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
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.