I know that my family are sometimes behind me, sometimes beside me and other times ahead of me. What I can be sure of is that they are with me every step of the way.

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Parenting: making it up as you go….

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Parenting’s a funny thing. Never before have I experienced anything that’s such a roller coaster of emotions.  Seriously!

I’ve been a daddy for over six years now. In that time I’ve felt a complete catalogue of emotions; fear, love, joy, pain, anger, hurt, laughter, pride, embarrassment, amazement, foolishness…. lots of foolishness. The list really is endless. What keeps me sane though, apart from the kisses and the cuddles and the giggles from our three beautiful boys of course,  is the fact that we are not alone. It’s not only us who’s trying to look as graceful as possible , when in reality we’re a stumbling along blindly.

When we first became parents we felt a self imposed need to prove we could do it. As gay dad’s, and as individuals,  we wanted to show that we could do it as well as the next person. We could raise happy, healthy, contented children.

And that’s kind of what we’re doing. Just not without a few blips and a crisis or two along the way!

What I’ve come to realise however.  Is that It doesn’t matter. Gay, straight, black, blue, male, female, single or not. None of us can get it right all of the time. Nor should we.

Parenting is a messy business. Getting things wrong is a part of life; good parenting is picking things up and letting yourself and your children learn from the experience.  Great parenting is doing this when your covered in vomit and poo and still finding the ability to laugh along with your child at the whole thing…..when all you really want to do is cry into a large glass of red!

In preparation for being parents we read all the books in the world offering tips and routines on raising children. We sought advice from anyone and anywhere we could….all of which is stored in our parenting tool box to use along the way. But the truth is; no one has all the answers. Though some may think they do.

The reality is we’re all just making it up as we go along.  That’s ok though. Really it is. If you’ve been feeling the same, nows the time to take a deep breath and tell yourself “it’s ok if I cock up.” It doesn’t make you a bad person. It certainly doesn’t make you a bad parent. Quite the opposite.

We’re all trying our best and at the end of the day that’s what really matters.  I think what make truly deserving and successful parents are the one that are willing to try. And keep trying even when the going gets tough and it feels like you’re getting it wrong.

At the end of the day there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. It’s a messy, unpredictable chaos that pitches you from highs to lows in the beat of a heart.

But it’s SO worth it don’t you think? XxX

A father’s struggle: mystery illness

Now that it’s published on gayswithkids.com I can share my latest article. For the published article (and to see the video) please visit https://gayswithkids.com/frightening-symptoms-little-sons-mysterious-disease/ It all started last summer. We’d had a perfect family summer holiday in Hunstanton, Norfolk. A beach from my childhood, a trip down memory lane and a great catch up with my big sister Lorraine. Such a great holiday; little were we to know it would be a prelude to our son Louis getting ill. We got back home from holiday and a week or so later were seeing to our horses with all of our children; Wil (5), Louis (3) and Connor (2). Out of nowhere Louis started to fall over. He was giggling maniacally when he did it – so much so that I got cross with him thinking he was fooling around.  It really looked like he was just mucking about. His legs would buckle and spasm and he would fall to the floor. When he did manage to drag himself up he would stagger around like a drunkard before falling to the floor again, all the time smiling  It was only after a few sharp words and a near miss with some barbed wire and the water trough didn’t stop him that I started to worry. We picked him up time and time again, but he kept falling down. It just didn’t seem to bother him that much.  I took a video – just in case we needed to show it to anyone, it was so odd. Louis picked up a bit when we got home and after he’d had a bit of a sleep. When he got up he was still a bit wobbly and didn’t seem himself, but not wanting to worry unduly we decided to wait, watch and see.  Still worried I posted the video online to see if anyone had experienced anything similar.  Now when I look back at the video I’m cross that we didn’t do something sooner – it seems so much worse than I remember – we were just so undecided on what to do for the best. We had loads of responses to the clip. The most common thought was an inner ear condition. I wasn’t so sure. The next morning Louis was a bit better, but still wobbly and not quite right. I received a message from a friend who is a nurse. The friend had kindly shown the clip to a paediatric Dr who said to get Louis into hospital immediately.  I rang my husband Ivan in tears. Why hadn’t we taken him straight in? What if our delay had made things worse?  I was so scared. We took Louis straight to the emergency department without delay. The Dr there was clearly concerned and he was admitted straight away to the children’s ward for investigation. By this stage Louis couldn’t walk in a straight line. His speech was slurred and he was starting to drool. His right eye was wandering and his fine motor skill was off. We were terrified. We couldn’t lose him, but it felt like that was a very real possibility. The Dr’s explained that the wobbling that Louis was suffering from was called Ataxia and that it could be caused by a number of things. The most obvious being a brain tumour. Louis was rushed in for a brain scan while we waited nervously. Thankfully the results came back clear. The following week saw Louis having test after test. He had a lumbar puncture to check for meningitis and related conditions – all came back clear. He had numerous blood tests to check for various conditions and illnesses, all of which came back clear. They put Louis on IV antibiotics and anti-virals as a precaution. He has been left with an intense fear of needles. Slowly Louis’ symptoms stabilised. He wasn’t the same as he was before, but he wasn’t displaying the same dramatic symptoms that he was when he was admitted to hospital. His walking was steadier and his eye had settled. His speech continued to be slurred and his gross motor skills were off. It’s hard to put into words but, whilst he was still the Louis that we love beyond words, he was a shell of the boy he was prior to the incident that hospitalised him. I mean he played and giggled like he did before, but there was a delay and a vacancy that wasn’t there before.  We felt utterly helpless. As his parents we wanted to be able to kiss it all better as you would a scuffed knee. It just wasn’t possible. It felt like we were failing him. After a week or so of tests, all immediately life threatening conditions were ruled out. It was a big relief. But we still had no answers. However, they let him home. It was great to be back too. The family back together as it should be. We’d each kept a vigil at hospital. One with Louis and the other taking it in turns to spend time with our other kids who were staying with family. Having Louis home we managed to get back to some sort of normality. We had a long journey ahead of us however. All of the obvious things had been ruled out, but we still desperately needed to find out what was going on.  Louis was referred to a top paediatric neurologist who repeated all of the tests and carried out more. We now know plenty of what isn’t wrong with Louis and so are hopefully narrowing down what it might be. It’s coming up to 8 months of investigation now. At present we’re waiting for the results of various genetic tests that they are carrying out to see whether they reap any results.  As Louis is adopted it makes things a little bit more complicated. We have a rough family medical history, but it’s not as involved as we’d like it to be. Both birth dad and birth mum were asked for consent to check their medical records. His birth Dad has agreed,  but birth Mum hasn’t. The tests they are currently doing are for some pretty horrible things. Things we don’t really want to consider, but have to. Most of these are degenerative conditions that just seem so unfair. Some of them aren’t however. Sure, they’re still serious, but not deadly. Whatever happens we’ll get by day to day as we always do. Louis has clearly gone backward from where he was prior to the incident in the summer. He’s still our gorgeous little man with the cheeky smile, the glint in his eye and the oh so fiery temper! He goes to pre-school now and his vocabulary is expanding and he’s a bright little lad. Daily though we deal with his wobbles. Some days minor, others he can’t stand or walk more than a few feet without falling and he’s always banging into things. His speech is slurred and he drools on and off. It wrenches my heart when I see him struggling to stab his food with his fork due to his wavering fine motor skills, but we let him keep trying to maintain his independence. There are days where he’s so alert and bright that you can’t imagine there’s anything the matter. Then there are others where he’s dull and vacant, a shell.  There’s no obvious pattern to any of it. We’re lucky to have some great support – not just family and friends who were their usual amazing selves  –  but the medical professionals who have been really amazing. They’ve assessed him and supplied equipment to help. We’re in talks with the best way to transition him to school and the Dr’s continue to strive to find us a diagnosis. In the meantime we’ll stay strong as a family. We’ll deal with the ups and downs and carry on regardless, as is the only way.  We’ll continue to hope and pray for a positive outcome. He is and always will be our ginger ninja.  He is the lad who never lets it bother him and just picks himself up time and again. We’ve learnt a lot from him. We have learnt a lot about us. If we had any doubts, it’s proven that we are family. We are strong.  Together we’ll deal with whatever comes our way. We love you Louis. Wobbles and all. DSC_0119_20140603093132731

Work, rest or play?

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Following on from being published on the Gays with kids website, please find my latest blog on the decision to go back to work or not….

It came to the point recently when the adoption leave pay I was getting from the police came to an end. We were now broke!

The trouble was, I really wasn’t ready to go back to work. It wasn’t the role. I LOVE and miss being a police officer. I had just become too used to being a stay-at-home Dad.

My husband and I now have 3 children.  Wil (5), Louis (3) and Connor (2).  I adore the time I get to spend with them. The days are busy and full. Wil’s at school all day. Louis’ at pre-school for half a day and Connor and I get to spend the day together, when he’s not napping. I usually get to enjoy one to one time with each of them throughout the day and somehow manage to fit in the rest of the day to day bits and pieces. I’ve become a whizz at cramming 4 hours worth of cleaning and laundry into a 40 minute window. Don’t tell me any stay at home parent doesn’t have new and impressive time-management skills to add to their resume!

The problem was I didn’t want to change the routine and life I had become so accustomed to. Asides from this we really couldn’t see how we could manage with both of us working shifts – my husband’s still a full-time police officer and policing hours really don’t match the hours your average childcare provider offers.  Also, rightly or wrongly, we really didn’t want to put our kids into childcare just so I could go back to work. That’s not why we had them. Now I know it’s not for everyone, but I want to spend as much time being with my kids throughout the day as I can. I couldn’t bear the thought of breakfast clubs and after-school clubs and a quick hour’s play before bed – no disrespect to those parents for who that’s a choice or those for who it’s a necessity – it just wasn’t for me.  I wanted to do everything I could to avoid going back just yet.

We’ve scrimped and budgeted everything we can off our bills. We’ve developed money saving meal plans. We’ve accepted any offer of hand-me-down clothes that have come our way. We tried anything to save a few pounds. Sadly, it wasn’t enough. We quickly came to the sad realisation that we just couldn’t afford it! Sometimes reality sucks!

Shortly after, I managed to secure a job which is incredibly flexible, though completely un-police related. The new role means that I can take the hours that suit us, our life, and my husband’s hours and more importantly, the kids. I can earn enough to cover the shortfall we had and pay for a few extras. It’s also meant that we have avoided the need for childcare.

To my surprise, I love it! I love the change of scene, talking to adults, and the using my mind for something other than ABC. Sure I miss the kids – though luckily I still maintain the bulk of the time with them, and wouldn’t want it any other way. I also realise that me wanting to stay at home all the time was more about me than them.

And you know. The look of joy on their faces when I come home from work after not seeing them for a few hours, more than makes it worthwhile! I will return to the police, but right now I’m taking a career break. Now’s not about me. It’s about us. Us and our little family.

Link to original blog https://gayswithkids.com/back-work-stay-home/

Steve PONDER-SIGSTON (10/01/2015)

Country life: Breaking the prejudice

Old blog for new readers..

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So following on from the birth of our Son, Wil, who was the first baby ever to be born to a gay couple (us) by a UK surrogate (my wonderful sister), following a change in the law, we try to settle into family life (see previous blogs for full story). Instead a move is forthcoming and a challenge on our own prejudices…

We settled into parenthood with suprising ease,  reiterating to me that we could not only do this, but could actually be good at it. Wil really was a contented baby, and still is a contented child. He ate, played and slept well, and stuck to a rough 3 hour routine. This didn’t seem to change whether he was at home or out and about. Oh, and to the frustration of a few Mums we know, he slept through the night from about 6 weeks. We can’t really take…

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A bittersweet occasion: The boy is ours

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We had some amazing news yesterday. Our youngest son is now officially ours! Its been a long journey which has sometimes been tough, sometimes scary. But always worth it.  The courts awarded us the adoption order and we couldn’t be happier.

To be honest though, it’s felt like he’s ours forever – always a risky feeling to have when dealing with adoption – after all until that adoption order is granted, nothing is set in stone. But you can’t help what the heart feels and our hearts have loved him for a long time now. Thankfully, we can breathe a sigh of relief, boy three is ours. He’s stuck with us!

In a way though, it’s a bittersweet moment. I can’t even begin to pretend that there aren’t two people out there who are feeling an overwhelming loss at our gain. His birth parents.

You know, when we first entered into the adoption arena – this is our second time adopting – the one thing I never really considered was the feelings of the birth parents. I just always assumed that they wouldn’t deserve their child anymore. That they had given up that right through their choices and actions. I know that sounds harsh, but my role as a police officer has put me in contact with so many parents, and I use that term in the technical sense of the word, who just couldn’t give a shit about their kids. Parents who would always put themselves first. Their drugs first. Their drink first. Their chaotic lives first. Anything but their child first . The one thing that really needs them. Their children would be neglected or abused or both. Under-fed and under-clothed, their parents next fix more important than their kids next meal.

Then there’s the other, more common, yet almost equally undeserving group. The ones who had their kids as a meal ticket. A means to a bigger flat. A steady ‘income’. Once the kid had done the trick they become a nuisance, an obstacle. Their kids become exposed to a completely unsuitable lifestyle. Inevitably becoming part of the same cycle as they grow, unable to avoid it, it’s what they know. It makes me so mad. These people who couldn’t care less about their children and yet fall pregnant at the drop of a hat. So unfair on the hundreds of loving couples out there who spend their lives, their savings, their health, their sanity in trying to conceive – often without success.    And then there’s people like us. People naturally unable to conceive and yet so sure, so determined that kids, a family, is what we want. Willing to do almost anything to make that desire a reality, to make parenthood a reality. Sometimes it’s soul destroying.  It’s hard not to judge sometimes.

So it was with this mind set that we initially entered into the adoption process. We believed that we would be adopting a child who’s parents no longer deserve to be able to ‘parent’ their child. That we would almost be the child’s saviours. In fact, that wasn’t how it was for either of the children we have adopted. You see both sets of their birth parents have varying levels of learning needs. They didn’t want to give their kids up. They just couldn’t look after them sufficiently or safely.  I struggled with this for quite a while. My perception of helping a child in need was almost shattered. Surely they didn’t deserve this.

It took me some time, but eventually I got my head around it. Clearly there was more to each case than the birth parents just being unable to support their children. There were recorded incidents of harm and neglect, whether intentional or not. Social services had offered intervention and support at every step. The birth parents were either unwilling or unable to make sufficient changes to their lives, even with support, that would mean that their child was raised in an environment where they were safe, loved, nurtured and developed. The paper trail showed us that social services had explored every avenue and done everything they could to enable these children to stay at home with their birth parents. Their support just wasn’t enough and ultimately I am in no doubt that being put up for adoption was in the best interest of each our children.

OK, so our children’s birth parents aren’t crack heads, alcoholics or child beaters. But I have no doubt that their children are in the right place with us now. But I would like to make a promise. A promise to our children and to their birth parents. We will never hide from our children where they have come from or the reasons behind it. We have had the privilege of meeting both of their birth parents. We will tell our children what lovely people they were, how warm and friendly despite the circumstances.  We will pass on their love and their letters as the years go by. And when the time comes, if it does, when they may wish to meet and form relationships with their birth parents we won’t stand in their way. Far from it. We’ll be there supporting them, helping them, guiding them every step of the way, because it’s the right thing to do, the only thing to do. We’ll do it with pride in our children. Confident that as their parents we will have given them a family that they are proud to be a part of. Confident that they will never doubt our love for them. Confident that they will always be our sons and we will always be their Dads.

Welcome to the family boy three.

A different type of pride

My latest blog on gayswithkids.com is about how our kids make us proud. It goes without saying that each of my kids make me proud in different ways. Connors eating an entire meal without flicking it everywhere. Louis having a conversation like he’s been speaking for years. The boys all playing together for more than half hour without drawing blood…the list goes on. Everyday they do something that makes me proud.
For the gayswithkids article I’m restricted to about 500 words, so have concentrated on Wil and the pride his school report induced in me…. Follow the link to read the published article x

http://gayswithkids.com/gay-dads-message-pride/

How my dogs are better parents than me….

Are you a believer that pets are good for kids? We certainly are. We are blessed, or cursed some may say, to have enough space for a whole load of them. To date we have; four horses, six dogs, six cats, three guinea-pigs, two turtles, tank fish, pond fish, chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. Oh and there are usually a few pigs roaming around too. You’d think that we live on a farm, if only! We do have a fair amount of space though. This mixed with an aversion to the word no, has led us to the menagerie that we have.

We really do love our animals. They are part of our core existence and the ethos in which we like to live our life. We genuinely feel that the benefits that we get from them as a family, especially the kids, hugely outweigh any negative factors…such as the HUGE feed bill every month! We see time and time again, the way they help our kids to develop and grow, and they are a constant source of examples to demonstrate certain things to the kids, in a way that they can relate to. Mix this with an endless source of fun, amusement and companionship and we really seem to be onto a winner!

One of our over-riding fears when we first ventured into parenthood, was that the kids would grow up hating animals (or be allergic to them!) I am relieved to say that, at this moment in time, it isn’t the case. They love our animals. Antihistimines deal with the rest!

Sometimes though, even our friends think we are mad, to have so many animals. But our animals really unite us as a family and serve to draw us closer together. In this series of blogs I want to demonstrate the positive benefits that I see each of our animals bring to the kids and the family as a whole.  I am going to start with our dogs.

As I say, we have six dogs. Two of these are working police dogs; Vic is a general purpose police dog – he bites and tracks and finds property. Diesel is a drugs dog – he finds drugs and weapons and cash. Alas he has never found us any of the latter. We then have four pet dogs; Locke is a retired police dog. Sophie is a failed police drugs dog – she could find drugs, and cash, but couldn’t find weapons. She was required to do all three. Jack is a pet, just a loveable fluffball. Last, but not least, the youngster Buddy. He’s the rogue of the family.

What follows are the things that make me proud that our kids learn from our dogs. The lessons they learn, they can, and do, apply to life because they are able to see, feel and interact with them in such a way that the lessons become part of them. Whether they realise it or not.

Physical fitness – as a family, we take the dogs for at least two walks a day. It doesn’t only provide us with exercise, but more importantly, it’s a chance for us and the dogs to let of steam, run around, play and have fun. The kids really look forward to the walks and they’re an integral part of our day. Of course it also means that the kids are out, whatever the weather, and not stuck in front of the TV.

Bonding – the time we’re walking the dogs is a real chance for us to bond as a family. It’s a space for us to chat, laugh and catch up on the day we’ve had. The dogs don’t care what we’re chatting about, they just love to be included.

Respect – the kids have really started to learn respect for the dogs. They see them as friends, but especially with the police dogs, have seen the power that they have. They have been quick to realise not to take this for granted, but to treat their friends with the respect and courtesy they deserve and, in return, they get unwavering loyalty. A lesson for all of us.

Personal space – the kids have a huge awareness for personal space. They seem to know when enough is enough. If the dogs are sleeping, or have put themselves away, you leave them be. They’ve earned their rest. They have seen that if they badger the dogs, they soon lose interest in playing with them. In return, if they’re busy they expect the dogs to leave them be.

Fun – there’s nothing quite like playing with the dogs. Their boundless energy and love for life has the kids, and us in turn, in fits of giggles as they leap for the ball, or chase their tail. It teaches them to love life.

Good behaviour – the kids see that the dogs don’t get what they want by being pushy, or rude, or aggressive. Instead they see that by behaving well they get praise and to play and have treats. They are starting to realise that this works for them too!

Responsibility – the kids argue over who gets to feed the dogs, walk the dogs, groom the dogs, wash the dogs. They seem to appreciate that with the fun, comes the work and the care and they treat this with equal vigour.

Loss – at some point, sadly, we will start to lose the dogs. Most of them are getting on now. We have spoken to the kids about this, but nothing can quite prepare you for that huge sense of loss. It does however give us a platform to explore death with the kids and how to manage grief and loss. Something that we can’t avoid in life.

Selfless love – our dogs have the biggest capacity for love. They demonstrate this in their unwavering loyalty to us and the kids, and they ask for little in return. They are always there for a hug and a play. There is little that beats the sight and sound, of our kids using the dogs as a pillow, when they are watching the TV or something, the contented sigh that they both release never fails but to warm my heart.

Our dogs never get caught up in the insignificant stuff. They are never too busy, or anxious, or stressed to play or lend an ear. Their time is yours, their love is yours. It is never doubted or hidden with an angry word. The dogs are always happy to see us, they are also very forgiving. Their loyalty really knows no bounds.

This is why sometimes I think the dogs are better parents than me. You see, it’s not only the kids that need to learn from the dogs. Sometimes, just sometimes I could do with taking a leaf out of their book….couldn’t we all.

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