all of us having had great connections and lots of laughs.

Intention and Quiet. I had a few remote work meetings during my stay. It gave me the opportunity for distance and to regroup. To ground in a feeling of normalcy within my body. It became a lesson about not losing myself in others. To be present and centered within myself, with an easy awareness and flow of my needs and boundaries. Balanced with others’ needs without trying to control outcomes. Through the practice I felt like I’d maintained my sense of center better than on any previous trip.

Reality check. I gained such a respect for young parents. Watching this mom and dad manage, discipline, work, love, nurture, and hold it all together in a non-stop atmosphere was humbling. The experience opened my perspective about how I really don’t know what others are going through or what life is like for them. Best to approach everyone and every situation with internal calm and an openness, and a willingness to learn and grow.

By Laura Sarna