I took Oscar and Tallulah Christmas shopping yesterday after school.
I wish to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, or some other humanitarian award for not killing my children in a festive frenzy.
When they were small I used to buy presents for them to give. On the odd occasion I took them with me to purchase said presents we would have the age old: ‘Daddy would really like Barbie Bowling Alley’ for Christmas, situation. Generally I would walk a line between succumbing to their wishes and vetoing them outright. It was always a bit tearful for everyone involved, including the parent who received a Ben Ten satchel so they could take it to work with them.
After a while I stopped this, and just bought things which I handed to them, saying: ‘I have a spare one of these. Do you think you might like to give it to daddy for Christmas.’
This was pretty foolproof.
In the last couple of years though, Tilly has become responsible for her own present buying, and the others have wanted to follow suit. How it works is that I give them chores to do which would be much easier for me to do myself. Then I pay them a frankly gargantuan hourly wage to do these chores badly. Then I redo the chores myself and cry at how much money and time that entire exercise has just cost me.
This is parenting in a nutshell.
So yesterday we went shopping with their ill-gotten gains. Tallulah is not too bad to be honest. A lot of her shopping, much like my own, revolves around the ‘one for her and two for me’ principle. This means I end up subbing whatever shortfall she ends up with, because by this stage all my parenting skills are for shit and I just want to sit on the pavement in the middle of a shopping centre and drink gin.
Oscar, however, is a nightmare. He frets. He is a habitual worrier and he likes to get things right. He is the most pedantic child I know, and his pedantry extends to getting just the right gifts for people, even though he only has a budget of £20 and no grasp of the value of things whatsoever.
His opening shot for example was: ‘I think I’ll just pop to Build a Bear and buy dad a Star Wars teddy and a couple of outfits.’
Things spiralled rapidly from there.
It culminated, after an hour of tense wrangling in which his budget and his ideals were permanently at war with each other, in a quick dash to Aldi for Tallulah to buy Marmite for someone (this is a good present. Do not be alarmed). While we were there Oscar’s lip began to wobble:
Oscar: ‘But mama. I don’t have a present for you.’
Me: ‘No, Oscar. That’s fine. Maybe daddy will take you out with him.’
Oscar: ‘But mama, I want to do all my Christmas shopping today, and I don’t have anything for you.’
Me: ‘Look, Oscar. See these lovely salted caramel truffles?’
He nods, disconsolately.
Me: ‘They would be the perfect present for me. So just remember that and you can get daddy to bring you back here another day.’
Oscar: ‘But what if he can’t? I’m worried that he can’t, and you are the only person I don’t have a present for.’
Me: ‘OK. How about if I buy the truffles now, and then I pretend I don’t know anything about them on Christmas day, and it will be an epic and exciting surprise?’
Oscar: ‘Oh. OK.’
Oscar: ‘Don’t look, mama. While I get them off the shelf.’
I look away.
Oscar: ‘Errr. Mama?’
Me: ‘Yes, Oscar?’
Oscar: ‘I can’t reach them.’
I get them off the shelf and put them in the basket which he insists on taking from me.
He spends the rest of the time in the shop, turning his back to me and furtively rearranging all the items in the basket so that I cannot see the box of truffles, for it is a surprise.
When we get to the checkout he is beside himself with anxiety because I will have to actually notice the box of truffles, due to the fact that they are in plain sight on the conveyor belt. PLUS, I will have to put them in the carrier bag and pay for them.
We have a small discussion about how I don’t want him to die of stress over a box of chocolate truffles, and how I am really, really good at the willing suspension of disbelief thing because I go to the theatre a lot. Also how I am very old, so by the time he has hidden them in his room for the next three weeks, I will very likely have forgotten about them for real.
This mollifies him and I am allowed to proceed to paying for my goods.
At least it isn’t a Ben Ten satchel.