Normally The Boy hates having his photo taken. If I turn on the iPad there are hundreds of "selfies" there, photos he's taken of himself, each following the other in one spontaneous 7 minute frenzy. But taken by other people, there aren't many. It's difficult to get him to pose as he hasn't quite distinguished the difference between "smile, please" and "grimace". Each posed photo looks like he's being held down against his will and just off-camera someone's giving him a Chinese burn. The photos when he doesn't know it's coming, taken off-guard and without his knowledge, they're the photos to cherish, the ones that manage to capture the very essence of him.
Then, two years ago, I was asked to be Santa in a grotto for a children's party. I agreed. Like most immature men of advancing years I had a costume at the ready and a body that had been in training for such a momentous occasion. And then it dawned on me... I realised The Boy would have to come with me.
I sat him down and explained that Father Christmas had asked us to do him a favour. The Big Man couldn't make it to the party himself as he was so busy getting ready, and could we help him out. I would be Father Christmas, and he'd asked The Boy to be an Elf. He happily agreed. I had visions of us becoming the new festive version of Stavros Flatley - everyone would talk for years to come about the incredible father-son combo taking the grotto world by storm...
At first the Elf costume was of course too itchy and the pointy ears I purchased were never going to happen. Nor the red, rosy cheeks... But after some cajoling and with "normal" clothes underneath, the Elf was almost dressed for the occasion.
I'll be honest, I hadn't really thought the whole thing through. I imagined it would just be Santa sitting in his big chair while at his feet sat his dough-eyed Elf looking up at him with wide-eyed wonderment, passing presents to the delightful children who wandered in.
Hurdle number one once we arrived was trying to remind The Boy not to call me Daddy. "It's your name", he said. I reminded him that I was meant to be Santa and he was meant to be an Elf. He nodded, said "I know", and then called me Daddy every time he spoke to me. I just told all the bewildered looking children and parents that filed in that "I was like a father" to the Elves in the Workshop...
And so began one of the strangest 90 minutes of my life. The Boy loved every bit of it. In between banging presents on the floor and eating mince pies, it turned out he had quite a lot to say to the children who came to visit Santa that day. As gentle Christmas music filled the newly formed Grotto, I gave a performance Sir John Gielgud would have been proud of. As I talked wistfully about magic dust and children sleeping soundly as the sleigh bells tinkled into the cold December night, the Elf would interject continuously.
"BE GOOD OR YOU WON'T GET ANYTHING", he barked at them, "WILL THEY DADDY?"
As I asked each child what they wanted for Christmas, the Elf would once again pass his opinion.
"I'VE GOT THAT".
"YOU CAN'T WATCH THAT. IT'S GOT SWEARING IN."
Then came the lovely photograph with Father Christmas, a memory to cherish for years to come. And as each parent went to capture the moment, with perfect timing a wild-eyed grimacing Elf would suddenly leap up filling the screen where their loved one was meant to be.
Finally as the child went to leave, I asked the Elf to pass me a small wrapped present for them to take away. Each time he just threw the present in the general direction of the door for them to collect on their way out.
"IT'S A SELECTION BOX... THEY'RE ALL THE SAME"
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.