8:"Why has Santa got all his presents from Aldi, Tiger and Waitrose?" Me:"He shops locally to support small business?"
Belief in Santa Claus. It's the most magical thing ever.
It can also be the most crushing disappointment when the truth finally dawns.
I can remember very clearly my ninth or possibly tenth Christmas at which I was pretty sure Father Christmas was actually my parents. But I wasn't totally sure. I didn't want to stop believing.
Not least because, if he DID exist and I stopped believing I may just miss out on the magical stocking that had appeared at the end of my bed on each of the preceding Christmas mornings.
I clung on, only questioning the origin of the presents after Christmas, once I was sure the stocking was in the bag.
The truth was of course disappointing, but somehow also affirming. It was a turning point. A rubicon was crossed. I knew now a secret only known by adults. I had crossed the line, left childhood behind.
Sharing that confidence only known by adults, particularly when they spoke about Father Christmas in front of younger children, confirmed my trajectory. One day I, too would be like them.
Our son is now eight. Perhaps children are a little more savvy these days. Perhaps it's as a consequence of his being in a mixed age class at school. With children who are a year older than him.
In any event, leading up to this Christmas there had been the first, few, fleeting signs our son had begun to suspect the inevitable truth.
Driving to one of the seemingly innumerable pre-Christmas choir practices through dark country lanes our son asked the inevitable.
"There's no Santa, is there? It's you and Dad."
"Of course there's a Santa," I replied. "Who brings the presents? Who eats the mince pie?"
He thought for a moment. "But you never get presents from him. How come?"
I'd prepared for this question, knowing its inevitability would dawn within the next couple of years.
"It's because there's a point at which Santa decides you are old enough to be let into a secret. A really special secret. One that you can never tell anyone else, but that you then carry with you for the rest of your life."
"You exchange all the presents he'd ever bring you for the secret."
"Really?" Answered our son. "It'd better be worth it!" He mumbled.
"It is." I answered quietly and we drove on in contemplative silence.
Christmas morning dawned.
We had, as usual, completed our ritual of Santa preparation.
Encouraging the children to watch Santa's progress around the world using the NORAD Santa tracker. This year requiring both our home computer and our laptop to track him simply to avoid the inevitable minor scuffle between children in front of the screen.
A mince pie, small glass of brandy and carrot left by the fireplace.
Brandy drunk (by J), mince pie eaten (by me), teeth marks gouged in carrot (by pliers - we both hate raw carrot).
Presents placed quietly in the stockings hanging from the end of each of the children's beds. Each year I carry with me a couple of Christmas Elf hats with small bells attached to their tops.
They jingle as I place the presents in the stockings. My hope being that, rather like those in a coma, our children are somehow aware of the bells jingling, confirming for them in their deep sleep that there had been a visitation by Santa Claus, his sleigh and the reindeer.
So on Christmas morning our children awaken, usually at an unearthly hour, and proceed to bring their stockings into our room. Excitement mounting. Wonder and amazement etched on their faces.
Except this year, as the presents were opened our son began to look quizzical. His sideways glances conveying what I knew he was thinking but hoped. Prayed. He would not.
"Why has got all his presents from Aldi, Tiger and Waitrose?" Our son asked, his eyes narrowing.
Thinking on your feet is slightly harder at an unearthly hour of the morning, with little sleep behind you due to the need to stay up late for Santa duty. I somehow managed to mumble some words that, I felt at least, sounded plausible.
"Santa likes to support the local economy, so arranges to source his presents from local businesses."
Our son went back to his presents mollified. But only slightly.
The children's stockings contain all the very small presents we purchase for them. Sweets, packs of stickers, pencils, crayons.
The larger presents come from us later in the day. So opening the stocking presents can take a little while.
I watched as he opened more of the presents that spewed forth from the stocking. Opening one gift after another his face registered increasing disappointment. Struggling to comprehend. His joy becoming tainted.
We watched as realisation dawned in front of us for our son. And I felt for him. I felt so terribly sorry that the magic was fading.
Finally the presents had been opened and J took our daughter downstairs to make coffee.
Our son sat in bed next to me.
"You bought them, didn't you. You're Santa." He said quietly. His voice trembling slightly. Disappointment. Confusion. Dripping from the words.
Sadness. Guilt. Both strong emotions. Both what I felt just then. I realised the game was up. I thought the presents had been the final, immutable confirmation for our son.
"What makes you think that?" I asked gently as he snuggled into me. Hoping against hope there may be some way back from this.
The reply was surprisingly animated. "Oh, it was the Santa Tracker."
"Sorry?" This was confusing.
"Well, you had the NORAD Santa Tracker on your computer, but when you asked Auntie Susan to find it on the laptop for me she chose the Google one. I compared where he was and how many presents he had delivered on each of them and they were totally different!"
"I realised then it must be made up, because if they really were tracking Santa and he actually existed the figures and location on the two would match."
"Oh, well maybe there was a time delay between the two." I responded, seeing a small glimmer of light.
That was quickly extinguished. "Not with satellite tracking, they would be just the same." Our son replied.
Foiled. "So, now you know, now you have to hear the secret." Knowing the game was up I decided to move the conversation on.
"Secret?" Our son asked. I reminded him of our conversation a couple of weeks before on the way to choir practice.
"Close your eyes and remember how exciting it was to think that Santa was coming and how amazing it is to find the presents on Christmas morning." I said.
He did that.
"Now think of how exciting it still is for your sister. The secret is knowing how much joy you had, and she still has, believing Santa visits." I explained.
Our son, for all his faults, for all his past traumas, perhaps because of them, has empathy. Empathy and emotional intelligence beyond anything expected of his years or shown by his peers.
"That's the secret. It's worth keeping it so you can watch that excitement. Share that happiness. Experience that wonder."
He nodded. "OK, now I get it."
Our son turned to me with a smile. "Do I get a stocking from Santa next year though?"
"Of course," I answered. "My Mummy still gave me a stocking when I was in my 30's. And I'll do the same for the two of you as long as I'm able."
Happy in our shared knowledge we went down to breakfast.