Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The games that they play

They are not even two yet.
Not quite.
I have a few weeks left.
But it seems that Matthew and Jonathan can't wait.
They are playing like devious preschoolers.
They have always interacted with each other.
As newborns, we would place them on opposite ends of the crib, all swaddled in their receiving blankets. Fifteen minutes later, we would find them in the middle of the crib, side-by-side with blankets undone and heads touching.
By four months, old, the grunting had begun. They were like tiny caveman, exchanging grunts and giggles.
People stared.
Games of chase came with toddlerhood. Shouts of "Go, go, go," from one twin would trigger laps through the kitchen, dining room and living room with one toddler fast on the heels of the other. They even set up obstacle courses of sorts and took turns completing them.
The most popular went like this:
lay down and kick the safety gate; run to the recliner and slap hands on the leather (laugh); run over to the pillow they had thrown on the floor in just the right spot and jump.
Laugh like crazy and start over.
They were amazing and we were proud.
But, in the past few weeks, they have taken their level of play up a few notches. And it's all about games.
There is the usual stuff: tag, wrestling, cheering each other on as they run and leap into their bean bag chairs.
Then there are the creative ones: beg mom to let them color, "accidentally" throw a crayon on the floor, wait for her to pick it up and then pelt her with orange, green, blue and pink as she squats; grab sippy cups and dance with them, chanting "Aye, aye, aye," which, for some reason, makes them each laugh so hard, they can't breathe; "set" the table when mom isn't looking; set up Hot Wheel tracks all by themselves by sticking one end into the sofa and creating a ramp.
If that's not enough, they have both developed the cackle, that cackle the says, "Hee, hee! We've just pulled one over on mom. Let's watch her turn red and growl when she sees it!"
My babies didn't do this.
The worst part about this new phase of theirs is that I get absolutely nothing done.
Not a thing.
Not because they are into everything, moving nonstop and fearless.
But because I can't stop watching.
I am amazed and proud.

Christmas 2008

In celebration of Christmas (and because I lost my anonymity anyway when I linked this blog to my professional site), I'm throwing on photos of the whole family on Christmas Day (Minus my grown stepdaughter who celebrated with us earlier in December and spent the holiday with her mother).

In the photo of the twins playing together, Matthew is on the left. Matthew is lying on his dad's chest. Jonathan is looking up at him in the other photo. Jonathan is on the right in the photo with me. The other children are our 8-year-old son and our 7-year-old daughter.

Merry Christmas all!
Have a wonderful and fun-filled New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The results are in

It's official.
The boys can hear and understand spoken language just fine. They use plenty of inflection. They know at least 20 animal sounds and say them clearly. They even know many of their letter sounds.
Matthew and Jonathan can verbally communicate with others.
When they want to.
The trouble is that like many twins, particularly identical boys, they really don't want to most of the time. They use the smallest parcel of language possible to get their messages across and, at 23 months old, they still refuse to put two words together.
Really refuse.
They shake their heads "no."
"Twin language," the therapist wrote on the form in the evaluation room of the early invention program. They understand each other and have no urgent desire to please us grown-ups with their linguistic skills.
That's why they just stare at folks who try to get them to wave "hello" or "good-bye," yet they holler "bye-bye" and shut the door behind me when I take them to the sitter's (They love going there!). That's why they say only the first sound of so many words. That's why I am frequently puzzled when they open the fridge and ask for milk by some term they came up with entirely on their own.
No therapy necessary, she said. They will figure it out. But we really should teach them sign language if we want to lessen the frequency of tantrums as they struggle with the realization that this isn't going to work forever, she said.
The other therapists had a few things to say too. Mostly, they wondered how we do it. The room was like a preschool, filled with countless cool toys and contraptions that drew Jonathan and Matthew like magnets.
But the force wasn't strong enough.
Within 20 minutes, they were grabbing clipboards, standing on chairs, stealing shoes and flipping through notebooks of the three blissfully ignorant therapists. Their antics earned Jonathan and Matthew a ranking of 36 months for gross motor skills and 31 months for fine motor skills.
They made it only to 21 months for adaptive motor skills because I have, thus far, refused to introduce the potty. "I'm not potty training them until they can at least say the word 'potty,'" I told the therapist.
"Okay," she said. "Here's the sign."

Friday, December 12, 2008

He said his name

I was frustrated.
So frustrated.
I had bought a full-length mirror and mounted it in the nursery, hoping the image of himself would finally inspire Jonathan to say his name.
Instead, Jonathan stood before his reflection and said "Maaaatttt."
"No, no, no," I said, pointing to his brother. "That's Matt. You are Jon."
After a few rounds, Jonathan changed his response. Instead of calling himself "Matt," he actually pointed to his brother and then said Matthew's name. Further pressure only made Jonathan clam up.
Well, that was progress.
I sighed.
Jonathan knew who he was. He'd always responded to his name, but he just couldn't bring himself to verbalize it. Maybe the letter J was just too hard. But I knew in my heart that wasn't the issue. Jonathan wanted Matt's name, just like he wanted Matt's yellow bear, Matt's crib and Matt's shoes.
He had never said his name and he wasn't going to.
So I gave up.
I started to walk away.
Then I stopped.
I stopped because as I glanced back at Jonathan, I saw a familiar grin. It was that mischievous grin, the grin that tells me something big is about to happen.
"Maaaattt," he said, signaling toward his brother.
I approached him with caution.
"Yes. That's Matt, but who is this?" I asked, pointing at Jonathan's image. "Who is in the mirror?"
That grin grew. It grew bigger than I'd ever seen it before. Then suddenly it burst into a bright, startled face full of excitement, a look of comprehension and recognition that used every muscle in Jonathan's face.
"Jaaaah," he said. "Jaaaah."
Close enough.
I grabbed him and hugged him tight.
"Yes, yes," I said. "You are Jon."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who needs pants?

The Boys in their favorite outfits.

Jonathan is on the left. They are 22 months old.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Together for preschool - yea!!!

A teacher from the preschool my daughter attended handed me a waiting-list form the other day. She'll take the boys when they are old enough, she said. Both of them.
I was and am ecstatic.
The preschool is run by the county, primarily for children with special needs. The teacher has only four slots for typical kids in her class: two for girls; two for boys. If she takes Matthew and Jonathan, they will fill all her typical-boy slots.
Predominant education practice dictates that she recommend separating the boys. Yet, she's happy to take them together. She believes me when I say that they will probably do better together and that they barely acknowledge each other when they play in large groups.
Her attitude is a relief.
And it gives me hope that as more studies are conducted on identical twins and separation, common sense and open minds will prevail. Several states have passed laws eliminating the mandatory separation policies of multiples in public schools, but the movement has a long ways to go.
For now, there is help for parents who are facing that battle or who want to get a jump start before their kids reach school-age. This Web site is run a woman who is determined to change the way school administrators and teachers think.
Check it out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fashion fights

The boys have started fighting.
Now, they've always squabbled a bit over toys and attention. But the all-out, screaming-crying-kicking-tantrum kind of stuff has only recently begun. And that kind of fighting they have reserved for clothes.
Yes, clothes.
Both Jonathan and Matthew seem to have an affection for yellow and/or orange shirts and they will do anything to get them. They will even try to pull them off each other, bowling each other over in the process.
I haven't read any studies on identical twins and clothing preferences.
I can only hope that this is just a phase or that, at least, they will someday prefer a color that is a bit less fluorescent. Like maybe blue or green.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Two ways to play

Again and again I have read that identical twins eventually become shaped by their environments--differently shaped by their indivual experiences and interactions. We have seen evidence of that in Matthew and Jonathan in the past few weeks.
Jonathan has always been a little more mellow than his brother, but his broken leg has emphasized that part of him. It is most obvious in the way he plays with the Little People's doll house,a toy they inheritted from their siblings.
In those first few days, when he had not yet learned to walk on the cast, Jonathan discovered new things about that house. He discovered that he could do more than just open it up, lay it on its back and attempt to sit inside it.
He began walking people through the door (cars too!), sitting people in chairs and laying them in the beds.
Meanwhile, his brother learned how to open all the drawers in the kitchen. Matthew also learned to slip his fingers through the cracks on locked cabinets and pull small things through. He learned to use stools, backpacks and diaper boxes to reach all kinds of things on countertops and dressers.
Then Jonathan became mobile on his cast, and even started to run. I thought Matthew would be distracted, his energy sources drained by brotherly wildness. Jonathan isn't all that fast, but he's pretty darned good. And he can jump and climb too.
But it wasn't enough.
Matthew still craves action.
He walks or runs aimlessly. He "fake" cries in hopes that I will pick him up and flip him upside down. He tumbles on top of Jonathan when Jonathan is sitting quietly, playing with a car, some blocks or a baby doll.
He goes nonstop.
Jonathan gets frustrated.
Jonathan enjoys the rough-housing, but he kind of likes playing quietly sometimes now.
He still has his moments--I just caught him trying to dump a loaf of bread onto the kitchen floor--but he has learned the value of imaginative play.
Matthew has taught him how to reach things he never thought possible (coffee cups set way back on counter tops are a favorite). Now we can only hope that Jonathan will teach Matthew a thing or two (and I'll be able to relax and drink that coffee!).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ready to run

My 7-year-old daughter and I were at an outpatient clinic for Children's Hospital the other day when a man entered the room with his two-year-old son. My daughter undergoes therapy for sensory integration disorder. This little boy was having physical therapy in the other half of the room, which was divided by a curtain.
I watched as the boy fought with his therapist and his dad, both of whom insisted he walk. He didn't want to walk. He wanted to drag himself across the floor using his arms. The dad smiled at me and said, "He broke his leg. He got the cast off two weeks ago and he won't put any weight on it."
Thanks to his twin, Jonathan will probably never meet that therapist.
That little boy was an only child, according to the father. He didn't try to walk on his cast and his parents carried him everywhere. They didn't push him. Now they wish they had. The doctor told them that would have made all the difference.
We haven't pushed Jonathan.
We don't need to.
Moments ago, Jonathan ran across the living room in his hip-to-toe cast and leaped into his bean bag chair. He was imitating his twin brother, who was lying in his own chair, laughing and watching as Jonathan flew.
Earlier today, Jonathan climbed the steps to his Little Tykes slide and slid down on his belly face-first. Again, he was imitating his twin, who was imitating their 8-year-old brother. When Jonathan reached the bottom, he pulled himself up and did it again.
Jonathan walked the neighborhood for so long yesterday that he ripped right through my sock, the one I had pulled over his cast to protect his toes from the concrete. Fortunately, it was one of those socks that had lost its mate.
No. Jonathan will not need therapy.
My guess is that on Nov. 12, when that cast is sawed from his leg, Jonathan will step down from the table. Then he will walk right out the doors of Children's Hospital eagerly searching for his identical twin brother.

Friday, October 24, 2008

So what do we call them now?

Apparently those folks who insist that Matthew and Jonathan are not identical might just be right.
Maybe not now.
But they might be right someday.
Scientists have known for years that identical twins can differ in their expression of genes due to environmental influences, such as diet. But it was always assumed that the basic DNA--the genetic framework--was precisely the same.
A recent study of 19 sets of adult identical twins has throw them for a loop.
The study, conducted by geneticist Carl Bruder of the University of Alabama, found slight differences in DNA sequences in some sets. In one set of identicals in Bruder's study, a genetic variation indicated the risk of leukemia in one twin. That particular twin did, indeed, suffer from the disease.
You see, all of us are supposed to inherit a copy of each gene from each parent, but sometimes, something happens that causes us to have too many or too few. Scientists believe those variations might put us at risk for certain diseases such as AIDS, leukemia, autism or lupus. These differences are called copy number variations and they were just discovered a few years ago.
Previously, the assumption was that if any of these variations were found in one identical twin, they would be found in the other because the twins come from the same egg and share exactly the same DNA.
This study throws that theory out the window.
What remains a mystery, however, is whether these variations occur in utero or as we age. Bruder suspects they come with age. Regardless, his findings mean studies of identical twins could be valuable in figuring out which genes are linked with certain diseases.
But the study raises an even more pressing question: if identicals are not truly identical, what do we call them now? Almost identical? Mostly identical? Sort of identical? Same-egg children?
Will I someday have to admit that those annoying people who stop me in the mall for the sole purpose of informing me that my twins are not identical simply because one has less fat in his cheeks are right?
The implications are frightening.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No longer entirely identical

We can easily tell the boys apart now.

Jonathan and I spent two hours at Children's Hospital today. He broke his shin bone, a small fracture. The doctor said it is a common toddler injury. Orange seems to be his favorite color right now, so that's what he will wear for the next four weeks.

Matthew seems more affected by the cast than Jonathan. With no active playmate, his curiosity is in overdrive. Yesterday, he climbed on the dining room table, got stuck in a small space between the hutch and the wall and repeatedly tried to empty the silverware drawer.

He imitates his brother by crawling on the floor and dragging one foot along.

It's going to be a long four weeks.

Can you guess who this is?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Accidental separation

I've mentioned before that Matthew and Jonathan have rarely been apart. They've made separate trips to the grocery store a few times, but, with two older kids and a husband who works a lot, I just haven't had the time or the energy to intentionally separate them.
According to the experts out there, we are doing everything wrong.
So last night and this morning should have been emotionally traumatic for them. They should have cried for each other. They should have been looking around corners seeking each other out. They should been calling each other's names.
They didn't.
Last night, just before bed, Jonathan was walking through the living room when he somehow took an odd step and fell. He screamed and screamed and couldn't put weight on his left leg. So off we went to the ER while Matthew stayed behind with dad.
X-rays revealed no fracture, but the doctor suspects injury to the soft tissue. We left Matthew behind again today to pick up the X-rays and stop by the pediatrician's office for a quick check of the circulation in the splinted leg. Tomorrow, Jonathan and I will spend an estimated two hours in the orthopedic unit at Children's Hospital, a 30-minute drive away.
There have been no sad good-byes and no overzealous reunions between Matthew and Jonathan. Neither had any trouble getting to sleep on his own last night. Neither seems annoyed or upset to have the other back in his midst.
Aside from logistical challenges presented by the splint, Matthew and Jonathan have fallen right back into their usual relationship patterns without missing a beat. They seem confident in their relationship.
Confident and secure.
So much for the experts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Wrestle-cuddle fest

It was about 7 a.m. and the boys had been up for an hour. I was putting shoes away in their room when Jonathan came in, begging to climb into Matthew's crib. As soon as Matthew heard the "squeak-squeak" of his brother's bouncing, he came running and reached up, signaling that he wanted to join his brother.
And so the wrestle-cuddle fest began.
This has become their new ritual, usually after nap time.
They meet in Matthew's crib and throw themselves down on the mattress. They cuddle, they wrestle, they laugh and, if I'm not watching them carefully, they sometimes lie on each other's heads. They also kick each other in the face and step on each other's tummies. All in fun, of course.
But today, there was a new development.
Today, for the first time, Matthew kissed Jonathan.
Right on the cheek.
Today, I smiled--inside and out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Language explosion

It started about two weeks ago with the light switches.
Jonathan suddenly discovered that lights can be turned on and off. He wanted me to flick the switch. I refused. Not until he said, "on."
His response was "Ah. Ah."
Good enough.
I flicked the switch to the dining room chandelier, not realizing that I was flicking a switch inside his head at the same time. Over the next few days, Jonathan was obsessed with light switches. He took great joy in saying, "Ah. Ah" and in seeing the result.
Soon Matthew joined in and every light in the house had to be on constantly, even during the brightest part of the day. Eventually, we pulled out a couple of stools, placed them under light switches and gave them the power to do it themselves.
With that urge satisfied, they began to testing me to see whether words could get them other things.
Matthew pointed to the box of Mini Nilla Wafers on the counter and said "cookie." After Jonathan got a time-out for standing on a chair to reach the apples, he stood below the basket, pointed and said, "ahhh-pp."
Both boys grinned widely when they realized that saying "no" was even more fun than simply shaking their heads. They run to the gate blocking the stairs to the second floor at least once a day and say "bath" with exciting clarity.
Just a month ago, we were talking to the pediatrician about speech therapy if the boys didn't start saying a few clear words soon. Now I have trouble reading books to them because they interrupt constantly, making animal sounds or pointing to objects and attempting to verbalize their names.
The best part?
I finally get to hear their voices.
Their real voices.
The voices of my identical twins boys.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Jonathan chewed a long, skinny apple slice down to the peel today.
Then he walked around the house, shaking the stringy remnants in the air and saying "hssssss."
A few hours later, I found Matthew slithering along the hardwood in the dining room, dragging himself by his hands.
"Hssssss," he said over and over again.
Either they have simultaneously become interested in snakes or they are trying to tell me we have snakes in the house.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A colorful morning

The boys and I made a birthday card for dad this morning. Matthew is wearing the green paint. Jonathan is eating the red paint. Next time, I think I'll trace their hands with crayon instead.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Be different or else!

People have all kinds of unsolicited advice for parents of identical twins.
Among the most prevalent is that we must do everything possible to encourage separate identities. Dress them differently, buy them their own clothes, separate them in school, take them on separate outings, give them their own bedrooms, never call them "the boys," cut their hair differently, register them for different activities -- I could go on and on.
Now, I don't dress the boys alike, but it's not because I'm pushing some theory on individuality. It's because I'm too lazy. If I dress them differently, I can memorize their clothing in the morning. Then I know who I'm talking to without having to look at the veins on their noses or observe their behaviors for clues.
So that's about all we've done to encourage their individuality.
With two older kids, we lack the time and the energy to take them on separate outings. I also refuse to dictate their activities as they get older; If they both want to play soccer, then they should both be allowed to play soccer. And recent studies show that identical twins fair better socially and academically in school when placed in the same classrooms. So, if we feel it is in their best interests, we will fight tooth and nail to keep them together.
Yet. individuality happens anyway.
Identical twins don't necessarily need a facilitator.
Just the other day, Jonathan started screaming whenever we tried put him in the newer of the two highchairs. He gladly slides into the older highchair, which he has claimed as his own even though we have always randomly seated them for meals.
Matthew refuses to eat grapes or blueberries even as Jonathan devours them. Sometimes it seems that he refuses them because Jonathan devours them. He watches his brother eat them and then fervently shakes his head "no" when we offer some to him.
Jonathan has even learned to say Matthew's name (Sort of. He says "Maaaahhh!") He looks or points at his brother as he identifies him and then giggles (cackles, really). If asked his own name, he just gets a shy look on his face. "Jon" is hard to say. He doesn't dare try. But he knows that he is not "Maaahhhhh!"
Both boys answer only to their own names.
A sense of self is a product of discovery and discovery occurs when children have choices. Forcing individuality upon identical twins --making them pursue separate activities, separating them in school for no reason other than the notion that separate is better, denying them the chance to decide their own sleeping arrangements as they get older -- is no more admirable than forcing them to be alike.
Like the rest of us, Matthew and Jonathan might never fully understand who they are, but they already know who they are not.
Matthew knows he is not Jonathan.
Jonathan knows he is not Matthew.
To me, that's a successful start.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

18 months tall

They are tall.
Boy, are they tall.
Three feet tall.
That puts Matthew and Jonathan far above the 95th percentile compared to their male peers, just like our two older kids.
We grow them big.
Matthew is the more svelte of the two at 28 pounds, seven ounces, according to the doctor's scale. Jonathan weighed in at 29 pounds, three ounces, during their appointment Monday. Both ranked at the 75th percentile for weight, which makes them long and lean despite their chubby cheeks.
Their heads remain in the 90th percentile.
Lots of brains, maybe?
The doctor expressed some concern about the development of twinese (or idioglossia or cryptophasia). She said to contact her in three months if they still say no words clearly. The next day, of course, Matthew and Jonathan alternately walked up to our van, patted the side door and said "car" perfectly. Later in the day, they became obsessed with doors, again pronouncing the word clearly.
Earlier this afternoon, they spent 15 minutes walking from door to door, patting each one and saying "door?". They refused to move on until I said "Yes, door," with a nod of approval. I had to follow them from room to room or they stomped their feet and cried.
I had planned to drink my coffee.
It got cold.
I didn't mind.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Speak! Please?

I'll admit it.
I've been getting a bit paranoid about the twins and their language skills as their 18-month appointment approaches (It is scheduled for Monday, about three weeks late.). They seem to understand most everything: they run to their highchairs when I ask whether they want to eat; they bring us their shoes or go to the door when we suggest going outside; they can make a wide variety of animal noises on command.
But they just don't really speak.
They have a few clear words. (Well, I can't really think of any that are clear right now, but they do talk a lot.) They practice inflection frequently, usually imitating the true inflection of conversation. They rely heavily on nonverbal expressions, like when they shove books at us, put shoes on our feet or tug on our shirts if we dare try to read the paper, eat some breakfast or even just rest our heads on the table.
Yet when I listen to other toddlers communicate, it just isn't the same.
Despite our best efforts, Jonathan and Matthew are sinking quickly into the language of twinese with such sounds as "nah" for "done" (Where the heck did that come from?) or "seh" for "sit" or "da" for almost anything they want the other twin to see.
So, of course, I turned to Google.
And this is what I found.
According to this recent study, the boys might be behind in language speaking ability, but they are probably right on track as far as overall language development. As twins, they simply tend to use nonverbal skills more often than words.
In fact, they might have an advantage over singletons and twins who do not create their own languages. According to the authors, twin language (or twinese or idioglossia or cryptophasia) enhances language development in a way that is similar to the language enhancement experienced by bilingual children.
Now this study might be flawed.
It is based on a small sampling: the children of 26 mothers of twins and singletons.
But, who cares.
Before I Googled this study, I was worried that my boys might be behind in their communications skills. These folks say Jonathan and Matthew might, instead, be above average.
Their study is good enough for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gimme the sports page, would ya?

Perhaps the boys inherited the journalism DNA! This is how I found Matthew and Jonathan one recent morning after I ran to the basement to get some milk from the spare fridge. Jonathan is wearing the red shirt. Matthew is in green.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good: Jonathan and Matthew are now interested enough in playing with each other that they tend to stay together when they are outside. This means that I can sometimes let them play beyond their fenced-in area.

The bad: At 18 months, they are now tall enough and strong enough to climb up on everything-- the sofa; the recliner; the dining room and kitchen chairs. They can easily reach items that are in the middle of the tables. They especially like pens, scissors and newspapers.

The ugly: When Jonathan wants something from Matthew, he says nothing. He simply comes up behind him, grabs him by the face and rips the item out of his hand while Matthew tries to scream. When Matthew actually sees Jonathan approaching and has nowhere to run, he offers Jonathan the toy and then cries. Time to enroll Matthew in karate, perhaps?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Little strippers

The boys taught each other a few new tricks today.
First Jonathan pulled off his shorts. Matthew watched with enthusiasm, stepping out of his own shorts moments later.
Cute, I thought, as they ran around the house in their diapers.
I returned to my sink full of dishes.
It was not so cute about five minutes later when Matthew came running into the kitchen fully naked, and proudly handed me his diaper. I peered into the living room, where Jonathan had just managed to peel his diaper off and was holding it up like a trophy.
About an hour ago, I zipped them into sleep sacs--taking comfort in the knowledge that they cannot get their hands inside to strip off their pants and diapers--and I prayed that by tomorrow they will forget.
But they won't.
They never forget.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Budding artists at last

Once a month, I tape sheets of white paper to the trays of the boys' highchairs, slide Matthew and Jonathan into their seats and hand them crayons. I take my own crayons and demonstrate, drawing squares, smiley faces and hearts.
Then I watch as they chomp on the crayons and shred the paper.
Today, I prepared for the same scenario.
But today was different.
Today, they colored.
The pictures are not all that interesting. They are a compilation of scribbles. But what is interesting is this: Jonathan and Matthew did not watch each other or follow one or another's lead. They did not even wait for my demonstration.
On this very same day in this very same moment, they each independently picked up their crayons and put the waxy sticks of color to the paper. They simultaneously achieved the appropriate mix of fine-motor-skill development, curiosity and desire that enabled them to produce scribbles.
And when they were done?
They ate the crayons.

Jonathan's first-ever work of art is on the top. Matthew's is below.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Watch the hips

We are hitting the road again for a week, the last vacation until next summer. The Boys will return when we do.

I was waiting for my daughter at dance camp last week when I ran into a mom who has a son about the same age as the twins. She was leaning over a box of used tap shoes, looking for a pair that would fit her daughter. Her toddler was standing beside her, chewing on a pacifier and clinging to her leg.
She asked where the twins were.
"I left them with a sitter," I said. "I can't bring them in here. They'll scream if I leave them in the stroller and they'll run into two different studios if I let them out."
She looked down at her son.
"Not him," she laughed.
That's when it hit me.
That's the difference between the twins and so many of their singleton peers.
Many toddlers find the world to be a frightening place. They might venture a few feet away from mom or dad in unfamiliar territory, many more than a few if they are certain their parents will chase after them. But, for the most part, they have a necessary sense of wariness about their surroundings.
They either wander closely or, like her son, they cling.
Not the twins.
Jonathan and Matthew are full of confidence and lacking in fear no matter where we drop them. They have a routine. They rarely bust into cabinets, yank cloths off tables or topple lamps immediately.
They are team and, like any good team, they have a strategy.
First, they explore the entire perimeter, traveling in opposite directions, sometimes faking right or left, but ultimately waiting for the just right moment to put their game plan into action. They wait until the defense is at ease with their movements, until their opponents mistake their intensity for dullness, for a love of repetition.
They simply wait.
Circling, circling, circling.
Until finally their guardians let their guard down.
The break from their circular pattern is sudden and well-executed. They dash in opposite directions, their eyes focused on their targets, energized to tackle any and all obstacles in their way. They are fierce in their purpose and determined to win whether the trophy is an open garbage can, a glass of water perched on the edge of a counter or an adventure in a forbidden room in a house.
We know they way they operate.
We have reviewed the tapes.
So, as we travel to Minneapolis this week, where they will meet many of their aunts, uncles and cousins, and see their grandma and grandpa for the first time since they were babies, I have this to say to their Uncle David and Aunt Jean, who are hosting this reunion.
Don't be distracted their sweet smiles, their infectious giggles or their blond curls.
As my high school soccer coach used the say, if you want to play good defense, watch the hips.
It's all in the hips.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The quints in our backyard

Okay, so these bunnies are quintuplets, not identical twins. But my husband found them under the Little Tykes play set where the boys play in our backyard. I had to share. Only a few days later, they were already running around the yard.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reaching out: bonds beyond their own

At 8.5 years old, my oldest son gets not a moment's peace. Riley came down the stairs this morning, bleary-eyed, hungry and sad from the loss of a favorite stuffed animal on a recent trip and he wanted to tell me about it.
He didn't get a chance.
His voice was drown in the cries and pleas of two younger brothers who stretched out their arms toward him as he lie on the sofa and threw their heads down on its cushions when he failed to pull them up with him.
Eventually, Riley gave in.
When I came back in the room with his Ovaltine, he was covered with toddler hands and feet. They climbed over his lap, poked at his face and giggled in his ears. His own tears had dried and so had theirs.
Though the bond between identical twins is, indeed, close, these two little guys have found places in their world for their big brother and their older sister.
Huge, special places.
Riley is their rough-houser and cuddler. He chases them round and round the furniture; he roars in their faces; he sneaks them out of their cribs when they are crying and holds them. During the school year, he cannot leave the house until he has had his "fix," he says.
Kiersten took a while to warm up. She has anxiety issues that include obsessive-compulsive disorder and mild sensory-integration disorder. So drool, wet diapers and (ew!) poopy diapers were a big turn off to her at first. She wanted so badly to hold them when they were babies and she tried, but she just couldn't handle it.
As they have grown, so has she.
She will be seven at the end of the summer and she has followed the example of her older brother. Though she can still smell a dirty diaper from a mile away, she enjoys teaching them how to play songs on their toy piano, how to build a tower with blocks and how to pronounce the few words they know.
She reads to them, begs to hold them on her lap and even helps put on a fresh diaper now and then. If they get injured, she often cries more than they do. They sometimes call her "mama."
They adore her.
They adore them both.
I used to worry that the older kids would be jealous of the bond between the boys and that the boys would create their own world, sealing out their older siblings. But there was no need for concern.
They have invited them in and Riley and Kiersten have accepted.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer fun

Once again, I have gone too long without posting any photos, so here they are. They are now 17 months old.

This is Jonathan on the splash mat

This is Matthew in the blue pool.

Zygosity: why does it have to be so hard?

When we first found out our twins were, indeed, identical, I believed that the intial mistake in their zygosity was just a fluke. Their placentas were, after all, on opposite sides of the uterus. According to my OB, it was so highly unlikely that they were identical that he hadn't even considered it.
From what I understood, cases like ours were rare.
Not so.
Over and over again, I hear of twin parents who are told that their twins are fraternal, but who still simply cannot tell their twins apart. They post photos of their twins on online bulletin boards, hoping for answers.
Like us, those parents are told that the placentas were tested at the hospital. The babies can't be identical: just look at the results, the doctors say. The parents scratch their heads and try to persuade themselves that the hospital and the doctor must be right.
What doctors don't say is exactly what kind of test the hospital has conducted.
Here's what they do: Hospital simply conduct a physical test of the placentas. The lab tech studies the membranes to determine whether they were two fused placentas or one shared placenta.
That's it.
DNA has nothing to do with it.
In our case, that was a no-brainer.
Matthew and Jonathan each had clearly distinct placentas and, so, the results on my OBs computer said "fraternal." He assured us that many twins look identical when they are born and that they would differentiate as they got older.
That never happened.
If anything, they look more alike.
We finally had our boys tested when they were infants. It was easy. We received a kit in the mail for about $170 and rubbed large swabs gently inside their cheeks. We put the swabs in the test tubes the lab provided and mailed them off in the box the company gave us.
The results were supposed to take three weeks.
We learned the boys were identical a week later.
Every single one of those parents I have met online later learned through DNA testing that their instincts were correct: their twins (and sometimes two of their triplets) were indeed identical despite the protests of their OBs.
I'm not sure why some OBs still subscribe to the old theory that two placentas equals fraternal twins. Their information is outdated and so much evidence exists to prove that their methods are faulty. Just take a look at this 1999 study. The author urges OBs to change their evaluations if for no other reason, because the twins simply have a right to know.
So why does it have to be so hard?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Forever confused

We are leaving for the in-laws' this week with a dial-up connection and an old, slow computer. So The Boys will return when we do. But I had to share this before we leave:

For once, I was showered, dressed and wide awake when I took the boys out of their cribs at 6 a.m. yesterday morning. I grabbed Jonathan mid-bounce and placed him on the changing table. He was calm, which was odd. Jonathan usually contorts his entire body for even the quickest diaper change.
I brought him through the kitchen, grabbed his sippy full of milk and set him down with Beary on the living room floor.
Next, I grabbed Matthew, who had thrown himself down on the crib mattress, giggling and daring me to pick him up. He was good-natured...until I placed him on the changing pad. His body stiffened instantly. He arched his back and he twisted his hips with a wail.
I narrowed my eyes.
I held his head between my hands.
I focused hard on the vein across his nose.
It was thick.
I was changing Jonathan.
My husband and I had put Matthew and Jonathan to bed together the night before. We had put them in the wrong cribs with the wrong stuffed animals. The boys are 16 months old. You'd think we'd know better by now.
But still, it happens.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The reality of twinese

Mmmmwa. Mmmmwa.
Mmmmwa a familiar sound in our house.
We hear it whenever Matthew runs out of Baby Goldfish, raisins, tortellini, bananas or whatever his favorite food of the day might be. He looks up at us with all the confidence in the world and says, "Mmmmwa," his word for "more." And it works. Matthew relishes its results as his request is fulfilled.
Until recently, Jonathan remain quiet.
As we praised Matthew and piled more food onto his tray, Jonathan would simply sit and say nothing. Again and again, I would ask him, "More, Jonny? Do you want more?" And he would just stare at me, eventually crying in frustration until I gave in.
But everything changed just the other day.
It was lunch time. Jonathan's tray was empty of green beans, a favorite food of both twins, when I heard that familiar sound coming from his direction.
I saw Jonathan's mouth move, but I found myself staring at Matthew. Jonathan said it in exactly the same way and in, of course, the same voice. I was stunned. I didn't know what to make of his precise imitation of Matthew's grossly mispronounced word.
A few Internet searches later and I had my answer.
This is the beginning of what some people call twinese.
I had always believed that twinese was a secret language, a code developed among twins that was independent of our language and that only they could understand.
I was wrong.
Twinese, scientifically known as idioglossia or cryptophasia, is exactly what I had just witnessed. It occurs when one twin imitates the other in his mispronunciation of words.
When they say the words wrong, they understand each other even if no one else does. If the mispronunciations are not corrected, twins eventually fall into the habit of using the wrong sounds regularly and, what might have seemed cute in the beginning, becomes a problem. They grow older; they start school; and no one else can understand them.
Fortunately, it sounds like we have little to be concerned about.
Though twinese is fairly common in the toddler years, studies show that serious cases generally develop when twins are frequently left on their own by parents who are detached from their language development. In most cases, twinese disappears on its own by the preschool years.
It won't become serious for us for a simple reason: because I am an annoying mom.
Restating the misspoken word correctly is a habit of mine that grew from teaching my first two children to enunciate. Each time the boys ask for more, I drive them crazy. "More? You want more? Okay, you can have more. Here's more."
More. More. More. More. More.
Twinese wouldn't be much fun for my guys.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Friends at last

When Matthew came toddling into the living room the other day carrying Jonathan's stuffed blue rabbit, I prepared for trouble. "Rabbit" is Jonathan's favorite stuffed animal. He sleeps with him every night; he cuddles him when he doesn't feel well; he snuggles with him whenever he goes down for a nap.
But, just as I started to intervene, Matthew shoved Rabbit at his brother, smiled and said "da." Jonathan grinned and hugged Rabbit close to his body. Matthew toddled away and came back with his own stuffed animal, "Beary." The two boys carried their animal friends to the staircase, where they sat side-by-side watching the Upside Down Show.
Since then, I have seen similar scenes repeated often.
The boys routinely bring each other sippy cups, toy cars and unused diapers that they have snatched from the changing table. They laugh, they giggle and other strange, new sounds come from their throats. Often, the exchange encourages one twin to join the other twin in an action or a game.
Other signs of this new awareness have surfaced lately as well. Last week, Matthew was sitting in his rocking chair when Jonathan discovered his brother's toes. Jonathan played with Matthew's toes in a game that left them both aching with laughter.
They rarely fall asleep easily now. When I peer between the cracks in their doors long after I have kissed them goodnight, I find them standing in their cribs, grabbing each other's hands over the rails and falling back on their mattresses in giggle fits. Then, they get back up and go at it again.
Jonathan took things a little too far two days ago though when he used Matthew's head as a drum. And they still fight over the toy that looks like a telephone, but plays nursery rhyme songs. But, when I saw Matthew give Jonathan Rabbit for that first time, it wasn't just his brother he comforted.
It was me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

They are what they wear

A pregnant woman apparently felt panicky today so she sought advice on an online bulletin board for multiples. She is carrying identical twins boys and she is terrified, she said, that she will mix them up after they are born.
It got me thinking.
We don't use the blue nail polish anymore. We don't have to now that a single blue vein has surfaced across the bridge of each boys' nose. Jonathan's is thick and Matthews is thin. The difference is subtle, but we can see it if we look closely enough.
But there is another way that I tell them apart when I can't see their faces, and I hadn't realize it until today. It's a subconscious thing and it happens when I dress them in the morning or see them for the first time after my husband has gotten them ready for the day.
It happened this morning.
My husband dressed the boys in identical shirts and camouflage shorts. Though the shorts were similar, they were made of different materials: Jonathan wore cotton. Matthew's were made of a bathing suit material.
After I read that post, I caught myself checking out their shorts before I called their names. It happened again and again and I couldn't help it. I had programmed my brain this morning with their identities: Jonny in cotton; Matt in bathing suit material.
And that's how I thought of them all day long.

I still don't know how to do captions, but in the photo, Matthew is on the left and Jonathan is on the right.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Shared pain or empathy?

I met a elderly man in the mall a few months back who stopped to admire the twins. He is an identical twin, he told me. He said that one day a few decades ago, when he was home in Cincinnati, his arm began to ache terribly. He sensed that something was wrong with his twin, who lived five hours away in Cleveland.
He called several times.
No answer.
Then his twin called him.
His twin had broken his arm.
"You just wait," the man said with a grin.
I have heard and read many similar stories since the twins were born, but I was a skeptic. There is no scientific evidence that identical twins feel each other's pain. It is all anecdotal and, probably, highly exaggerated, I figured.
But an incident today made me think again.
I had taken the boys to a Mom's Day Out program that I was considering for the fall. I immediately disliked the place. Several kids played aimlessly in a cramped room while the caretaker sat there like a bump on a log. The director had explained to me that this particular program was simply a babysitting service. But, come on. I would fire any sitter who didn't interact with my kids.
Still, I decided to give it a chance and let my boys play a while.
As I was trying to persuade a 2-year-old boy that Jonathan's head was not a highway for his dump truck, I heard an ear-piecing scream from Matthew. He was sitting under a table and another boy was crouched behind him.
I figured Matthew had tried to stand and had bumped his head.
But his reaction was far too strong for that.
Before I could even move, Jonathan looked at Matthew and released an identical scream. And there I stood, between the boys who were crying and screaming so hard that their faces were turning blue (The caretaker, of course, just sat there and did nothing).
Neither boy stopped crying until we left that place.
Later, as I lifted Matthew's shirt to put on his PJs, I found the source of his pain: a perfectly round bite mark from a child who clearly had all of his teeth and knew how to chomp hard enough to break the skin.
Now, mostly likely, Jonathan saw the look on his brother's face and, because they have been together every day since the moment they were conceived, he sensed what Matthew was feeling.
Maybe, even at only 15 months old, Jonathan has already developed empathy.
But maybe not.
I am still a skeptic, but I am a skeptic with an open mind. That is, toward the concept of the twins feeling each other's pain. My mind is closed to the Mom's Day Out program.
When this mom goes out, she'll be bringing her twins.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wake up sleepy head

Not long ago, when one twin would awaken from a nap before the other, he would relish the time alone with my husband or me. We would cuddle him, read to him, rough-house with him or just carry him around on one hip.
Those days are gone.
Nowadays, we spend that precious alone time trying to distract the wide-eyed twin, who is determined to wake up his brother. They are drawn to each other's cribs like magnets to metal.
Eventually, we give in and the awake twin grabs the rails of the sleeping twin's crib, shaking the bars and yelling until his brother lifts his head and rubs his eyes. Once his job is done, he toddles away, content knowing that his brother will soon be toddling behind him.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The "fat" one

It happened again two days ago.
I was taking the boys on a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. The day was a little too warm and the sky was cloudless. A slight breeze took the edge off the heat. Matthew and Jonathan had tummies full of milk, were fresh from a nap and were happy to take in the houses, the trees, the birds and the smell of fresh-cut grass.
They felt good. I felt good.
Then, about ten minutes into our excursion, a minivan pulled over. The driver’s side window came down and a woman I’d met only twice before stuck her head out. She wanted a glimpse of the twins.
I obliged.
Within less than a minute, I regretted it.
“So let’s see,” she said. “He’s the fat one.”
She pointed at Matthew, who had just dropped a pound below his brother due to the loss of appetite that came with a bout of the roseola virus. I was dumbstruck. I found myself stumbling over my words, trying to explain that, generally, the boys are only a few ounces apart. If anything, Jonathan’s cheeks are a bit fuller than Matthew’s.
I should have been prepared. This happens all the time and it happened again half a mile down the road. A woman was trying to help her granddaughter differentiate between the boys and, this time, she identified Jonathan as “the fat one.”
For some people, my boys are like that puzzle I often see in Children’s magazines, the one where two pictures look identical and the challenge is to find the differences between them. Certain people seem obsessed with finding differences between my boys and they present their observations as if they might be new to me.
The “fat” observation is their favorite and the one that concerns me the most. Right now, the boys are too young to be bothered. But their comprehension will not always be so limited. I can only hope that people practice more consideration as the boys grow older.
I needed to vent and I needed a good comeback. So I posted a plea for help on the multiples thread on Cincymoms. Those women are awesome.
I’m not sure that I would ever have the nerve to put their suggestions to use, but their replies diluted my frustration and left me with a chuckle. Please feel free to chuckle with me:

_ We had only budgeted for one child

_ Give confused look..."Identical?! They're not even brothers! This is the neighbor's kid."

_ They're on a paid study for the drug Alli for Tots

_ Which one were you as a child?

_ It is okay if I say you are the fat one?

_ Is that how they distinguish you from your siblings?

_ Yes. One is on Jenny Craig so we can tell them apart.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spoon wars

There are some things identical twins do that we parents take for granted.
Today, for the first time, I really thought about the spoons.
It's automatic now. Each time I feed the boys yogurt or cereal or mashed sweet potatoes, I bring three spoons to the table. I can usually get through a few mouthfuls before it happens: one of the boys clenches the rubbed-tipped utensil in his teeth, using every muscle in his little jaws to protect his claim.
As he proudly displays the metal handle that juts from his mouth, he gets a sideways glance from his brother who returns the look with what I swear is a nod.
I reach for a new spoon and lift the food to the mouth of the other twin. Sure enough, his brother clenches in the same manner, claiming a spoon for his own.
Victory is theirs.
Defeated, I pick up spoon number three.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The boys at 14 months (almost 15)

I have not posted photos in a while, so I figured it was time. These were taken over the past few days.

Matthew just loves to sit on his brother. He climbs in baskets and in chairs and sits right on top of him.

Potty training? At least they are interested in the toilet.

Matthew nearly finished emptying the cabinet, but he needed a break. Usually, he does the work while Jonathan plays with everything Matthew throws his way.

And here is Jonathan, enjoying the rewards of Matthew's hard work.

Freedom at last

The weather was beautiful this past weekend, so we took the boys outside for their first opportunity to wander on foot. They are not fully walking yet, so we gave them their push toys and set them free in the cul sac.
We thought they would at least stay together. After all, they are identical twins, who, because life gets in the way and (honestly) it's easier for me, rarely get to go anywhere without each other.
No way.
Neither could care less where the other brother was. They bolted in opposite directions, exploring the pavement, the grass, the sidewalks and our neighbors' garages. Their push toys were their vehicles. They put them in fifth gear and went at full speed.
Yet, both Matthew and Jonathan gripped the handle in that same fiercely-determined way. They both focused on their targets straight ahead, ignoring the teens playing basketball, the two sets of parents out with their preschoolers and their brother and sister, who were running and scootering to keep up with them.
They both preferred lawns to pavement. They both were attracted to the neighbor's seven dogs when they let them out to play (Yes, they have seven. They also have 11 cats). They both turned bright red from the heat of the day and their exertion after about 40 minutes, stumbling, crying and struggling to go on when their little legs could take no more.
They both fought to remain outside and guzzled just about equal amounts of water when we finally carried them, kicking and wailing, into the house. They both ate a ton for dinner that evening.
It makes me wonder.
When we put them to bed that night and they stood in their cribs facing each other, playing their little game where they grab each other's hands, peel them off the crib rails and laugh when the other falls, were they comparing notes from their outing or did they even have to?
Did they already know?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Identically clingy

I knew I was in trouble about a week ago when Matthew stood up in front of me, lifted his watery blue-gray eyes to meet mine and then raised his arms with that sad, lonely, needy look.
That look was familiar.
I remembered it from my oldest son when he was about 15 months old and from my daughter at about the same age, and I knew it was only a matter of days before Jonathan raised his arms with the same pleading, heart-breaking gaze. They seem to hit these emotional milestones together.
I was right and now I am exhausted.
They have reached the age of separation anxiety. Not the don't-leave-me-with-someone-else-or-I'll-cry-my-eyes-out-and-make-you-feel-like-a-bad-mom kind. I'll think we'll get away without experiencing too much of that. They have each other and they seem to take comfort in their relationship whenever I leave them.
This is worse. With the other kind of separation anxiety, you can be pretty sure that after you've been gone for five minutes, the caretaker will distract them and they'll forget all about you until they see your face again and remember that the show must go on, restarting the tears they had put on hold.
This is the I-want-to-be-in-mommy's-arms-24-hours-a-day-and-don't-you-dare-pick-up-my-brother kind. I get nothing done and neither is ever happy unless I manage to stay out of sight. If they can't see me, they are content. They play well together and are thrilled to be dumping their toys bins, throwing blocks and pushing chairs around the kitchen.
But when they see me, I am surrounded by desperate arms and a moat of tears. If I pick both up at once, they start to wail and cry and push each other away. If I am holding one and the other even comes near, the tears flow from the baby above and the baby below.
I can't win.
I either walk around with a baby on one hip, trying to dodge the other for a while until it's time to switch, or I hide out altogether, penning them in the living room and peering around the door way to check on them occasionally.
I've asked other twin moms how they've handle this, but the only hopeful answer I get is that they grow older each day and that everything will get better as they age.
I know. I know.
I don't want them to grow up too fast and I am flattered that they need me so much, but can't we just skip a few months here? Turn clocks ahead a little just past the separation anxiety stage? I'm even willing to move right into tantrums. Even the really loud, embarrassing ones.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ear aches and fevers

I was wrong when I guessed that Matthew had a weaker immune system than his twin brother. This time Jonathan is the more sickly one.
Both boys have ear infections (in the same ear), but Jonathan has more congestion than Matthew along with a fever of 102 degrees. Matthew has no fever.
Matthew has regained his weight from his earlier illnesses. At the doctor's Monday, he weighed just two ounces less than Jonathan at 26 pounds, 14 ounces.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

To dress alike or not to dress alike

A new mother of twins recently vented her anger on an online bulletin board.
She had expressed her desire early in her pregnancy to always dress her babies differently, yet her mother-in-law continued to give them gifts of matching outfits. She wondered whether anyone could help her get her point across.
"This is something I have strong feelings about," she wrote. "I do not believe they should be dressed alike. No offense to anybody out there who does it, this is just my opinion."
That was me 14 months ago.
I was determined never to dress our guys alike, especially since they were identical. Coordinating outfits, I could handle. But nothing that fully matched. I wasn't going to be that person and they were not going to be those kids.
Then one day it happened.
I dove into their dresser to search for an outfit. I had planned to take them on errands and I wanted to make sure they wore the same weight clothing so that each would be as warm as the other. The easiest solution was clothing that matched.
Guess what? I did it and nothing happened.
They didn't start answering to each other's names. They didn't eat with each other's hands. They didn't confuse their feet or fingers or their toes with the other's. Matthew still seemed to know he was Matthew and Jonathan still seemed to know he was Jonathan.
It was a miracle.
What really happened is that I learned to relax. I don't stress out about the fact that they rarely go anywhere separately. I don't get worked up when someone mistakenly calls them by the wrong names. I usually dress them differently, but every now and then, if I am in the mood or if I am out of clothing, I dress them alike.
I give them plenty of space to develop their individuality, but I don't force it on them. Matthew and Jonathan already have personalities that are as different as night and day, so why should I interfere?
By the time they are three, or maybe even two, they will develop preferences and they will assert them. One day they will demand different clothing. Another day they will get great pleasure out of dressing alike. The choices will be theirs, not mine.
And I will do my job.
I will listen to my two very different little boys.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Summo boys

I was clearing the dining room table the other day when I heard double giggling from the living room, the kind of giggling I usually hear when Matthew is about to attack Jonathan. I raced over, expecting to hear sobs any moment.
Instead, I found the two of them rolling around on the carpet, wrestling and laughing. They kept it up for several minutes before Jonathan ending it by sitting up. Matthew respected his signal and crawled away.
A new stage has begun.
(I could only catch the tail end of the match with the camera. Here, Matthew is tickling Jonathan's tummy.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fun With Identical Twins: Jan and Torben

This, I just have to share.
I was doing some research recently on identical twins when I stumbled across this Web site, Gundtofte-Brunn. Jan and Torben Gundtofte-Brunn are adult identical twins who have developed a sense of humor about the ways others see and react to them. I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I did.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tops and Toys

Neither twin is walking yet, but they have each found a new skill to perfect.
Jonathan recently learned that he can take off his shirts.
Matthew discovered that it is a waste of time to take toys out of baskets. Now, he simply clears himself a spot and hops right in.
If he's lucky, Jonathan will toss his shirt in the basket so Matthew can play peek-a-boo.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Assumptions and blessings

As a journalist, one of the first lessons I learned was never to make assumptions.
Don't assume that all siblings share the same last name. Don't assume that beer bottles in a car mean the driver was drinking. Don't assume that you can even begin to comprehend someone else's pain.
It is a lesson I have tried to apply to my personal life as well.
So when a woman I had become casual friends with through my oldest son began to drift away, I assumed nothing. We were not very close. Our children are in different classes now. She had taken a part-time job.
I tried not to assume that it was personal.
I learned yesterday that it was.
Her daughter and mine are in the same class this year and have become friends. They insisted on a playdate and it finally happened yesterday. I noticed that the mom watched the twins play when she dropped her daughter off and seemed interested in them, even drawn to them. But she kept her distance.
Soon after she left, her daughter told me that her older brother was a twin, but that his twin had died before birth.
When the woman returned to retrieve her daughter, I apologized for my ignorance and for any insensitivity I might have displayed during my pregnancy and after. I offered my condolences, unsure whether I was doing or saying the right thing. But relief seemed to wash over her.
And she talked.
She talked about learning that her son had died inside her body at 20 weeks. She talked about the doctors removing the baby and the sac, careful not to touch the surviving baby. She talked about seven long weeks in the hospital on full bed rest and the 1-pound, 12-ounce baby who struggled so hard to survive.
She talked about how blessed and grateful they are that the tiny little baby did survive and that he has no problems resulting from his prematurity. She talked about medical miracles and her familiarty with the NICU.
She did not talk about the pain of her loss or the pain that I now recognize on her face as she watches my boys play.
This time, I decided, it was safe to make an assumption: she is strong in a way that I am not sure I could ever be. I meet people like her around every corner, people who have lost children. And every day, I think of them. I think of them when the frustration mounts. When the twins are crying, the older kids won't do their homework, dinner is burning, the laundry is piling up, I have no time to write and I've barely slept for days.
I am reminded that I have four healthy children, a wonderful husband and a stepdaughter who loves us all. I might have frustrations, but I do not carry that sorrow in my heart that she will have forever. I do not have to be so strong.
Life is good.
I can handle it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Genetically identical can sometimes mean genetically different

Health issues were a big factor behind our decision to find out whether our boys were identical. If one had allergies, it made sense that his identical twin would have allergies. The same logic applied to genetic diseases, or so we thought.
This recent difference in immunity between the boys, though slight, inspired me to do a little research. What I found was that identical twins are an exciting mystery to the world of genetic disease research: a mystery because it would make sense that shared genes would mean shared genetic diseases. Yet that is not always the case. Sometimes, one identical twin develops a genetically influenced disease when the other does not.
The research is exciting because studies of identical twins can provide the key to cures for such diseases as Rheumatoid arthritis, leukemia and myopia. No laboratory can create specimens as perfect for such research as identical twins.
As for my boys, Matthew is making up for lost calories. He is shoveling food in his mouth faster than I can put it on his tray. The antibiotics have give him the edge on Jonathan, who is recovering from their illness, but not quite as quickly. Jonathan starts throwing food off his tray after the first five minutes.
But even runny noses and hacking coughs cannot slow these two guys down. Yesterday, they learned how to open the laundry chute. They scrape each other with the metal door as they fight over who gets to play with it. So for now, my laundry chute is taped shut and I have to peel the sticky stuff off every time I want to toss a bib into the hamper.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


The differences between the boys are becoming more apparent.
Unfortunately, it doesn't bode well for Matthew.
Both boys caught a stomach virus a few weeks ago. Matthew threw up longer and more often than his brother. At their one-year appointment a week later, Matthew was a pound lighter than Jonathan.
Now, they both have colds. It started with runny noses nine days ago. Then Matthew developed a chesty, mucusy cough. I took him to the doctor's when I noticed that he would sometimes stop playing and scream for a minute.
The doctor checked both boys.
Jonathan is fine. Still no cough. Still just a runny nose.
Matthew has an ear infection and this time, he was a one pound, 10 ounces lighter than his brother. He still has the nasty cough, but his chest is clear.
The antibiotics should kick in tomorrow.
Though Matthew apparently has a lower resistance to illness than Jonathan, he proved last night that he is stronger in other ways: he took his first independent steps.
So Matthew will get better soon, probably just a few days after his brother.
And Jonathan will be walking soon, probably just a few days after his brother.

Friday, January 18, 2008

First birthday pictures

In honor of Jonathan's and Matthew's first birthday, I have decided to break from the usual format and throw on some photos just for the fun of it. The wagon was their birthday gift from us. It is the Safari Wagon from Step 2 and was highly recommended on various review sites for multiples. Matthew is wearing the dark-colored shirt.

Today they are one

When I first discovered I was pregnant with twins, I was relieved to learn that my doctor was confident they were fraternal. I feared identical twins. I feared mixing them up. I feared others mixing them up. I feared that I would fail to nurture their individual personalities.
Today, on the anniversary of their birth, I have to laugh at myself.
Though I have mixed them up on occasion, I did so simply because I wasn't paying attention. Other people mix them up all the time, but they usually ask for clarification, which I happily provide. As for their personalities, they are, to me, nothing alike.
At their one-year, well-child check today, both babies were 32 inches tall. Their heads measured the same and Jonathan weighed a bit more than Matthew at 26 pounds (Matthew weighed more than Jonathan last time).
Yet they have their physical differences: Matthew has a narrow vein across the bridge of his nose while Jonathan's is thick. Jonathan has fuller cheeks than his twin. Today, Jonathan has two scratches on his face, both from Matthew's attempts to play ball with his head.
Their personality differences are less obvious to those who do not know them well, but clear to my husband, their older siblings and me.
Jonathan seeks independence when it come to feeding. He steals the spoon from our hands, he has insisted on feeding himself since about eight months old and he learned to hold a sippy cup almost the day we gave it to him.
Matthew is content to be fed. He eats finger foods, but he enjoys slurping banana pudding off a spoon that magically appears near his mouth. He just recently started holding his own sippy cup. He has found that it is much more fun, however, to throw the cup on the hardwood floor.
Matthew does not sit still. He pursues his brother relentlessly, using Jonathan's head and body to pull himself to a standing position. He likes to be cuddled, but only for a moment because he might miss something. He is the worst of the two when it comes to diaper changes. His back arches and his body contorts the instant we lay him down. He is strong. Changing him is more than a battle, it is a whole war over and over again.
Jonathan falls happily into our arms and likes to stay there for a while. He gets excited when his twin brother comes crawling toward him with that particular I'm-going-to-get-you laugh, naive to the punishment that is about to come. We can sometimes (rarely, but sometimes) distract Jonathan during a diaper change.
So on this day--their first birthday--I get a chuckle out of that huge, pregnant woman who feared having two babies who look alike. I am no expert in raising twins and certainly no expert in raising identical twins, but this is what having identical twins has come to mean for me so far:
It means that when I am having a bad day and I just need to know that people are generally good and that there are a lot of caring and loving people out there, I can dress the boys alike and take them to the mall. I rarely dress them alike, but when I do, they are showered with attention, good attention. Attention that helps me remember how blessed I am with all four of our children and how little all the nasty details of life really mean.

PS. Photos to come

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Damage control

They broke the TV guard.
That's all I want to know.
I found it hanging there. A Plexiglas shield, split across the face, sharp edges waiting for victims.
My other kids never broke a TV guard. Nor did they rip vent covers out of the floor or tear window sills off cheap frames.
Before I take them anywhere for a play date, I have got to get some kind of "destructive twin" insurance.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The birthday looms

In just 10 days, the boys will be one year old. With that pending milestone, comes a whole new slew of questions from friends, family, casual acquaintances and even strangers.
How are we going to celebrate?
My husband and I hadn't given it much thought. Cake, ice-cream and a few gifts with just the six of us. That was the plan. The more children you have, the more you realize that first birthday parties are for the parents and the siblings, not the child who is approaching toddlerhood.
Still, I was curious. Was there something different we should be doing?
So I started researching online. It so happens, the topic is hot on online bulletin boards for moms of infant twins. In the interest of promoting separate identities, many parents out there will be baking separate cakes, singing the birthday song to each child separately and, in one case, even sending out separate invitations.
Panic began to set in, but it was short-lived.
Separate cakes, I can understand.
But, separate birthday songs?
And forget about separate invitations.
This is the one day of the year that we should really celebrate the fact that Matthew and Jonathan are twins. Not just any twins, but identical twins. They share DNA, they shared my uterus and they share a birthday.
They have a bond that no parents can give siblings no matter how badly they might want to. Their status as twins, especially as identical twins, is a gift. It is a blessing and we still wonder why we were so fortunate.
We are too tired for a big celebration, so it will be just the six of us. It has been a wonderful, but exhausting year and I am sure the celebrations will grow as they age. Regardless, there are three things I know will not change:
Matthew and Jonathan will share a birthday cake, they will share the birthday song and their names will always appear on one invitation. We will do this because who they are together is vital to their identities as individuals.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Toward Walking

I lie on the floor and within a few seconds, Matthew is there. He places both hands on my tummy and gets into a squat position. Then he sticks his butt up in the air and his hands come off my body. Suddenly, he is standing above me, all 31 inches of him. His hands are in the air at first, but slowly, as he grows confident in his balance, they drop to his sides. He grins. I applaud. He falls onto his bottom and laughs.
Jonathan would never do that.
For two little boys who look alike, eat alike and laugh alike, their approaches to walking couldn't be more different. While Matthew is determined to stand unassisted, Jonathan simply giggles and buckles his knees when I try to encourage him to lock his legs with no other support. But he buckles them slowly, using his quad strength to lower himself gently to the floor.
Jonathan prefers to practice his balance while in motion. He focuses on bridging the gaps between the coffee table and the recliner and the coffee table and the sofa. Like our older children, he will

likely bridge that gap hands-free one day and the era of walking will begin.
Matthew is taking the harder path, but it doesn't matter. Whoever succeeds first will lead the other.
That's what they do, these brothers.

(I haven't learned how to do captions yet, but I'm getting there. In the meantime, I'm using the old fashioned technique here. Matthew is standing in the top photo. Jonathan is holding the recliner. I rarely dress them alike, but we have no plans to go anywhere today.)