First the worst, second the best, third the one with the bolognese vest

By Ellen Widdup

First child eats dirt. Parents call the doctor. Second child eats dirt. Parents scrub out his mouth. Third child eats dirt. Parents wonder if they really need to feed him lunch.

I did though. I heaped the spaghetti Bolognese on his plate and passed him a fork. Not a baby plastic job either. A proper, adult-sized metal implement which, at 15 months and with very few words in his vocabulary, he insists upon.


I can’t be bothered with toddler tantrums, arched backs, screaming matches and protracted negotiations and he hasn’t stabbed himself in the eye yet. Besides which, I haven’t the time, or inclination, to sit there playing aeroplanes and choo choo trains in order to get him to eat his five-a-day.


I did this with the older two and they still shun anything green and treat all meals as one long finger buffet.


He took a big bite, tomato sauce splashing his chin.


His siblings pointed and laughed. He grinned at his audience, abandoned the cutlery and purposefully scooped up the contents of his bowl and deposited on his head.


Cue howls of guffaws from Number One and Number Two – who know they can’t get away with such behaviour but egg on their little brother at every opportunity.


He’s wilful this one. A rebel. Boy, does he like to push the boundaries.


“No,” I say as he removes the saucepans from the cupboard one by one.


“No,” he repeats grinning as he moves on to the Tupperware.


“No!” I say more forcefully as he dips his hand in the dog’s bowl of drinking water and uses it to style his hair.


“No!” he copies my tone of voice but picks up the dog biscuits instead and has a little nibble.


“No,” I say, exhausted, as I retrieve him from inside the dishwasher.


“No,” he says, heading for the washing machine, which is currently on its third cycle and is now shrinking the clothes at a 90 degrees setting after the little guy had a field day with the touch-sensitive buttons. Damn you Bosch for the lack of a child lock.


We have an old armchair in our kitchen with casters on its base.


This kid of mine has worked out that he can wheel it right up to the kitchen counter, climb up and get whatever he wants.


He’s a year old, for goodness sake. And yet, I found him perched on the granite top with the box of Ritz crackers in his hand.


A disclaimer for those judging me right now: As a rule, I don’t leave my child unattended.


But on this particular occasion I had taken him to the bathroom with me and he escaped while I had my knickers round my ankles.


So what’s the deal here? Have I got a really disobedient one? A super intelligent one? Or is this the norm for all third borns?


I’m sure birth order plays a part.


I wrapped my first in cotton wool so she learnt to sweat the small stuff. As the eldest she shoulders most responsibility and is a bit of a perfectionist.


I was a bit more chilled with my second, which explains why the kid remains too cool for school. As a middle child, he pushes for attention and has admirable skills in negotiation.


I suppose you would say that I am more confident with my third.


“I’m a pro,” I tell myself.


But, as the baby of the family, he is spoilt rotten and has quickly become the life and soul of the party. He’s on his journey at the expense of my fingernails, which are bitten to the quick.


Clearly I’ve got my work cut out.


But the passage of time is the cruellest contradiction of parenthood.


In the most frustrating of moments – when there are peas ground into the carpet and sour milk staining your best jacket, you can’t wait for it to pass.


But as soon that phase is gone, you mourn what came before.


He’s likely to my last child. So from now on I will swap “no” for “I love you” and see if, like the spaghetti in his hair, it sticks.

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