8 things that happen when you have Irish twins

I know that the term Irish twins is not exactly the most PC term in the world but as I’m half Irish myself and have daughters just 11 months apart I’ve decided to ‘own it’ and use it anyway. It was my youngest’s birthday two days ago and the other half and I are now, for the next four weeks, parent’s to two two-year-olds! So I thought I should do a post about the things that happen when you have Irish twins:

1. You will be asked if they are twins. A lot. I get this all the time. People often stare at the girls for a while and you can see them trying to work it out before they even ask you. even though I’m usually sure by that stage that they know they are not, but just want to check anyway. At this time of year, when they are the same age, the ensuing conversation usually goes something like this:

Random person: “Are the girls twins?”

Me: “No, just sisters.”

Random person: “Oh, how old are they?”

Me: “They’re both two.”

Random person: “Oh. What’s their age gap?”

Me: “11 months.”

Random person: “Oh.”

2. People will judge you. This usually follows the conversation above. I’ve talked on this blog before about most new people I meet not realising that I am gay if it’s just me and the girls. So after asking if they are twins and me telling them that they are 11 months apart I usually get a ‘look’.

I’ve even had one mum (and it’s always the mums) say to me “oh, your poor wife”, as if this imaginary person would have had no choice in the matter! Although I think it’s probably worse if you are a woman as I imagine you’d probably be asked all sorts of personal questions that I wouldn’t.

3. It’s really hard sometimes not to treat them as if they are twins. Maybe it’s because of our situation – we got the girls only four weeks apart, with the youngest actually coming first (long story, which one day I’ll write about), so we’ve kind of always had the two of them. Sometimes I find myself treating the girls the same to make life easier and have to remind myself that they are different ages. It’s made harder by the fact that the youngest always wants to do what the eldest does. We have managed to do the big milestones separately though e.g. moving to a big bed and potty training.

4. Your youngest will probably appear quite advanced early on. People are often astounded when I tell them how old my youngest is. Her speech and sentence formation is often more developed than children quite a bit older than her. As my eldest learns new words or phrases my youngest usually picks them up within a few weeks.

5. Your children will probably be close. The girls, even though they had never really met until we adopted them, have such a lovely bond. Yes, they can fight like cats and dogs at times but other times they are so adorable together it brings a tear to my eyes. When my youngest started at nursery she was in the baby room but left to join the bigger kids after just three weeks because she spent the whole time wanting to be where big sister was.

6. Getting out and about can be hard. We have a double-buggy, which was fine for a while when the youngest wasn’t walking. Then we added a buggy-board for the eldest, which was fine too and meant the youngest could move to the front of the push-chair which kept her happy. Now my youngest is no longer happy sitting in the seat and wants to be on the buggy board. However, my eldest still struggles with walking any great distances. Either that or they both want to walk and I end up pushing a double-buggy whilst trying to herd two toddlers, capable of running at different speeds, along the street. Not easy.

7. You can re-use a lot of things. As one child stops using/playing with something the other is pretty much ready to start using/playing with it straight away. In our case, with 11 months apart, and the fact we have two girls the seasons even match; so something my eldest wears one summer my youngest can usually wear the following year. Yay for saving some money, because…

8. You’ll need two of all the expensive stuff. Just like with twins there is no escaping the fact that you’ll need two of pretty much all of the big stuff like cots/cot-beds, car-seats, high-chairs, travel cots. The oldest won’t have finished using these things before the youngest requires them and that can make things pretty expensive.

Our children are meeting their other siblings for the first time

It doesn’t feel like we ever stand still at the moment. Having returned from our holiday on Monday afternoon, then started back at work for the first time in a year on Tuesday; tomorrow we are taking the the girls to meet their two older brothers (who have been adopted together by the same family) for the first time.

We met up with the boys adoptive parents a couple of months ago, I suppose with the idea that we’d suss each other out and check we were all normal before introducing our children. They are a lovely couple and we got on really well with them and were both keen for our children to have direct contact with each other. To be honest they had me once they suggested they open a bottle of champagne!

We did actually end up meeting the boys and they were adorable, so well-mannered and there was definitely something about them that reminded us of our girls. Hopefully ours will turn out similarly well-behaved! We shared lots of photos and stories about our experiences, the boys asked us a few questions, which to my surprise didn’t include ‘why do they girls have two dads’ (maybe they saved that one for their parents). We all agreed to meet again soon to introduce the girls.

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Now that it’s approaching I am getting a bit nervous. I’m not sure what to expect to be honest. We’ve tried doing some very basic life-story work with the girls, mostly drawings with the girls of our little family and the boys with their parents and tried to explain that the boys are also a part of their family but it’s quite hard when they are both so young. They’ve not that long been used to the idea they themselves are sisters (they only met for the first time a year ago), let alone that they have these two older brothers that we’re only just mentioning.

We’re not sure how the boys, both at the older end of primary school age, will react to having two little sisters running around and probably attempting to climb all over them! Hopefully though it will be the start of a lifetime-lasting relationship. It’s really important to us for the girls to know who they are and where they’ve come from and knowing their older brothers is an important part of this.

Have you been in a similar situation? How has it all worked out? Any advice? Let me know in the comments.

I finally ‘get’ Pride now that I am a gay parent

The phrase ‘you don’t know you’re born’ came to mind as I left the cinema one evening after seeing the brilliant film Pride last year. My partner and his best friend, who are lets just say a ‘couple’ of years older than me, were telling me about what it was like to be a gay man in London in the 80s, how tiny the gay scene was, the challenges that gay people faced and how political it all was. It really hit home how easy I’ve had it and how lucky I am.

I came out in 2002 to a family who accepted me unquestioningly; and I’ve lived my whole life in London, one of the most open and tolerant places in the world. Being gay has never affected my education, career, relationships, friendships or even my chances of becoming a parent. It’s probably for this reason that I’ve never felt particularly connected to or strongly about the various gay political movements.

Of course I sympathised with the plight of people in countries around the world where being gay is illegal. I’ve been horrified by stories places like Saudi Arabia and Jamaica where people are persecuted because of their sexuality. But I suppose I’ve been a bit ignorant about the causes and issues that are important to so many people who still feel disadvantaged or marginalised here in the UK; the people who still feel unable to come out to their families or people at work or the people who grow up in less tolerant towns and villages and face verbal or physical abuse for being themselves.

Even Pride, arguably the biggest gay event of the year, with it’s all it’s political history tended to pass me by. My one and only attendance at Pride was in 2002 when there was a festival in Hackney Marshes. As a newly out bright-eyed twenty-two-year-old Pride was just a great big fabulous excuse for a party. I went with a group of friends and spent the day drinking and dancing, oblivious to the march or any of the issues that Pride gives a voice to.

Now, as a gay adoptive father of two, I finally feel like I have something to get angry about. When articles like this utter tripe are being written about gay adoption; when prominent gay people such as Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana can denounce non-traditional families; and when Republican presidential candidates can call gay parents ‘unconscionable and a destructive’ it makes me realise how much work there is to be done to educate against the ignorance that still exists. Despite research showing that children living in same sex parent families are not negatively impacted, a quick look in places such as the comments section on any same sex parent related article on the Daily Mail will uncover a whole host of backward and bigoted views.

This ignorance could be directed at my children at the school gates or in the playground. This ignorance could prevent a gay person from choosing to adopt out of fear for how they or their child will be accepted. This ignorance might cause a child to be left in care for even just a second longer than is necessary. And this makes me mad.

I feel that the best way to tackle the bigots is to just be ourselves, to be the best parents that we possibly can be. Every child that we raise to be happy, confident and prejudice-free is a kick in the teeth to those who believe it is somehow wrong or unnatural for us to parent children.

So I finally get what Pride is all about. I now see that Pride, with the attention it demands in the media, is the perfect opportunity to proudly show the world that same-sex parent families are here, happy and doing just fine. This weekend, I will be attending for the first time in 13 years and I will be there at the march with my partner and my children to show solidarity, not only with other gay families (those who have already fulfilled their dream of a family and those who are still on their journey) but with every LGBT person affected by discrimination or prejudice. And then I’ll have a drink and a dance. Because, well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?

Being a gay dad has turned me into the invisible man

Picture the scene: A good-looking, groomed and well-dressed man sits in a trendy cafe, coffee cup in hand, holding court over a group of yummy mummies, regaling them with stories of his wonderful life as a gay dad and simultaneously tapping play-date invites into his iPhone. All the while his beautiful and exquisitely dressed children play angelically nearby.

Sounds amazing doesn’t it? To good to be true?

I’d like to say I wasn’t so naive to think I’d spend my adoption leave in this way, but I did. I really did. I thought the mums would love me. Every woman loves a gay man don’t they? So what could be better for a bored stay-at-home-mum than having a fabulous gay dad to hang about with? I know I know, too many stereotypes to mention in that little scenario but let’s park those for a moment.

So you can probably imagine, it’s been a pretty big wake-up call to find that not only am I not the centre of attention in the mummy world, most mums barely even notice me, or pretend not to. When they do i’m generally met with wary, suspicious or confused looks. Modern Family and The New Normal have a lot to answer for raising my expectations!

In the seven months I’ve been on adoption leave I’ve seen mums strike up conversations with each other across tables in cafes, talking through me as if I wasn’t there. I’ve had them get up and move when I’ve sat down next to them with my girls. I’ve had them completely ignore me whilst talking to each other about how lovely my children are and i’ve had one word or single sentence answers when i’ve tried to strike up conversations. On numerous occasions. It’s been pretty soul destroying at times. Mum’s are a tough audience to crack!

It’s not that me being gay is the problem. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be. One issue is that when I walk into a soft play cafe or toddler music class most mums don’t automatically assume I’m gay. This surprises me no end as most people are usually able to tell (although I do have a rather bushy beard since being on adoption leave so maybe I look more butch than I give myself credit for). However, it seems that if you stick a push-chair in front of a gay man they will appear straight. And it’s as a ‘straight’ man that I am ignored. I have read countless tales of stay-at-home dads feeling excluded from by the mummy world and I now have first hand experience of my own. I don’t know whether women are worried their husbands won’t approve of them talking to or befriending a man, or whether they worry about breast-feeding in front of us?

So I don’t often even get the chance to casually drop into the conversation that I’ve not just got the day off and that I don’t have a wife/female partner at home ‘having a rest’. I don’t get to talk about my partner or join in the conversations about where the best place for a second birthday party is, how hard it is to find a good nursery place or which toddler music class is the best in the area.

It’s not all bad though, I’ve met a few really nice people along the way, mostly at groups for adoptive parents where you’ve already got something in common and an easy conversation starter. Outside of the adoption groups, whenever i’ve actually managed to slip being gay into the conversation people have been great, seeming genuinely interested in how we became parents. Some of the comments grate a little from time-to-time (‘wow, you’re so brave’ springs to mind) but for most people gay parenthood is new to them and so they have lots of questions, which I’m generally happy to answer.

Maybe I need to start wearing t-shirts with slogans such as ‘Gay Dads Rock’ emblazoned on them in rainbow coloured letters. If nothing else I’d no longer be invisible!