“If you don’t stop hitting Mayhem with that umbrella I’m going to tell Father Christmas,” I say sternly one day as I try to cook dinner.
Milk pauses. He is four and he doesn’t believe me; he believes in the guy with the white beard.
He carries on hitting Mayhem with the umbrella, while explaining, “there is a boy in my class who is really naughty all the time but Father Christmas is still bringing him presents.”
Mayhem ends Milk’s attack by walloping him in the face.
“He hit me mamma!” cries Milk, and Mayhem repeats, “Hit me! Hit me!” until I put on the TV and give them both a bowl of raisins.
Before I became a mum, I promised myself I would never lie to my children, and I would not use blackmail, food or TV to get them to do what I wanted.
Thank God I didn’t swear on a bible.
“They keep hitting each other. And everything.” I moan to my husband that weekend.
He nods wisely. “I read somewhere hitting is an expression of their frustration that no one is playing with them, or listening to them.”
I walk out of the room briefly to stop myself throwing a jacket potato at him. When I return he suggests we all go to the garden centre to calm down.
Someone in a marketing meeting has decided we all have to start buying mince pies already, so even the garden centre is a flurry of elves and fake snow and Christmas music.
Garden centres must love this time of year. This is their moment. This is when they can get out all their fairy lights, fill every space with wicker reindeer and set up a snow machine in what was once the disabled toilet, and call it Santa’s Grotto.
“Why don’t we go and see Santa?” My husband whispers nodding at a notice about booking tickets to see Father Christmas. “It would make it so real for Milk.”
“Because,” I say loudly as I compete with a carol-singing Christmas tree, “because they charge £8 per child, to crawl through a tunnel, past all of their products, so when your kid is sitting on an old guy’s knee with a cheaply wrapped sticker book, worth about 50p, you can’t help wondering if the wind chime dangling next to the elf’s ear would look good hanging from your apple tree.”
“OK. So, let’s not do that,” my husband rolls his eyes, steering the kids away from the ticket desk and into a table full of stocking fillers.
He puts his arm round me. “Perhaps a Festive Scone then?”
“What the hell is a Festive Scone?” I scoff.
According to the menu, a Festive Scone has “winter spices which evoke the magic of Christmas,” and those incredible spices make the Festive Scone £1 more than anything else.
I’m not really in the mood for spicing things up, but the café does look like the only place we can restrain our children.
Mayhem, however, has other ideas and has spotted a giant inflatable Father Christmas. It is so big it would reach the first floor of most houses. Milk runs over to touch it.
“Ooh it’s massive! Is this the real Father Christmas?”
“Err no.” I say turning to my husband. But where is my husband? He has crept behind the big inflatable Father Christmas and is doing a strange voice, which sounds remarkably like Daddy Pig.
“Ho, Ho, Ho, is that you Milk and Mayhem?”
He is bent over with his hands on his knees. He can’t see the people in the cafe behind him who have stopped eating their Festive Scones to watch him. To them he looks like a creepy guy about to kidnap a couple of children, and although I am enjoying this moment, I call him over.
It is too late. Milk and Mayhem now think this is a game and run around and round the giant inflatable Santa. It gets so hysterical a few people rush into the café to get away from us all.
After a while Mayhem starts hitting everything in his reach, and gives the inflatable Father Christmas such a shove, it slips from its mount and starts toppling backwards. It is so tall Santa’s head will most definitely land on a scone, Festive or not.
“Run!” I shout, and for once my children, and my husband, listen to me. We all make a dash for the car.
“They even hit Father Christmas,” I gasp putting my foot to the floor.
“Always good to get out of the house,” my husband says as we speed away.