We’re at that point in our house – the festive lull, if you will. It’s that spot before we can really get charged up about the big day, but school has broken up, and it’s acceptable (nay, encouraged) to eat a miniature pork pie before 9am. What to do though? Shopping is mostly done cards finally posted ‘Do you realise the deadline for second class postage has been and gone?’ (Do YOU realise I was up at 4am scrubbing my mattress as my almost 3 year old who has a chest infection wee’d in my bed?) The tree has been up so long it’s dead already, meanwhile, the baby has realised how fun it is to flick the branches and make the needles drop.
Garden centre. It’s a British thing, I think. There is nothing more festive than the December trip to the garden centre. It’s something to build up to, I did at least 4 drive-pasts this year, before we plucked up the courage to disembark.
Leaving the car presented the first problem: to buggy or not buggy, that was the question. Harbouring a deep-seated hatred of prams, my husband always opts for the ‘We’ll carry her’ routine. This is disastrous 87% of the time. Why? Because the cherubic little princess flutters her eyelids on getting out of the car and chuckles innocently when you ask if she’s going to be good, and before you’ve got the five year old through the routine of trying to catch out the automatic doors; she’s on the floor, running faster than Usain Bolt, no shoes on, dragging an inflatable snowman.
The queue for Father Christmas is always catastrophic, it’s forever unclear about where to buy the tickets, we always argue about the best strategy to do this and without fail, end up queuing twice as a) the baby has run off or b) we get to the front, utterly convinced that we had to pay at the end, only to learn that’s no longer the case. This year we got ahead of the game and booked in advance. Yep, that’s right. Stepping up in the world and avoiding the wait. I convinced my husband it was worth the booking fee in time spent chasing the baby alone.
We arrived to a huge queue ‘See, I told you!’ smug glances exchanged we handed our golden passes to an elf.
‘Thanks and welcome, please join the queue.’ What. Seriously, what?
‘No no, we have booked.’
‘Yes, you’ve booked a sitting. As have all these other people. You won’t have to wait long.’ I can’t shout at an elf. I cannot shout at an elf… My teeth gritted we joined the queue.
Craftily, this queue passed through all of the boxes of Christmas lights, every single decoration, singing reindeer, you name it. All of which, my children felt obliged to manhandle, naturally.
‘Get off the aeroplane with a snowman pilot, please.’
‘But I can’t figure out how it’s projecting laser Merry Christmas across the propellers –’
‘Dad, put it down. She’s not kidding.’
Once the big boy had explained exactly, in intricate detail, why we needed every single festive item, my middle one had stopped walking and was doing the ‘floppy child’ routine on the floor and the baby had decapitated an animated bunny ‘Meow’, it was our turn to go into the holding area of the grotto. Various elves kept coming into the grotto and escorting families this way and that, I whispered to my husband that obviously the children couldn’t be allowed much time with Father Christmas, to which my five year old boy replied in a voice louder than the tannoy inviting people to join the enormous queue: ‘No, they’re taking them into different rooms. There’s 4 doors: 4 Father Christmases.’ Enormous tuts from the disappointed parents behind – whether at my Gob Almighty son, or the shaky elf operation I don’t know – but it was a dampener I’ll admit.
Our turn on the production line arrived and we got sent to one of the four doors and before we knew it, we were in the presence of Father Christmas. This is when we started to hold our breath.
Let me explain something, my children can be delightful. Charming, cute, warm and funny. And then… they have days when they’re like their father (bear with me). We were both praying it was not one of those days. Father Christmas dutifully asked what they would all like him to bring. Just that morning, the day after her third birthday party, my darling daughter number 1 had informed us that being as though she’d been given so many wonderful gifts – she no longer needed anything from Father Christmas. Gorgeous. A very lovely moment, which we both reflected showed her moving out of toddler-hood and into delightful-little-girl mode. Wow, what a swift transition into spoilt-bratty-girl phase. The list was long… I looked confused and whispered to my husband ‘What happened to not needing anything?!’ my son elbowed me
‘I heard her say that too. I told her she was silly – he brings loads of stuff!’ Incredulous face, the list continued ‘I even told her a few things to put on her list too.’ He signed off with a you’re welcome Mum face and stepped forward to share his own list. Mental note: stop whispering, apparently it’s pointless.
Father Christmas wrapped up the chat whilst my youngest started loudly saying ‘hello’ to and then removing trinkets from his mock fireplace. In an attempt to stay in touch with the kids, FC then held up his hand to give the children a high five. Baby was straight in there, Daddy’s taught her that routine. Older girl – in an effort to secure the items on her list, smiled sweetly and delicately obliged. At this point, if time had stood still, I would have told myself we’d got through it. The troublesome little monkeys hadn’t tried to pull off his embarrassingly fake beard. They hadn’t said anything too hideous, bar the recital of the Argos catalogue from the middle one, we were on the home strait. As you know, from my experience with hindsight – I should have walked out there and then.
In his excitement about Christmas, his feeling of bravado about being the big boy – actually, I don’t know what went through his mind – my son took a run up from the opposite side of the rickety log cabin construction and high fived (the presumably elderly) Father Christmas so hard he almost fell off his (very fake) armchair and flew through the back wall. I felt my jaw hit the floor, or at least I thought I did until the involuntary swear word came out of my husband’s mouth. In shock, surprise, amusement, whatever – my husband had sworn in the presence of a) our 3 children b) Father Christmas and an elf.
Looks like we might have to try one of the other 3 doors next year.