Friday, December 17, 2010

Rendezvous with the guy in red

Both Matthew and Jonathan are fascinated with Santa.
They see him every chance they get, and they have no fear.
None whatsoever.
And they leave poor Santa with no time for "Ho, ho, ho" or "Merry Christmas." The cheery old guy is immediately bombarded with questions: "Is that your belt? Is it black? Is it magic? Are those your boots? Can I wear them? Why do you wear gloves? Are they white?"
Santa's appearance at preschool tonight gave the boys one more opportunity.
Matthew immediately headed for the costume rack and dressed up for Santa Claus with a suit vest, a suit coat and a beaded necklace. Jonathan played it cool with his animal tracks T-shirt. Both were equally persistent, however, when he asked what they wanted for Christmas.
"That bag," they said almost simultaneously, pointing to gift bags beside his chair.
Then a pause.
Then, "pleeeaaase!"

Matthew on left. Jonathan saying "cheeeeese!"

A very giddy Jonathan

Matthew wonders where the sleigh went.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Identical twins behave identically in groups, new study says

As Jonathan and Matthew grow into adulthood, they are likely to use the same set of moral and ethical guidelines to choose their friends and select the groups they join. They will also be equally stubborn when they have to decide whether to comprise their values when it comes to new group memberships.
The same is not true of fraternal twins.
This is according to a new study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, published in the November issue of the journal, Psychological Science. Unfortunately, there is a fee to view that article online and it's all written in complicated academic jargon anyway. A free and less technical summary was published this week in the online magazine, Science Daily.
The Edinburgh researchers assessed 1,000 pairs of adult twins, both identical and fraternal, to determine whether genetics plays a role in loyalty toward social groups and in how flexible people can be in adapting to group memberships.
The overwhelming finding was that it does affect both membership and flexibility.
Identical twins, who share DNA, functioned equally well or equally poorly in groups, and used the same ethical, religious and racial criteria to make their decisions. The same was not evident of fraternal twins, no matter how well-bonded they were.
Analysts seem to think the study will have military uses.
I agree.
Already, I see that Matthew and Jonathan concur that Batman has a dark side and that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are cool. They also seem to be equally stubborn about which toys are worth fighting over and they both like preschool.
Surely the military can do something with that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cool facts about identical twins

Check this out.
These are some cool facts about identical twins posted on Nursing Schools. The site is designed for those who want to become nurses, but the blog is one of the most useful, entertaining and easy-to-read medical blogs I've seen yet.
I have reduced the list of 20 facts compiled by blogger Kitty Holman to just those that pertain to identical twins.
Thanks to reader Ken Martin, who works for Nursing Schools for sharing.

1. While most people are only familiar with identical and fraternal twins, there are actually 7 different types of twins. They are: identical, fraternal, half-identical, mirror image twins, mixed chromosome twins, superfecundation, and superfetation. Those other than identical and fraternal can be quite rare.

2. Twins do not have to be born on the same date. In fact, they can be born surprisingly far apart. The longest recorded gap between twin births is 85 days. How does this happen? The simplest explanation comes when one twin is born just before midnight and the other after. In cases where there is a longer gap, it's often because one twin is born early due to complications, while the other is left in the womb to further develop. This is much safer for the second baby and can help improve survival rates.

3. Identical twins have different fingerprints. Some people might think that identical twins are the same right down to those whorls and swirls on their fingerprints, but while identical twins share most of their genetic material, identical fingerprints aren't among them. While the fingerprints may be very similar, on close examination it is possible to tell them apart – much like the twins themselves.

4. About 25% of identical twins are called mirror image twins. This means that they are, in fact, identical, but only in the way that your reflection in a mirror is an identical image of you. For example, if one twin has a mole under her right eye, the other will have it under her left eye. Scientists think this is due to the fertilized egg splitting later than the norm for identical twins, around nine to twelve days after fertilization.

5. Identical twins have almost identical brainwave patterns. The notion that twins think alike just might be true. Research on identical twins shows that they have almost perfectly matching brainwave patterns. Some think this could explain twins' abilities to know what the other is thinking and feeling.

6. Twins can celebrate their twinning in Twinsburg, Ohio. (Blogger's note: the 2011 Twins Days festival is scheduled for Aug. 5,6 and 7.) If you or your children are twins, you can head to this city in Ohio to celebrate the Twins Days festival. You'll be amid a sea of look-alikes, with twins, triplets and multiples from all over the nation converging on this town to celebrate being a twin.

7. Twins often develop their own language. This phenomena is called idioglossia. It's something that has fascinated people about twins for years, but it's really a relatively simple and easily understandable process. It happens when one twin models the disordered or incorrect speech of the other, leading to both twins using the same grammatical or speech sound errors. It sounds like a foreign language, but is really just a normal part of cognitive development.

8. Identical twins can be of different sexes. It might sound strange to stay that identical twins can be different when it comes to gender, but technically speaking it is possible. It happens when the egg splitting process doesn't happen quite as it should, resulting in twins that display genetic abnormalities like Klinefelter's syndrome. This means one twin might have the right correlation of XX or XY while the other has XXY.

9. Twins share DNA, but it is not identical. While identical twins come from the same sperm and egg, their DNA isn't necessarily identical, according to new research. Scientists used to think differences in twins were due to environmental factors; they now know that isn't the only force causing variations. Genetic studies have demonstrated that there are certain points where twins will veer away from one another, with one carrying different or multiple copies of the same gene.

10. Fraternal twinning is genetically predisposed. Identical twinning is random. (Blogger's note: recent studies suggest that an inherited enzyme in the sperm combined with a genetic weakness in the egg is responsible for identical twinning.) Fraternal twinning is the result of a woman releasing multiple eggs at the same time, and is largely the result of a genetic predisposition to release this extras. Identical twins, however, are the result of a random split of a single egg, something which cannot be genetically predisposed. In recent years, the number of fraternal twins has risen in response to fertility treatments, while the number of identical twin births has stayed the same.

11. Twenty-seven pounds and 12 ounces is the heaviest combined birth weight of any set of twins. If you think it would be rough to carry around and deliver one 14-pound baby, then imagine doing it with two. That's just what happened in this case, the largest twin birth on record. Of course, it doesn't hold a candle to the largest singleton birth weight of 23 pounds.

12. Twins separated at birth and reunited are often found to be eerily similar in personality and interests. The studies that discovered this fact, however, have widely been condemned as some of the cruelest and morally repugnant in medical history. During the 60's and 70's, identical twins were separated at birth in an attempt to determine whether it was nature or nurture that determined their personalities. However unethical, the study demonstrated that a great deal of who we are comes from our genes; many of the twins bore uncanny similarities in personality and preferences despite spending decades apart.

13. The incidence of twin types and genders are oddly symmetrical. These facts about twinning are sure to leave you in awe. One third of all twins born are identical, one third are same sex fraternal and one third are male/female fraternal. Of the identical twins, half are male/male and half are female/female. Of the same sex fraternal, half are male/male and half are female/female.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Four is enough

I was unloading groceries from the van yesterday when I spied a couple at a neighbor's BBQ with infant twins. They waved. I waved. We started talking, so I crossed the street to take a peek.
They were identical boys.
Seven weeks old.
I wait.
And waited.
And waited.
But the pang never came.
The pang that alluded me had come frequently and unsolicited as our older two children started growing up. It would start to form when I would see a mom with an infant. The "ooo"s and "awe"s would slip from my throat as I remembered how soft and delicate my children were at that age. How innocent and unaffected they were by the greater world.
How they fit so perfectly in the cradle of my arm.
Not so since the twins were born.
These babies were adorable, so that wasn't the issue.
They were even identical, just like my boys.
They were clean and sweet and sleeping peacefully.
Still, no pang.
Matthew and Jonathan have wiped the pang right out of me.
And I don't think that's a bad thing.
I adore my boys just as much as I adore my other two children.
I savored and continue to savor each stage of their development, just as I do with the other two.
But there is not a single part of me that would want to go through infancy or toddlerhood with highly active, strong, curious, creative identical twin boys ever again. Not even with a singleton. I can't even conjure up a daydream.
So when I looked at those boys, I struggled.
The "ooo"s and "awe"s that parents come to expect just weren't there, and all hope of ever recapturing them was dashed when I learned that the couple had two older children. Instead, I was flooded with memories of fear. Fear that I would not have enough love or attention for four children, especially when two were infants. Unfounded fears.
Definitely unfounded.
The words that came out of my mouth instead were words of encouragement, which led to questions from the parents, which led to more words of encouragement. When the natural time came to end the conversation and go our separate ways, I wasn't sure what to expect.
So I was surprised when they said, "Thank you."
"It's so nice," the mom said, "to finally meet someone who understands."
And for me, it was so nice to be understood.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Identical awakenings: shared DNA at work?

I've always believed that shared DNA would have little or no influence on whether Matthew and Jonathan slept through the night. Overall, yes, it would make sense that biology would dictate how much sleep they need and about when they might tire.
But disruptions in sleep patterns are most often caused by dreams, right?
Experience influences dreams and, shared DNA does not always equal shared experiences.
Matthew and Jonathan are often together, but the slightest distractions -- from physical positioning to hunger to whether they might have to pee at the time -- can shape experiences differently for each child. They take in different things depending on how closely they are paying attention, which senses they are using and the perspective from which they see things.
Jonathan and Matthew have had three and a half years worth of differentiation.
That seems like a lot.
But something happened last night that made me question my theory, and it's not the first time.
Matthew woke up at about 3 a.m. He wasn't upset or worried. He was just awake. He used the bathroom and I took him back to bed, where we curled up together for about 45 minutes. Finally, I tip-toed out of his room, believing he was asleep.
About an hour later, I spied a young figure at the foot of our bed, I pulled him into bed with me, believing it was Matthew again. He'd awoken the same way: no crying, no worries, just awake. I was tired and he just wasn't crashing, so after a few minutes, my husband took him back to his room, where he realized Matthew's bed was occupied.
This was Jonathan.
About 45 minutes after he awoke, Jonathan was again asleep.
Just like Matthew.
Matthew and Jonathan are good sleepers. They always have been. They go down hard and they wake up early, but they sleep like rocks through the night. The few times they have awoken, however, (aside from those moments when they've wet their beds), their awakenings have been so similar in nature that I've found it almost eery.
If one awakens with a particular cry, the other will awaken with that exact same cry an hour so later -- close enough to his twin that we can compare the awakenings, but far enough apart that we can be sure one did not awaken the other.
If one awakens with no cry, the other will soon awaken the same way. And it seems that it takes about the same time and effort to get him back to sleep. Looking back, I don't recall that they have ever awakened differently unless one was sick or had the wet his bed.
I've tried to attribute these common awakenings to coincidence.
Maybe one twin tossed and turned in his sleep, triggering frightening dreams in the other.
Maybe one twin's awakening caused the others.
But their awakenings are too far apart to persuade me.
And it's happened far too many times.
I don't believe this is evidence of some kind of twin telepathy, but I have come to believe that brain chemistry strongly influences sleep patterns, especially in children . When our older kids woke up at odd hours, I initially attributed it to stress, bad dreams or other external influences.
But in retrospect, it seems that there was almost always a biological cause. Our oldest son suffered night terrors as a toddler, which are caused by mini seizures. I don't recall him waking up during the night much after those passed.
Our daughter had horrible, morbid dreams several times a night until she was diagnosed with OCD, which is caused by an anxiety-triggered chemical imbalance. Once she was treated with medication that stabilized those chemicals, she slept beautifully and still does.
As adults, we often have trouble sleeping because of external stresses. We're thinking about work, relationships, money, all kinds of things as we struggle to sleep and we often have trouble shutting those thoughts out. All that stress prevents us from producing the hormones and chemicals that override our worries and help us crash for the night.
At three years old, Jonathan and Matthew don't have many of those external worries.
And even if they did, what are the chances that their stresses are similar enough to cause them to awaken the same way on the same nights? No, I have to believe that it's their shared DNA that is behind their awakenings. Some sort of chemical change in brain pattern is occurring almost simultaneously.
And that makes me wonder about the way we approach childhood sleep disruptions as a society.
Perhaps too often biology is overlooked.
So often, I hear parents say that their children need to "get over it" when they frequently awaken during the night. They take the toughlove approach, simply sending them back to bed in hopes that they will get through this phase if no one pays them heed.
Matthew and Jonathan do not have sleep issues.
They rarely awaken.
But, the pattern I have observed when they do wake up during the night is strong evidence that some kids, perhaps many kids, can't help themselves.
Maybe some children need more than toughlove.
Maybe, more often than not, the awakenings that parents attribute to bad dreams, clinginess or a need for attention are really biology at work.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When dressing identical twins alike is a bad idea

I have to laugh when people ask whether we ever dress Matthew and Jonathan alike.
As babies, they peed and pooped through so many clothes that we'd have needed at least four sets of all outfits to keep them in matching clothes for more than an hour or two. Identical outfits were not practical anyway, especially in the winter when socks covered Jonathan's painted toenails.
It was hard enough to tell them apart.
Why would we want to make it harder?
By the time the boys were 16 months old, they had distinct color preferences and they had learned to exert those preferences loudly and strongly. Matthew wore yellow. Jonathan wore orange. Matthew wore pants. Jonathan wore shorts.
Efforts to dress them in matching clothes were met with fury.
Now, at 3.5 years old, the boys share few clothes. For the most part, they have each claimed certain shirts, pants, shorts, socks and jackets. On occasion, they will wear the same jackets or the same color shirt, but that's where it ends.
For the most part, it matters not to me whether others dress their identical twins alike. It's fairly harmless when are young and most kids will protest if they don't like it as they age. By the teen years, many identical twins choose to dress alike anyway.
But there are times, I have learned, when dressing identical twins in identical clothing is simply a bad idea.

Playgrounds, pools, and public spaces:
I once bought matching swim trunks for Matthew and Jonathan and took them to the toddler pool at the YMCA. What a nightmare. Though the pool is small and a lifeguard is always on duty, it would have been easy for active children like my own to walk out the gate with another family.
From even a short distance, it was impossible to tell the boys apart with their naked chests and matching trunks. I was always on edge, making sure I could see both at the same time. It must have been at least as difficult for the lifeguard.
I had the same experience at a playground once when they wore matching tops. Though their shorts were different, they were close in color. Someone could easily have snatched one up, or one twin could have run off to the parking lot, and it would have taken me too much precious time to notice.
At pools, on playgrounds and in public spaces, it can dangerous to dress twins alike.

When you don't want attention:
This is the one that irks the most. All infant twins will be ogled. That's a fact that parents must accept. They are just far too adorable to resist when they are together in their strollers with their soft skin, tiny cries and pink cheeks. It's best to accept it and build ogle time into our schedules.
Once twins ditch the strollers though, ogling-related disruptions should be greatly reduced. Jonathan and Matthew are always taking off in different directions. Unless they are standing together, it can be difficult to tell whether they are even brothers, so much for twins.
Yet I see it, hear it and read it all the time: moms of toddlers and older twins complaining that they were "stopped once again" by curious strangers in malls, grocery stores and restaurant. They curse the strangers and expound upon the "rudeness" of some people.
Just about every time, however, further questioning reveals that the twins were dressed alike. The only reason to dress identical twins alike is for the attention. If parents do not want the attention, they should not dress their twins alike.
It's that simple.

When the twins say "No."
This should be a no-brainer.

Our boys surprise me at every turn.
So it's possible that despite their firm convictions about clothing, they will someday beg me for matching jeans, t-shirts and sneakers as we are shopping. If they do, I will relent because it really should be up to them from now on, except in those situations where it might be dangerous.
I might even think it's cute.
I do not judge those who dress their twins alike.
It can be fun.
But, I admit, I do judge those who do not use common sense.
So please, when you dress your identical twins, just use common sense.
And then, when you are out and about and I see them pass by in matching outfits, I will be among those who grin and comment on how adorable they are. I might even stop you. Because twins do that to people. And making people smile, making them happy, is a good thing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bring on the books, finally!

We started reading to our older children regularly while they were still young enough to slobber all over the board-book pages. We were determined to instill in them a love of reading.
And it worked.
Both older kids are avid readers and reading helps keep us close to each of them. At ages 10 and almost 9, they still insist that we each snuggle with them in their beds at night and read aloud. When we leave their rooms, they read on their own, often falling asleep with books clenched in their hands or draped over their faces or chests.
It didn't work out that way with Matthew and Jonathan.
And, until recently, I felt we had failed them in that regard.
From birth, Jonathan and Matthew were both highly active and addicted to motion. Books were for throwing and chewing. Lap time was for bouncing and rocking. They were not attracted to pages decorated with bright images or fuzzy rabbit fur or flaps that flipped to reveal surprises.
Add to their physical intensity the stress of raising two older children, one with issues that required a great deal of our emotional and physical attention, and I found that my efforts to intrigue them with books were slipping. It became easier and easier to say, "I'll read to them tomorrow."
And too often, I made the same promise to myself the next day.
Over time, we learned that they would pay attention to books that they could act out with us dramatically and loudly. If we could howl, stomp, clap, yelp, jump or twist and shout, they were happy. So that's what we did. It was fun. Lots of fun. But exhausting.
We still read only every other day or so and rarely before bed. Nighttime reading got them too excited and left us drained.
But then I discovered Thomas board books.
That was our breakthrough.
Jonathan and Matthew are devout fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, so when I found a few books at the grocery store about a year ago, they couldn't get enough of them. Over and over, we read about Thomas and the judge who lost her hat, about the crack in the track, about the race with Bertie the Bus.
Little by little, we added non-train books to their reading list until they were finally taking in many of the same classics that our older children had loved.
It was wonderful except for a couple of things: Matthew and Jonathan had to be in precisely the right mood, we had to read to them separately to avoid physically dangerous book wars, and they had no desire to read at bedtime.
Good enough, I figured.
Some kids just aren't that into it and that was something I would have to accept.
But then something happened just a few short weeks ago.
I was unpacking boxes from our recent move and looking for something different to read when I stumbled across Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was too long for them, I figured, and the pictures were not likely to capture their attention, but it was worth a shot.
I was stunned.
We read it nine times that day without a single argument.
So I reached into the bin and pulled out a few more books that I had categorized as above their interest level and, to my surprise, they listened. They listened eagerly, intently and without argument. They begged me to read those same books over and over again. And they sifted through the books themselves, finding even more that captured their interest.
They evolved into different children.
On the same day, at the same time, with the same book as their trigger.
The same boys who once simultaneously shredded two copies of Mr. Brown Can Moo now follow us around with books begging for reading time. They grab books and lie on the floor with them pretending to read as they flip through the pages. They fall asleep with books in their hands, books that they have strained to "read" by their night light.
And the best part?
They no longer argue when they sit together on my lap for a story.
They seem to have declared a truce.
A truce because they are finally in love with reading.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Identical twins, identical classroom: why our boys will study together

It's starting already.
Family members, friends, even strangers in malls and grocery stores.
They mean well.
I really think they do.
But they are ill-informed.
Through no fault of their own.
The lead-in could easily be mistaken for the question.
"Are you planning to send the twins to preschool?" they ask.
Then comes the question, which isn't really a question at all.
"You will separate them, right?"
Followed by the silence when I answer, with confidence.
But, like I said, the attitude isn't really their fault.
For the past few decades, the prevalent theory among educators has been that all twins fare better when separated in school. It helps them develop individual identities, they say, particularly with identical twins. It gives them more confidence, they argue. It helps them make friends of their own.
But here's the trouble: no evidence exists to support those recommendations, policies or decisions.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The few studies done on the effects of separating twins in elementary school show that most twins suffer emotionally and socially and that for identical twins, separation can be highly traumatic and might impact academic performance as well.
Consider this finding from a 2004 study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College in London:

"When compared to those not separated, those separated early had significantly more teacher-rated internalizing problems and those separated later showed more internalizing problems and lower reading scores. Monozygotic (MZ) twins showed more problems as a result of separation than dizygotic (DZ) twins."

Or this finding from a 2010 University of Amsterdam study of 839 monozygotic and 1164 dizygotic twin pairs: (This study focused primarily on the effects on academic performance.)

"There is no difference in educational achievement between twins who share a classroom and twins who do not share a classroom during their primary school time. The choice of separation should be made by teachers, parents and their twin children, based on individual characteristics of a twin pair."

The same folks who believe Matthew and Jonathan should each strike out on their own by age 3 wouldn't hesitate to put their own children in classrooms with their best friends. After all, that kind of kinship puts children at ease, makes them less clingy and allows them to be more socially confident.
So why would we separate Matthew or Jonathan from his best friend during this time of stress, excitement and change?
I was relieved today to chat with one of their future preschool teachers, a mother of 17-year-old identical twin boys. She kept her boys together throughout the younger years and, as they got older, took them aside separately to ask whether they wanted to stay together the following year, she said.
Each year, the answer was the same: yes.
As we spoke about our children, children filtered into the classroom where Matthew and Jonathan were playing. Jonathan immediately befriended two boys his age who took an interest in the same tractor that had attracted him. Matthew squatted near a child-sized sofa conversing with a slightly older girl who had sat down with a book.
A barrier of shelves separated Matthew and Jonathan.
Neither panicked at the absence of the other.
Neither looked for the other.
Both put up a good battle when it was time to leave.
And I couldn't help smiling when both boys demanded to know when they could come back.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ode to Miss Mary

In a few moments, I will get Jonathan and Matthew from their sitter's for the last time.
We leave Cincinnati on Sunday for a new life in rural Pennsylvania, where they will be constantly immersed in the love and support of family.
We have no family here.
But we do have Mary.
And leaving her will be hard.
Very hard.
I had given up on finding a part-time sitter for the twins nearly two years ago when she came along. My criteria was simple: no guns, no pools, no smokers. I made that clear before I interviewed caregivers. Yet, six interviews later, I found that only one had been truthful with me, but her house was not suitable for highly active identical twins.
I was depressed.
I wanted to write.
Matthew and Jonathan needed socialization.
I mentioned my dilemma to a neighbor.
And she mentioned Mary.
Mary works as a nanny for this neighbor. She is a former preschool director with an obvious adoration for children. She was thrilled to take Matthew and Jonathan into my neighbor's home for three mornings, two or three days a week. Our neighbor was also happy to have playmates for her two children.
Matthew and Jonathan never cried when I dropped them off.
Only when I picked them up.
Mary read to them, she painted with them, she sang with them, she cuddled them, she rocked them, she laughed with them. And she never needed name tags. Matthew and Jonathan do not understand that they won't see Mary again, but I do.
And this walk down the street today will be hard.
I tried to find a card that expressed our feelings for her.
But I couldn't.
Nothing out there sufficed.
So I wrote and this is what came out:

(Disclaimer: I am no poet!)

Miss Mary

From the moment we met
you saw us as two,
not one.
We knew that.
We felt that.
you always nurtured our oneness.
You let it grow.
You let us be,
and helped us to become.
You cautioned us with gentle hands,
guided us with patient voice,
smiled for us
with a warmth that could only be
Real love.
Love for Matt.
Love for Jon.
Love for Matt and Jon.
There will never be another Miss Mary.
There never could be.
We will miss you
Miss Mary.
We will miss you

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The potty that divides them

Jonathan has thrown me for a loop.
It's been two months since Matthew became a "big boy" and started wearing underwear and Jonathan still wants nothing to do with the potty.
I persuaded him to pee on the potty once, but only through trickery and he's not about to fall for that again. Jonathan is breaking the pattern he and Matthew have followed since birth: he has always allowed Matthew to perfect the major physical milestones and then, just as we admit the need for professional intervention, he achieves the milestone and surpasses his twin within days.
Not this time.
If we even suggest that he pee in his little Bjorn potty, or on the toilet, or while sitting on the ring on the toilet, or while standing in the bathroom next to the toilet, or in any darned way he pleases, he clenches his fists with his arms at his sides, adopts a deep voice and growls, "no."
I am perplexed.
We have tried pushing him, bribing him, letting him be.
Nothing works.
Jonathan has sought out every other way in which to express his maturity.
While Matthew is comfortable in his 3-year-old skin, Jonathan is 8 years old most days. Some days he's 9. Today he was 10, like his big brother Riley, he said. He was 18 last week because he wanted to be old enough to drive a bus.
He screams, hollers and take the spatula out of my hands when I cook because he wants to do it too. He take the grapes from the refrigerator, carries them to the table and plucks off his own.
He puts them back.
He was furious the other day because he wanted to start the car and I wouldn't let him.
He puts on his own shoes now. He opens all doors by himself. He pushes a chair up to the counter when the phone rings and tries to answer it before I can. He wipes tables with sponges. He cleans melted Popsicle from the floor with paper towel. He brushes his own teeth morning and night and fights me bitterly when I insist on a turn.
But he will not pee on the potty.
I am defeated, deflated, discouraged.
I think.
There is one possibility, one hope that I cling to. It occurred to me this afternoon as I tossed Matthew's moist underwear and shorts down the laundry shoot.
Matthew still has accidents.
He's getting better and some days he has none. But on most days, especially near bedtime, we can count on either a trickle or a puddle. Matthew grows too tired or too distracted to get to the bathroom on time and, at that hour, Jonathan is rarely far away.
He sees it.
Matthew is potty trained in our eyes, but maybe not in Jonathan's. Maybe Jonathan is still waiting for perfection. Maybe Jonathan will not put his pee where it belongs until Matthew has made it through a few days in a row accident free.
Jonathan is a demanding little guy.
And he can be awfully hard on his identical twin.
Perhaps the pattern isn't really broken.
Maybe we're just looking at it from the wrong perspective.
I hope.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A case of mistaken identity

I often tell people that, these days, I find it hard to believe Matthew and Jonathan are identical. I know we have the DNA tests to prove it, but I look at them and I see so very many differences that I wonder how anyone could mix them up at all.
Then comes a day like today.
The boys were playing with trains and cars. Matthew had been racing with Lightning McQueen in a toy garage for at least half an hour while Jonathan had been more interested in the trains. The boys decided they needed tracks of both kinds, so we dumped a few bins and started to build.
One twin focused on creating a large and winding train track while the other worked on city streets.
Then they picked up vehicles and started to play.
In less than a minute, a full-fledged brawl had broken out.
Jonathan kept trying to take Lightning from Matthew, who had been building the city. I tried offering him one of the five other Lightning McQueens they own (Yes, they are obsessed!), but he refused, insisting that particular car was his and fighting to get it back.
So I disciplined Jonathan with a time out.
Or so I thought.
Jonathan's wail as he sat in that chair was one of absolute despair.
That was odd.
Jonathan usually rages with anger in the time-out chair.
I looked more closely and saw the tiny red spider vein by the right eye.
It was Matthew.
No wonder he had expressed such despair: it really was his car.
The other twin should have been in the time-out chair.
I pulled Matthew up into my arms, held him tight and apologized over and over and over again.
I carried him to where Jonathan was playing and offered him another Lightning car in exchange. Jonathan readily agreed and the two brothers played together on the city streets that Jonathan, not Matthew, had built.
It seems Matthew has forgiven me.
I hope he has more of that forgiveness within him and that Jonathan has a wealth of it too because I am beginning to realize that I will need it. I will need lots of it and so will the many other people in their lives. And I promise that I will never doubt their zygosity again.
They are, indeed, identical twins.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rainy day worm hunt

Today was stormy, but warm, so the boys and I took to the cul de sac for leaf races in the gutters and a worm hunt. They started off with shirts, rain coats and umbrellas.

Matthew is in the blue shorts. Jonathan grabbed his brother's hand in celebration when they found a worm. 

Matthew letting the rain drench his body.

Jonathan shows off his catch: a thin, squiggly little guy.

Matthew found a thick, lively one.

Setting the worms free.

Jonathan couldn't resist. He went back for one more.

Jonathan (yellow) shows off his latest catch while Matthew proudly displays his favorite puddle-splashing rock.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aggressive affection

I've come up with a new term to decribe the way Matthew and Jonathan relate to each other.
I've decided to call it "aggresssive affection."
It starts off sweet.
One grabs the other around the waist or shoulders, leans his head against his twin, grins and makes baby noises.
Most often, the other responds in kind.
It's a Hallmark moment.
Or a Kodak moment.
Or something like that.
Until it's not.
Usually, within about five minutes, hugging becomes flinging.
Flinging becomes wrestling.
Grins turn to giggles.
Wrestling results in head stomping, eye poking or chest crushing.
Giggles evolve into tears.
I should probably stop it before it even begins.
But I can't.
When I watch them standing there with their arms around each other, their heads together and those untamed smiles on their faces, I am reminded of their infancy. I remember when we would put them down at night crossways on opposite sides of their crib only to find them together in the middle minutes later with their heads touching.
Sometimes, we'd find them holding hands.
They don't intend to hurt each other during their wrestling matches.
They just get carried away.
I like to think that they get too aggressive simply because of their need to be physically close to each.
Hence, the justification for my new term for their sometimes bloody battles (Matthew's head whacked Jonathan's face a few days ago, leaving Jonathan with a bloody nose. A few days before that, Jonathan repopened a small cut on Matthew's leg.): Aggressive affection.
Sweet, huh?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Potty training: a division of labor

Tomorrow is a big day for Matthew.
Tomorrow he will wear underwear all day long for the first time.
And Jonathan will not.
Matthew has been using the potty for months now.
Until recently, he was inconsistent. He would pee on the potty or toilet when we set him there, but he would not ask to go and he would fight the suggestion. And number two? No way. He wouldn't even consider it.
But something clicked a few weeks ago and, much to our relief, he's ready.
Matthew is about to graduate from toddler to "big boy."
But he's leaving his twin brother behind.
Far behind.
And, for once, we're not worried.
If they follow their usual pattern, Jonathan will be whizzing like a pro in no time.
Jonathan has taken this same approach to each milestone since birth. Over the past three years, he has sat idly by while his brother struggled to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand and walk. And Matthew worked so hard. He plugged away, sometimes for months at a time, until, finally, the day of celebration arrived.
In the beginning, it worried me.
Who am I kidding? It terrified me.
I remember clearly one telephone conversation in the spring of 2007.
"Jonathan won't roll over," I told the pediatrician, nearly in tears. "His brother worked on it for months and is rolling well, but Jonny just lies there and watches him. He doesn't make any effort at all. He doesn't even rock on his side."
"Well, maybe it would be a good idea to have him evaluated," the doctor said in that I'm-not-trying-to-worry-you-but-this-could-be-serious kind of voice (a tone of voice that, in my stressed-out state, I probably imagined). "He really should at least be interested in rolling by now. I can refer you to an excellent therapist."
I hung up the phone with every intention of dialing again and making that appointment. But I got distracted. I don't remember what happened--whether it was a diaper change, a feeding, Matthew rolling out of the safety zone--but, for whatever reason, I postponed that phone call.
Within hours, Jonathan started rolling.
There was no struggle.
He just rolled and he rolled well.
He rolled with more ease and more speed than Matthew.
And that's the way it went from then on.
For each milestone, Jonathan waited until Matthew achieved perfection and then he immediately surpassed him.
And he's doing it again, we hope.
Jonathan has been Matthew's greatest potty-training supporter.
He follows him into the bathroom. He flushes the toilet for him. He does the "yippee" dance whenever Matthew succeeds, sincerely thrilled for his twin brother.
But when we ask him whether he wants to try, his answer is firm: "No."
Bribes, charts and postive reinforcement are useless. He is immune to them. We leave the bathroom defeated and deflated and, if we've annoyed Jonathan enough, sometimes even bruised.
We know better, or at least we should.
We should know that Jonathan will wait until Matthew is comfortable in his underwear and accident-free. He will wait until all the mistakes have been made and corrected. He will wait until the process is ingrained in his being, until every movement, every bit of required coordination that he witnessed over these past several month, is part of his own psyche, his own experience.
Then Jonathan will approach that toilet and he will attempt to one-up his twin brother.
He won't bother sitting on the seat.
He will pee standing up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

At three years, two months

One thing we know for certain about Matthew and Jonathan is that neither is camera shy.

The boys couldn't decide what to play with, so they dumped all the bins. Jonathan is wearing orange.

Buddies! Jonathan is wearing orange.

Getting a little cocky. Again, Jonathan is in the orange.

Matthew showing off his haircut.

Jonathan was not thrilled to have his hair cut, but he was willing to comply as long as the stylists came to our house.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Freaks, wierdos, slapstick duos: identical twins on television

After a long, hard swimming lesson today, Matthew and Jonathan kicked back on the sofa with a couple sippies of milk (white for Jonathan; chocolate for Matthew) and tuned into an episode of Olivia, the animated series about an imaginative girl pig who is obsessed with red.
I didn't catch all of it, but I found myself pulled in when Olivia introduced a set of identical twin pigs, who were boys. She mixed up their names, of course, and they pointed out her error. Olivia's response? She laughed and referred to them instead as, simply, "twins."
The identical boys then performed the equivalent of a circus act.
This from Nick Jr., the network that proclaims to defy stereotypes and introduce children to a diversity of peoples and cultures with such shows as Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao Kia-Lan.
I have always been annoyed by the portrayal of identical twins in film and in television. When they are the main characters, they sometimes fare well. But when they are secondary characters, they are most often the slapstick duos, the wierdos, the freaks.
They are not hard to find, particulary in the popular animated televisions series targeted at children-- the Egg twins (Eggbert and Leo) in Oswald; Timmy and Tommy Tibble in Arthur; Susan and Mary Test from Johnny Test-- just to name a few.
Now that we are raising identical twins of our own, I am more than annoyed. I am concerned for my youngest sons and the message that these portrayals relay to them. These shows treat identical twins as hillarious units, as misfits, as circus acts.
And as I look at our boys sitting there on the sofa-- one in shorts, the other in pants; one in a red shirt, the other in yellow; both with their heads cocked in precisely the same position with precisely the same expression on their handsome faces-- I can't help thinking that this is hard enough.
Already, their strikingly similar looks and mannerisms require that they announce their indivual identities daily, something other children never have to worry about. But now they have to fight Nick Jr. too, and PBS and Disney and all the authors out there who use identical twins as devices.
The worst part?
(Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe they'll never put two and two together. They are smart boys, smart enough to avoid identifying with cartoon characters. Smart enough to differentiate fiction from reality even at three years old. Maybe, I've just had too long a day and this rant is just the result of stress.)
When the identical boys on Olivia performed their clownish act, Matthew and Jonathan laughed.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The time-out swap

I used to be able to count on Matthew.
Or, at least, on his time-outs.
He'd begin testing me immediately after we dropped the older kids off at school. By the second trip to the time-out chair, I knew, without looking at the clock, that it was time to get lunch ready.
The third trip generally came just before we left to pick up the older kids from school, and fourth time-out was our call to dinner. Sometimes, there was a fifth time-out. That meant we were late getting them to bed.
But I couldn't count on Jonathan.
Just the mention of discipline made him quiver.
And whenever his brother was buckled in the time-out chair, he would cry and cry, demanding that I set him free.
I could honestly say that Matthew was our difficult twin.
Not anymore.
Just as they have done with so many other personality traits, Matthew and Jonathan have swapped. It's almost like they are toying with us. They push us and push us to label them and then, just when we're confident that we know these guys, that we know who they are and that we can openly say so, they pull a fast one.
One takes on the trait of the other.
But that doesn't mean they mimic each other.
Somehow, they still manage to do it in their own, individual ways.
Yes, Matthew's behavior has improved.
But he doesn't have the empathy that Jonathan had.
He couldn't care less whether his brother gets a time-out.
And I can't count on Jonathan like I could count on Matthew.
Jonathan's time-outs come in one endless stream all day long and they are proceeded by screeches of "I don't like," I don't," and "I will not" along with lots of hitting and pushing.
Matthew simply defied us, quietly and boldly.
I'm not thrilled with this phase, but I am thrilled to find even more evidence that identical genes do not mean that Matthew and Jonathan will respond to situations with identical emotions and attitudes.
Even in their rebellion, they are individuals.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The games they play

The rice was cooking. The ground turkey was soaking up the taco spices. The black beans (protein for our vegetarian son) were in the microwave. Dinner was almost ready the other day when my domestic bliss was distributed by a frantic, high-pitched cry.
"Help! Help! Someone help me!"
I darted into the living room, afraid of the scene that might await me. What I found made my heart stop ... in a good way. Jonathan stood on the edge of the sofa in a crouch. Matthew stood below him with his arms outstretched.
"I will help you Jonny," Matthew said in a soft voice. "I will help you."
Jonathan leaped gently into his brother's arms and both boys crashed to the floor in a fit of giggles. Then Matthew climbed onto the sofa, stood in a crouch on the edge and yelled, "Help! Help!" while Jonathan reached out to him.
It was a game.
Just a game.
New, complicated, highly imaginative games are becoming an important part of Matthew's and Jonathan's twin life lately.
Among their favorites:
They serve each other pizza and salads.
They use a toy blood-pressure monitor as a racing flag and take turns running to an imaginary finish line.
They have rules about who can shout "bah" and when while they are watching DVDs.
Even more interesting is that they are in agreement.
Matthew and Jonathan do not argue about the rules. When one chastises the other for breaking a rule, the scolded twin complies. Neither tries to take control over the other. They don't question each other's judgment.
Oh, I'm sure their time will come.
They are only three, after all.
But I am living in the moment.
And right now, I am in awe of them.
I am loving it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The birthday: trains, trains and more trains

For their third birthday, we took Matthew and Jonathan to a place in West Chester, Ohio, called Entertrainment Junction. Entertrainment Junction has a large train display and a play area that features Thomas the Tank Engine and all of his buddies. It was the perfect celebration for a couple of train addicts.

Matthew driving the train

Jonathan waiting for Thomas, Annie and Clarabel to come 'round again.

Big brother Riley (9) and big sister Kiersten (8).

At home the next day wearing the birthday sunglasses. Cool dude Matthew is in green. Cool dude Jonathan is in red.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today, they are three

My first thought on the twins' second birthday was, "Thank God. They are halfway to four."
I make no apologies.
Those were tough days.
But today, they are three.
Today is different.
Today, I am excited.
These two little men can talk to me.
They can reason with me. They can argue with me. They can sympathize. They can empathize. They can stomp their feet. They can hold my hands. They can play hide-n-seek. They can dress themselves.
They can leap onto my lap and wrap their arms around my neck for no reason at all.
They can tell me stories.
Yes, it's still hard.
They still run away from me at times. They still open the fridge, strip off their clothes and sneak into my office to play on my computer. They jump off everything, throw their toys and dump their stuffed-animal basket.
They are demanding, stubborn and curious.
But, they bring their plates to the counter after dinner.
They hug and kiss each other when they apologize. They pretend to be their older brother and sister and they pretend to be each other. Their cars and trains go grocery shopping, to school and to Target.
The best part is that they do most of that in different ways.
Matthew is Matthew.
Jonathan is Jonathan.
They are inseparable, but separate.
I let them choose the flavor ice-cream they will have with their cakes today.
Matthew chose chocolate.
Jonathan chose vanilla.
Each will savor his own.
But each will try the other's.
Today, they are three.
And, this time around, I feel no urge to rush it.
I look forward to the journey that will take us to four.

Friday, January 8, 2010

That one

The realization hit me just before Christmas.
It was early in the evening and all four kids were playing together. My daughter stopped to describe a funny incident involving one of her twin brothers. I asked her which one. She pointed to Matthew and said, "That one."
"Who?" I asked.
"That one," she said.
"No," I said. "Tell me his name."
She shrugged and said she didn't know.
Then I asked her older brother.
He didn't know either.
Neither was bothered.
Matthew and Jonathan were indistinguishable to even their own siblings.
How could we have missed that?
We missed it because we were too busy.
When all four children are together, the household is a chaotic mess. They twins like to get wild and the older kids like to get wild with them. It's all I can do to keep my sanity and to ensure that no one gets hurt.
Who has time for individuality and identities?
I didn't let it go that evening. I pressed my older children to figure out who was who and, in the end, they got it right. When we sat down to breakfast the next morning, we had a chat. Riley (9) and Kiersten (8) told me that they can figure out who is who if they really try, but that they usually didn't bother.
They didn't bother, they said, because I was always quick to identify their brothers for them.
We reached an agreement.
I explained why it was important that they know their brothers as individuals.
They agreed to try.
For a day or two, it was a game.
It quickly became a habit.
There are still times when they refer to the twins as "this one," or "that one," but most of the time it's "Matt," or "Jon."
And something beautiful has come of it.
Their strategy of play has changed.
Riley and Kiersten are learning that Matthew and Jonathan have different play styles and that simply getting wild isn't the only option. Riley and Jonathan have a cuddling game. Kiersten enjoys engaging Matthew in conversation.
The house is quieter (sometimes).
The kids are more content (sometimes).
I am much less stressed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Matthew and Jonathan did not tear open their siblings' gifts.
They did not throw food at the table during Christmas dinner.
They did not tear down the tree.
They did, however, argue intensly and often over the trains Santa brought them.
Who ever would have thought that Spencer would become a favorite?
Overall, the holidays were a success and we hope yours were too.
Happy New Year from the Foster family!

From left to right: Matthew, Kiersten (8), Jonathan and Riley (9)

Matthew is in the snowman sweater. Jonathan is wearing polar bears. The sweaters came from Grandma Foster. The hula hoops were a gift from their sister, Kiersten.

Jonathan is on the left. Daddy picked out the glow-in-the-dark train shirts.