It is August, so of course, talk with a four year old turns to Christmas.
“Does Santa visit every house in the world in one night?” he asks.
“Yes, he does.” The best strategy here, I think, is to say as little as possible and hope he loses interest. There can be no good that comes of talk of Santa, this much I know.
“Wow. How does he do that?”
“Well, I think he is probably… magic.”
“He must be.” A pause.
“So how does he get round all the houses?”
“On his sleigh – you remember, with the reindeer?”
“Oh yes.” Another pause. “Who makes his sleigh then?”
“Err… his elves.” Please don’t ask me anything else. I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet.
“Are elves real?”
This is E’s current preoccupation. I am guessing that child psychologists would say that it is a stage in a child’s development crucial to expanding his comprehension of the world around him. For me, it is turning out to be a minefield of half-truths and incessant questioning: yes, the CBeebies presenter is real, but no, that kitchen is a pretend one. Yes, that child in the advert is real, but I am guessing that space rocket he is sitting on that has just looped the loop over the moon is pretend.
So, back to the issue in hand: the realness or otherwise of elves. “No,” I reply, coming over all peculiar and telling the truth.
I wince and tighten my grip on the steering wheel a little more, as I can see the next question rolling, unstoppable, towards me. I feel like bloody Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark being pursued by a giant stone boulder. Except I’m not wearing a hat, I look shit in khaki and couldn’t forward roll my way out of trouble if my life depended on it.
“Is Santa real?” Boom. There it is. Do I want to rip the heart out of Christmas for a four year old? Do I?
“Do you think he is real?” This is what is technically known as the Chicken’s Way Out.
“Yes,” he states emphatically.
“Then he is real,” I say.
There is silence for a moment, and then the ground starts to crumble from beneath my conversational feet as I realise the sodding great error I have just made. Santa = Real. Elves = pretend. There is gaping hole in my logic the size of a small country. I hum to myself, wondering if he will spot it.
“But how is Santa real and elves are not?” he asks. Of course he will bloody spot it.
I let out a little laugh. You know, one of those laughs that involuntarily escapes when you are so deep in the shit that it is either a) laugh, b) come clean and tell the truth or c) or eat your own limbs. I eye up my right arm for chewing potential. I’m not sure I could finish a whole one. “Well,”, I say. “I would think that Santa’s elves are real, but… other elves… are… not…” I have the decency to cringe as this pathetic excuse of an explanation whimpers out of my mouth and dribbles down my chin.
“Who will deliver the presents when Santa is dead?” And so we seamlessly move onto the next conversational pool of piranhas: mortality. I tell you, this drive to nursery is just one big barrel of fun this morning.
“Santa doesn’t die,” I explain as the lights turn green and we start to move tantalisingly ever more closer to the end of this hideous journey.
“Because… Santa is magic.” Magic. That old chestnut again. With its stable mate Myths. I can see why our ancient elders were so into their magic and their myths. Because quite frankly, when trying to get your head around unwieldy concepts like how the sun goes up and down, it is a damn sight easier to explain it with ‘some bloke in a chariot gives it a tow’ rather than try and figure out the truth of the matter.
Finally, we pull into the car park.
“When I die, mummy, will you born another baby to take my place?”
Well, this is turning out to be a really cheery morning’s chat, this is.
“I don’t think I will still be here when you die, darling.” I hear the sound of piranha teething gnashing around my ankles. Ooh, pass me that large can of worms, will you, I don’t think I am quite up to my neck in shit yet. And while you’re at it, you might as well slide over that Pandora’s box.
“When is grandma and dad-dad going to die?”
Right. It is not yet eight o clock, I have not had any hot liquid involving caffeine nor my breakfast, and I got up at 5.30am. I am officially declaring this conversation closed. I get out of the car and shut my door.
My son, however, has other ideas. As soon as I open his door, he asks: “Older people die before young people, don’t they?” Now I know that the experts all say that you should not perpetuate the fallacy that it is only old people that die, in case your offspring has to deal with the death of someone who is not old, at which point they will lose all faith in you as a parent and sayer-of-truths. But I have just told him that Santa is real and elves are pretend, so I am about to be arrested by the Parent Police. I have very little left to lose.
“That’s right, darling.”
“CAAAAR!” exclaims B. Well, perhaps not ‘car’. It is difficult to tell with someone who has only mastered ‘uh oh’ and ‘daddy’ in the word stakes. But it was a close enough approximation that E shouts: “Mummy, he just said car!”
I smile gleefully. Not because my youngest has just pointed in the vague direction of a vehicle and named it. I have a sneaking suspicion that he would have said that word whether he was pointing at the sky, a cat or his own willy. But because I have been saved from the conversation by a one year old.
We head towards nursery, and I wrap crime scene tape around that conversation, in a vain attempt to stop me ever entering it again.