Out of the Toddler Trenches

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For my 2 amazing Dalton sisters-in-law, Emily and Antonia, and for any other young moms who needs a little pep talk:

If you think you might be losing your mind, you just might be. Your life is crazy hard. Throughout each day, little bits of you are constantly pulled and pried away. Every time your name is called, it is because someone wants a piece of you. And when you think they have drained every last drop, there is no mercy. At 4:00 p.m., they are just getting started.

To make things even more interesting, you are tasked to begin each day with half of your usual energy supplies because you are only allowed 3-5 hours of broken sleep each night. Consider the war movie interrogation scenes. The first move of the interrogator is to make sure the prisoner is thoroughly sleep deprived. This ensures mental anguish, psychological weakness, and almost guarantees that the prisoner will say things he regrets.

You make it through a day with these sweet little terrors and, just in time, your knight in shining armor sweeps through the door to the rescue – hot bath and glass of wine, here you come – or maybe not – maybe he wants a hot dinner – and maybe he wants a little hot “dessert”. And that is such a relief because that is precisely what you have been dreaming of all day – another person touching you.

When he asks in that pretend-nice voice, trying unsuccessfully to mask his astonishment at the mess that surrounds him and the fact that you are somehow still in the same clothes you were wearing when he went to work YESTERDAY, “What did you do today?”, you don’t know if you want to scream, run away or hug/ring his neck.

The tears start to prick your eyes when you tell him that you managed a shower (you smell like a guy because you used Axe body wash to clean your hair since you are out of shampoo and you only shaved 1 leg before your 3-year-old had a meltdown and your clothes are the same because everything else is dirty). Oh, but one of the kids brushed her teeth, you swished with mouthwash, and everyone, including you, had a protein-packed lunch of leftover Chick-Fil-A nuggets and mac-n-cheese. You hit this day clean out of the park, girl!

Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you wrote down every tiny task for one single day, line for line, starting with the first diaper change and ending with the last pat on the back, that list would be longer than Anna Karenina!


And, no, your man doesn’t understand. I don’t even fully understand anymore, and I’ve been there. I remember pacing the floor of my house at 3 a.m., crying out loud begging God to help me not drop my 5-month-old, screaming, colicky boy on his head. I remember sobbing in the exam room – ugly sobbing – when my dear Dr. Rick showed me his neat little chart and said so calmly, “Actually, a baby this age sleeping 7 hours a day (TOTAL) is in the normal range, the lowest end of normal, but he’s fine”.

The fist 13 years did a number on me, no doubt (and, yes, of course it was worth it!) But I don’t work in the church nursery and I don’t babysit my neighbor’s toddler unless it’s an emergency because I am absolutely spent from the season you are in the middle of.


Anna wins -- up with Mom at 5 a.m.

Even your friends who are in the trenches with you don’t always understand – not your kids – not your particulars. When you feel very alone, often it’s because you are. Even if you had someone who really understood what you were feeling, it’s hard to find the time to tell them about it.

Friends during this stage are tricky. Often the things that are very difficult for you seem easy for them. I had a picky eater and it seemed like I was surrounded by Moms who had their toddlers happily downing organic kale chips and wild salmon while my little one munched her rainbow Goldfish. We watched a lot of Thomas/Dora/Diego/Teletubbies/yes-Teletubbies while friends read The Chronicles of Narnia – all of them – out loud – to their preschoolers. Not one of mine was fully potty trained before 3 ½, nursing never went as planned, and it never made me feel more cuddly or bonded. Yes, my gallon-sized boobs could have fed the village, but the thought, “This is what I was made for,” never went through my sluggish head.

Facebook didn’t arrive for me until my firstborn was almost 7. It was for spying on your high school classmates and posting links to your unedited Picasa web albums for the grandparents. Now – OMG! – you awake to posts from FB, Twitter, Instagram from 6,000 friends with their creative, strategically angled, cropped and filtered family photos with the backdrop being their perfect Pinterest birthday party for their 2-year-old. Seriously, someone give me a Xanax before my heart explodes.

You know IT”S NOT REAL – oh… but what if it is? Or what if they find out your news feed isn’t exactly showing the whole picture? You would be utterly exposed at the first play date. Social media can be the perfect magnifier for loneliness and insecurity, yet it is often the first place we turn when we are lonely and insecure.

I offer no magical solutions for your struggles. Seriously, I’m just trying to recover from your stage and figure out moody teenagers and the deep mystery of my own heart. But I would suggest that you find a woman like me and fake an emergency so she will be guilted into babysitting your toddler. Then hopefully she will remember and she will have mercy on your soul and she will come beside you and just sit there as a testament that she is still alive on the other side. Maybe she is still married to the same husband and can tell you their story of survival (God bless mine for still coming home to me) – or if not, she can tell you what she might have done differently. After a hard day, you could write her a ranting email instead of gawking at your friend’s latest Instagram masterpiece. Give yourself a break!

One last note to my forty-something pals.You might be suffering acutely from our own form of P.T.S.D. (Post Toddler Stress Disorder). The last thing you want to do is hold a snotty, screaming 2-year-old. But what if we all adopted just one young Mom and cheered her on? What if we establish a new pattern so they don’t have to do it all alone? Who might you rescue?


8 thoughts on “Out of the Toddler Trenches

  1. Fabulous. Oh, how i wish you were my neighbor!! For being years removed, you still managed to hit the nail on the head. In general, we all just want to feel less alone- thanks for helping out with that. (Post Toddler Stress Disorder- ha love it. )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. TRUTH!!!!!!!

    I remember you keeping Matthew for weeks during the day so I could finish a job. And I clearly remember rushing to your house to hold David just so you could just get a quick shower. It takes a village.

    The days are long but the years go so fast. It is a worthwhile, holy, eternal investment. Privileged to be called “mom”.

    Love your words. They bring many tearful, exhausted memories to the front of my mind. So happy you are blogging!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully written, Ali…. You are a force to be reckoned with. I’m always blown away by your talent and insight. This brought tears and laughs, both of which characterize most of my days lately. Sometimes I question taking this on at my age….. My PTSD will hit in my 50’s. I’ll be hitting menopause while my kid/maybe kids are hitting puberty. Fun times!!!!!!!!!!!


    • I guess each decade challenges each of us in different ways. You just keep crying and laughing your way through, but remember to cry out for some encouragement when you need it. You are far away but not alone on the journey, dear one!


  4. Pingback: Shame Never Makes It Better | Courage Counts

  5. Loved, loved this! Made me laugh and want to cry at the same time…..remembering feeding twins back to back at night wondering if I would ever sleep again……but, then feeling so guilty for not enjoying every minute because this is what I prayed for for so long!!! Thank you for encouraging us to reach out to another mommy in the trenches….I need to hear that!! Love you friend!


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