Today, mums and dads, we are delighted to report that we have solved a mystery which has baffled parents since time immemorial: why some small children don't eat.
You know the problem: while the neighbour's infant inhales a kilo of Gerber Hungry Babe in seconds, one's own child's weekly intake is less than that of Naomi Campbell on a diet.
Last Friday was typical. My youngest child skipped breakfast, elevenses, lunch and tea. For dinner, she ate only the pasta on her plateand then just six pieces. That was a reasonable day. The previous Wednesday, she subsisted purely on Ribena fumes.
On the rare occasions when Child Three does eat, she consumes only carbohydrates. I used to make her ham sandwiches for school, until I discovered that she was taking out the ham, scraping off the butter, and nibbling the bread plain.
Some weeks ago, parents were invited to accompany children on a school trip to the Botanical Gardens. At lunch break, the child next to us ate four huge sandwiches containing brie, lettuce, bacon and tomato. 'What does your child have?' his mother asked.
'A nothing sandwich,' my girl said proudly, opening it to show that it was indeed empty, just the way she likes it. No doubt several parents surreptitiously called the Social Welfare Department to report how I was starving my child.
The day after that, I took her to the doctor. I said: 'She only eats'
He held up his hand to stop me mid-sentence. 'Let me guess. She eats pasta without the sauce, plain rice without the side dishes, and plain bread without anything in it.'
I was stunned. This kindly, innocent-looking member of the medical fraternity had been SPYING on my household. I reached for the phone to call the Hong Kong Peeping Tom Squad. But the doctor said: 'Lots of children are like that. Don't worry. There's a scientific test that pediatricians do to see if children are taking in enough nutrients.'
He gripped my daughter's fat cheek and gave it a shake. 'That's the test. And here's the result: She's fine.'
This comforted me, although I would have preferred a more scientific answer. I found that last weekend in a biology textbook belonging to my son. This introduced me to 'air plants'small, fern-like clumps of vegetation which extract nutrients directly from the atmosphere. Clearly, my youngest child is an Air Baby, extracting everything she needs from the semi-visible stuff which passes for air in Hong Kong.
My son reckons his little sister has developed the ability to photosynthesize light. I liked this idea. 'If plants can do it, I don't see why she can't,' I theorized. 'After all, she's smarter than most vegetables.' (He disputed this.)
There's one other strange thing about Child Three. She regularly manages to produce more than her own weight in liquid on occasion.
Since she is trying to get out of the habit of wearing night-time nappies, we limited her intake of liquid. Despite this, she managed to produced a Noah-like deluge which flooded her bed by in the morning. We dried her off and put her into our bed for the rest of the night. Lo and behold, at four in the morning, she managed to unleash a second Tsunami, turning our bed into a life-sized replica of the Pok Fu Lam reservoir. One of our pillows is made of foam, and it was bobbing around, as if on a lake.
'Where did all that come from?' my wife asked. 'How can a 20 kilo child have a 25 kilo bladder?'
The mystery was solved at dawn, thanks again to my son's biology textbook. Some plants use their entire bodies to store liquid, it said. Having acquired the ability to photosynthesize energy from light, she is apparently moving on to other botanical skills.