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.