I have this neighbour who looks after children and is, you might say, old school. From November on, whenever the children under her care start acting up, she makes bogus phonecalls to Santa.
"Hello, is that Santa? This is Mrs O'Loughlin. I'm just ringing to say that there's no need to come to Ashfield Drive at all this year. No, don't bother.
"Yes I know there are children here alright, but there are no good children, unfortunately. So you can save yourself the trip. Yes . . . maybe next year, I'll let you know. Not at all Santa, you're very welcome. Bye now."
Eventually, the stricken children come out of shock and beg her to call Santa and take it all back, and she does. But after that, all she has to do is dig her phone out of her apron pocket and wave it threateningly at them. There's not a tantrum thrown nor a Brussel sprout uneaten in that house for the six weeks leading up to Christmas.
Raise your hand if, as a parent, you've ever done any of the following. Pretended to be asleep when the baby cried. Made outlandish, unkeepable promises just to get them to eat. Avoided difficult questions by referring the child to the absent parent. Told them it was way past their bedtime when really it was only 5.30pm. Told them that the asparagus on their plate was, in fact, a new kind of eco-chip that McDonald's were bringing out and that Ronald McDonald had asked you personally if your children could be the first in the entire world to test it out. Why deny it? Lying and parenting go hand in hand.
Okay, half the time you lie to them to protect them from the harsh realities. So when you reverse over the cat in the driveway and the kids find it unmoving on the gravel, you have to do a Monty Python on it and tell them it's just resting. Then after you've buried it in a shallow grave down behind the house -- in the dark, with a torch, in the rain, after they've gone to bed -- you have to make up some story about it going off to live on a farm somewhere.
The truth is impossible here. First of all, it's just too tragic that a fluffy little cat could die, and second of all, they knew I couldn't stand the stupid effin thing and it would be easy enough to conclude that I meant to kill it, which I didn't, right? Not even subconsciously.
And when you're not trying to protect them, you're trying to keep them alive. Mike, who is four, hates chicken, but loves Fuzzy Wuzzies, which he thinks are made from hedgehog. They are, of course, chicken in breadcrumbs, but who loses from this lie? Most weeks, hedgehog is the only protein we can get into him.
Annie, who's six, thinks she only likes Parmesan cheese, but Parmesan is pricey, so I just grate some cheddar and she knows no better.
Poor Annie. She was our first born, and so took the full brunt of our neuroticism. She didn't get within an ass's roar of a sweet until she was nearly four.
Relations who tried to slip her a jelly snake didn't get asked back, while we'd be happily stuffing our faces with everything from Ferrero Rocher to Wham bars.
"What's that?" she'd ask.
"Oh broccoli," we'd say, sucking on sticky fingers . . . By contrast, our youngest, Jim, only has to snarl and point at the biscuits to get a handful thrown at him.
It's when they hit the Endless Why stage that they can really test your commitment to the truth. Many's the time I have been tempted to tell the inquisitive child to give it a rest, in case the Why Monster gets them. Why is it hot? Why is it cold? Annie, in the middle of town once, became so overwhelmed with the noise and variety and the impossibility of everything that she just stood on the footpath and roared: "Why is it here?"
It's a fair question, and if she wasn't five, I'd have responded in the only sane way you can to this sensual overload, which is to go for a pint. Instead, we got ice cream, which was almost as good.