While out shopping this week, I bought my kids some Christmas chocolate – foil wrapped sweets in the shape of Santa, reindeers and trees. At the beginning of October!
I never thought I would, swore I wouldn't. But either because I'm weak or too easy going (definitely not the latter, according to my wife), in the last few weeks I have given in to every last demand of my children because, frankly, they have worn me down and the fight has left me.
I simply cannot be bothered with the endless negotiation any longer and thus the word 'No' seems to have abandoned my vocabulary.
More time on the computer? Go for it. Another Cornetto from the freezer? Fill your boots. Christmas sweets at the supermarket till three months before JC's birthday? Get the three-for-one deal.
I'm wrung out with their demands for more this, more that, Johnny At School's Got One – Can I Have One Too?
Yes m'dears. Have one, have three, have a FRIGGIN' MILLION. I don't care. Just stop PESTERING ME. Now hand me that duvet and a bucket of sand. I'm going to bury my head for a while.
It's like having three starving wasps in my ear. Take my oldest son's birthday party, for example. Last year, we didn't throw parties for our two youngest children's birthdays. Shameful, I know.
One of the reasons was I felt that because they were both born in the school summer holidays no-one would come anyway. But the main reason was I saw an opportunity to save a fortune and a hell of a lot of hassle.
I've taken my kids to parties where the parents seemed so frazzled they've looked like they've been plugged into the mains.
They usually fall into two categories: those who decide to open their homes, and those who hire a hall. The advantage of the first is that you don't have to ferry piles of sandwiches, sausage rolls and jellies to another venue – and then ferry the piles of plastic tut aka presents back. And, of course, it's cheaper (unless you've hired the obligatory magician). The downside is that your home resembles London after The Blitz once the festivities are over.
The second option is just really, really expensive, really, really stressful and really, really not for me.
And until this year, I'd managed to avoid either of these two fates because I figured my kids were too young to remember whether they'd had a birthday party or not. But this year, there was no escape.
My oldest son had his 'official' eighth birthday in September (yes, like the Queen). I told him there was no point having a party then because parents would be too busy preparing to send their kids back to school.
"When then?" he inquired.
"Oh, later in the year," I replied.
"We'll have a think and come up with a date."
Five minutes later, he reappeared holding my diary. "So when, then, Dad? Shall we put something in the diary?" he added, handing me a pen.
We settled on Saturday October 6. And thus the Power of the Pester was ignited. What to do where to go, how to do it, who to invite, and the killer – who not to invite!
"Make a list," I instructed.
"Decide which three mates you want to take."
'Er, Dad, I have more than three friends," he insisted.
"OK, how many then?"
"TWENTY?? I don't know twenty people let alone have 20 friends. Do a long list, then we'll whittle it down."
His first attempt had the name of every single kid in his class, plus his brother and sister.
"Too many," I said, chucking it back. "Too expensive. Choose six, tops."
I was pestered into settling on 14. Next was the venue.
"Can I have a bowling party?" my lad asked.
I spluttered. "Do you have any idea how much that will cost for 14 kids, plus the party bags, and the cake?"
"Please, Dad. Please, please, PLEAAAAAAAAAAASE. Oh go on, Dad. Pretty pretty PER-LEASE."
And thus last Saturday, I found myself in a bowling alley, surrounded by my son's friends, muttering to myself how much all this had cost me.
But it didn't end there. As soon as the bowling was over, the kids darted across to the attached amusement arcade. And there was my son and several of his friends, looking up at me with Oliver Twist eyes, asking for 'Just a coin please, sir' to stick in a slot, never to be seen again.
Only one coin, became two, became three, became @VIRTUAL-Gallery-156415%