The run-up to Christmas is aptly named: with a few days to go, you have to literally run from task to task to stand any chance in hell of getting everything done before the fat man in red squeezes down your chimney. The only time you stand still is in the Post Office queue. And if there is an activity (or inactivity) designed to drive you to the brink of madness, that is it. There you are, eyeing up each other’s parcels and letter stack to see which person you are most going to direct your hatred toward, tutting quietly at the person who has the audacity to be renewing their tax (which is NOT a Yuletide related activity, so please piss off out of this queue right now) and wondering if you would lose your place if you sat down in the photo booth for a few minutes, pulled the curtain and just sobbed quietly.
E and I are in the car, en route to nursery. I am already running through all the things that I need to do / get / make / organise / slightly fuck up due to fatigue today, trying not to scream as on E’s insistence, we listen to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer ‘just one more time’.
“What do you want to leave out for Santa to eat?” I ask, thinking that would be one less thing to worry about on Christmas Eve when E may well need five spoons of Calpol to contain his excitement.
“Errr…” There is a very long pause. I hadn’t realised that I had asked such a difficult question.
“What about a chocolate biscuit?”
“No,” E replies emphatically, “Santa doesn’t like chocolate.” Well I’d like to know how he got so bloody fat then.
“So what does he like?”
“Vanilla.” Of course he does, how stupid of me not to know.
“So we could leave him a Custard Cream then?”
“But he won’t be able to eat it,” E replies. Santa seems to have got very sodding picky since I was a kid.
“Because he has a beard.” I really don’t have time for this.
“There’s no hole for his mouth.” A great spurt of laughter escapes from my mouth before I have a chance to stop it, so I disguise it as a sneeze-cough combo. It can’t be good for a child’s self-esteem, having your mother scream with laughter at you, so I do my best to compose myself. Because it is not as if that was the first time. A few weeks before this, I was picking up the boys from nursery. E was clambering into the car in the rain, slipped and did quite an impressive tumble backwards through a puddle, provoking immediate howls and tears. Quickly, I dumped B in his car seat and rescued E from the ground. He was muddy and wet but otherwise unharmed. He wailed some more, ramping up the volume just in case there was a parent approaching from the main road who had not yet heard him. All my knee-rubbing, hugging and words of comfort did nothing to appease him, probably because he couldn’t hear me above all that bloody crying. I was rapidly running out of ways to calm him down, and after an attempted round of face kisses, I realised with some desperation that I had used up my entire stock of empathy. The cupboard was bare, and full-on irritation was only a few more sobs away.
There we were, getting slowly soaked in the rain, and then B starts to cry as well, in some kind of sibling solidarity that would have been heartening if it were not so painful on the ear drums. I start to cajole… okay, push, E around to his side of the car to get him in. Other parents walk past, looking at the two howling children with concern. I smile through gritted teeth and roll my eyes in that ‘tsk, kids, eh?’ kind of way that really means ‘please let the ground swallow me up right now and force a colony of worms down my throat rather than be here a second longer’. E is putting up quite some resistance to my force, and as I wipe the rain from my eyes, I sense the anger and embarrassment rising as yet another mum gives me a look. And then, instead of that, I just started to giggle. I manage to get E into his car seat and by this time, I can hardly control the mirth. Whatever I do to try and stop it, I can’t stop laughing at the situation I am in and my two inconsolable children. As I lean over to buckle him in, E sees my face contorted with poorly concealed laughter. He looks up at me, eyes brimming with tears, his breath still jerky and uneven, bottom lip a-quiver, and asks: “Mummy, why are you laughing?” It seems that parental guilt stops laughter dead in its tracks, and we drove home in silence.
I think I may have managed to get away with laughing at his assertion that beards preclude eating and I explain that the beard grows around Santa’s mouth, leaving a hole just perfect for a Custard Cream.
“Why do crumbs get stuck in Santa’s beard but they don’t get stuck on my t shirt?” Stop it now. It’s not even eight o clock and you want me to explain the crumb-catching properties of one material over another? I open my mouth a few times, to see if I have an explanation to this knotty conundrum but alas, none is forthcoming. Luckily, E has already moved on by then.
“The sun is electric, isn’t it mummy?”
“Errr… no sweetie, it’s not electric. Just imagine how long the cable would have to be to plug it in.” I laugh and look at him in the rear view mirror, grinning. He stares back at me, stony-faced, unimpressed by both my laughter and the fact that I contradicted him.
“No mummy. You are wrong. It is electric. And bits of stars break off and go in the sun and burn.” He delivers his reply with the certainty of a Flat-Earther and for a moment I actually ponder if bits of stars really do break off and get burned by the sun. It is beginning to sound very plausible and no amount of thinking about it lessens my confusion. I glance at E again.
“They do,” he states and looks away with disdain. So in your face, mummy, with your poorly disguised laughter at my beard faux pas. I am the font of all sun-based facts.
It is not until I get home and I google it that I find out what the sun does actually burn. It isn’t stars, after all. I contemplated phoning nursery to tell him, but I feared he would only laugh in my face.