How a Toddler is like a Gerbil

Alexandra Kuykendall

My high school home ec teacher assigned me a 10-pound bag of flour for a week. It was my baby to carry from class to class, home and back to school again. She made it very clear that toting baking supplies around my school was not the same as parenting, but it was an exercise to teach us how to be responsible for something (or someone) all of the time.

I now know she should have given me a gerbil.

Though a sleeping baby lying in your arms can resemble a bag of flour, that analogy is true for about 10 minutes of any day. And I kind of loved the newborn stage, carrying my tangible miracle around with me all of the time. My babies all moved from the miracle newborn into the even better older baby stage of sitting up, smiling every time their mama re-entered the room and not moving from the spot where they were last perched.

Okay, I was a little sleep-deprived that first year, to the point it was unsafe to operate a moving vehicle or string together more than three words at a time, but at least my baby wasn’t hitting me or screaming “NOOOO!” for the entire grocery store to hear, or contorting herself every time I tried to buckle her into her car seat. Yes, every single time.

Because toddlers produce a new level of mommy crazy.

They are more like gerbils than bags of flour. Where vigilant is the word of the hour because the only time you are off-duty is when they are asleep. So moms of toddlers let me say I feel ya. With no disrespect of course, here is how parenting a toddler can feel like letting a gerbil loose in your house.

Toddlers are constantly moving.

Whether scooting, walking or full speed running, their job is to explore the world. And your job is to make sure they don’t die or get a concussion in the process. This means always watching, listening and yes, even smelling, to know what your child is up to and in to. Constantly picking up your 20-pound gerbil and redirecting, all while being hit, kicked and bit. It is a literal attack on your senses and physically exhausting in a way different than sleep deprivation. (At least with sleep deprivation you know what the solution is. It might not be attainable, but you know what it is.)

Toddlers are in to everything.

Baby proofing isn’t really for babies, it’s for toddlers who think chemicals under the kitchen sink could be shampoo and shampoo could be food. This is where the vigilance is palpable. Nothing is sacred in a toddlers’ mind. Upper kitchen cabinets, jewelry boxes, file cabinets are all places to explore and in the process dismantle. So not only are you trying to keep your child safe, your house always looks like a hurricane just blew through.

Toddlers have three minute attention spans.

Try to make dinner, take a shower, have a phone conversation in three minute increments all day, every day, and you know what it is to parent a toddler. Elmo captures your child’s attention. You feel a shot of hope you can type out that email you’ve been meaning to get to the last six hours. You begin your task. That three minute internal toddler alarm goes off and before you know it (since you are trying to focus on that email) every shoe in your closet has been decorated with toothpaste.

Toddlers’ sleep patterns screw up any kind of adult schedule.

A toddler’s daily itinerary goes something like this: Get up with the sun, make sure everyone in your household is up while you demand food, color on some stuff, take a nap and repeat that with lunch, nap, dinner and then, of course, fight bedtime. And since sleep time is the only time you as a mom don’t have to be chasing your gerbil, I mean toddler, you gladly place them in their crib at the end of the day (of course until they learn to climb out.)

So though I loved the new words and pudgy hands of my four toddlers, I also was exhausted from the constant demand this phase put on my attention. Because vigilant from sunrise to sunset wears you down, and you begin to wonder if you’ll ever take a shower of the four minute variety again.

What do you love most about the toddler years?

Alexandra Kuykendall
As a mom to four girls, ages 3 to 12, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She writes to capture the places where motherhood meets everyday life to remember the small, yet significant moments in the midst of the blur. She is the author of The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir , a contributor to this year’s Be you, Bravely, An Experiment in Courage and acts as the Specialty Content Editor for MOPS International. A city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at