Liz Kearney: 'The worst kind of family planning'
Parents, I've noticed since becoming one myself, tend to divide quite neatly into two subsections. On the one hand, you have the Advance Planning Brigade, who had their kids down for secondary school the moment they'd binned the positive pregnancy test, have their Connemara cottage rental pre-booked every August 'til 2022, and began their Christmas preparations in earnest on July 1. And then there are the rest of us, the Chronically Disorganised, who find it hard to plan past mid-afternoon and can never remember if it's PE day or not.
Being in this bracket is difficult at the best of times - you can never organise anything nice last-minute because everyone else has beaten you to it - but it's a particular handicap at Christmas, the peak Advance Planning territory.
Panto tickets? The Advance Planners nabbed them before Halloween. Santa visit? Booked way back in September. That must-have gift that all the kids are desperate for this year? Secured online in August, of course. Far too risky otherwise!
So it was with an icy shiver that I remembered this week that I had forgotten to book any Santa visit for the kids this year.
An increasingly desperate search for tickets online proved that things were just as I suspected: even though it's only mid-November, every vaguely family-friendly slot within a 100km radius is booked solid between now and Christmas Eve.
Unless you feel like seeing Santa at 9pm in a windswept cabin somewhere off the M50, or pulling the kids out of school to chance an 11am visit on a Tuesday, it is now officially too late to do anything about it.
You might as well just cancel Christmas and resign yourself to a long, wintry December reflecting on why you are a terrible parent and how your poor, neglected children will suffer as a direct consequence of your failure to be an Advance Planner.
It didn't used to be like this. When we were kids, parents just rocked up at the last minute to the local shopping centre, paid the 50p admission to Santa's magic grotto, and everyone left with a plastic toy and a bag of Tayto in hand, delighted with themselves.
No joyless military-style planning required, just pure festive fun.
Those days of spontaneity are long gone, because Advance Planners are slowly but surely taking over the world.
The more of them there are, the more like them you have to be.
If everyone else is already thinking about where they'll have Christmas Eve lunch in 2019, then you better be thinking as well, or risk being left out in the cold once again, with only your equally disorganised husband and your poor, deprived children for company.
You can give a child a piano - but you can't make Elton
I watched the John Lewis Christmas ad, in which a young Elton John gets his first piano at age five and embarks on a love affair with the ivories, with a sigh.
I don't consider myself a terribly ambitious parent - I don't mind if my kids never learn how to code, or if they're rubbish at sport and terrible at foreign languages - but I would dearly love them to be able to play a musical instrument, for the sheer unadulterated pleasure it would bring them in the future.
So, at great expense, we transported the old family piano around to our house, paid the piano tuner a fortune to fix it up, but all to no avail. Most days I cajole the reluctant kids hopefully towards the piano.
"Will we play 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'?" I ask brightly, guiding their little fingers towards the keyboard. They bang the notes a few times before racing off to the safety of their beloved dinosaurs and toy trucks.
As it turns out, you can drag a kid to a piano, but you can't make them Elton John. If only.