It's a very simple conversation and it goes like this:
Somebody: Oh dear, Birdy's skin is very dry isn't it?
Me: Yes, she has quite bad eczema on her face. We're seeing the specialist nurse and she's on some serious creams.
Somebody: Oh, you should try olive oil. When my little one was a baby we found that it worked wonders. It would probably fix that cradle cap too.
And that's all. I'm not cross with Somebody. Somebody is being helpful, I can see that. Somebody has found that something worked for them and wants to pass on the tip to me in the hope that it might help me and Birdy too. I appreciate that. It's a kindness.
But what Somebody doesn't know is how unbelievably regularly I have that conversation. Today, alone, I have had it no less than three times. It seems that in just about every social and professional setting there will be at least one person who has discovered the amazing healing properties of olive oil. This includes several social workers, swimming mums, health professionals, Tesco employees and, most awkward of all, Birdy's birth mum.
I've tried, really I have, but we moved past olive oil in about week 5 when skin was flaking off her face and her earlobes were cracking. Since then we have been through a succession of creams, ointments, potions and lotions before a referral to the specialist and a prescription for a very mild steroid to hopefully bring it under control before, as the specialist said, her skin breaks down completely.
The olive oil was lovely in the sense that, unlike some of the other creams, it didn't inflame her skin and irritate it further, but, unfortunately, it just wasn't enough. It didn't actually improve anything. Same goes for pure aloe vera gel, by the way. Been there, done that.
Like many people, I'm not particularly happy to be covering a tiny baby in products that feel far from natural, but I'm the one who has to watch her endlessly rubbing her tiny mitts across her poor red face until her little eyelids are puffy and inflamed and flakes of skin are falling down onto her clothes. It bothers her and so it bothers me and, right now, I'm not going to risk eschewing the advice of the medical professionals on the strength of the anecdotal evidence of swimming mum. My hope is that if the prescription stuff does its job, there may be a time when we can embrace olive oil in the future!
It's probably in the nature of most human beings to pass on good news about tips and tricks that have worked for them and that might help others, whether it's about skin problems, school issues, behaviour or whatever. I'm on a long journey towards learning to accept the advice graciously, well-meaning and kind-hearted as it usually is - after all, I'm not slow to dish out that advice myself on many occasions!
But what I am learning from the olive oil conversation is that before I speak I need to listen and ask questions, even if its only to find out the different ways a person has tried to solve their problems already so I can avoid burdening them with suggestions that have already been tested and abandoned. Behaviour charts, potty training methods, food issues, screen time, sibling rivalry, sleep - all have their own equivalent of the 'olive oil conversation'. So many opportunities to hone my listening skills and give my advising skills a bit of a rest! Or at least, to learn to start with "Have you tried . . . ?" rather than "You should try . . .!"