Bill Linnane: 'The fact we don't spend enough time together drives us to spend more on toys'
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I know this because everyone around me is sick, I can't remember the last time I sat down to eat, my bank account is overdrawn by €400, and I almost got knocked down in a shopping centre car park. You know - Christmas.
In previous years, we did our festive shopping online. So convenient! So brilliant! So foolish! Apart from the usual foibles of online shopping - clothes that don't fit, electronics that don't work, and the fact that nothing will ever get returned as it is too much hassle - we just ended up with too much stuff.
We did our shopping independent of each other, meaning there was a constant stream of packages arriving and then being hidden from sight, with little consultation about who was buying what. The end result was an attic that seemed to contain 90pc of the annual output of Santa's workshop, or China as it is also known. In the end, they simply got too much, and it all just became white noise.
This year, we opted instead for a more reasoned, measured approach, which means we had an insane trolley dash around a toy store, like Jingle All The Way but with more swearing. Toy stores at this time of year are like a stress test of the human mind - parking is a game of bumper cars, the sentient trolleys are like something out of a Stephen King novel, and the poor shoppers all have that slightly glazed look in their eyes of people who are in over their heads. The pressure is on - this is your chance to make Christmas morning like it is in the movies, full of wonder and magic, and everything has to be perfect or your children will hate you forever.
So the shopping trip is about as enjoyable as the Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter - get the right game for the right console and feel that incredible gush of relief. Get the wrong one, kablammo, a 44 calibre shame capsule straight to the heart.
But really, the kids don't care all that much about what they get, because they understand that it's just stuff. Our 10-year-old still talks about a Lego X-wing he got one year, not because he loved playing with it, but because I spent five hours sitting on the floor building it with him. Our four children are all the same - the movies they enjoy the most are the ones we watch as a family, the best foods are the ones we eat together, and the best toys are the ones we build together.
Conversely, it is the fact we don't spend enough time together that drives us to spend more than we should. I work more to buy more when I should work less and spend more time with them.
I look back now and think of all the Christmases I spent in my parents' home, hiding from family in front of the TV, desperately trying to avoid the cinematic iceberg that is Titanic, despite it being so staggered that Celine Dion's heart goes on and on across every channel, all week, to the point that you are actually rooting for the ocean.
Back then, I started to understand why Superman became unwell when he was around bits of his home planet for too long: once you leave home, it is weird and unnatural to return, even for brief periods. But now my parents are gone and I'm back here, and it's not the toys I remember, but them. So this year, we scaled back on the material goods and vowed to spend less time working, and more time sitting on a floor with a numb arse, assembling a toy for hours on end, trying to find which bit goes where, with a little helper by your side.