An interview with Eliza Dorothy, aged 4 years and 364 days

G  Major turns 5 tomorrow. And she started school on Wednesday, so it’s been a big week. This time last year, I asked her some questions. Today, I asked her the same questions. Some things changed – I got younger. And some things stayed the same – she’s still a stickler for the rules and thinks it’s important to be kind.

How old are you? Four
How old am I? 30 (This is good, last year she said I was 40)
How old is Daddy? 31
What’s your favourite food? Pizza
What’s your favourite colour? Blue
If you were the king of the world, what would you tell everyone to do? Follow the rules
What’s your favourite book? Winnie the Witch
What’s your favourite TV show? Angelina Ballerina
What’s the best place to go on holiday? Disney World (I have literally never spoken to her about Disney World)
What are you very good at? Drawing
What would you like to do for a job when you are older? Work in a shop
What’s your favourite thing to do with Mummy? Dressing up
What’s your favourite thing to do with Daddy? Going to Amsterdam (Hmmm. This sounds like people trafficking. They went on a daddy-daughter trip earlier this month)
What’s something you would like to learn to do? Hula hoop
What does Mummy do for a job? Don’t know (Me either)
What does Daddy do for a job? Don’t know
What’s your favourite animal? Giraffe
What makes you happy? What I do nice things
What makes you sad? When someone is unkind
If you had superpowers, what would they be? Flying
Who is your best friend? Eva

Happy birthday, Liza-Loo x


Silent reflux – what helped us

Silent reflux is a bastard.  It’s tricky to diagnose and exhausting to manage. G Major had it, and I caught it, amazingly, in the first two weeks. But only because both my mother and I had had reflux, and I was on the lookout for issues, and because a friend’s baby had suffered with diagnosed silent reflux, and I was familiar with the signs.

Compared to ‘normal’ reflux, the lack of exorcist puking makes silent reflux difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of silent reflux typically include: crying after feeding; arching their back; persistent hiccuping and coughing; extended suckling and excessive feeding to sooth the burning. You may also see milk being regurgitated into the mouth.

Because your baby keeps feeds down, as opposed to projectile vomiting them across the room, it’s likely the’re gaining weight well. You don’t have that permanent sour milk vom smell attached to you and it’s safe to venture out of the house without a whole separate bag of muslins. So people, and your GP, might be unsympathetic. They won’t understand that you and your partner literally, genuinely, hold your baby 24/7.

I actually cried when G Minor fell asleep flat in her basket seconds after taking a massive feed. I had no idea it could work like that.

The good news is, silent reflux doesn’t last forever. In the meantime, here’s some advice from the front lines.

Here’s what might help:

  • See your GP as soon as you can. And keep going back. Not all GPs are familiar with reflux, and certainly not silent reflux. It will be harder to get a diagnosis when they’re not a puker. Persist until you get help. Then keep going back to get your meds adjusted as baby grows.
  • Keep a diary. Then you can show the doctor how often you’re feeding, how much (if you’re bottle feeding) and how long they hollered for after a feed.
  • Film your baby. I took videos of G Major’s bawling mouth and you can actually see the milk rise to the back of her throat and then drain away again. I showed this to the GP when they were umming and aahing about what it was.
  • Drugs! You’ll probably initially be prescribed Gaviscon, which neutralises the stomach acid and forms a little blanket on to of the feed to help keep it down. You may then move on to ranitidine, which reduces the amount of stomach acid being produced. Beyond this, your GP can prescribe something like omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor, which again inhibits the production of stomach acid. Make sure you give meds regularly – don’t just stop when you start to see an improvement.
  • Propping baby up to sleep. You can put books under one end of the cot or a wedge pillow under the mattress to elevate baby’s head. At one point G Minor was sleeping almost upright – we made a nest in the moses basket out of a wedge cushion and a V cushion and dropped her down the hole.

    G Major sleeping at 90 degrees
  • Get a sling. You will die without one. Baby is upright but can sleep on your chest. Parents have their hands free to do stuff. Plus, lovely snuggly baby time and they’re not screaming. Seriously, get a sling
  • A dummy. This will create extra saliva to help sooth any burning in their throat
  • Sleep in shifts. I used to go to bed at 7.30pm, just after supper. Big G would hold G Major and watch Breaking Bad, give a bottle of expressed milk at the late feed then go to bed at midnight. Then I’d be on duty for the rest of the night. That way I’d get at least five hours unbroken sleep, and Big G would get six or seven (depending how late he slept). We barely saw each other in the week for a few months but I kept my sanity.
  • Ignore routines. If your baby has silent reflux, there’s no “putting them down sleepy after a feed” – they’ll scream the place down. Accept that you’ll be holding them in the dark for hours, charge up your kindle and phone, and settle in. You can still keep a bedtime routine of bath, feed, lullaby etc – G Major actually went to bed brilliantly after she grew out of the reflux.
  • Get the hell out of the house.  Baby will still cry after a feed but at least there are other people about. It’s miserable on your own. We went to at least one activity or group, sometimes two, every weekday.

Here’s what won’t:

  • Co-sleeping, in and of itself. Baby will still be lying flat. If you want to co-sleep, all power to you, but just bringing baby into bed with you will not make it any better for you or them.
  • Colief or Infacol. This isn’t gas. Or still-not-actually-defined colic. You need something to thicken the stomach contents and something to reduce the acid levels.
  • Switching to formula. Again, go for it if it works better for you. It will be easier to share the load with your partner. And formula is slightly thicker than breast milk. But it’s still going to come back up. Keep breastfeeding if you want to – it’s not your milk, it’s their digestive tract.
  • Eliminating dairy. Reflux is not CMPI; there is no evidence to suggest they’re linked. Baby will have issues with feeds whether or not you’re drinking soy or almond milk, and you’ll be sad because cheese. (Babies with CMPI might well be pukers, but it won’t be silent reflux.)
  • Cranial osteopathy. Reflux occurs because the muscular valve at the end of baby’s esophagus, which acts to keep food in the stomach, hasn’t developed properly yet. No amount of pissing about with their skull will make that develop faster. That’s like suggesting cracking your knuckles will fix your pelvic floor.

Remember, hang in there. For most babies, silent reflux disappears between 12 and 16 weeks, and keeps improving as they sit up and wean. And the one advantage of silent reflux over normal reflux is that you’ve not had to deal with months of puking, keeping your clothes and soft furnishings intact.

Have you had a baby with silent reflux? What did you find helped?

No stars or angels here

“Mummy, why is Poppy still on the iPad?”

Oof, that’s a fun one for a Monday morning. G Major asked me this on the way to preschool this week, apropos of nothing.

She was asking why Dad’s picture is still visible when I log into my Skype account. And while I was organising my thoughts to explain about internet history and contact lists, she reminded me, “Because he’s dead.”

Erm, yes. Thank you, poppet.

Talking to kids about death is hard. The accepted advice is to be honest, to answer all their questions, to not use euphemisms that might confuse them. Saying the deceased has ‘gone to sleep’ pretty much guarantees your child will never go to bed nicely again.

So when Dad died, we explained that Poppy had a poorly heart and it stopped working. And that’s what happens when you get old. And that he had died, and that meant he wasn’t here anymore, and we couldn’t see him again. But we could remember him, and that was nice too.

So far so good.

But because I’m an atheist, I couldn’t share a message of going to be with God in heaven, or becoming an angel. And I certainly wasn’t going to say he became a star, because I ❤ science and that’s not how stars work.

But I also failed to account for the steely practicality of a small child. I’m glad I didn’t use metaphors, but I recognise there is something sweet about a small child sending a goodnight to her grandfather amongst the stars. Nothing quite prepares you for the cheerily matter-of-fact way a preschooler will tell you over breakfast,  “Poppy died. And he’s never coming back”. It’s actually quite funny, if it didn’t leave me completely floored.

G Minor never met my father – I was 8 weeks pregnant when he died. And G Major doesn’t really remember him, although she recognises him in photos. Because I’m in the UK and my family are in Australia, there are limited opportunities for grandparents to see the Gs. Familiarity is all – G Major remembers the fire alarm going off in our old flat, but not Dad’s holiday in that same flat when she was 18 months.

Memories laid down before about 3 and a half tend not to stick around into adulthood, unless there is major trauma, so all I can do now is show the Gs pictures and videos of him, and talk about him, and about what Poppy and G Major did together. I want to give them a sense of their grandfather even if they can’t remember him. Ideally, they’ll have something more to say than a perky, “He’s dead.”

Which is much more useful than pretending he’s a star. And it’s why Poppy can stay on the iPad for a bit longer yet.

Carry on for kids

Holidays! Sunshine, swimming pools,  cheap local beer, kids club every morning (very important).

But first, the flight. 4 hours, 4 people but only 3 seats. How do you keep kids entertained on the plane? Here are the toys and games I packed for the Gs.

I bought a stack of small, cheap new toys for the holiday. Hawkins Bazaar has a selection of “pocket money toys” and I started there. I added a few bits from Tiger and B&M Homestores. It’s not all the highest quality but if it gets lost or covered in sunscreen, it doesn’t matter. 

Here’s what I packed for G Major in her carry on bag:

  • Colouring book and pencils – colouring is a new obsession and  she’s surprisingly neat, although she uses a LOT of black
  • Wipe clean fairy faces book – helpfully reusable
  • Mini stamp set – ideally for paper but if it descends into tattooing, so be it
  • Tic tac toe game – the concept of placing the little wooden is a more concrete idea to grasp than drawing them on paper 
  • Ball and cup game – something physical but doesn’t require leaving her seat 
  • iPad and Headphones – because everyone loves a quiet child on a plane. She can m watch four hours straight of Angelina Ballerina for all I care.

And this was G Minor’s:

  • Ball
  • Tolo figurine. If you haven’t seen the Tolo toys, check them out. They’re a little bit bigger than Playmobil and Duplo, great for toddler hands, and all of the limbs, hair, hats etc move
  • Book – name the sea creatures before we get to the beach
  • Crayons – she’s loving mark making 
  • Pop up puppet – if G Minor isn’t interested I bet any kids in the seat behind me will be 
  • Wind up train

Not that it really matters what I put in G Minor’s bag – she!only wants whatever G Major has and perhaps Mummy’s empty gin mini. 

Plus snacks and sweets and G Minor’s dummy – usually for bed time only but again, quiet children = happy passengers so I don’t care. 

What will you be taking away with you this summer?

Parenting is about what you do, not what you are

My Facebook page has recently been flooded with posts about the #motherhoodchallenge. I though that this had died back in February but it’s back.

And it’s morphed.

Originally, participants were asked to post a  picture that made them “happy to be a mum”. So far, so Facebook. Pretty shit for anyone who doesn’t want or is not able to be a parent. Not remotely inclusive of fathers, or grandparents or aunts and uncles who parent as well. Hard work for anyone not enjoying parenthood.  And it’s not actually a challenge, is it, if you wanted to have kids and then you had kids and then you love those kids and then you posted a picture on Facebook of those kids? But fine. While it was mindless, it was probably no worse than endless pictures of their children anyway.

But now I’m seeing, “I’ve been challenged to post a picture that makes me proud to be a mum.”

What the hell does that mean?

Not “proud of my kids”. Not “proud of how I parent”. Certainly not “proud of me”. Just “proud to be a mum”.

Being a mother is not something to be intrinsically proud of. Sperm + egg = baby. It’s biology. You pushed a baby out your foof? Great. Animals do it all the time. You don’t need skills or talent. Sorry, love, but you’re one of millions.

Parenting is about what you DO, not what you ARE. It’s about the thought that goes into how you raise your child,  about the experiences you create with them, about the people you invite to share their life. It’s about the hundred good and bad things you do each day that impact on your kids. It’s not about procreation.

If you have children, there are lots of things that you could be proud of.

You can simply be proud of your kids. Because they did something exceptional, or displayed the qualities and values you appreciate.

You can be proud of the fact you and your partner supported and loved each other through the terrible journey of infertility until a pregnancy took.

You can be proud of the fact you took a decision to adopt or foster a child and give them a chance they might not have had otherwise.

You can be proud of the fact you have fought to keep your kids through a divorce, and that they still see you smile nicely at the other parent.

You can be proud of the strength you and your child demonstrate when they’re in hospital again.

You can be proud your child defends your gender identity and sexual preferences to the haterz and that they learnt that from you.

You can be proud of the fact you get up every day and feed and wash and play with your children through crushing depression, or that you fed your body and your baby despite the voices in your head telling you not to eat.

But don’t just be proud “to be a mum”. Because it devalues all the work you and millions of other parents do.

Two generations of Twits

In Year 4, as part of a unit on Roald Dahl, our class wrote to the man himself. We included our own versions of Revolting Rhymes – about 28 of them, poor man. We packaged them up and sent them off and duly forgot about them, as nine-year-olds are wont to do.

Post wasn’t that fast between Australia and the U.K. in 1989, so it was probably a couple of months before a parcel arrived back from Buckinghamshire.

Well, we were THRILLED. I have a clear memory of some of the boys galloping about at the back of the classroom in glee, and many of the class were too excited to stay sat on their bottoms to listen to his return letter.

Perfectly pitched to nine-year-olds, as one would expect, the letter began, “Dear handsome Harvey and Year 4S.” The class roared. It was hilarious both to hear our teacher’s first name and have him described as handsome. Poor Mr Schiller graciously read that several times at his own expense until we had finished cackling and he could move on.

The wonderful Dahl had read all of our stories, had chosen a few favourites and sent some signed books for those aspiring writers.

I don’t remember the rest of the letter but I remember the thrill of an author taking the time to respond to children half a world away, and I remember the joy of reading his novels to myself, chuckling away at the naughty bits.

So when it came time to choose some chapter books to read with G Major, it was of course to Roald Dahl we turned.

We began with The Twits, and my goodness, what a joy to see her nose wrinkle in disgust at the description of Mr Twit’s beard, hear her hoot at the image of naked boy bottoms running away through the garden, see her eyes round as saucers as we read about Mugglewump the monkey and watch her turn upside down on the bed telling us she had The Shrinks.

We’ve now done James and George as well, and are midway through Charlie, and her enthusiasm continues. As does mine – it is just wonderful to share books across generations.

It’s fun to return to Dahl’s books as an adult, and I know that G Major will return to them again when she can read them to herself. And I’m just so excited for her.

What books do you like to read with your kids?

Potential careers for my kids

What did you want to be when you grew up? Clearly, my plans of being a lawyer by day, prosecuting multinationals for environmental damage, and a Tony award-winning actress by night fell by the wayside.

My guidance counsellor at school administered tests which repeatedly delivered a result of either a copywriter or a teacher, both of which I’ve done. Some things seem inevitable.

And looking at my kids, I think I can make a decent stab at what they might consider as potential careers.

Close hand magician
I carefully wipe G Minor’s hands, face and neck at the table after breakfast. Then again at the sink when I take her bib off. Then again when we go upstairs for a nap. But come mid morning, there are still bits of cereal and soggy banana shaking loose. Where does she hide it?

Writer for Hollyoaks
G Major is a great one for melodrama. She can eke out a minor injury over several days, more if it required the application of a plaster, and any slight, real or imagined, will be dragged up weeks later and presented accusingly.

 Molecular gastronomist
Heston’s test kitchen has nothing on G Minor’s tray table. And snacks eaten on the go take on the fine nuances of wine tastings, with delightful notes of dust, fireplace ash, cat fur and her sisters’ shoes.

US senator
No one filibusters like G Major. Wendy Davis delivered an epic 11 hour filibuster in 2013 to break an abortion bill. But that was nothing compared to the other night, when Big G made the mistake of getting home before bedtime and was subjected to an endless stream of questions, stories and requests to delay the inevitable. (Sucker.)

Sewerage inspector
I think this goes for most children, to be honest. There’s an endless fascination with poo – how big, how smelly, any accompanying farting; to the point where they’re crying outside the bathroom door because you won’t them come in for a look.

Middle manager
“What are you doing?” “When will you be finished?” “Can you do it any faster?” “I’ve changed my mind.” “Remember three weeks ago when you said…” “What about if we do it this way?”

I have high hopes.

What careers are your kids showing an aptitude for?