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Observation at nearly twenty months (71)

I said hello to Daniel who smiled and called my name "Jay". He was sitting in the dining room on his plastic bumper seat which has a tray which is tied round an adult chair. I came and sat at the table as his mother returned to the kitchen saying she was trying to work out what he wanted to eat next. Daniel began to talk to me in single words but I was uncertain what he meant. He cocked his head and smiled which was enchanting but didn't really help me understand him. He plonked his water cup on the table at his side near me which felt like an offering of sorts. His mother returned and sat in front of him with a yogurt type pot and took off the lid. She offered him a spoonful of fruit and he said "No". His mother asked what he would like. He responded with "Ham and milk". His mother commented that she had gone through these possibilities already but got up to find the food.

His mother gave Daniel a whole slice of ham and replaced his water cup with a cup of milk.

She sat down again. Daniel tore some ham and put it into his mouth. He held the large piece in front of him and looked at it and tore some more putting this in his mouth. Then he took it out and put this on the tray. He tore more ham and put it on the tray. His mother picked some up and tried to put it in his mouth but he said "No" and moved his face away. His mother tried again but Daniel said "No". He began to put some pieces into her hand. She collected more and then when she said she would put it in the bin as he was not to play with the food, he grabbed her hand and tried to take pieces out again. He said "No” and then "down”. His mother took the food away and brought back a flannel. She was talking to me and Daniel wanted to get down but waited patiently while she took off his tray, wiped his hands and face and even briefly disappeared into the kitchen again. She undid his chair harness and put him on the floor.

It is possible that the "ham and milk” request from Daniel represented his father and mother. To continue this metaphor it seems that Daniel wants a whole slice of ham, or his entire Daddy, and yet he is ambivalent and tears it up. There is some anger and then some anxiety. He puts food into his mouth and then it isn't quite right. There is fragmented sense around the feeding experience. Things feel displaced. His mother, even though she does not understand his ambivalence, provides him with a containing presence (Bion, 1962) and he is able to work through some of his confusion.

Daniel at twenty-one months (76) has internalised the cleaning up function (Miller, 1999) and is taking responsibility for his mess. He had been walking around his playroom with his milk cup and accidentally spilt some milk on the floor. His mother went to get a towel from the kitchen. When she returned Daniel pointed to the floor and said "mess” and "milk” and put his hand out for the towel. His mother handed this to him and he wiped the milk very carefully off the floor, bending over and squatting. I am reminded of all the loving cleaning which his parents have given their little boy from his birth, from wiping his body at nappy changing, from washing him in the bath and gently wiping his face after each meal.

At twenty-two months (80) Daniel is able to stop himself from throwing food when he is cross with his parents. He uses language to help him manage conflict. During his feed his parents have been talking and ignoring him whilst he is eating. Daniel started to talk about throwing his food ("throw, throw my food”) and both parents say quietly that "we don't throw food”. Then Daniel looked at his parents and held onto the piece of pizza and moved his arm back as if he were going to throw but he did not let go. He repeated these movements with the accompanying words but never actually threw.

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