All posts by Rachel Engel

About Rachel Engel

Rachel is a stay-at-home mom to her 6-month-old daughter and lives in Texas with her husband, who is in the Air Force. Moving 3 times and surviving 3 deployments is nothing compared to raising an active and very vocal child. She enjoys “beginning” a work-out regimen every Monday and then quitting it by Wednesday, teaching her daughter to stick out her tongue, and trying to drown out the constant airplane sounds around her house by blaring music and dancing. She also maintains a blog detailing her up-and-down attempts at parenting.

Shot of a mother and son baking together in the kitchen

Stay At Home Mom Dilemma – Work or Not Work?

Rarely do I ever have second thoughts about being a stay-at-home mom, because c’mon—how lucky am I to be able to witness every second of my daughter’s life? I cherish every moment… at least until the tantrums start, but I’ll let that slide for now.

However… my student loan payments are about to kick in, and as I take a look at our budget, the little knot in my stomach is steadily growing, while our spendable income is steadily shrinking. I have visions of running out of diapers, chicken nuggets, and apple juice all at the same time, and panicking.

Clipping coupons, organizing baby clothes swap parties, and selling household clutter on Craigslist is just not making a big enough dent to make up for the loss of a second income, and it has kick-started the Great Debate in our household: should mommy go back to work?

Daycare vs. income. Full-time vs. Part-time. Exhaustion vs. stomach knots.

My degree is not your typical 9-5 job either; I’m supposed to be a journalist, who are notorious for working odd hours, needing to head to an interview at the drop of a hat, and usually get stuck working the nighttime police scanner as an entry level job. I can’t think of many daycares that will be flexible enough, or affordable, or won’t laugh in my face when I ask if they are 24 hours a day.

My plan was always to start working after my kids went to school, but I very much underestimated the cost of the too-cute-to-pass-up toys and clothes, along with the outrageous cost of gas, groceries, and electricity. Thank goodness air is still free for the moment.

For now, I’ll keep pinching those pennies, tightening the purse strings, and clipping those coupons, but geez… I need to start playing the lottery, or write the next Harry Potter series.

Mother and her son, sitting on the couch, with crossed legs and talking. The boy is looking at camera.

When Saying No To a Toddler Starts Losing Meaning

The word ‘no’ has lost all meaning for me over the last few months. I use it 75% more than any other word I use in a day, and I don’t see an end in sight.

No, Sydney, you cannot touch the X-Box.
No, Sydney, you can’t play with the toilet water.
No, Sydney, stop pulling the dog’s tail.
No, Sydney, you can’t jump off the back of the couch.
No, Sydney, you can’t run into the street.
NO. NO. NO.

And, after getting my point across that she will not be doing whatever insane toddler idea she has, her face crumples, and she becomes limp, dead weight as she attempts to wrestle from my grasp. Where does she get this? Are toddlers born with an innate ability to throw a world-class temper tantrum?

A perfect example was an episode that happened a few weeks ago. She and I were happily playing on the floor with her over-sized, plastic piggy bank that came with large plastic coins. Randomly, she picked up a coin and chucked it at our dog, who was calmly and sweetly lying down next to us.

What was that, the toddler version of temporary insanity?

So, since I run a strict “No Tolerance” household, her butt was up and sitting in the rocker for a timeout… sort of. I’m sure in her eyes it was more of a game, with her attempting to escape, and me plopping her back in place. On and on this went as I counted to 120 (two minutes for her almost two years of life).

I’m not sure that did much good. But my other discipline methods aren’t working either—after spanking her bottom (of which she probably felt nothing since she was wearing a padded diaper and thick sweats) and getting giggles in return, that’s when I resorted to timeouts.

I assume that when she eventually grows tired of the “game” and gets annoyed that I turn off Nick Jr. and force her to sit there without her toys, she will get the message.

Right, moms? Please? Because I’m at the end of my discipline goody bag. I can’t wait to be able to ground her from her favorite activities, because in my experience, that works. I remember hiding in my closet with a flashlight and my favorite book because my parents had grounded me from reading. Some people may laugh, but that absolutely worked in my case.

Right now, I don’t think that will have the same effect on Sydney if I take away Goodnight Moon. I’ll keep on struggling with my timeout method.

a baby looking like they just pooped

Bad Poops Can Happen to Good Parents

This past week I noticed that Sydney had become slightly constipated, only pushing out little pellets every now and then. So, after consulting Dr. Google, I purchased a few 2nd Stage foods consisting of mixed pureed prunes and apples. I read that this was sure to get her little bowels going. If I had only known how true that was going to be.

I fed her one whole container of the mixture at lunch, and we then went about our day. We crawled around in her room, she tried to help me fold clothes (see: hinder); everything was peachy. She even had a fairly full dirty diaper in the early evening, which made me happy – the prunes had done their job!

Oh, they had only BEGUN to do their job.

About 30 minutes before bedtime, I set her in the playpen so I could get a few things in order, and so she could wind down by talking to her animals. Twenty minutes later, I called her dad over to say goodnight to her and went to pick her up… then stopped short.

She was smiling a big, goofy, “I feel better now, mommy,” grin, with her clothes and hands covered in poop. It didn’t end there. The bottom of the playpen? Smeared with the stuff. Guess what else was in the playpen? All of her favorite plush toys, so that if she fell, she wouldn’t hurt herself.

Cue vomit.

Her dad immediately snapped into problem-solving mode (thank you, military background). He picked her up and whisked her away to the bathroom. We stripped her down, got the bath going and soaped her up good. Once she was squeaky clean with a fresh diaper and pajamas, we stuck her in her bouncer and set to work assessing the damage.

One by one we picked up her toys and inspected them thoroughly. “Kermit survived,” my husband would say, “but Piglet was a casualty.” On and and on we went, making absolute certain we separated the healthy from the wounded.

Then, we had to disect the playpen itself, finding ourselves IMMENSELY happy we had purchased two large canisters of Lysol wipes that very afternoon.

Once everything was disinfected, and the wounded toys and clothes were taking a spin in the washer, we looked at our girl and found her slumped over in the bouncer, exhausted from watching us work. Us too, kid.

Note to self: HALF a container of prunes, next time. Just half, that’s all it takes.

Has your baby had a potty mishap?

ather talking to his baby daughter

Baby’s First Word Might Not Be the Word You Waited For

While I was pregnant, one of the moments I envisioned as I was throwing up in the toilet or dripping sweat in the 115 degree Texas heat at 9 months was the day I would hear my little offspring call me ‘mama,’ or call my husband ‘dada.’

The idea that someone in this world will consider me their mom is so beautiful, and I have been waiting to be called by my new name ever since a plastic stick told me I was knocked up. Just waiting.

And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

It’s a trade-off, I guess. She was such a fantastic newborn – very observant, rarely fussy – and she (for the most part, because she certainly has her crabby/cranky days) continues to be that way now, at 9 months old. But that also means that she doesn’t talk much… or at all. My husband and I? We are total pros at saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada’. We probably say these words to her a hundred times a day while she stares at us with a knowing smile and giggles.

I swear, one day she’s just going to look at me and say, “Listen, mom, can I get some food over here? You’re a little late with the lunch today.”

We even discussed the possibility of hearing loss with her pediatrician, because she wasn’t making any sounds at all, other than shrieking several times a day – not the most pleasant sound in the world. I teared up in the office while looking at her, thinking… “What if… ?”

The very next day, she said ‘dada’. Clear as a bell.

She was in her playpen, roaming around, playing with her musical flowers. Her dad and I were eating dinner. And it came out of nowhere. We forgot the food, squished her between us in a gigantic group hug and bounced up and down. SHE SPOKE!

Now, she stares adoringly at her dad and says his name over and over again: ‘Dadadadadadada.’ Me? Oh, I’m still left in the dust, waiting, still waiting, trying to recall the time that my husband was in labor for 14 hours and pushed a 7 pound baby out of his body, which has to be the reason he gets his magical moment first. Odd, you’d think I’d remember something like that.

It’ll happen, though. She’ll say mom, and smile at me, too. It doesn’t matter, I get to be her mom for the rest of my life, anways. I can wait.

Did your baby start talking? What were his or her first words?

Colorado, USA - August 18, 2015: Studio shot of pile of various toys and figurines.

Big Kid Toys Have Taken Over My Life

Picture me waking up in the middle of the night, my hair sticking up all over the place, dehydrated and craving a glass of water. I trudge down the hall, barefoot, blindly fumbling for the light switch to the lamp in the living room, when I step on a plastic block.

I have to shove my hand into my mouth to keep from screaming, biting my tongue in the process. Oh. My. Ouch.

In the beginning, when my little one was just weeks old, I tripped over a ton of blankets, and mountains of newborn laundry. I crashed into plush little play mats, and stuffed animals. I muttered curse words under my breath then, but if I had only known the absolute horror of stepping on a plastic block with my bare foot, I’d be praying for those baby blankets to be back in my way.

This isn’t my first toy injury, either. I recently stubbed my toe on a wood activity cube, then ran smack into the bouncer as I was running to answer the door. How is it that I have a cruising, almost-walking one-year-old, and I’m the one who is sporting the bumps and bruises?

Toddler putting together all toy blocks on the special green trayNominated for S+

This is a whole new world for me; the last time I was tripping over toys, they were my own, so having to navigate a household that has suddenly exploded with toddler toys (thanks to all my friends and family who overloaded her on her birthday!) has become detrimental to my health.

Speaking of which, while I’m grateful for everything little S. received from family and friends for her birthday, her room could be in an advertisement for Toys ‘R’ Us, with plastic gadgets lining the walls. That beautiful nursery I meticulously decorated and organized for nine months is suddenly bursting, with nothing matching the color scheme.

It’s going to get worse, too. People will give her play kitchens, miniature make-up tables, toddler beds with canopies, and, of course, the humongous rocking horse her dad wants to buy her for Christmas. Again, I’m grateful, but it’s a lot. Maybe we should give her the master bedroom and we’ll take her room, so she can have enough space?

But watching her face explore each new toy and take on each new challenge is so rewarding, and I know we are going to have to try very hard not to spoil her. Maybe I’ll start looking for soft toys only.

grey video camera bag crop

Don’t Forget the Diaper Bag!

You know that dream about being out in public, looking down and realizing you forgot to put on your pants? Do you know what the mom equivalent of that dream is? Forgetting to restock the diaper bag before an outing. Worst. Nightmare. Ever.

That was me this weekend. Yep. I was caught without my pants in public. Actually, it was my daughter who was left without pants, but it obviously wasn’t her fault, and to be honest, she was quite content to soak up the sun in her diaper. But, that’s not the point. The point is, I was unprepared, and it really was a nightmare.

In celebration of Memorial Day, my husband, daughter and I ventured into town for a little shopping,and decided to grab lunch. Everything was picture perfect until our food was about to arrive. I turned to look at my daughter in her carrier, expecting her still to be gazing about in awe at all the commotion and lights, and instead I saw “the face.” You know the face, the one that says, “This is not gas. This is serious business. I am concentrating very, very hard. Be afraid.”

Now, she’s 8 months old, and of course I’ve seen that face before when we’ve been out and about. It’s no cause for extreme alarm. So I smiled at my husband, slung my diaper bag over my shoulder (my suspiciously LIGHT diaper bag), picked up her carrier and marched off to the bathroom, only slightly glancing back as my fajitas arrived at the table.

In the bathroom, I pulled down the baby changing station, prepared the disposable pad and laid my little girl on it. That’s when I realized that my hand was already covered in some of her serious business. Odd. And scary. Upon closer inspection, I realized that not only was it on my hand, it was on the outside of her clothes. It was inside her carrier. And, after pulling up her shirt, I found out that she was up to her chest in it.

Holy. Moly.

Being the always prepared (HA) mom that I am, I tried not to panic. I had plenty of wipes – wait. Did I? DID I?! No. No, I did not. I had not refilled. That’s okay, it’s okay, we’ll use wet paper towels, no big deal. Fresh diaper? Check. Whew. Change of clothes? Of course– wait. No. No, no, no! And so, I found myself in the midst of my daughter’s worst explosion to date, without wipes and a change of clothes.

What was I to do? I cleaned her up as best I could with wet paper towels, called my husband to come get her (thankfully it was an empty bathroom) so I could clean out her carrier as best I could, and we got our food to go. I didn’t even have a blanket to cover her up with (did I forget I had a baby that day? What was I thinking?), so she sported a diaper on the drive home.

My new rule? Stock the diaper bag as soon as I walk in the door, not as I’m trying to rush out it. Maybe next time my daughter won’t be caught without pants.

What’s your craziest diaper story?

Fresh Broccoli

Baby, Try the Broccoli!

Among the many, many worries that flit through my brain on a daily basis regarding my tiny offspring is the question of her nutritious intake. In simpler terms: Can she survive on peanut butter and jelly alone?

At just over 18 months old, she has decided that chicken nuggets no longer taste good, Fruit Loops are better suited to be tossed over the side of her highchair for the dog, and peaches are more fun when they are squished between her fingers. This means lunch and dinner alternate between grape and strawberry jelly peanut butter sandwiches, and of course, blueberry waffles for breakfast.

Her morning isn’t complete without her blueberry waffles.

The point is, this is hardly making a dent in her daily food pyramid needs, and should I try to sneak in anything remotely resembling healthy or nourishing, she takes one bite, makes a face, and pushes the food out of her way. Sure, she sometimes allows a grilled cheese or some macaroni to sneak in, but, who doesn’t like melted cheese? No one.

This week I implemented Operation Nutrition. My mission: Get some greens in this girl!

I tried to take the melted cheese angle, and feed her broccoli with cheese, but the vegetable taste wasn’t hidden enough, and she turned her nose up to it. Fail.

On my second try, I chopped up broccoli and incorporated it into her grilled cheese. SUCCESS! Her face didn’t change as she ate bite after bite of broccoli-goodness. Next week I plan on adding mushroom and spinach to her meal.

My second mission was to add more protein to her diet. I achieved this by adding cut up hot dog into her macaroni, and turkey slices to her grilled cheese (best hiding place, ever!).

My final mission was to cut her apple juice a little each day with v8 Fusion, until she was drinking a whole serving each day. That one took a little while, because she was severely attached to her apple juice, but we made it.

I am not a fan of this type of covert operation; I much prefer to tell her that I am the parent, and she needs to branch out and try more foods, but I realize that since her brain only understands, “PB&J good, broccoli bad!”, I  have to bide my time.

Until then, I shall keep my secret agent status.

baby boy relaxing while receiving a diaper change

Five Ways to Make Diaper Changing Easier

If your kid is anything like mine, there are several times of the day that you dread: diaper changes. And not for the reasons you might think.

No, during nap time I am playing the part of an animal wrangler, and my subject is a twisty, turny, crabby toddler. She’s like a Magic 8 ball; if you lay her on her side, she completely changes. The happy, giggly kiddo that had been in my arms mere seconds before is flailing all four of her limbs, aiming for anything she comes in to contact with.

Trying to get a dirty diaper off and a clean one on is next to impossible, and incredibly frustrating. Here are some tricks I use to keep her from freaking out.

1. Act extremely goofy. The kid stops mid-wail when I start jumping up and down and waving my arms, belting out the latest Bubble Guppies song. I keep shaking my head around and shaking my hips while I do a quick wipe, clip and BAM. Diaper on.

2. Create a diversion. For diapers that require a little bit more time, a little television time never hurts. She becomes mesmerized by the moving colors and happy faces, and I can get her little bottom clean without having to hold her upside down by her feet.

3. Random object distractinon. This is my favorite, I love the look of wonder on her face when I hand her my hairbrush, or my stick of deoderant. Her eyes get wide, and she starts to turn it over and over in her hands, intent to look at all sides. I’ve bought myself significant time.

4. Sell the dog out. I will sometimes call our puppy up on the bed to give her something to pet. They’re best buds, so he always brings a smile to her face, and she focuses on him, not the mean mommy who is trying to prevent diaper rash.

5. Double team. When all else fails, I call my husband in if he’s home from work. He hovers over her, kissing her face, tickling her neck and keeping her happy, while I do the dirty work.

Bonus: If I’m really just not feeling it, I’ll feign a stomachache, run for the bathroom, and call out, “Oh, honey, I think the baby needs a change,” then click the lock. Five minutes of mom time, and I get out of a diaper change. Use this one sparingly, the partners catch on fairly quick.

A little girl pulls her mom's hair

Mom Lesson: Some Days You Can’t Win

I have just collapsed in my big, squishy chair for the first time today. My back is screaming, my eyes are burning, and I have yawned six times since I started writing this sentence. Today was one of those days — the days when the kid wins.

From the time she woke up this morning, until she closed her eyes, she was walking a fine line. She was happy until something messed up her perfect 16-month-old world — such as me taking too long in between feeding her bites of oatmeal, and then life as she knew it was over. Throwing herself onto the floor in a fit of despair, banging her head on the tile when she KNOWS it hurts — nothing was off limits.

I had several projects I needed to accomplish today, unfortunately, and I tried to do that amidst the chaos.

HA. RIGHT.

I did try, though. This resulted in every toy she has ever owned being drug into the living room for her enjoyment, with the promise of at least 10 minutes of contentment per toy. So, in my line of sight at the moment, I see a pop-up tent deflated and leaning against the wall, plastic food of every variety strewn about, two different sippy cups on the floor (most likely leaking the remains of their contents), Cheerios that she dropped and the dog apparently missed, and the couch pulled out and pushed against the coffee table, with a blanket thrown over to create her “fort.”

It didn’t matter that I played with her all morning, quickly shifting gears when the boredom crept in and a tantrum loomed on the horizon; a half hour of independent play was too much to allow me. At one point I did manage to distract her with her photo album, and I managed to write four paragraphs before she realized my full attention was elsewhere… then she started pulling my arm and turning on the waterworks.

Okay, okay, you win. You win. It is all about you today.

And so I sit here in the silence, finally, after she quit protesting her bedtime and gave in to sleep, and after the husband has crawled into his own bed after his own chatoic work day, reveling in the quiet. Yes, I’m dreading the huge mess I will have to clean up (tomorrow!), but it’s over. It’s finally over. The moment I have been wishing for since 8 a.m. this morning has arrived. My head will hit the pillow, and the sheets will be pulled over me, and I will be back to the place I have dreamt of all day.

Let’s hope it’s my day to win tomorrow.

Cheerful mother spending a day in a cafe with her cute little daughter. They are laughing.

Mom Lesson: I Shouldn’t Have To Worry, But I Do

There are not enough words to describe how happy I am that little 5-year-old Ethan, the young boy who was held hostage in a bunker in Alabama for a week, has been returned to the loving embrace of his family, finally.

And, my thoughts are with the family of the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland, who, in an act of courage and bravery, stood up to the gunman, and stalled him long enough, giving up his life, for the rest of the children to exit out the back of the bus. Without his selfless act, who knows how differently this could have ended?

All of that said, I want to lock my child in a tower, surrounded by a moat infested with alligators. I will homeschool her, and she can Skype pen-pals around the world for socialization. It’s the only way I am ever going to feel comfortable letting her grow up in this increasingly scary and unsafe world we are living.

Seriously, am I just now realizing how messed up the world is, since I am an adult with a child? Have I been blissfully unaware? Or am I right in thinking that there must be something in the water, because this is not how I remember things?

I was in middle school when the elementary school shooting happened in Little Rock, AR, and I was in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. Two major events, yes, but they were at least years apart. It seems that every day now, I receive a breaking news update from CNN letting me know that yet another tragedy has occured in our country at the hands of a mentally disturbed person, armed with a gun. In a movie theater. In a school. At a mall. In a restaurant.

I find myself thinking of escape strategies while out in public. I make mental notes of where the emergency exits are, and steer clear of anyone who looks like they might be thinking strange thoughts. I can’t decide if this makes me smart or crazy, but it’s something I can’t help at this point. The world is beginning to terrify me.

And, with all of this going on in my mind, I wonder, why can’t we have a conversation about stricter gun laws? Why is this topic so appalling and completely unallowed? Gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates can surely agree that too many people are dying due to gun violence; that’s a fact that can’t be disputed.

With that as the bottom line, there should be absolutely no reason why we can’t sit down as an educated, civilized, first-world country and come to some compromises and agreements on what should be done. No, the fears of one individual should not trump the second amendment rights of another, but on the same foot, the want to own any and all types of firearms without regulations should not trump the right of someone who wishes to not live in fear of gun violence due to proliferation.

As a parent, I just want to send my daughter off to school without having to worry that she will be murdered. I expect to be worried about bullies, mean girls, and homework difficulties, but worrying that I will one day receive a call that her school is on lockdown because of an active shooter? That is something no parent should ever have to prepare for. And yet, that is the world we are living in.