Thursday, 15 December 2011
An Obligatory Visit
It was mid November when my friend Pauline first asked me if I'd like to go and see Santa, it was late November when the date was set and the tickets were bought and today was the day that John and his little friend Pippa were washed, brushed, dressed in brand new coats and taken out to meet Santa in his Grotto.
I was not the only one that was excited. Pauline greeted me with a giddy smile by the farm gates, clutching a grumpy, sleepy toddler to her chest, and even though our offspring were unimpressed by the offer of a biscuit in a darkened room that still smelt distinctly of cow muck and had all the ambiance of a walk-in freezer, Pauline and I ate our mince pies quite happily as we waited to be ushered in to see Santa.
Because this visit was something that we'd been imagining for some time and something that we as parents felt strangely obliged to do. Regardless of the fact that I feel faintly uneasy about the whole Father Christmas production and despite the fact that I know John is too young to understand or appreciate the visit - I had to take my boy to see Father Christmas. I had to sit him on his knee. I had to get the photo.
And so once the mince pies had been eaten and the little ones had been torn away from the television, we dragged them through an avenue of sparkly trees into a claustrophobic little den where Santa was waiting for another two confused and frightened children to be photographed reluctantly on his knee.
"Hello," he said, with admirable enthusiasm, "Who do we have here?"
And once we'd introduced John, who was clinging miserably to my leg and Pippa, who was hiding behind a chocolate biscuit and whimpering pitifully, he launched into a spiel of questions that Pauline and I did our best to answer on behalf of our terrified toddlers.
"Where do you live?" he asked us merrily. "Do you have a chimney?" "What do you want for Christmas?" "What's your favourite colour?" "What will you be leaving for me and Rudolph to eat?" "Have you been good?"
And with each new question we all waited expectantly as though our toddlers, who are only capable of yelling random vowel sounds at us at their most eloquent moments, were suddenly going to answer this kindly old man, before answering him ourselves in that strange squeaky voice that grown-ups use when they speak on behalf of their children.
"Yes," we said, "We have a chimney." "Yes, we'll remember not to light the fire." "We like tractors and trains and lorries, don't we John?" "Yes, we're very good, most of the time," whilst all the while becoming more self-conscious about our part in this strange charade and trying not to explode into giggles.
"Will you be going to bed nice and early on Christmas Eve?" persevered Santa, after more minutes of awkward silence, during which John stared fixedly at the glowing fake fire and Pippa stared determinedly at the back of her chocolate biscuit.
"Ooh yes" Pauline and I both answered dutifully.
"And sleeping right through the night? You mustn't wake up now must you..."
"No," we chorused obediently. "We'll be fast asleep."
And suddenly, the giggles could be held in no longer and I had to quickly plonk John on Santa's knee and take the necessary photo so that I could get out of that grotto before I crumpled in a fit of hysterics.
We coaxed our miserable children onto the old man's knee, snapped away swiftly and then emerged back into the cold sanity of the farmyard to release our laughter into the clear December air.
And as we walked away, wondering what on earth that had all been about I remembered that it was all about the photo. A classic look of confusion and fear captured forever on camera.
Clearly my life would not be complete without it.