Featured

Introducing… the Adventure Squad!

It’s always hard to find a way to start a premiere blog post, isn’t it? Do we say hello? Do we introduce ourselves through the medium of lyrical rap? Do we introduce ourselves at all and go all Banksy-esque instead? It’s difficult to know where to begin, so I guess I’ll just start with… welcome! Or, as we’d say in Wales – croeso! We are the Adventure Squad, and this is our brand new blog!

The Adventure Squad, you say? Who the heck are they? Well, we’re a family unit consisting of Dadi (me, aka Lee – the wordsmith, obsessive tea drinker, nesty-haired one), Dada (Tom – the brains, brawn and general creative extraordinaire), and our little one (Pumpkin – explosive pooper, cheeky grinner and all-around dad manipulator). We were brought together through adoption, and we decided to create this blog to document our journey as fathers as we go about adventuring, exploring, and trying to teach Pumpkin to be curious about and look after the world he lives in. We don’t claim to have any merit in the area of parenthood… on the contrary, we’re finding our feet as we go along!

So let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Before there was an Adventure Squad, before there was a Pumpkin, before Dadi and Dada had even met. How was it that this family came to be? Well, let’s rewind all the way back to September 2012, not long before everybody started getting a bit shifty about the approaching apocalypse (I would say HA! to the Mayans for getting it so wrong, but then 2020 happened… so maybe they just got their calculations a bit mixed up?). We were both fresh-faced youths breezing through our first week of Freshers at University, drunk on life and love… and possibly a few Sambucas, but I don’t see how that’s relevant. Moving on. We met at a club – and not a gay one, either! I caught a wisp of flaming hair through the kaleidoscopic techno lights, a booty that was all too good at gyrating to the music – and then our eyes met.

Okay, so perhaps it didn’t happen quite as elegantly as that. There may have been a bit of stumbling over to one another, a bit of flirty giggling, but I like dramatic overwriting, okay?!

Anyway, Tom would delight in informing you that I already knew who he was because I’d seen him online beforehand, yadda yadda yadda… which is true, yes… and the word ‘stalker’ may have been used by some people when relaying this story, however I just don’t think these accusations would hold in a court of law, so I think it’s best to just drop it. Moving on. Again.

So that night saw the beginning of our relationship. I know it sounds cheesy, but we did know fairly early on that we loved each other – and we both wanted to be parents, which was a quality that we both valued in one another. We got engaged, finished Uni together, moved back to my hometown, got ‘real’ jobs and started saving up for a house. In the meantime, we got our first furbaby, who you will see pictured below. This is Buzz. He’s all teeth and no substance, I tell you, but we love him.

Fast-forward a year and we had our second furbaby, Beans – lovely boy, dumb as hell – and had moved into our first bought home together. A tiny box-like thing, but it was ours. And still is, to this day.

We’d often spoken about starting a family of the years, but it was after we got married in March 2018 that we decided to begin our journey. Adoption was always the first option for us. Tom’s career in a Pupil Referral Unit, offering therapeutic interventions to children from challenging upbringings, had made us really want to offer a safe, loving and secure home to a child who may not necessarily have had a good start to life. We did a lot of research, contacted our local authority’s adoption agency, and began our journey officially in the summer of 2018.

Pumpkin, our future son, didn’t even exist at this point – and yet he was all we could think about. With every training course, through every social worker visit, with every blog post and book that we studied, the thought of him consumed us. We didn’t know who or where he was, and yet we already loved him, in a very strange way.

In December 2018, we passed adoption panel. In April 2019, we were brought the profile of a little baby who’d had a bit of a bumpy start. Something just clicked, almost instantly. We’re a spiritual pair who believe wholeheartedly in fate, and it was like the universe was whispering encouraging words to us. This was our son. We had to be his dads. There was a lot of going back and forth, a lot of nail-biting, a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights as we fought to become this tiny human being’s parents, but eventually, in October 2019, we were officially matched with him.

We were good to go. We’d already decorated his bedroom, briefed the dogs that there was a new addition coming (they took it very well) and baby-proofed the house. Then, in November 2019 we began the introduction process, and our world changed completely – in the most magical way.

That brings us to now. Ten months after Pumpkin came to us. We’ve been on so many adventures together as a family, jumped in so many puddles, paddled on so many different beaches, climbed up so many rolling hills and mountains, that we just wanted to create a space where we could talk about our adventures. Not just the wild, outdoorsy type… but also the sometimes more chaotic, bewildering parenting adventures, too.

So that’s us. The Adventure Squad. Come and join us on our journey.

Until next time!

My Shiny Charizard Card

Do you remember how impossibly long the promise of a six-week summer felt when you were eight? It always felt like September was an entire lifetime away, like it would never actually arrive and you’d just blissfully dawdle through the summery days forever and ever. Ah, eight was a good age. Much better than six, when things are a bit scarier and you still have trouble controlling your bladder sometimes. No? Was that just me? Being eight was all silly playground politics and Pokémon cards, wasn’t it? Still gutted I never got my shiny Charizard, to be completely honest with you.

And that’s sort of how it felt when I was about to embark on my eight-month stretch of adoption leave. The world was quickly falling apart. People were quivering inside their forts made of toilet roll, and hand sanitiser had a street value equal to some of the dodgier substances (or a shiny Charizard, for that matter – nearly £6K for a first edition, would you believe?!). But I was about to disappear into a bubble with my newly-extended family, and that was all that mattered.

It felt like an endless stretch of time. I’ll be off forever, I thought to myself. I need never open my laptop again, or write those cursed words, I hope this email finds you well. Because even when an email doesn’t find you well, you still have to pretend, don’t you?

Anyway, I digress. As always.

What I’m saying is that it felt like an idyllic limbo that would never end.

But it has ended. Tomorrow, I go back to the day job. It’s the end of the scariest and simultaneously most beautiful year of my life, and now the rest of our lives can begin. Real Life has crept up on me more sneakily than the velociraptors do during the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park. Did you know that Real Life can open doors?! No matter how hard you try and barricade it out?

So, yes. The last six weeks or so – about the length of the summer holidays, ironically – have flown by so quickly that I barely had time to prepare myself. I’m lucky enough to have a job that I enjoy, which makes the return that much easier. And it will be nice to have conversations with other grown-ups that don’t revolve around poo consistency (“He had a lovely sweetcorn poo earlier after his corn on the cob last night,” I will relay to my husband at the end of the day. Seriously, sometimes you open up his nappy and there’s just a perfectly preserved corn on the cob sitting there). Again, with the poo humour! See, I really do need some adult conversation!

It will be nice to remember that I am not just a Parent. I am a Human Being with Other Responsibilities and Interests, and I’m about to rediscover that.

But, at the same time, I can’t help but be sad that this experience is over. It’s been such a privilege and an honour raising this little boy, this tiny human who didn’t have the best start in life. Even when he’s pushing my buttons – which he does a lot (imagine my patience is a keyboard… well, sometimes he just sits on it. And shits. And I’m not talking a sweetcorn poo, either). Even when he’s clinging to me more effectively than cling film, which we all know is a material that’s annoyingly efficient at its job (you could be trying to wrap a sandwich, and your nan could walk past and get mummified).

Even on the bad days, when there’s a lot of kicking and screaming – as I type this, he’s flinging a monster truck across the room in frustration – it is still the best job I have ever had. Being one of his two dads is the most rewarding thing I will ever do. He has my heart, forever and always, and I will always look back at this embryonic time as a family with happy tears in my eyes. We’ve grown together. Laughed together. Cried together. We’ve come to love each other more than I can put into words, and I’m supposed to be a writer so that’s a bit embarrassing, really.

But now it’s time to finish this chapter and get started on the next. There are gonna be challenges that no amount of adoption preparation courses or reading can prepare us for. Nursery. School. Making friends. Finding himself. Holidays. Happy tears. Sad tears. Angry tears. Things to learn. Traumas to work through. Stories to tell and listen to. Adventures to embark upon.

And I’m just so grateful to have been given this last year. It has been a true gift. But now, it is time for it to end. Life is unfurling before is, full of hidden boxes for us to find and open. Some of them will have lovely, sparkly things inside them. Butterflies that fly out and land in our hair. Some of them will be dark, full of shadows and mould. Some will be disappointing. We’ll pick it up, rattle it, and wonder at what amazing thing sits inside, only to open it and find something a bit rubbish, like a half-eaten box of chocolates. And there will be other boxes that look dodgy from the outside. Suspicious. But we’ll open them, and sunshine will emerge.

So that’s what life is going to be from now on. Approaching and opening secret boxes that we will have no idea what they contain. It’s gonna be like being eight years old again and opening a fresh packet of Pokémon cards and not knowing what’s inside.

Except, I kinda do know, when it comes to the rest of our lives together. Because I’ve already got that shiny Charizard card. I’ve got hundreds of them. Every day that I’m this little boy’s dad, I acquire another one. My eight-year-old self would be rich with Charizards. But now twenty years later, I am rich with something else.

Love.

Until next time.

The Art of Letting Go

Just a quick disclaimer: this is not, as the title may lead you to believe, a post about flatulence. It is a post about lots of things, but, alas, bottom burps is not one of them (although they are mentioned because poop humour is always funny).

The first year of parenting has been such a dreamy time for us. We’ve been floating around in a little bubble of our own making, just us dads and our pumpkin, blissfully ignoring the rapidly unravelling world outside. No day job, no responsibilities other than keeping myself and my child alive and happy.

It’s like floating down a warm, lazy lagoon in a little dinghy together. So peaceful and serene – except for the moments when it gets a bit choppy, like when your child is having a bit of a meltdown or does a ginormous dump in his nappy minutes before you’re due to leave the house. You’re equipped with an oar so you can wade around all those jagged parenting rocks, but apart from that… it’s bliss. You’ve got time, time, endless time…

And then, just like that, the time runs out and the world comes a-knocking. It’s racing towards you with a really sharp needle, ready to burst that bubble you blew all those months ago. Get your arses out here. It’s time for you and your child to reintegrate into society. Get some clothes on and put those pyjamas in the laundry bin; you’ve been wearing them for nine days straight, you absolute minger. And for goodness sake, haven’t you ever heard of conditioner?!

But I don’t want to, I cry. I’ve enjoyed not doing my hair and not shaving for ages and not showering for ridiculously long periods of time (lol joke, I do still shower… occasionally – but it’s 2020 and nobody is going close to one another, so I shall forgive you if you are spending some time getting to know your own bodily musk). I’ve enjoyed having cuddles on command and reading storybooks and singing songs and going for walks and not really knowing what day of the week it is.

Cry me a river, says the world (I imagine her to be some sort of Kim Woodburn figure, giving me a stern look over her spectacles and brandishing her feather duster at me like a weapon of mass destruction). C’mon, get up. It’s time for the little one to start nursery.

Nursery? Did the world just say… nursery?! Cue that horrible sicky feeling like lots of worms sliding about in your belly. I’m not ready for nursery to start!

No, says the world, but your child is.

And that, my friends, is one of the most anxiety-inducing realisations you can probably have as a parent. In the weeks leading up to our little one starting his nursery taster sessions, ready to build his confidence before I go back to work, I’ve had anxiety diaorrhea. I don’t mean I’ve had diaorrhea caused by anxiety… I mean I’ve had a profuse amount of anxiety cooped up inside of me just waiting to burst forth and-

Alright, alright, that worked a lot better in my head, okay?

The long and short of it is that I wasn’t ready. What if he broke his heart on his first day? What if he broke his heart every day? What if the other kids were mean to him – or he to them? What if, a few days in, I received a phone call from the nursery staff to say that our child is singlehandedly responsible for burning down the whole school building, and it’s recommended that he find some other educational establishment to attend?

I know it sounds like I’m being a tad dramatic with that last one, but you haven’t met our child. He has a fascination with pyrotechnics and practically tried to eat a jumbo sparkler on bonfire night the other day like it was a nice mango Solero. He could have a bright (har-har, fire pun) future as a circus performer.

Or what if, weighing down the other side of this dizzying anxiety see-saw, he ran off without a second glance, his eyes as dry as a bowl of Weetabix without a drop of milk? What if it turns out he didn’t need us all along and now he finally feels free, released from the parental shackles that his two dads have woven around him?

So, yeah. These are the thoughts that were running through my mind in the build-up to last week.

But then Monday came along, and… it went fine. More than fine – it went brilliantly. He was whisked out of my arms and waved me a brisk goodbye, and that was it. I think a swift goodbye was probably for the best. I went away for an hour, my phone practically glued to my hand, and received a photo update from the nursery staff within twenty minutes that showed him drinking milk and having a look around.

The relief was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.

When I picked him up, after what was probably the longest hour of my life, the nursery staff told me that he was an absolute pleasure, and that they’d actually all offered to babysit for us whenever we want. For all I know this is something they say to every parent to put them at ease, but it certainly worked on me!

So the week went on, and Pumpkin spent three short morning at nursery in total. Every day, I wondered if it was going to be the day that things changed, where he realised: damn, these two are serious… they’re actually gonna keep leaving me here with these people.

And every day, he surprised us. He brought his first paintings home for the fridge (they were weirdly good, so either out kid is actually an artistic child prodigy or he had some grown-up help; we’re choosing to believe the former for now), he explored, he ate lots of toast and apples… he enjoyed himself.

And it just made me realise how amazing our kid is. I know everybody thinks their kid is amazing, but hear me out: our kid came to us with a complex medical history, having not had the best start in life, and with not a very good forecast for his developmental future. We were told he might not walk, talk or see, and then we joyously watched as he learned to walk, outgrew his need to wear glasses, and now is now – god help us – starting to find his voice.

So it just goes to show that these kids, our kids who come from chaotic backgrounds – they can do anything. They are more resilient and confident than we believe them to be. They can go on to do amazing things, as long as they’re given the opportunity to thrive. They just need cheerleaders.

And believe me. His dads are the two biggest cheerleaders around. Somebody fetch me some pom-poms and teach me some choreography that my tragically unmelodic hips can handle. I truly do pray to the forest gods that I can be a composed and gracious parent at his first sports day, because the way it’s going I’m going to make a right tit out of myself and be the subject of many eye-rolls. At least his other dad will be really good in the parents’ race whilst I’m being escorted off school premises.

So, it’s been a successful first week and we’re so infinitely proud of our little one. And you know what? He may have gone readily into nursery, but the best part was picking him up, when he ran across the room and into my arms with the most delighted smile.

He’s still our little baby, and he always will be.

Until next time,

Lee

Parenting with Pride

There’s a lot of scary words flying around at the moment, isn’t there? If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard the word ‘unprecedented’ this year, I’d be richer than that Jeff Whatshisname what owns that Amazon thing. And there are plenty of others, too… pandemic, child poverty – I know, there’s a lot of Ps in there, eh?

Well, I think maybe it’s about time we add a positive one into the mix – although, dare I say it, the word positive itself has been turned on its head this year, hasn’t it? Talk about an oxymoron, eh? And yes, I absolutely did have to google what ‘oxymoron’ meant to make sure I was using it properly. And yes, I have an English degree and what of it?

Anyway, I digress. The word I’m gonna talk about today is something that I think has been a bit dismissed this year, with all the unprecedenting that 2020 is dumping upon us like so much dung.

The word is pride. In particular, parenting with pride. I know, there’s more Ps in this blog post than in that Peter Piper tongue twister. Him and his pesky pickled peppers.

As you probably know, this has been our first year as parents. And in a way, quarantine has been a gift to us. It has given us the time needed to lock ourselves away in a little bubble and knit together as a family. Now we’re comfortably woven into one, like the cosy woolly jumpers that we’re all dusting off at this time of year.

But there are certain things that we’ve not had a lot of – that nobody has had a lot of, as a matter of fact – and one of those is social interaction. And when you’re somebody who isn’t heterosexual, sometimes social interaction can be a bit like an obstacle course. You don’t just come out of the closet one time, do you? You come out again and again and again, just to different people. Honestly, somebody get some WD-40 because the hinges of all our closet doors are getting squeaky. No lubricant jokes, please and thank you.

And without the baby groups and the child parties that we should have been attending this year, I completely forgot – now that I’m a same-sex parent – that I’m going to be coming out a whole lot more.

The other day, for example, Pumpkin and I were out on a walk, taking full advantage of the fact that lockdown restrictions had eased (ah, those were the days, eh?) and we were allowed to go places again. So, we went for a walk around a local reservoir. The wind danced through our hair, the sun glinted off Pumpkin’s golden curls like spun sugar, and there were dog-walkers galore – including, but not limited to, two old ladies who seemed infinitely more fit than I am (I was practically wheezing by this point).

Few are resistant to the charms of a toddler who waddles like a penguin and speaks gibberish over his shoulder in a squeaky voice at you because he’s clearly very busy and has places to be, and these two old ladies were no different. They were immediately besotted with Pumpkin and kicked up a conversation with me in Welsh.

“Does his mammy speak Welsh?” one of them asked.

And in the moment that followed, about a million thoughts flashed through my mind. Should I lie, just to avoid any awkwardness? Should I pretend I was married to a woman? Should I reach down, scoop leaves into their faces and vanish in a cloud of rainbow fairy dust? Alright, maybe the last one is a bit dramatic, but I’ve never got the chance to do that before and I’m waiting for the right moment.

I mean, you just never know. We live in small-town Wales, which isn’t the most diverse of places. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the film Madagascar, but there’s an old lady in that who beats up a lion with all the might and agility of Xena the Warrior Princess and I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of an opened can of old lady whoop-ass. There were two of them, after all, and only one of me. I already told you they were more fit than me, remember?

But then I thought about Pumpkin, and how I never ever wanted him to recognise even the faintest glimmer of shame or embarrassment from his dads at being gay. I didn’t want him to ever see us hesitate or be anything other than our complete authentic selves.

So, I said: “Oh, he’s actually got two dads, but yes, his other dad speaks Welsh, too.”

And do you know what? The old ladies didn’t even wince or pause or anything. The world continued to turn on its axis. The whoop-ass remained firmly in the can, waiting to be unleashed on some other poor unsuspecting victim. They just carried on talking to me about Welsh schools and whatnot, and it was a completely painless, actually-quite-pleasant experience.

I know what a lot of people will be thinking: times have changed. And yes, times have changed. But there is still a lot of work to do. It is still illegal to be gay in over 70 countries across the world and punishable by death in 11. The western world is experiencing a period of political division that means a lot of marginalised communities are fearing for their safety. So yeah, there are still moments where you hesitate and think, what if?

It’s really important to us as dads that we are proud of who we are, so that we may instil the same pride in Pumpkin, no matter who he turns out to be. And that sort of teaching begins with ourselves. Do you know what? We are so blimmin’ proud to be who we are, and we can’t wait to take Pumpkin to his first Pride event one day in the hopeful future, when all of this madness is behind us and words like unprecedented and pandemic have faded into distant memory.

I can’t wait for that day. I can’t wait to proudly hold his little hand and show him that there are a million ways to love, a million ways for a family to be created, and all of those ways are the right way as long as they’re born from love.

Until then, we’re going to hold our heads up high in the little day-to-day moments.

Thanks for reading, everybody. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Support local businesses this winter. Remember – be proud as hell and ask yourself, what would Lizzo do?

Disclaimer: the letter P was used 99 times in this blog post. Do with this information what you will.

Lee

Rain – Shantay, You Stay!

Adulthood has a rather sombre habit of dulling life’s shine sometimes, don’t you think? Well, let’s be honest, a LOT of the time. There are so many things which seem magical as a child that become dull, miserable and tiresome the older you get. Pet hamsters (so full of zoological possibility when you’re a child), the post (we were all waiting for that Hogwarts letter, weren’t we?), Christmas (suddenly Santa doesn’t exist anymore and you ARE Santa), to name but a few…

But let’s not forget the main victim that has the joy squeezed out of it by adulthood’s steely grip: THE WEATHER. No child is born hating the rain. When you’re a tiny person, a rainy day doesn’t equate to misery and staying in – it means you get to don your wellies and go find some puddles to splash in. Who cares about mud?! Oh, wait, that’s right, the grown-ups do. Mud means more washing up, doesn’t it? Society has drilled it into us that rainy weather is the ultimate gloom-generator – probably because it means people stay in and don’t spend money. Rain doesn’t complement our consumerist society very well, does it? After all, without the sun, you won’t get wrinkles, and then you’re not going to buy that anti-wrinkle cream, are you?! Anyway, that’s a whooooole other blog post.

Even before we became parents, we were always a bit mystified by this whole idea that grey, wet, foggy or windy weather means you can’t really go anywhere and have an adventure. It just didn’t make sense to us! If anything, it adds to the sense of wilderness. Plus, we’re in the UK, where it rains pretty much every day… and life is too short to wait for the sun to come out, don’t you think?

So we were determined when we became parents that we would celebrate the weather with our little one, whatever it happens to be like. Rain? That means lots of puddles to splash in. Wind? Makes for a dramatic outdoor selfie, like a Mariah Carey music video. Fog? Perfect for getting your spooky walk fix. In fact, as a fair-skinned family with one resident ginger, we would probably list heat as our least favourite weather. Things get sweaty (sometimes, in the summer, I even find my knees sweating – like, who even knew that knees could sweat?!), the brightness makes you squint, and wasps try to steal your chips (we’re a bug-loving family, but this love absolutely does NOT extend to those abhorrent flying stingy nettles. Get away from my chips).

You can imagine our delight, then, when we found out that our little one LOVES wet weather. He is always happiest when stomping through a puddle in his wellies. And he doesn’t particularly enjoy putting shoes on (understatement of the century – he hates it), but he will actually seek out his wellies and bring them over to us. There have been so many incidents where he’s fallen face first into a puddle and, instead of crying, burst into joyous laughter. He was definitely a mud-loving piglet in his past life (oh, look, another endearing term beginning with P that we can call him by!).

The only weather we haven’t experienced with him yet is our very favourite – snow. Even that can sometimes lose its appeal to some adults, but to us it’s the most magical weather of all. We live on the coast where the salty sea air means we don’t get snow very often, but we go on annual snow hunting trips every winter and absolutely can’t wait to take Pumpkin with us this year. We just know he’s going to love it. We’ll have him perfecting his snowball throwing technique by the time he starts school (although let’s hope he models his throwing after his sporty dad and not me).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you really stop and think about these things, there’s absolutely no reason to despise the rain. It nourishes the earth. It’s why our planet is so green. It’s life-giving stuff. So what if you get a little wet? Getting home and changing into warm, dry clothes will feel even better for it.

I’m not saying you also need to go out and buy a hamster. I’m not saying you need to tear into those bill envelopes with glee. What I’m saying is that sometimes, us grown-ups can afford to learn a lesson or two from our little humans. There is so much magic to be found in the little things, in the rainy days, and you don’t even have to look very hard to find it. So, go and get your wellies – and an umbrella, if you must – and go find the muddiest country lane you possibly can.

Once you come to terms with the fact that you’re going to get wet, you’ll enjoy it. I promise.

Until next time.