Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Identical twins, identical gifts?

I am a coward.
I know I should be buying Matthew and Jonathan each drastically different Christmas gifts to help them differentiate from each other, to see themselves as individuals.
But it's not going to happen.
Oh, they'll get a find a few things under the tree that are non-identical. I hit the jackpot with Thomas the Tank Engine characters on EBay and got a whole bunch cheap. So Matthew with get Emily, Dennis, and Bill and Ben. Jonathan will get Rosie, Toby, and Annie and Clarabel.
But they inherited a slew of engines from their older brother last year and they already have doubles of their favorite engines (Thomas, Gordon and Percy). So chances are good that they will simply add these new ones to the bin and happily share them.
Not so with the train T-shirts.
(Jonathan chased his brother all over the house yesterday trying to tear off his Power Rangers T-shirt, the only one we have.)
Or the doctor kits.
(One stethoscope? Are you kidding? Doctors don't have to share. Why should they?)
Or the Cars helmets.
(Different helmets could create a hazardous situation in this household.)
So they will each get a Mader car and a Thomas flashlight and a set of Take-Along tracks. They will both get Thomas place mats and a set of four little cars and the same goodies in their stockings.
They will get gifts to share from their siblings and gifts that are just slightly different from an aunt and uncle. We bought them puzzles that are the same size and same difficulty level with closely related themes.
But Matthew and Jonathan are two years old (almost three) and, at this point in their lives, their interests are just about the same. It is not simply because they are identical twins (though I believe that does have something to do with it).
It is because they are little and their experiences in life are slim. They love the things that most toddler/preschoolers love. They have always been attracted to similar colors and textures, and it's just not worth the battles right now.
It wasn't worth it with our older kids--who are 17 months apart--either.
Over the next year, Jonathan and Matthew will start to develop more as individuals. They will experience things differently more often. they will start to cultivate their own interests. We will help them do that by exposing them to as much as we can and encouraging them each to explore those concepts and activities that attract them most.
But right now, I just want them to be happy.
And, to be honest, I want to have a peaceful Christmas.
So, a coward I am.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Author/twin Abigail Pogrebin takes on our questions

When I learned I was carrying twins, I was terrified that they would be identical.
They would have issues, I thought.
All kinds of issues.
And I would have no idea how to help them.
In fact, I would probably be the cause.
I would dress them wrong, call them by the wrong names, place them in the wrong classrooms, celebrate their birthdays wrong, name them wrong, talk to them wrong, listen to them wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Abigail Pogrebin must have been listening.
Her book, One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular (Doubleday/$26.95), addresses every single one of my questions along with questions I never knew I had. I gain nothing by encouraging folks to read her book.
I don't know her.
I'm not getting paid.
But I have to say that this book is absolutely essential for anyone who has anything to do with identical twins: parents, teachers, siblings, friends, psychologists, doctors, grandparents, cousins.
It has already affected the way I parent Matthew and Jonathan, and my husband plans to read it next.
In a previous post, I invited readers to ask questions of Abigail. Some folks responded in the comments section, The shyer parents asked questions via email. I paraphrased some of the more commonly asked questions so Abigail could address all the aspects.
Here are her answers:

Q: Is it annoying to have similar names or names that start with the same letter?

Abigail: I do think that the “gimmick” of twins—which includes naming them alike or dressing them alike—doesn’t ultimately pay off at all for the twins themselves at the end of the day. I realize that it seems harmless and fun to put twins in matching outfits or give them convenient or cute names when they’re young, but ultimately those things are more for the parents than for the twins, and the hurdle of individuality is hard enough without the gimmicks.

Q: How can I help my son bond with the twins? I don't want him thinking they are more special than him.

Abigail: As much as possible, it would be great to do an outing or activity with one twin and your son, so that he has memories with each of them separately. I wish my parents had done something regularly with me and my brother because we’d have some rituals or experiences that were ours alone. I am close to my brother, but I know we’d be closer if we’d spent some time just the two of us. I hope you’ll read my interview with my brother in my book because he paints a very honest picture about what it’s like to be the third wheel.

Q: Is it better to keep the twins together and treat them as a unit when they are young or to start introducing individual identities early?

Abigail: The sooner you start introducing individuality, the better. That doesn’t mean you have to over-worry about separating the twins, but definitely separate time should be part of the routine as early as possible. I think perhaps the most crucial chapter in my book is the one on separation – called “Making the Break” – and it really covers how twins ultimately have to let go to solidify a separate self.

Q: What we can do as parents to try to insure that both twins get enough attention from us or from any other adult for that matter?

Abigail: Just spend separate time with each on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time– a short excursion with one twin will make a huge difference. But it should be a regular part of life that each twin is with his or her parents solo. Be warned: the twins themselves may resist being apart. But they will benefit in the end by having separate memories with you.

Q: How can I help raise my boys to be close but also have room to be close with others?

Abigail: Usually twins have an instinctive closeness that you don’t have to foster consciously because it’s powerful already. I think the bigger hurdle is encouraging their other friendships. My research taught me that twins can be unused to developing outside bonds because they’re wholly satisfied by their twin relationship. So, as much as possible, encourage separate play dates and social experiences. I know sometimes practically that’s a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. They don’t need to have all the same friends all the time.

Q: Does it matter whether they do all the same sports and are in the same class at school?

Abigail: I have a whole chapter on competition called “You Deplete Me,” and I think you’ll find some fascinating stories and research that will address exactly your question. I would say that it it’s possible to nudge your twins to different positions or strengths within the same sport – such as playing different positions in baseball or swimming different strokes on the swim team-- that would be preferable. When twins do the exact same sport in the exact same position, it invites direct comparisons which are difficult to manage. I think being in the same classroom is fine when they’re really young, but they should definitely be separated by fifth grade. Having one’s own teachers, friends, experiences, projects is crucial and direct comparisons are inevitable in the same classroom.

Q: Is it okay to dress identical twins alike? Are they bothered by it?

Abigail: I have never understood the dressing-alike thing, except because it might be practically easier for parents to buy two of one outfit. It’s not inherently fun for the twins – it’s just a bit of a performance; identical twins already attract plenty of attention, which at times can be fun and gratifying, but can also get tiresome if the attention is mostly about your sameness and not about who you really are. I hope you’ll read my interview with my identical twin, Robin, in my book, because she is remarkably honest about how the “gimmick” of doubleness ultimately felt stifling.

Q: How much do I push them to do "their own thing" separate from their twin? Some amount of discomfort regards to new situations is healthy and normal, and I want them to have that experience the same way non-twins do.

Abigail: I think you’re absolutely right: some degree of discomfort is healthy in the long run. In my chapter called, “Identicals: A Love Story,”I talk about how twins can get very comfortable with having a constant partner, back-up, playmate – to the point where it handicaps them for friendship and independence later. I want to affirm how wonderful it is to have that built-in best friend. But it’s important to develop the muscles of handling the unfamiliar, trying new things, being in new situations, connecting with new people – by yourself.

Q: Should they share a birthday cake and/or the song, or should we sing to each separately and give each a separate cake?

Abigail: I never had my own birthday cake or song and I wouldn’t say it scarred me for life, but I do think it was a missed opportunity to shore up a sense for me and for Robin of being separate people, entitled to our own celebratory moment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rules of engagement

I've never seen Jonathan quite so stunned.
We were at my daughter's tumbling class Monday evening and the twins were playing with a few other toddlers and preschoolers in the observation area. Jonathan wanted a train that the other boy was playing with.
So he did what he always does.
He made an offering.
And the boy declined again and again and again.
Jonathan didn't know what else to do.
So he just sat there.
He sat there and he stared.
Eventually, he found his toy school bus and rejoined Matthew, racing the buses up and down the floor.
You see, Jonathan and Matthew have an understanding. If Jonathan wants Matthew's toy, he keeps offering Matthew something else until Matthew trades. Matthew negotiates in the same way with his twin.
It's quite diplomatic ... most of the time.
But this boy wasn't buying it.
He had the favored train and he wasn't about to let go.
This twinese thing isn't just about language.
As Jonathan and Matthew grow older, they are developing their own ways of accommodating and playing with each other.
They understand each other's intentions with simple nods and gestures.
They play games with each other's plates at the dinner table and only they know the rules.
They make faces at each other and start laughing, clearly referring back to some event or memory that they share.
With one word, one twin engages the other in a preconceived game.
I watch them and I envy them.
I can't imagine what it must be like to know someone so well.
But, at the same time, I fear for them.
This bond, the bond that makes them unique, will also hurt them sometimes.
At some point, they will have to learn the hard way how to let others in. They won't always be able to ignore the boy with the train and turn to their built-in playmate for social comfort. Sometimes, they will have to learn to pick up another toy and figure out how to play with him.
They will not always have each other and it's not healthy for them to know only each other deeply.
So, as they grow, we will have to guide them as best we can without compromising their bond. Their bond has allowed them to skip the stage of parallel play, where toddlers play near each other, observe each other in play, imitate each other and, in doing so, learn social codes of engagement that lead to friendship.
We will have to walk them through it.
Now, if only I knew the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This your chance: ask an identical twin

I don't know what I'm doing.
And, with a few exceptions, neither do most parents of identical twins.
Most of us have never shared an egg, our DNA and a uterus with another human being.
We don't know how our babies feel about dressing alike, sharing bedrooms or sharing cakes on their first birthdays. We are forced to go with our guts, the advice of others and the few, unproven theories that some folks present as fact.
By the time our twins are old enough to express their preferences, it's too late.
The damage, if there is any, is done.
We've had to wing it.
Until now.
In her new book, One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular, journalist Abigail Pogrebin makes an offering. She rips open her own relationship with her identical sister, Robin, and lays it out on these pages for anyone to exam.
To help us and to help her better understand their complex dynamics, Abigail interviews an endless stream of identical twins along with parents, spouses, friends and siblings of identical twins. She talks to psychologists, geneticists, obstetricians, fertility doctors, all of them.
She attends the largest twin gathering of them all: Twins Days in Twinsburg, Ohio.
I bought the book Wednesday and started it Thursday.
Today, I am already halfway through.
I can't put it down.
It's funny. It's honest. It's intriguing.
But here's the best part:
I chatted via email with Abigail, a former 60 Minutes producer and a married mother of two children, and she has agreed to answer our questions through this blog. So, for the next two weeks, I will collect questions in the comments section or, if you're too shy, you can email your questions to me at lori@loriduffyfoster.com.
I will then forward them to Abigail and post the answers soon after.
This is our chance.
Should we separate our twins in school, give them their own bedrooms, sing them separate birthday songs? Do they mind sharing first initials, being referred to as a unit, taking baths together as kids?
You won't find a better source than Abigail Pogrebin.
So ask away!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No more preschool. This is why ...

I thought I was doing the best thing for all of us when I pulled the twins from the sitter's and sent them to a formal preschool two mornings a week.
They loved their sitter and she still took them one morning a week, but I needed more consistency and I felt they needed more social interaction.
Their sitter is a neighbor's nanny.
Whenever the neighbor's children were sick, she had to cancel. Whenever, she was sick, she had to cancel. Whenever our kids were sick, we had to cancel.
Then there were vacations to deal with: hers, ours and the parents of the other children.
I don't need a lot of time to focus on my writing, run some errands and get a little cleaning done. Nine hours a week is plenty right now, but I really need that nine hours. Even six will do. Heck, when I'm desperate, three is better than nothing.
At the preschool, they would stay home only when they were sick and they had seven other children in their class along with an assistant. The school promised help with potty training, drinking from cups and following directions.
It sounded great, it was highly recommended and the twins enjoyed the tour.
They were reluctant that first week, but by the second week, they were happy.
Sort of.
Compliant was more like it.
So I pushed that nagging feeling further back in my mind and labeled it "mommy guilt:" guilt over the fact that I had placed my twins in a formal school setting at only 2.5 years old, something I never would have considered with my older kids.
But an incident today finally opened my eyes.
Matthew had dropped his sippy cup in the parking lot. It slid under a car. He wasn't supposed to bring it into preschool anyway, but, like any toddler, he was devastated by the thought of leaving it there even for a few minutes.
While I tried to retrieve it, Jonathan ran into the parking lot.
Not good.
So I coaxed them inside with Matthew crying.
I explained the situation to the teacher and tried to tell Matthew I would get it and come right back to show him. He wasn't buying it. The tears flowed harder and that triggered a waterfall from Jonathan.
Ten minutes passed and the teacher did nothing to help me.
In the end, I had no choice, but to leave with the twins in tow. The teacher smiled and offered words of sympathy, but that was it.
As I buckled Matthew and Jonathan into their car seats with tears flowing down my own cheeks by now, something occurred to me. That teacher did not know these boys as Matthew and Jonathan.
She knew them as the Identical Twins.
Just last week, she told me that she couldn't see any differences between them. I took a few minutes to point out physical differences and then behavioral differences. She shrugged. She just didn't see it.
Now, I don't expect people to be able to apply the differences to the appropriate children, especially if they see them only in a classroom setting twice a week. But I would expect that after a month or so, this woman would at least see that there were differences.
She could have if she had tried.
But she didn't care to try.
So when I got home, I picked up the phone and I called their sitter.
I apologized for pulling them in the first place and begged her to take them more often.
"They slam the door in my face and say 'Bye, mom,' when I leave them with you," I said. "You don't need name tags and you never have. They adore you and I feel like you care for them," I told her.
She didn't even hesitate.
Matthew and Jonathan start their new schedule tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In sickness or in health

It was a terrified cry.
The same kind of cry that had pierced my dreams 26 hours earlier when Matthew vomited in bed while lying on his back. When I found him, it was obvious that Matthew had choked on his vomit and had coughed it out of his throat to get air.
So, despite the lack of sleep the night before, I flew out of bed and down the stairs.
What I saw made my heart melt.
Jonathan, who had bemoaned the temporary loss of his playmate all of the previous day, had crawled into Matthew's bed, snuggling up next to him and scaring him out of a deep sleep. I resettled them both and they quickly fell back asleep.
Some identical twins insist that they can feel each other's pain.
I met a man once whose identical brother lives in Cleveland, about five hours from his home in Cincinnati. One day, the man said, when he was in his 50s, he complained to his wife that his arm had been aching all day.
He couldn't figure out what he had done to it.
Later that evening, his sister-in-law called. The man's twin had just emerged from surgery in a Cleveland hospital. He had broken his arm earlier that day, the same arm that had caused the Cincinnati twin so much pain.
Even if is true, even if Jonathan has been feeling Matthew's misery throughout this illness that has lasted 48 hours so far and kept him from venturing more than two feet from the recliner, Matthew and Jonathan are too young to fully understand its meaning.
Yet, the depth of their empathy leaves me in awe.
Several times today, Jonathan stopped his play and climbed into the recliner beside his brother, an act that is usually met with kicking hitting and screaming on the occupant's part. But today, Matthew didn't fight it and Jonathan didn't try to kick him out.
They sat together for long period of time and watching Max and Ruby, Diego and Little Bear.
Just a few minutes ago, Matthew started to vomit again. I grabbed the bucket and Jonathan grabbed the other side. We held it together while Matthew heaved and heaved until he had nothing left.
Then I cleaned Matthew up and sat him in the recliner once again.
And Jonathan climbed in beside him.

All three of these photos were taken today. Matthew is on the right.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The book store

I have noticed that identical twins often have identical temperaments.
Or at least they are usuually pretty darned close.
And that can be a good thing.
Take my friend Misty who has identical triplets. I first met her about four years ago at the YMCA. Her girls were three years old. They lined up to go potty when asked and then they lined up to dress in their swim suits.
They walked, not ran, out the door and headed for the pool.
I have never seen those girls misbehave.
It's just not in their triplet nature.
Matthew and Jonathan are a whole different story.
They are highly active, highly curious and stubborn.
I have become so accustomed to planning outings in fence-in areas, running errands at night when my husband is home, and instinctively dreaming up new distractions before the current ones wear off, that I forget just how powerful this combined temperamental force is, and just how often I bow to it.
Until it hits me head-on.
Like yesterday.
Over the past few days, I have been trying to plan an afternoon play date with a mom of 3-year-old boy. My first suggestion was a fenced-in playground. I never considered anyplace else. The children's gym that I often rely on closes at 2 p.m.
Fortunately, the other mom liked the idea.
But then it rained.
I was baffled.
These guys refuse to ride in strollers or their wagon. When forced into either one, they take their anger out on each other, kicking and hitting like little mad men.
They will hold my hand for short durations, but when it's over, it's over. I've gotten very good at carrying them in a double football hold.
In frustration, I once resorted to those harnesses, the cute little puppy ones that look like backpacks. Matthew and Jonathan sat on the concrete as soon as they realized that their freedom was limited and refused to budge.
Anybody need a couple of barely used harnesses?
So, on rainy days in the late afternoon when we've already been to the YMCA and the children's gym is closed, we go nowhere. That's home time. Dangerous time. It's the kind of time when toy dolphins swim in toilet water, glass coffee tables become human launching pads and the entire main floor becomes a highly dangerous race track.
But I really wanted to meet up with this mom, a fellow writer, so I decided that for once, I would just have to be brave.
She had suggested Joseph-Beth Booksellers, a large book store about 25 minutes from home. She assured me that the bookstore had a separate children's area with a train table and a play kitchen, two of the twins' favorite things.
So we went.
And, to my amazement, we survived.
With their newness, the kitchen and the trains were the main attraction. By the time they'd lost interest, her son was ready to leave to. We walked out of Joseph-Beth holding hands, carrying the price of admission: two stuffed snakes.
It will be quite a while before we can return. After my new friend left, Jonathan found the door and tried to leave. Meanwhile, Matthew had gone back to the snakes and was pulling them off the display one by one.
They were getting to comfortable.
The newness had worn off.
Still, it was nice.
It was different.
It gave me hope.
Maybe someday I'll even be able to browse the books.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

They sing!

They sing!
Matthew and Jonathan sing!
And they sing everything: lullabies; theme songs, Twinkle, Twinkle; I've Been Working on the Railroad, The Wheels on the Bus.
They lie on their beds and sing to Laurie Berkner.
They dance in their room and sing with Laurie Berkner.
They twist and twirl and flap their hands, and sing with the Wiggles.
Their voices are beautiful.
Imperfect and beautiful.
They are confident.
They are proud.
They are having a blast.
This, despite the fact that I rarely expose them to raw music.
They get too much TV, too many DVDs.
I did the opposite with my older kids. I was strict with television and I kept the music playing--in the car, in the living room, in their bedrooms. We listened to Laurie Berkner, Raffie, World Playground.
I had more energy.
Yet my older children rarely belted out tunes at this age.
Now, my son sings only in bathrooms.
And my daughter thinks she's the next Hannah Montana.
But, when I pop in a CD for the twins, they are captivated.
The best part? Matthew and Jonathan used to say, "No sing!" whenever I tried to sing them a lullaby. I can't really blame them. I have this problem with singing on key. But I craved that connection with them, that warm, sweet cuddle time.
That has changed.
A few months ago, Jonathan crawled into my arms and said, "Rock-a-bye?"
I held him and rocked and sang to him as tears welled in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. A few days later, Matthew did the same. Now I sometimes rock and sing to both in the recliner or sneak them in another room one-by-one.
And each time, they cry.
Tears of relief, I think, or of release.
And while they let it all go, I take it all in.
All of their sweetness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beware the wail of the twin sirens

It started as a whimper and it was irresistible.
I can't remember the date, but I do remember that a few weeks ago Jonathan held his arms up to me and whimpered ever so slightly. When I picked him up, he wrapped his toddler fingers around my neck and buried his head in my chest.
And I held him there for the longest time.
Enjoying his warmth.
Loving that he needed me.
But that whimper became a full-blown wail today.
And it's not so cute anymore.
Jonathan has become my clingy one. His once-adorable whimper now makes my blood pressure rise. His outstretched arms are dangerous: he grabs my legs and trips me; he grabs my arms and spills whatever I am carrying; he grabs my shirt and pulls me backwards, throwing me off balance.
Until today, Matthew has simply looked on.
He has patiently waited for something else to attract Jonathan's attention, knowing that I would give him his share of hugs and cuddles the second my arms were free.
Every now and then, the two of them would start to battle over that space on my lap, but, in the end, Matthew would relent.
And he never whimpered.
Until today.
Today was third day of preschool.
The twins are attending two mornings a week.
They had a blast the first day. Jonathan cried a little when he realized I was leaving, but he couldn't resist the lure of the new toys, the new kids and the novelty of it all.
They were tired when I picked them up, but tired in a happy, worn-out kind of way. The second day was much the same.
But this morning, Jonathan began to whimper just outside the room.
And I could see Matthew perk up.
Matthew was about to go through the classroom doorway when he turned back to me, bright-eyed and determined. He stretched out his arms and began to whimper.
Jonathan was stunned for just a second, but then he whimpered louder.
And Matthew whimpered louder.
And Jonathan cried.
And Matthew cried.
And Jonathan began to wail.
I couldn't pick them both up while carrying backpacks, so I tried to lead them in by the hands. They threw themselves down on the floor and refused to budge. The teacher came out and grabbed one. The director grabbed the other.
I kissed them good-bye and lingered outside the door.
Finally, I asked a passing dad to peek in and give me a report.
Each boy was snuggled in a set of arms, he said. They seemed happy, but they were whimpering just a little.
"It was so cute," he said.
And, despite the stress of the morning--despite my throbbing veins, my aching head and my queasy stomach--I was suddenly overwhelmed with a new feeling. One I didn't like because it hurt too much.
I was jealous.
I was jealous of the teacher and the director who held Matthew and Jonathan in their arms, feeling those toddler fingers wrap around their necks and those heads buried in their chests.
Feeling their warmth.
Feeling loved.
Feeling needed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My little guys

Some new pictures just because it's been a while.


Jonathan loves to grab Matthew from behind and let Matthew "lead" him through the house.


Jonathan is in the green, Matthew is in the white and blue.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Seeing each other without seeing double

Matthew and Jonathan have plenty of toys that are duplicates of each other.
They have two Thomas the Trains, two Percys, two Gordons, two Lightening McQueens, two school buses, two dump trucks, two ride-on inch worms, two of most any vehicle that they might fight over.
But their white cars are an exception.
Both are white, both are sports cars and they are about the same size, but the two cars are different models. Yet, it was these cars that Matthew pointed to the other day when looked up at me, his eyes bright, and said, "twins!"
Jonathan looked on with interest as Matthew repeated his revelation over and over again.
Then, less than half an hour later, Jonathan pulled out two Diego vehicles. One was a pick-up truck and one was a jeep-like vehicle, but both were yellow and both held figures of Diego and Baby Jaguar snuggled close to one another.
"Twins!" Jonathan said proudly.
Maybe it was just a coincidence.
Maybe at 2.5 years old, they don't know what the heck they are talking about.
Maybe I overreacted.
But it was one of those identical twins moments that hit me hard, right in the chest, right in the stomach, right in my heart. These two boys who look so much alike, who were born of the same egg and share the same DNA, did not relate their status to that of the replicated vehicles, differentiated only by wear and tear.
Instead, they chose vehicles that look similar at first glance, but that are, in reality, unique from each other.
Just like them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A difference of weight

For the first time ever, Matthew's and Jonathan's weights are significantly different.
I first noticed it two weeks ago when they were recovering from colds. Both boys had preferred milk to solids while they were sick, but Matthew tended more toward the liquid diet than Jonathan.
So when they stepped on the scale after a bath, I attributed the difference to their illnesses.
Matthew weighed in at 33.5 pounds.
Jonathan was 35 pounds.
But two weeks later, the difference remains.
Part of me wondered whether I was feeding one twin too much or another too little, but then a babysitter put things into perspective: Matthew is much hyper than Jonathan, she noted as she watched them play.
And she was right.
Very right.
Matthew is spontaneous.
He moves without thinking and he moves constantly.
He rarely stops to eat, though he can't resist a sippy cup full of milk, especially when he is offered his yellow bear and a corner of the sofa with it.
Jonathan, on the other hand, contemplates things more often. He watches his twin brother and he learns from his mistakes. Then he decides whether to act. He does not waste energy; He lets his brother waste it for him.
And, boy, does he ever love peanut butter and jelly.
So, it is possible that this illness was just the beginning. That Matthew will never make up that caloric difference because he can't be bothered: he is too busy. And that future illnesses will create even greater differences until the two boys are double-digit pounds apart.
But then you never know.
Identical twins like to keep parents on their toes.
In utero, Matthew staked out his place as first-born from the beginning (or rather, from the 20-week ultrasound when we first learned two little guys were hiding out in there). He was head-down right near the cervix when we first saw him and there he stayed.
He never gave Jonathan a chance.
Jonathan was all over the place, kicking my ribs, my bladder, my pelvis.
Even after his brother was born, he wouldn't stop moving long enough to come out. He yanked his second foot away every time the doctor tried to breech extract him and took off swimming. When he finally decided to join the world 20 minutes later, he took a spontaneous pike dive, engaging fully head and foot first, and had to be removed via emergency c-section.
The boys were seven ounces apart and Jonathan was the lightweight.
I'm learning that just when I think I understand Matthew and Jonathan, that I know who they are and why they behave like they do, they pull a switch on me.
So I'm not going to worry.
Instead, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

More than twins: friends

One day several weeks ago, Jonathan took me by the hand and pulled.
"Come on, Mom," he said, leading me toward the room he shares with Matthew. "Come on. Play."
And I did.
This method of manipulation was new to Jonathan and he was thrilled that it had worked.
So, after that first incident, he started pulling me everywhere--to his room, to the basement, to the front door, to the refrigerator. His glee at his successes was irresistible, so I complied whenever possible.
Then, one day, I saw him reach for Matthew's hand.
"Come on, Matty. Jonny's bed. Play," he said.
Matthew appeared stunned for a moment and he would not take Jonathan's hand. But when his brother repeated his request, Matthew followed. Jonathan decided that was good enough. He dropped his hand to his side and simply led the way. They played for almost an hour, jumping on their beds and crashing back down in unison.
That was the day the dynamic began to change.
In the old days (like about two weeks ago), Matthew and Jonathan would go separate ways when freed from their stroller in large play areas. Jonathan, the social one, would seek out an occasional playmate. Matthew preferred to play on his own. Toward the end, when they both grew tired, they would come together and play.
That's how I knew it was almost time to go.
No more.
I first noticed it at the playground last week. After a few minutes of independence, Jonathan sought out Matthew. "Come on, Matty. Come slide," Jonathan said, starting out in the direction of his favorite slide.
Without hesitation, Matthew followed.
And for the rest of our time there, Jonathan led the way.
The same thing happened at the YMCA toddler pool yesterday.
"Come on, Matty. Jump in water."
"Come on Matty. Eat Goldfish (the crackers, not the real thing)."
"Come on. Matty. Swim."
And again at the Children's Museum today.
"Come on, Matty. Tunnel."
"Come on, Matty. Roll balls."
"Come on, Matty. Sand."
Where Jonathan went, Matthew followed and he followed willingly.
I'm sure the day will come (soon) when Matthew tires of being the follower and the two struggle over who gets to lead. But that's okay. The point--the thing that makes me so happy inside--is that Matthew and Jonathan find each other to be worthy playmates outside of the home when there are so many other kids to choose from.
They are become far more than brothers.
Like their older brother and sister who are often inseparable, they are becoming friends.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sabrina died: a twin mom remembered

I don't like sad news, but sometimes it serves as a necessary reminder.
This is sad news.
A fellow member of the Baby Center community died July 2.
Her name was Sabrina.
She was mom to 5-month-old identical twin boys and a son who is 5.
Sabrina died of an infection she contracted a month after the twins were born. The infection spread to her brain and caused a heart attack. Her husband, Andres, has launched a memorial blog where all who knew her can post remembrances for her children to read when they are older.
Sabrina lived in Argentina and most of the posts are in Spanish.
But many who plan to post will be writing in English.
When I first read her husband's announcement, I was having a particularly frustrating day.
Jonathan and Matthew were on a stripping streak. Every time I got them back into diapers and clothes, they'd announce that they wanted to use the potty and strip again.
Sometimes, they really did use the potty.
But most of the time, they just ran around naked.
They needed a nap, but getting them to sleep during the day in their big-boy beds was next to impossible. I felt like I was neglecting my older kids, who had spent most of the morning taking turns on their computer.
I was feeling sorry for myself because I never seem to have time to write or run.
Then I read about Sabrina.
And I was reminded.
It's cliche, I know.
But all I could think of then and all I can think of now is that life is good.
Life really is very, very good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Potty training: where one goes, the other will follow

Jonathan has always let Matthew take the lead in all things physical.
When Matthew was learning to crawl, Jonathan sat aloof, unmoving, in the center of the living room floor and watched. He watched for weeks as Matthew learned to fall from sitting position onto his belly, lift himself up onto his hands and knees, rock back and forth and then, finally, propel his body in different directions.
Two days later, Jonathan was at least as fast as his brother.
It was the same scenario for rolling over, sitting up and walking.
So I supposed I shouldn't be surprised that Jonathan shows no interest in potty training while Matthew is obsessed.
It started at the sitter's three days ago and Matthew's obsession has grown each day since.
This morning, he refused all potty seats and the toilet insert. Instead, he propped himself up on the big toilet and, for almost two hours, he sat and peed and sat and peed, watching Once Upon a Potty over and over.
He missed a few times and he didn't quite get there for number 2 (though he knew it was coming and he tried), but he had three or four successes (He drinks a lot.). Meanwhile, his brother sat on the sofa, aloof and unmoving, drinking milk.
For a moment, I thought Jonathan might join in. He stood up, pulled off his shorts and peeled off his diaper with an eager look on his face. I pointed him toward a potty seat and he moved forward, right past it to the Cars pull-up that lie on the floor next to it.
He handed me the pull-up and his shorts and said, "Cars? On?"
So I helped Jonathan into his pull-up, gave him more milk and turned back to Matthew, who was alternating toilet-flushing with toilet-sitting and hand-washing. Matthew was, once again, taking on the physical burden for his identical twin.
But he didn't seem to mind and, although Jonathan's eyes appeared glued to the little cartoon Joshua who was sitting on a little cartoon potty, I'm sure I saw his eyes shift to the bathroom every now and then.
So, for now, I'll focus on teaching Matthew.
And I'll let the brothers work out the rest.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Are they natural?

I logged onto my favorite online forum for parents of twins the other day and I couldn't believe what I saw.
On the first page of recent posts, there were three new threads.
One was a lengthy thread of vents from women who were tired of being asking whether their twins were "natural." Another was a poll created by a fellow member asking others whether their twins were conceived naturally or through fertility treatments. The third asked the same question, but not in poll form.
I usually avoid those threads all together.
People have a million reasons for asking that question (They are undergoing fertility treatments, they are concerned about a family history of twins, they are struggling for something to say while their eyes are fixed on our adorable babies, they are just plain curious). But rarely is the reason malicious.
I'm not bothered.
So I don't bother with the threads.
But this situation piqued my interest.
I opened the two threads in which board members posed the question to each other. I expected rants. I expected anger. I expected virtual riots between those who spontaneously conceived and those who underwent fertility treatments.
There were none.
Those who conceived with the help of drugs or IVF told of their struggles, their tears, and their gratitude to have not just one baby, but two. Those who conceived spontaneously told of their shock, their family histories, their glee.
Not even the teeniest bit of irritability.
So I opened the vent thread.
Many of these same women, these women who so cordially and eagerly answered the same question for each other, expressed outrage that anyone--family, friends or strangers--would even dare ask.
All babies are "natural," they argued, even those conceived through fertility.
So, I wonder.
Why is it okay for strangers (because, really, no matter how long you've known someone through an online forum, that person is still a stranger) who might also happen to have twins (How do you even know that other person is who he or she claims to be?) to ask how our twins were conceived on an online forum, when the same question is concerned taboo, rude or unbelievably inconsiderate if asked in person?
My conclusion is that some women just love to get angry and they love to tell others how angry they got. They seek out confrontation where there is none and then they feed off of it for the rest of the day, sometimes the rest of the week.
And this might just be the way some twin moms deal with the stress.
It's a non-issue for these particular women in an online setting. They can answer honestly because they have no desire to destroy the relationship. They need the other moms on the forum. They have an investment in the online "friendships," where they can hide behind usernames, never revealing their real-life selves.
Beside, confrontation is more fun when it's face-to-face.
For the record, not all identicals are spontaneous (depending on our definition of spontaneous). Many sets of higher-order multiples include sets of identical twins. The identical twinning is an indirect result of the treatments (Treatment aid fertilization and implantation, and the eggs just happened to split), but still, chances are that those identical twins would not be here without the help of modern medicine.
So if you ask "the question" of a triplet mom or a quad dad or even parents of octuplets and you get a puzzled look in return, try to be understanding. It's a long story and perhaps they are just wondering whether they have the energy to answer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The big-boy bed disaster: can't they make bigger cribs?

We finally made the move and it's been horrible.
Matthew and Jonathan are in big boy beds.
I was hoping to keep them in cribs until they turned 18, but nothing was working anymore. We'd brought the crib mattresses down as low as they could go and we clothed them in big-kid sleep sacks, but still, they managed.
They managed so well that I found Jonathan perched on the highest wall of his crib the other day at nap time and I watched, unable to reach him on time, as he leaped into Matthew's crib.
It was terrifying.
So I bought beds and had them set up within five hours.
Trouble is that these two feed off each other.
Their similar temperaments mean they are similarly wild.
In their cribs, they jumped up and down simultaneously until they simply couldn't do it anymore and they crashed. In their beds, they do the same thing except now there are no crib rails to confine them.
Now, they jump off the bed, or from one bed to the other.
Now, they get out of bed, open dresser drawers, climb them and pull their lullaby CD from its player.
Now, they dump laundry out of the basket and scatter it all over the floor.
Now, they don't nap and it's draining to put them to bed at night.
We tried lying down with them. (We can spare only one person at a time because we do, after all, have two older kids.) They step on our tummies, our faces, our legs. When we are settling one, the other makes a beeline for the door.
We tried putting them down every time they got up without saying a word. That worked with our older kids. The older kids gave up after they realized they weren't going to get attention for their antics.
Not so with these guys.
They get giggles out of each other.
And that's enough attention for them.
So now we lock them in like prisoners.
We give them some toys, listen for any sounds of true disaster and pray that they will be okay.
When all is quiet, we go in and pick them up off the floor or straighten their little bodies on their beds, and change their diapers. Then we cover them up and lock the door again only to find them standing in those dresser drawers again as soon as we hear the first peep over the monitor in the morning.
Yes, the dresser is attached to the wall, but it might loosen. It might give way.
Yes, they eventually fall asleep at night, but they wake at the crack of dawn and, without naps, their personalities are not so pleasant anymore. My "good-natured terrors" are losing their good natures.
Yes, we should consider separate rooms for naps, but we don't have the space right now and we definitely don't have the childproofed space.
So, I guess all I can do right now is keep trying to get them to bed even earlier, duct-tape the dresser drawers every night and have patience. Have patience that the days will grow shorter again and they will sleep longer. Have patience that as they get older, they will need less sleep. Have patience that their good natures will once again take over.
Now I just have to figure out how to find that patience.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sometimes it would be nice if they acted like twins

I had to laugh the other day when I thought about all those parents who fret about separating their identical twins in school, or who dress their twins in assigned colors only, or who enroll them in different activities regardless of their interests--all with the goal of promoting individuality.
I had to laugh because individuality is the reason I need a mother's helper one day a week this summer. Individuality is the reason I had to order two more yellow shirts from Children's Place last week. Individuality is the reason we have huge battles at bath time these days.
And I can't recall doing anything specific to promote it.
For instance, I can't take Matthew and Jonathan to any public place that is not fenced in by myself because as soon as I set them down, they run off in opposite directions.
They might nod at each other occasionally, but rarely do they interact at all. They are content in the knowledge that the other is there and for some reason, that contentment seems to give them confidence. And energy.
So, if I want to take the older kids to the zoo, the Museums Center or the splash park, I need another pair of hands.
My mother's helper is 14 years old. She is our neighbor's daughter. She was so excited when she accepted the job. She was so exhausted after our trip to the zoo on Wednesday.
I hope she has the strength to last another eight weeks.
I had to buy those yellow shirts (on sale, thank goodness) because that's all Matthew will wear lately. Jonathan will wear only orange, though both are willing to make an exception for red or green shirts once in a while as long as we are willing to endure an amazingly long and loud tantrum first.
Jonathan will wear only shorts no matter how cool it is outside.
Matthew will wear only pants no matter how hot it is outside.
And bath time.
Bath time has turned into a disaster.
Jonathan wants bubbles and toys.
Matthew wants clear water and no toys.
I'm finding I can ease the resulting aggression by grabbing a few cars from their toy bin and throwing those in the water. Matthew doesn't view the cars as "bath toys." Jonathan does. So, until the novelty wears off, I'm saved once again.
Here are photos of the boys.
Can you guess who is who?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Identical voices?

Matthew and Jonathan have the same cry.
When I hear them call out over the monitor at night, I can never tell whether the same toddler has awakened twice or whether both woke up at different times. It drives me crazy, especially when they are sick.
So, before they started speaking, I often wondered whether they would have the same voice.
I finally have my answer.
They do.
But they don't.
If both boys say the same thing with the same inflection (and they often do), their voices are indistinguishable from one another. They also have a similar vocabulary and are at the same stage of speech development.
They string words together, but they do not form complete sentences.
What distinguishes them in speech is not their voices, but their personalities.
Matthew likes to yell.
Sometimes, he'll just stand there and holler, "Mom! Mom!" in a flat, loud, determined tone even though I'm right there. Then he'll grin. He just really loves to yell. It seems to makes him feel good, strong, in control.
If he wants to go into the basement playroom, he commands me: "Mom! Basement!"
Jonathan doesn't do that.
When I hear a question asked in soprano, that's when I know it's Jonathan speaking. He is inquisitive and his voice often climbs almost unbearably high when he struggles with that first syllable of a question.
When Jonathan wants to play in the basement, I hear a high-pitched squeak that grows louder, stronger and fuller as it finally escapes: "Basement?"
He doesn't command me; he makes an appeal to me.
Over time, I'm sure experience will change their approaches. They will learn, like we all do, how people react to their attempts to manipulate with intonation and inflection, and their voices will be like their cries.
They will be indistinguishable.
But that's okay.
That's okay because, by then, I won't need to hear different voices to know who is speaking. Jonathan and Matthew will have different interests, different concerns, different questions, different life experiences.
Their personalities will override their biological similarities.
They will sound different simply because they are different.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Identical twins and heredity

The question came up again on an online forum. And, once again, folks hopped into the discussion with both feet, readily giving incomplete and misleading answers with confidence.
The question?
Can the tendency to have identical twins be inherited?
The most common answer and the prevailing theory is "no."
Most OBs will tell their patients that identical twins are fluke, an accident of nature, and that their chances of having another set are no greater than any other woman's chance of having identicals in the first place.
But how does that explain my neighbor's daughter and her family? She has three sets of identical twin boys who come trick-or-treating to our house every year.
And what about the woman whose daughter took dance lessons with my daughter? She is an identical twin and she has identical twin boys of her own.
Then there is the woman I met at a local bakery. She looked longingly at my boys (who were screaming at my attempt to get some coffee, unwilling to be pacified by cookies) and told me that her two daughters each have a set of identical twin girls.
It just doesn't make sense.
The reality is that scientists have no idea why some women have identical twins and some don't. Evidence does exist that many sets are flukes. For instance, there is no history in my family or in my husband's of identical twins as far as we know.
My side boasts a set of twins and a set of triplets way back in the olden days, but they were fraternal. My mother-in-law remembers a set of triplets birthed by a distant relative, but they also were fraternal.
So our boys probably were an accident of nature, an awesome accident.
But in other families, the frequency is too great for simple coincidence.
The journalist in me demanded that I do some research.
This is what I found:
A 2007 study, led by Dr. Dianna Payne, a visiting research fellow at the Mio Fertility Clinic in Japan, shows that identical twins form just after conception when an embryo collapses and splits in two. She discovered this by photographing growing embryos every two minutes in a lab using special computer software.
Her evidence negates previously held theories that the egg splits after it leaves its shell immediately before implantation and that, therefore, identicals either shared a placenta or had individual placentas that grew close together. The predominance of the previous theory explains why my OB insisted that our boys were fraternal until they were DNA tested.
Our boys each had their own placentas, which grew on polar opposite side of my uterus.
They were born in January of 2007, just before Dr. Payne and her colleagues went public with their research.
Dr, Payne's discovery has opened new paths for research into the potential genetic impact on identical twins. A study is currently underway that proposes that a male enzyme is involved. Scientist already know that the enzyme causes the embryo to collapse, but they are unsure who secretes it or why.
The study, as far as I know, is not yet public.
But I found this post-- written by a graduate bioengineering student who is helping to conduct the study at an unnamed university--on a Yahoo forum (http://www.twinslist.org/idfaq.htm). She says that the study also suggests some women carry a gene that prevents the enzyme from splitting the egg, and that men who produce the enzyme do not produce it every time:

"Thus far, the research shows that the enzyme is directly responsible for causing the splitting of the chromosomes, which results in the division of the cytoplasm which results in two eggs! There are a few (about 1%) that have alluded us so far and have shows no sign of the enzyme despite the fact that twins resulted. Thus, we have concluded that identical twinning can also be a random event. But in about 99% of the people tested, the enzyme is apparently the culprit. So, 99% is a darn good yield! So, according to our research, it is not a small percentage but almost the entire percentage."

This part of the post explains why we know so little:

"And yes, this study has been repeated already, but very, very little money is put into this research, so most of it is done on our own time. The reason for this is there is little to no medical advances that can come out of the research, just info and most of the money on medical and genetic research is for improving the outcome of diseases, etc. So, that is why it may be a while before this research is completed. We have to get about 5% of the public who have twins to complete our research (not all will go through tests, some will just answer questionnaires) before we can say that this represents the entire population, so you can see that this will take a while!"

So that's it.
The answer is that there is no definitive answer because the people in medical community, or rather the folks who fund their research, are just not not all that interested.
For now, identical twins remain a mystery.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer Fun

Here are a few photos of the boys playing in their pool in the back yard. They are now two years and four months old.

Jon is holding Elmo. Matt is "swimming."

Jon (with back facing camera) gives his twin a kiss.

Matt "swimming."

I must admit that in this photo, I have no idea which twin is jumping off the picnic table.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A closer look

It's strange and, maybe, it's just a phase, but I find that I rarely think of Matthew and Jonathan as identical twins these days.
All I can figure is that I am so focused on the intimate, complex achievements that come with this age, that I am unable to step back and see them from any kind of distance anymore. Their recent developments have given me the opportunity to see the minutia and, in the minutia, I see two little people who are so very different from each other.
For instance, language has given them the tools to verbally express their individuality, like Jonathan and his obsession with Swiper the Fox, an obsession that Matthew does not share:
"Oh man!"
(Repeat ten times and insist that mom repeat each word as affirmation that she is listening.)
Or Matthew with his bathing preferences, preferences that Jonathan clearly does not share:
"No toys!" Matthew shrieks as a small zebra, a cup and a teething ring come flying out of the bathtub. Jonathan stands, reaches in vain for the discarded playthings and then throws his hands up and cries.
"Toys done," Matthew says triumphantly. "No toys!"
Improved mobility and agility has given them the skills to individually test their physical limits while also applying the techniques of observation and manipulation.
For instance, Matthew has learned to appear fully absorbed in play in their fenced-in area out back, leaving me with a sense of security as I try to sneak inside for a moment to unload the dishwasher. As soon as my back is turned, he is over the fence and around the front of the house. Jonathan remains fenced in, too awed to throw a leg over and follow.
Jonathan, meanwhile, is focused on his jumping skills. He arranges bean bag chairs a few feet away from the sofa and then, calculating the distance just perfectly, he leaps from the sofa into the bean bag chairs face-first.
Greater reasoning ability, empathy and perspective has given them both the skills to manipulate their environment and the people in it to their liking.
A few examples:
Matthew will turn my head in his direction with his tiny hands, cock his own head in the cutest little way, scrunch his eyes just right and say, "Cars? Watch Cars?" He knows he makes my heart melt. He knows I can't resist. In goes the Cars DVD.
Jonathan keeps one eye on his brother and waits for that moment when Matthew wants to cuddle with me. Then he runs over, pushes his twin brother aside, climbs into my arms and declares, "Mine! Mine!" As soon as Matthew loses interest in the battle for attention, Jonathan slips off my lap and resumes play.
Matthew climbs onto the sofa, lays his head on a pillow and covers himself with a blanket, just like his older brother does each morning when he first wakes up. And then, in his desire to complete the charade, he says, "Ovaltine? Ovaltine?" requesting his idol's favorite drink and hoping it gets his attention.
Sometimes, when I am crouched down, picking raisins off the floor, scrubbing milk out of the carpet or scooping up bits of crushed crackers, I'll feel two perfect hands tickle my neck and Jonathan will be standing right in front of me. He'll say "love!" and then kiss me right on the lips. Just as he predicts, I stop what I'm doing and cradle this amazing human being.
It was a lot easier when the twins were more like a unit, when I could step back and say this is who "they" are, this is what "they" do, how "they" behave. Still, I wouldn't ever want to be positioned so far away again.
This new phase is exhausting, but it's also exhilarating.
I am finally getting the chance to know them, to know them as individuals.
As Matthew and Jonathan, brothers who just happen to both be two.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Anger management

When Matthew and Jonathan are angry with each other, they do what many siblings their age do: they hit each other.
So what do they do when they are angry with me?
They hit each other.
I haven't quite figured this one out.
I've talked to other twin moms, assuming this must be a common issue.
It's not.
No one had answers for me.
All I can figure is that jealousy plays a role; Matthew and Jonathan are so accustomed to each other that, somehow, whenever they are angry with me, they figure it must be the other twin's fault.
This phase has convinced us of one thing: it is time to work harder at separating them now and then. They need to learn to handle their emotions as individuals, not as a team.
Since it seems that we're at the grocery store just about every day, that's where we'll start.
A trip for Jonathan today.
A trip for Matthew tomorrow.
And maybe, just maybe it will work.
Maybe, next time I evoke their fury, they'll channel their emotions appropriately.
They'll hit me instead of each other.
Wait a minute ...
What the heck are we doing?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Their voices emerge

They are speaking.
Really, really speaking and, wow, is it cool.
It all started just after their second birthday, the day I picked up the phone to make the appointment with a speech therapist. I got distracted and planned to call again later. Suddenly, I heard "Bye, bye, truck."
And it just poured out from there.
Three months ago, Matthew and Jonathan would not string two words together. The single words they used were mostly one-syllable words and they often would leave off the ending sounds.
I tried not to worry.
Many online friends with identical boys of similar ages were experiencing the same delays.
The county folks who had evaluated Matthew and Jonathan said they communicated in all other ways, and that they had simply fallen into the habits of twinese or twin language.
They entertained each other and had no desire to please adults with their speaking abilities. The county team suggested sign language, but assured me that Matthew and Jonathan would eventually come around.
Our pediatrician recommended a few therapy sessions anyway just to encourage them to speak and to help ease the frustrations that bring about so many tantrums when children grow intellectually, but are still not able to communicate their needs and desires.
This was the appointment I was trying to make that day in January.
Now my concerns seem silly.
I was in the kitchen this morning when I heard, "Ready, set, go!" from foyer. Then around the corner came Matthew in the lead with the smaller toy shopping cart. Jonathan was at his heels, with the larger one, laughing like crazy.
When I told them they needed to get dressed, Jonathan said, "Shirt? Pants?" and went right for the dresser. He picked up a blue shirt with a ball and net on front and said, "basketball? Shirt on?" clear as day.
The boys can count to ten.
They know their colors.
They know the alphabet and most of the letter sounds.
They say, "One, two, three. Green!" when we stop at a red light.
This morning, as we headed out the door for a three-hour visit to the sitter, Matthew said, "Cole's house?" And that was exactly where we were headed. To the home of our three-year-old neighbor Cole and his nanny, who cares for Matthew and Jonathan two mornings a week.
I answered him and the three of us -- Matthew, Jonathan and I -- had a little conversation about Cole and his little sister and their toy dinosaurs.
We actually had a conversation.
It was so cool.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just because it's been a while

Matthew plays with the bubble stuff left by the Easter bunny. They don't taste as good as he had hoped.

Jonathan is beginning to understand cameras, the ham!

Jonathan is on the left in red. Matthew is too busy watching Diego rescue Baby Jaguar to care.

Identical twins; fraternal eaters

Our oldest son is vegetarian.
He is 9 and hasn't eaten meat in five years.
Our 7-year-old daughter makes up for her brother's lack of meat consumption. She routinely eats the meat, fruit and vegetables and she leaves the carbs behind. She'll even leave French fries untouched.
I have always figured their eating habits were genetically influenced. After all, our oldest two children are only 17 months apart and they were raised in the same eating environment. I can't imagine what we might have done that would have made such a drastic difference in their eating habits.
But the twins defy my logic.
The other day, I tried an experiment.
I gave the boys hot dogs, PB&J, cheese and green beans for lunch. As expected, Matthew ate all of his hot dog and most of Jonathan's. He had seconds and thirds on green beans. He had one bite of PB&J and none of the cheese.
Jonathan ate two bites of hot dog. He ate all of his PB&J and polished off Matthew's. He ate his own cheese and his brother's and then asked for more. He had seconds on the green beans, but didn't finish his second serving.
Matthew ate the meat and lots veggies.
Jonathan ate the carbs, non-meat protein and a moderate amount of veggies.
This is the pattern that has been developing over the past few months.
I don't get it.
The twins have the same DNA. They have always been offered the same foods at the same times. I would expect some differences in their eating habits; Even though they are identical twins, they are different people with minds and preferences of their own.
But this goes beyond that.
They are emulating the opposite habits of their older brother and sister.
That might make sense if they were around them more often. But, thanks to school, the four children usually eat only dinner together. And at dinner, our oldest son eats what we eat with either beans, or a soy- or whey-based product as a meat substitute.
They don't see his PB&Js or her rolled up salami.
I just don't get it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I'm not playing anymore

I was at the Children's Museum with the twins last week when another twin mom tried to engage me in the nursing game.
I don't like the nursing game.
It's not fun and these moms only goad me into playing it because they know they will win.
It starts bluntly like this:
"Your boys are so big! Did you nurse them?"
Does breast milk include huge doses of growth hormone? Their dad is 6-foot-5. Their brother and sister are way off the charts for height. So why shouldn't the twins be tall too? Then again, my husband and both older kids were nursed as babies.
I stupidly make the next move.
I don't know why.
Boredom maybe.
I am often aching for adult conversation.
"Yes. I did."
"Oh really? For how long?"
"Four months."
I don't explain. And that complicates the game. She's stuck--unless she plays the formula-is-so-expensive.-Thank-goodness-I-never-had-to-use-it-because-I-nursed-my-twins-exclusively-for,-like,-two-years card.
I am fortunate though.
One of her twins takes off and she's off like a shot with him, the other twin in tow.
The boys and I wander elsewhere and I don't see her again.
But I'm tired of the game and I don't want to play anymore.
So I've decided to show my cards once and for all.
I nursed my older kids. My son gave up on me at 8 months. He had better things to do and really resented the time it took to nurse. He preferred a bottle even though I made him drink it on my lap.
My daughter nursed for 15 months and showed no signs of quitting. Then she fell on the tile near the fireplace and sliced her tongue with her teeth. She couldn't nurse for several days and, finally, made her transition to cups.
I felt terrible for her, but I also felt that she'd had a darned good run.
When the twins were born, I was determined to nurse them too. I shouldn't deny them, I said to myself, simply because they happened to be born at the same time. It wouldn't be fair. And, of course, I thought it would be a breeze.
I was a breastfeeding veteran.
But Matthew and Jonathan both had trouble latching when they were born, identical troubles. I spent ten frustrating days nursing, bottle feeding and then pumping with barely an hour's break before I had to start all over again.
When they finally did latch (on the same day at about the same time), they still had their issues. Matthew would grab on and go to town for ten minutes straight. Then he'd quit. That was it. No more no matter how hungry he seemed to be.
Jonathan would take a full ten minutes to get latched. Then he would nurse endlessly and scream if I tried to take him off. He was a slow nurser. For some reason, it took a great deal of effort for him.
It was stressful.
And school added to the stress.
My daughter attended half days and my son attended full days. I had no help during the day or when my husband travelled and we live nowhere near family. Poor Matthew and Jonathan were often rushed through nursings so I could get the older kids to school, then rush to the bus stop after school, get my daughter to dance, get my son ready for Cub Scouts.
I tried pumping, but I had even less time for that.
And the stress took its toll. I was lucky to get two or four ounces when I pumped and I sometimes pumped for an hour straight.
The only time I could nurse the boys comfortably was during those few hours in the afternoon when both older kids were in school, and I lived for those moments. It was peaceful. It was pleasant.
Most of the time.
Okay, hardly ever, but sometimes and sometimes was good enough.
Most often, both boys would cry with hunger at the same time and I wasn't good at tandem nursing. I was too big when I nursed (a quadruple D I'd say, if there is such a thing) and it was terribly uncomfortable for all three of us. Someone had to cry while the other ate. So I started using formula, a few ounces here and a few ounces there, more and more.
After three months, I was such a mess that I knew I had to make a decision.
Nothing beats breast milk, but I had the health of the family as a whole to considered.
So, one month later, the day school ended, I nursed Matthew and Jonathan for the last time.
I ought to reflect on the sadness of that moment, but I can't.
While I'll admit I felt some guilt, the overwhelming emotion was relief.
Immense and intense relief.
Game over.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A different kind of mom

I used to be a good mom.
My kids, my older kids, never had more than two hours a day of combined screen time (TV and computer) as per the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even then, I allowed only commercial-free TV and educational computer games.
I scoffed at moms who regularly visited McDonald's or Burger King. Once a month was too much in my opinion. I shopped for fruit and vegetables at a local produce store and dessert was a rarity.
Forget it.
The house was clean.
The kids were in bed by 8 p.m.
My children were well-disciplined, knowing that time-outs would come swiftly--anytime, anywhere--if they misbehaved.
I was in tune with them, responding to their every whimper.
Now they have to scream.
The twins had their first McDonald's French fries before they turned a year old (They don't like the nuggets). The television is on whenever they are awake. Sometimes, I just pray that they'll actually watch it so I can have a break.
At least once a day, I pretend not to see an infraction because I don't have the energy for a time-out. I know it will come back to haunt me in the long run, but I don't think as far in advance as I used to. I just hope that I'll get through each day.
I lose my temper with the older kids quickly if they argue. On the weekends, they get far more computer time than they should. They went to bed at 9:30 last night, a school night, because my husband was sick and I had too much to do before I could get around to their bedtime routine.
I was feeling horrible about my new parenting methods as I prepared, at midnight, to finally drag myself up to bed. Then I picked up the snack dishes the older kids had left behind and I smiled.
Riley, who just celebrated his 9th birthday, had asked for spinach as part of his snack. Not a leaf was left behind. His 7-year-old sister, Kiersten, had asked for a cheese stick. Granted, they'd had two small cookies, but it never occurred to them to ask for more.
I'd had good conversations with each as I read to them and tucked them in.
They had cleaned their rooms when I asked, showered when I asked and turned the TV off when I told them to. Earlier in the evening, they had come into the nursery to give their twin brothers goodnight kisses. Jonathan and Matthew had grinned in delight at the sight of their older siblings, who share a bond not much unlike their own.
As I turned off lights, removed books from beds and shut bedroom doors, I couldn't help thinking that Riley and Kiersten have not been "ruined" by a few too many hours of television or computer time. Nor have they been destroyed by an occasional doughnut on a Wednesday morning.
And I think I know why.
The one thing that has not changed is that we all listen. We listen to each other with respect and caring and love even when we're angry or frustrated or overwhelmed or when we need to take a few minutes to ourselves first.
Maybe the rest is overrated.
Maybe there is hope for the twins.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More

I am not generally a sentimental person.
The twins do have baby books.
They are those bulging manila envelopes on the shelf next to my desk.
The older kids have boxes.
I don't save birthday cards. I don't read romance and I rarely read inspirational books.
But I bought Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More anyway. I'd gotten to know the co-author, Susan Heim, who is mom to 5-year-old fraternal twins and two teen-aged boys. Susan has agreed to write the foreword for my yet-to-published book, a compilation of interviews with stay-at-home moms.
She is a wonderful person and an insightful author so I thought I'd check it out.
I can't put it down.
And I'm not just saying that because of my connection with her.
I really can't put it down.
The stories are short enough that I can read one while the twins are bathing, another while they are watching Diego and another before bed when everyone is fast asleep.
They are addictive.
Some are sweet.
Some are sweetly sad.
Some are just fun.
Susan first hooked me with It's Twins, a book of advice and stories from other twin parents. She has other books to her name and she does it all while staying home with her kids. She is my inspiration.
Well, sort of.
I asked her one day whether things get better as the twins get older.
She laughed (virtually. I could hear it in the exclamation point after, "So far, I would have to say it hasn't gotten much easier!").
That was not inspiring.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I just knew

It happened for the first time yesterday and I'm having trouble containing my excitement.
I was uploading images from our digital camera onto the computer when I saw a photo of one of the boys. My first thought--my very first and very confident thought--was, that's Jonny!
Moments later, it happened again, this time in a photo of the boys together. I immediately recognized Matty on the right.
Now, I know I sound like a horrible mother, so I should say that I have always been able to figure out who is who in photos eventually. I look at their clothes, at the toys in their hands, at the food on their faces. Sometimes, I have to squint a little and study the blue veins on the bridges of their noses (thick, Jonathan; thin, Matthew).
With time, I can identify them.
But this was different.
This time I just knew.
Right away.
I've never been so instantly sure.
And I know why.
Matthew and Jonathan are growing up and as they grow, their personalities are beginning to break through in a physical way--even in photos.
In the photo of Jonathan (below), he has this look on his face that belongs only to him.
Matthew has become a ham with cameras. He scrunches his face into a funny little smile and tilts his head up, like he did in yesterday's photo.
This last photo, I posted just for fun!
Jon is on the right. Is it love or is he trying to get a cookie out of his brother's mouth?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Twins are dangerous

Twins are dangerous, especially at two years old.
I concluded that today when I realized that I couldn't do dishes with fresh cuts on three of my knuckles on my right hand. Only one injury was new, but the other two had occurred within the past 24 hours and had reopened during the last incident.
All three can be blamed on the twins.
The first knuckle scratch happened when I was trying to scoop food up from underneath the dining room table. The twins had tossed their lunch freely throughout the dining room, a favorite game of theirs. I was hurrying because Jonathan was anxious to squish the very-soft green beans into the floorboards.
I turned a bit too quickly and hit my head.
As I reached for my head, I scraped my knuckle on the rough wood under the table.
The second incident was diaper-related.
I was reaching for a diaper in the cabinet above the changing table while trying to keep Matthew from kicking me. He does that when he prefers nakedness and I insist on clothing. Just as my hand grasped the diaper, I got a foot in my stomach. I yanked my right hand back and scraped the knuckle on the cabinet door.
The third incident occurred this morning.
Both boys had stripped while I was in the bathroom. I found Matthew leaning causally against the sofa while peeing on the carpet. I rushed to get him on a potty and spied Jonathan peeing on the hardwood by the front door.
It was too late for Matthew anyway, so I put him down and grabbed some paper towel, hoping to at least soak up some of Jonathan's mess before anyone slid in it. As I passed Matthew, he started peeing again.
I threw my arms out in exasperation and caught my knuckles on the edge of the counter top, creating a new cut and reopening the other two.
To make matters worse, I have a Band-Aid on my fingertip. That incident was unrelated. I was trying to re-cork a bottle of wine and cut my finger on some remaining foil.
But wait.
Why did I drink that red wine last night?
Oh yea, the twins.
See what I mean?
Twins are dangerous.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Double time-outs: the logistics

Years before I got pregnant with the twins, I knew a woman who had identical girls. Like my boys, they were feisty. She had tried giving them time-outs in pack-n-plays, but it didn't work. They just played, even with no toys.
So she locked them in the laundry room.
I was horrified.
She insisted that she had no choice, especially when she had to do two time-outs at once. She said that I didn't understand because I didn't have twins. My older kids are 17 months apart. Singleton moms just didn't get it, she said.
She was right.
I didn't understand then and I don't understand now, even with feisty toddler twins of my own.
What she did was wrong.
It is possible to give double time-outs without locking twins in laundry rooms. For a while, I did simultaneous time-outs almost daily, and Matthew and Jonathan are far bigger and stronger than her girls were at their age.
It's not pretty and it's not fun, but it is possible.
Here's how I do it:
I squat down, grab both boys and sit on my heels. I pull one twin on each knee and, for each child, I bring one of my arms over his shoulder and diagonally across his chest like a seat belt. Then I grab one of his thighs and he is locked in.
He can't get out.
I very awkwardly place my head between theirs so that if they thrash about, their heads will hit my cheeks instead of each other's skulls. Then I count two minutes in my head and pray that my arms will hold out.
When it's over, they both get a reminder, a hug and kiss.
I started the double time-outs because the boys tend to take advantage of each other's distress. If one child is getting a time-out, the other will often commit the same offense just to test me. It took some time, but they are finally learning that I am stronger, more clever and more determined than they are.
More often, I am doing one time-out at a time.
They are even learning to sit for the duration with only occasional repositioning (Well, okay, every 15 seconds or so).
As for my friend, she stopped the laundry room time-outs after one daughter found a hanger on top of the dryer and got the hook caught in her mouth. Her daughter recovered just fine, but my friend was shaken.
I'm just sorry it took an injury for her to come to her senses.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two-year stats

Not all identical twins develop identically in their physical growth.
Just last week, I met identical twin girls at the local mall with their mom. The girls were 3 years old and one was more than an inch taller than the other. The difference, the mom said, was likely caused by twin-to-twin transfusion, which forced doctors to deliver them at 27 weeks or lose the smaller twin.
Our guys were lucky.
Each had his own sac and his own placenta. Their placentas were on polar opposite sides of the uterus. It can't get better or safer than that. Their placement in utero was so rare that it took DNA tests to persuade my OB that they are, indeed, identical.

So I wasn't surprised by the findings at their 2-year physical:

Height: Both boys are 37.5 inches tall, landing them off the charts compared to other boys their age. Our two older children are off the charts for height as well. It's in their genes. Their dad looms 10 inches above me at 6 feet, 5 inches tall.

Head: Their measurements were precisely the same even though most folks insist that Jonathan's head is bigger. Jonathan has slightly more fat in his cheeks than his brother. I sometimes wonder if that is because Jonathan was born via c-section while Matthew experienced a vaginal birth. It's not likely, but it's something to think about.

Weight: Matthew was the lighter of the two at 31 pounds, 4 ounces. Jonathan weighed in at exactly 32 pounds. It might be the cheek fat. It might have been a wet diaper. It might have been because Matthew takes so much more pleasure in throwing his food than in eating it. Who knows?

Overall, the doctor proclaimed Jonathan and Matthew healthy, but she referred them to specialists for speech and hearing. Though the county program denied them services, she felt their reluctance to use more than one syllable per word and their refusal to put to words together is probably the source of unnecessary frustration.
She figures twinese is the cause, but that a little therapy might make life better for all of us.
I have to agree.
So off we go to Children's Hospital.
We'll be checking back with the pediatrician in six months.
Hopefully, by then, we'll be asking for advice on how to tune out their constant chatter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Crucial products for guys like mine

Something tugged at me the other night, pulling me toward the nursery and urging me to check on Matthew and Jonathan. I hate to do that. So often, it wakes them. But this feeling was so strong, that I opened the doors anyway.
And when I did, I found Matthew asleep underneath his fitted crib sheet.
It frightened me, but it did not surprise me.
These guys are clever, curious and determined.
A few days earlier, I had come into the nursery during nap time to find both boys shouting and giggling with their legs tucked underneath the sheets. They had figured out how to reach down the sides of the mattresses, grab the elastic from underneath and pull the sheets up.
That first incident gave me a little time to research the options.
I knew straps wouldn't work, not the way they were doing this. I had to find something that would make their sheets immobile.
It took a few hours and a lot of creative keyword searches, but, I finally found the solution. Four Secure-Fit crib sheets from Halo Innovations arrived via Federal Express Ground today. I took them out of the package and smiled. This company knows my boys.
The arrival of the sheets got me thinking about the items I have found invaluable to high-energy, creative twin boys. And I'd like to share a few of my favorites. No one has paid me or influenced me in any way in exchange for these endorsements.
Lets start with the sheets:

Halo Secure-Fit crib sheets: These sheets have deep pockets on either end to keep the sheets on. One side slips over the mattress. The other side Velcros into place. Parents of multiples can get discounts by calling customer service number.

Halo Big Kid's Sleep Sack Wearable Blanket: These are essential for children like mine who are climbers and they are much easier to use than crib nets. The larger sleep sacks have foot hole so toddlers can stand and walk, but they can't lift their legs over the sides of cribs.

Podee Baby Bottles: What can I say about these? They brought me sanity once I stopped nursing. Podee bottles have a long, flexible tube that leads to a nipple and reaches far down to the bottom of the bottle. Parents can push a stroller through a mall with bottles tucked in at their twins' sides and nipples in mouths. With two older kids who needed my attention and lots of events to attend outside the home, these were crucial for me. They kept everyone happy. It beats propping bottles or listening to one baby scream while the other eats.

Step2 Safari Wagon: This wagon has a deep leg well for tall toddlers like mine and seat belts to contain them. It also has an easily removable roof with cup holders for my coffee. One of the seats lifts for storage. The boys have holders for their sippy cups or snacks. I no longer see the Safari model for sale on their site. The closest is the Canopy Wagon, which appears to be the same product minus the sippy cup holder.

Baby Trend Double Snap-N-Go: This saved my back in those early months. The frame is light-weight and works with most brands of infant car seats. You just lift the car seat out of the vehicle, snap it into the frame and go. The basket underneath has plenty of room too. Unfortunately, my very-tall boys outgrew their infant seats by five months.

Starbucks: Drive-thru, drink-in, brew-at-home. I don't know how I would have made it through the first two years without Starbucks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Halfway to 4

I feel like I should write something profound for their second birthday. Something poetic, insightful, wondrously quotable.
It has, after all, been a monumental year for Matthew and Jonathan. They learned to walk. They learned to talk. They exchanged bottles for sippy cups. They even learned that they are separate entities--that Matt is Matt and Jon is Jon.
Every day, their maturity and the skills that come with it enable Matthew and Jonathan to give us more and more glimpses into the people they are and the people they will become.
Yet, as we celebrated their birthday yesterday, I found I couldn't do it.
I couldn't write about those things.
All I could think about--honestly--is that 2 is halfway to 4 and that by 4, they will be potty trained, they will respond to reason at some level, they will no longer need a stroller and they will talk in sentences.
That doesn't mean I want to rush them.
No, not at all.
I don't want them to grow up too fast. I adore their little kisses on my lips, cheeks and nose. I long for their tiny hands around my neck. I cherish their nonsensical exchanges that result in fits of giggles.
And, wow. That unconditional trust only babies and toddlers have. That belief that mom is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything. That she is flawless. I see that in their eyes as they reach for me. They believe that I can make anything better. They really do.
No, I don't want to rush through that.
But they exhaust me lately as much as they exhilarate me.
And I find the exhaustion much easier to contend with if I have something to look forward to.
So, on their birthday, while I was chasing them around the house trying desperately to persuade them to keep their clothes and diapers on at least until our neighbors arrived for cake and ice-cream, I focused on the future.
I focused on how much easier it will become instead thinking about how hard it sometimes has been. With that in mind, I found I could laugh at our little strippers and I caught them.
They made it through the evening fully clothed.