Traveling With a Sensitive Toddler {Loving the Tiger}

"I want to go home."

She looked straight into my eyes and I knew she wasn't bluffing. She wasn't whining, she was insisting. We had been on the road for only an hour. Yes, this was going to be a long trip. She repeated those words many times over the next week and then finally, we were home. But the middle days... Oh those middle days.

Having raised 6 children out of toddlerhood (so far), I should be the expert. I should have been completely prepared for my 7th when she reached the age of two. Not so much. 

My current toddler is brilliant, loving, and sweet but she also happens to be highly sensitive. Call it a sensory processing issue or whatever... she's an amazing kid with huge intensity. Add a new baby brother to her world and... BOOM... many of you have toddlers and you know what that looks like!

So our recent 9-hour trip to drop my oldest off at college was a source of anxiety for me. My own stress level was only secondary to hers and that was the fundamental problem and my primary concern. She's an amazing kid who loves life in a big way; but life gets bigger and bigger for her until it overwhelms.

Too much too often too quickly too loudly.

I had no idea how we would help her navigate all the sounds, sights, smells, strange people, noises, and routine disruptions. Naturally, I consulted the Parenting Manual under the section "How to Mother a Passionate Toddler" and read...


Right. That's what I thought it would say. But with a little planning and a lot of compassion and patience, we made it and it wasn't horrible. For those of you who have sweet little tigers like mine - full of life and love and then some - I've compiled a few tips that helped with our trip. Again, I'm no expert and haven't experienced much of this with my other kids, but these are things that helped my girl...

  1. Pay attention to the Bucket
  2. Buy a carrier and use it
  3. Sleep consistency
  4. Grounding tools
  5. Sit down and read books
  6. Good Nutrition (No candy!)
  7. Limit activities
  8. Steady Discipline
  9. Plan B (When all else fails)


The "bucket theory" for human beings goes something like this: The body is like a bucket and fills over time, drop by drop. When the bucket is filled with toxins, irritants, allergens, etc., it starts to overflow and react. There's only so much it can hold without negative effect. For a sensitive child (or adult), each new person, sound, smell, etc. fills the bucket and sometimes cause an overflow.

For a toddler, "overflow" = breakdown.

I can tell you firsthand that once the bucket is full, it takes a long time to empty it. Preventing the full bucket in the first place is much easier than restoring it to a healthy level. All of the tips that follow below are geared toward keeping drips below the brim while traveling. (Here's a link to a brief and helpful overview of the bucket theory for sensitive people: The Bucket)


For the times when the world is just too big for a toddler, a carrier is parenting gold. Being close to you is a stress reliever. You become a safe zone... home base... and they never have to leave it even on the go. 

Our Ergobaby carrier carries up to 45 pouds so it's perfect for a toddler. She's too heavy for me but my sons and husband can carry her easily. I've had about 12 different slings/carriers over the course of my motherhood and the Ergobaby is by far the most comfortable and functional that I've owned. We have both the Performance model and the original and the guys really love the Performance.

(The image below is of my 14-year old carrying his sister on a necessary shopping trip out of state. He recognized the signs before we got there and suggested that she be carried. It was a brilliant and loving move. She made it. We all made it.)



It is helpful to keep sleep habits and location as consistent as possible. My smarty pants 3-year old was definitely nervous about all the places we were going since they were all new. She kept asking to go home and we couldn't oblige... but we were at least able to come back to the same hotel bed every night. We had the opportunity to stay with friends but we opted not to (much to the other kids' chagrin) and instead made an investment in stability and toddler peace. 

If location consistency isn't possible, keep the routine and accessories consistent. Same blanket. Same pillow. Same stuffed animal. Same PJ's. Same prayers. Same kisses and hugs.


Bring the familiar. Bring the controllable. Be prepared to place something in their hands to help help them feel secure when all else seems to them like it's hectic, scary, and unfamiliar. My daughter likes to draw and erase and she will work feverishly at a little dry erase board when she is stressed. She also likes to look at familiar pictures on our phones or other devices. I've noticed that when she's feeling anxious or tired, she usually asks for pictures. It has become something of a cue for us, letting us know that she needs decompressing.

Another tool we prepared in advance was a teething toy. Even though she's 3 now, we've noticed that she chews things to bits when she's out of sorts; clothes, books, purses, whatever. So we bought a pretty pink chewy thing in the baby section and when the going got tough in the car, presented it to her. She was skeptical at first (You mean I'm allowed to chew on this?) and a little sheepish (she knew it was for babies) but ended up falling happily asleep with it in her sweet little paws.


As long as she hasn't moved past the reasonable stage, this IS the magic pill of toddlerhood. 


When my older kids were smaller and needed to spend long hours waiting at the pool or gym, I often controlled their behavior by bringing snacks or treats. Most of the time that meant candy or garbage food. I learned the hard way that candy makes people feel lousy and causes energy crashes. Yes, there are times to thank God for the well-timed lollipop but regular use backfires.

If a kid feels lousy, she will act lousy. Keeping her body nourished properly and in a timely manner saves us (and her) and lot of misery, especially when on the road. She's hungry and it's not dinner time? At this age it doesn't matter... feed her anyway. And feed her good stuff.


If the carrier isn't enough to keep your child steady, limit activity and known stimuli. Instead of doing five things in a day, do two. And decline the overwhelming Omnimax. I know... it's a bummer. But this motherhood thing is about loving people not collecting experiences. 


I am so tempted with this girl to just throw in the towel and give her whatever she wants anytime she wants it to keep the peace, especially when traveling. But it is so important to keep steady and consistent. They crave the stability, they need the consistency, and loving boundaries will prevent bad habits from forming. 

When reasonable and loving discipline fails, distraction methods, book reading, naps, food, and cuddles have all been tried, and the total breakdown comesanyway, I have nothing really to offer except for Plan B...


Sometimes there's just nothing you can do. You've used every tool in your box and your sweet kitten has become a raging cornered tiger. It happens. And it has happened to us more times in the last few months of my motherhood than all the 18 years combined. When hugs don't work. When bribes don't work. When food is refused and sleep is impossible. When discipline has no effect. When the child has lost control over her passions. When the kitten becomes the tiger...

  • Summon up every bit of compassion in your soul and use it liberally. 
  • Find the quietest, darkest place you can to ride out the storm with them.
  • Don't react in anger.
  • Respect boundaries (sensitive kids can get overwhelmed and might not want to be touched) but stay close for when they're ready.
  • Speak softly.
  • Pray out loud softly but loud enough for them to hear, asking Jesus and Mary to bless them with peace.
  • If others are around, ignore the prick of pride welling up. Pride brings embarrassment. Embarrassment can sometimes lead us to unwarranted anger. Prideful anger can lead us to act sinfully.
  • Take as long as the child needs. Let your plans go. 

I know it's hard but we can't give in to resentment. They need us. They are enveloped in emotion and stress and they need the love of Christ Jesus through those into whose care they've been entrusted. There's no one else in the world better equipped to love that child in their moment of need than we are. It's a cross but we'll carry it just fine. And one day, it will feel lighter again and all the love we have poured into our child will have been a part of their formation. Isn't that a beautiful thought? Formation in love. 

Happy travels! St. Christopher, pray for us!

Do you have suggestions for loving sensitive little ones during travels? Please share in the comments!

Posted on August 24, 2016 and filed under Family Life, parenting, toddlers.

In Defense of the Handsome Priest

A Catholic woman recently told me that she thinks it is unfortunate for a priest to be young and handsome. Her thought was that it's best to save the ugly men for Holy Orders and leave the good lookers for the nice Catholic girls. She also worried that a priest's ministry might be compromised by his dashing smile and draw him (and others) into temptation. 

I've heard it before and I'm sure I'll hear it again. Even when my son announced that he was leaving for seminary, an elderly parishioner said her piece while shaking her head: Well, good luck to him. But it is a shame. I have a lovely granddaughter...

There are many variations of the same theme. A new priest is ordained and... 

Oh, tsk tsk... what a waste. Such a shame... so many broken hearts he's leaving behind. You know, he's going to be a real distraction to the ladies during Mass! We'll see how far he makes it before he leaves with some pretty Betty on his arm.

From a wordly perspective, those sentiments might make sense, but my Catholic heart knows better and is stung. There is definitely a dearth of good Catholic men and I have seen the tears that flow when the apple of a gal's eye heads off to seminary. It is hard. But these men... whether young, old, seminarian, husband, ugly, handsome, religious, single, priest... they are not objects to be coveted or possessions to be held. They are beloved sons of God. We love... but like all earthly love, it must be laid at the foot of the cross to be raised up and transformed. 

The tears are real. The sacrifice is real. But it is not a waste.

Two of the most hurtful names in the Catholic world (even when said in fun) are "Vocation Wrecker" (referring to women who marry Catholic men discerning the priesthood) and "Fr. What-A-Waste" (referring to handsome priests who gave up girls for God). Don't use them. Let the sacrifices mean something. Let the world know that every true vocation -- married, consecrated, priestly, or single -- is a love freely given for Christ and for souls and should be celebrated. Nothing wrecked. Nothing wasted. 

Holy and Handsome. A Reckless Temptation?

Should I have married an ugly man? After all, he goes out into the world daily and has been the object of advances in spite of his wedding ring. He must remain faithful to one woman even though he may attract and receive inappropriate attention from many lovely women. Single handsome young men must also remain chaste in spite of the fact that they are attractive and additionally, available.

Is it different for a priest?

The priest is not truly "single" even though he remains unmarried, because has given himself body and soul to Christ and His Church. As for the young handsome ones? Who are we to set limits on God's work? I am grateful that not all priests are old and I cannot see the benefit of wishing physical ugliness upon any of them. God's garden is flourishing with beauty and variety. And chastity is not necessarily less difficult for the priest who is lacking physical beauty.

The issue ultimately hinges on holiness and love of Christ. God bestows beauty at His pleasure and calls all to holiness and purity. We do not sin because we are more or less susceptible to temptations but because we fail to remain vigilant in defense of love.

God bless our faithful priests; the homely ones and the handsome ones. May He bless them with a fervent and holy desire that overcomes all passing desires of the flesh.

UPDATED: Here is my handsome seminarian son with his handsome seminary rector. Not a waste.

Posted on August 17, 2016 and filed under vocations, Faith, priesthood.

They Are Starting to Leave {Leveling Up in Motherhood}

I rummaged through the kitchen drawers looking for the measuring spoons and feeling a bit like a happy stranger. It was after Midnight and I was making a birthday cake for my 3-year old. It was late but there was a certain thrill to being up so late without feeling overpowered by fatigue. It was the first time in at least a year that I hadn't asked my oldest daughter to do the baking and I couldn't even remember the last time I did any baking on my own. I am new here, I am old here. Familiar, happy stranger.

I had been so sick and tired with pregnancy for so long that I couldn't even find anything in my kitchen. You see, my kids had been "handling it" and maybe some of you know what that means. For us, it apparently means that things are put away wherever they fit. Which, really, could be anywhere at all. Like under couches. There weren't as many spoons as I remembered having. And there was a strange jar of unidentifiable substance in my pantry. I tried to be irritated but I remembered how much help I had needed and I how grateful I was to have it... even when the utensils were oddly placed.

And today is a new day. A new day. 

I poured the batter and whipped the cream and what do you know? It turned out just fine. A small, delicious success. See? I still remember.

At around 12:30 am, the birthday girl tiptoed down to the kitchen to see the progress, too antsy to stay in bed. A few minutes later, her oldest brother followed the sound of the mixer downstairs and joined us.  As the young man and the tiny girl sat side by side scraping extra frosting from the bowl, I was overcome with the goodness of my life. Motherhood is painfully sweet and that reality was summed up so neatly in the image of my two children sharing a late night treat...

One is leaving home for the first time next week.
The other has just begun her journey. 

It was the first time in this final leg of his trip through childhood that I had to leave the room and cry. That small ache  reminded me of why God in His wisdom allows us to know loss. I don't know His mind but I suspect He knows how that aching nurtures in us a longing for our eternal home.

In heaven, the son I lost in the womb and the one I now send packing will meet for the first time and embrace. And what a life that will be! If I live an average lifespan, then I have a long way to go before my birthday into eternity. But the longing grows and grows. Happy stranger, breaking heart. The world is not my home. 


The days are passing in such a blur that I appreciate being able to go back through my pictures to fully enjoy the moments. Here are a few...

My daughter and son recently shared a sacramental celebration. First Communion and Baptism combined in a perfect, beautiful, exhausting day. 

The funniest part of the day for me was when Father asked what name we have chosen for our child... and I forgot my baby's name. It was the quintessential postpartum motherhood moment. My 20-year old self would have died of mortification. Fortunately, I am almost 40, and I simply looked helplessly at my husband and I laughed. 

It's not so important that I get the details right. I know my son and he knows me. And God willing, that love will extend to eternity... whether or not I can recall his beautiful name. 

Truth be told, the most beautiful, "magical" moments in life are often mixed up completely with puddles of confused tears and frustration...

My toddler had to use the bathroom so I missed my daughter's First Communion. And when I took my son out to change him into his Baptismal gown, my little girl decided to make herself a little too comfortable (photo above). There may or may not have been some stressful moments. And it really doesn't matter. 

Alongside the big and little events of the Summer, my oldest is preparing to move on to college seminary. What a complicated moment for a mom. I do see that it is time... he has clearly gotten too big for us. But I also know the part of him that is too small to leave. Does that make sense? It is the charism of mothers to know for what great things their boys are made - and to also know and love the vulnerabilities. 

Regardless, he will move on and I pray that it will be a wonderful, Christ-centered adventure.  

He has always been my first baby love - how is it that our family will undergo such a fundamental change? When I look into the eyes of my oldest son, I want to go with him. But it is when I look into the eyes of my other children (birthday girls and stretching teenagers and pickles-in-the-middle) that I know I'm supposed to let go of the big ones.

The Birthday Princess (above) is three and she's not sure about the world. She has a new little brother and her place in the family has changed. She's discovered that life is sometimes scary and sometimes overwhelming and that new awareness is causing some road bumps. Loving our little tigers can be scary sometimes, but I'm not worried... they've all been entrusted to me from their heavenly Father and He's got this. 

In other news...

  •  Some of the kids have been busy becoming American Ninja Warriors. This apparently involves lots of scrap wood, a few nails, two stitches to a chin, poison ivy, and footprints on the walls.
  • I've continued on my fitness/wellness journey and have recently been working with Fit Catholic Mom. If anyone wants to join me for an August jump start, check out Rebecca's upcoming W.I.S.E Gals online group training (July 29 registration deadline). 
  • Kid #1 finally received NCAA approval to play Division II volleyball next Spring after they first rejected two of our homeschool courses (more details in a future post for those interested).
  • My 20th wedding anniversary is this week.
  • Whole family road trip to drop off our first college-bound kid coming right up!
  • Baby has been nursing 24/7 and has been gaining almost a pound a week to prove it.
  • Working on completing a manuscript.
  • It's 4:15 pm and I'm still in my pajama pants.
  • I don't want Summer to ever end. 

God is good. All the time. Thanks be to God!

Posted on July 28, 2016 and filed under Family Life, homeschooling, motherhood, parenting, Womanhood.