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Observation at seventeen months (65)

When Daniel saw me he smiled and called out his version of my name and waved both his arms. His mother said he was ever so much better and was feeding and sleeping nearly back to normal after his terrible bout of conjunctivitis. He did look better but his eyes still looked pink and sore. His mother took one plastic fork from Daniel who was holding two and she put some pesto macaroni on it. Daniel held his fork in his right hand and accepted her offering, repeatedly. He spoke his single words in between (hat, Jane, hot, rabbit).

When the food was nearly finished he started to put his left hand into the plastic bowl and touch the food. His mother said "no” and tried to move his hand away. He put his hand in again and again despite his mother sounding more and more annoyed. Daniel put his arms up and said "ba" and his mother said "Yes, Daniel is a bad boy." He continued to put his hand in his food and then, "Right, that's it, no more supper", she said and took the bowl away from him and put her fork into it. She asked for his fork and said it was going into the dishwasher.

He gave it up and said "ba ba" which she then interpreted it as "bye bye" to the food and fork.

She put the bowl away and then picked up a kiwi fruit and asked if he would like some kiwi. Daniel said, "Ki, ki" and his mother cut it in half alongside me on the counter and took the half fruit and a metal spoon back to her chair next to Daniel. He reached forward for the spoon and his mother explained that it was too hard for him to use and offered him a bit of fruit on her spoon which he accepted. Whilst feeding his mother spoke of how "rubbish" she was at discipline and how he was very challenging at present with his eating habits which included putting his hands in his food and also throwing (which I had not seen). She talked about Dad pleading patience of her but then him, in the same position, getting cross too.

Daniel went to grab the skin of the kiwi and his mother handed it to him after he finished the flesh. She collected the other half and Daniel meanwhile tore the skin into two. He accepted more food from his mother's spoon and then dropped a piece of skin over onto the floor. His mother remonstrated and then he threw the other piece over. He began to pick up the piece of smoked salmon which was still on the tray in front of him and she said "No, Daniel." He threw this to the floor too. He accepted another bit of kiwi and then began to sprinkle the tray with water from his cup. We watched him for a little and then his mother replaced it onto the tray. He refused more kiwi so she took the last part away. She cleaned his hands and he chatted away.

There is a definite feeling of conflict between Daniel and his mother around eating today. There seems, at the centre of the conflict, the acceptance or refusal of food. Over time this has become a familiar pattern in Daniel's eating behaviour, but here it is couched in different forms. Daniel is playing with the food rather than spitting it out or turning his face away. He has started to throw his food away. He is getting instant cross feedback from his mother and one wonders whether he is aware at some level that the mess he is making is persecutory for her. He is certainly testing her boundaries as he persists in his food play.

There follows at eighteen months an observation (68) with his father where I witness Daniel's continued dissatisfaction with his feeding. He does not want to accept even what his father has to offer. His father is at a loss to know how to help him. It is during this visit that Daniel for the first time has his dessert on his small table in the living room. He is able to walk to eat and chose to eat when he is ready. He also asks his mother for milk in his cup at the end of the visit which has usually meant nearly bedtime. The sucking he can still do on this cup obviously is giving him comfort and he chooses to sit on his father's lap to drink for a while.

During the following visit when Daniel is nineteen and a half months (70) both parents are present at the feeding and after his mother has finished spooning food into his mouth she asks him what he was eating. He replied very clearly "baby." Both parents laughed and Dad asked "Where is the baby?" Daniel did not respond. When his mother asked Daniel whether he wanted any more he said very firmly "No" and reached out for his "wawa" (water). His mother gave him his cup. Daniel is talking a lot about babies around this time. I think Daniel's words continue to relate to his own feelings about growing up and trying to give up his baby parts, but also indicate that in phantasy he is trying to work out where babies come from. At this time, his play away from mealtimes is full of early oedipal references and his exploration of twoness and threeness in the family.

This exploration around the oedipal situation seems to be played out in the next feed at twenty months.

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