LAS VEGAS – It is lunchtime at our house, and to prepare properly for the upcoming assault on my kitchen I should cover the entire area with plastic tarps.

I place a plate of wagon wheel pasta, green peas and a fruit cup in front of my 2-year-old.

She is pretty good at getting the food into her mouth with a fork or spoon.

It’s what happens between bites or afterward that would send the National Guard out to restore peace in our kitchen. She eats for a few minutes, then it hits.

“Oh-oh!” she screams.

She has dumped the half-empty fruit cup with its syrup onto the floor. There are about 12 pieces of pineapple scattered all over the floor. The juice is creating a new grout color for our tile.

Aubrey jumps down and believes she is helping me, but really is trying to eat the pineapple off the floor.

Next, she eats her pasta and refuses the peas. So guess what? Yep, they end up on the floor. Some get squished and others roll toward the carpet. I spend the next 15 minutes cleaning up her mess.

I can’t figure this out.

I am a very neat, compulsive person. The clothes in my closet are organized by color. You will never find a piece of trash in my car, and I admit to alphabetizing the Christmas cards I receive.

This is why I am unsure if Aubrey is really my child.

Our first daughter is so neat she runs to the bathroom to wash her hands several times during dinner because she can’t stand to have sticky hands. She doesn’t let Aubrey touch her if she is messy. And she loves to use a napkin.

Now that Aubrey is 2, I expected her eating habits to improve. Not happening.

I wonder if she is getting worse. She refuses, and has for some time, to wear a bib. For meals, we remove her shirt, even in restaurants, or otherwise it will be dripping wet with food when she is done.

She also has this annoying habit of spitting food out after she rolls it around in her mouth for a while. It is disgusting.

When she eats applesauce or yogurt, she smears what remains all over her belly and face to signal she is done, then finishes with a shout of “I’m messy!”

Washing yogurt off is a feat in itself. At times I just throw her in the kitchen sink and hose her down. She actually needs a full bath after every meal to stay somewhat clean.

Her clothes are so stained I have given up trying to make them presentable anymore.

Let’s face it. She is a mess.

So when will she get better at this eating thing? Or will she?

Michele Borba, a child development expert and author of several parenting books, assures me that this behavior is normal and that this is my problem, not Aubrey’s since she is more than content.

She’s right.

I am exhausted cleaning up after Aubrey. My kitchen tile has food crusted on it, and I don’t remember what it was like to have a clean table. But Aubrey doesn’t care one bit.

Borba said parents dealing with messy eaters should try vinyl sheets for the floor and large bibs (if you can keep it on the child of course.)

And, if, when eating out, anybody gives you the look, just smile and tell them this is your budding gourmet or that your child is creative, Borba said.

“Be careful not to get so irritated at dinner that it doesn’t become a pleasurable experience,” she said. “Best tip, other than the bib: don’t give so many foods at once. When going out you can deliberately bring along more ‘contained’ kinds of munchies.”

But does a messy Aubrey at 2 mean she will be the same when she is older? I know it’s odd, but I worry about having a disorganized kid who leaves old hamburger wrappers in her bedroom.

No worries, Borba said. She has never seen any research on messy 2-year-olds becoming pig pens. She does say to make sure not to call my daughter messy or a slob because that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now we don’t want that. I don’t think I could take it.

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