Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Remember when I wrote that we never dress them alike?
We didn't.
They did.
Nothing, not even a desire for individualism, comes between a four-year-old boy and his brand new Thomas the Tank Engine t-shirt.
Happy holidays from our family to yours!

(Jonathan is on the left and Matthew, on the right in each photo.)


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Want attention? Dress them alike.

It's rare that our twins are dressed alike.
Sure, we did it now and then when they were babies.
It was cute, especially for photos.
But it confused us and others and, as soon as they were able to grunt in the direction of a particular piece of clothing, Matthew and Jonathan made their own preferences clear. At this point in their lives, they find the idea of dressing alike generally repulsive.
So it was by mistake that it happened last week.
We were headed out to Target and the mall, intending to Christmas shopping and meet up with a friend for pictures with Santa. Neither twin wanted to wear his jacket. I agreed only if they each grabbed a sweater.
They grabbed precisely the same ones.
Coincidentally, they were both wearing gray sweatpants of slightly different shades.
I didn't think much of it until we entered Target.
Most often, passersby don't even realize Jonathan and Matthew are twins. I always assumed that we had naturally passed the phase where people cared -- when they were babies, sitting side-by-side in their stroller announcing their identical DNA to the world.
Babyhood was tough.
I always had to build in extra time for oglers. I didn't mind much because the twins were too young to understand that they were a side show of sorts. Besides, they made people happy. It was nice to see previously frowning folks stop and smile.
But I should have built it in extra time that day.
It started the moment we walked through the doors.
Two women walking toward us stopped, blocking our way. They stared at the twins, slightly stooped for a better angle, looking them up and down. Then they stood up straight and one women said with a bit of a puzzled look, "Are they twins?"
"Yes,"  I answered.
"I knew it," said one.
"Me too," said the other, and the two women carried on a conversation about Matthew and Jonathan's likenesses and differences as though none of us was there. I maneuvered the twins around them and kept walking.
Once we grabbed a cart and the twins were walking freely, not holding my hands, I figured we were safe. Certainly, no one would stop us if they were not on display side-by-side and if we looked really busy.
Would they?
They would.
Similar incidents occurred at least 6 more times during our 40-minute shopping excursion.
Some people were polite and brief. Others were a little more intrigued, yet still polite. No one else was rude like those two women. Shoppers just seemed attracted by the twinness, like they couldn't help themselves, and I found that kind of amusing.
When we left Target and arrived at the mall, Jonathan stripped off his sweater.
He was hot.
Matthew kept his on.
We attracted not a single comment or stare during our 90-minute trek through the halls, food court and arcade.(Okay, maybe a stare, but that probably had more to do with the rather "active" behaviors of Matthew and Jonathan and their preschool-aged friend.)
Not even Santa noticed.
At least, not until we were preparing to leave and Jonathan pulled on his sweater.
Their friend was gone by then, so it was just the two boys standing there, waiting for me to get my act together. Santa had risen from his chair and was greeting a children in the common area a few yards away. He looked at Jonathan and Matthew, who caught his stare and galloped over.
Santa gazed at them, and then lifted his eyes to me.
"Are they twins?" he said.
I swear I saw a mischievous twinkle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Holiday gifts for identical twins: the same or different?

Each year as the holidays approach, the same question appears on the online forums for parents of twins. Parents want to know whether they should buy identical gifts, matching gifts or different gifts for their same-aged children.
For certain items, it's obvious: if you buy a bike for one twin, you should buy a bike for the other.
For boy/girl twins, it gets easier as they get older thanks to social coding: a 7-year-old girl is likely to want Polly Pockets while a 7-year-old boy might want a Bionicle. But they will both probably want iPhones someday.
Some same-sex fraternal twins make it easy, too, expressing entirely different interests.
But identical twins present a different challenge.
As parents, we have to recognized that their shared DNA also means predominately shared brain chemistry. Their talents, skills and general interests tend to be the same or, at least, very similar. They also have the same body types, which might naturally lead them to similar physical pursuits.
At the same time, identical twins have choices about which talents, skills, interests and physical pursuits to cultivate. Those choices along with environmental influences help them develop as individuals with sometimes differing needs and wants.
So how does that translate into a holiday shopping list?
In the beginning, err on the side of caution. Babies are babies. They don't know how to share and they really don't care whether you want them to. Buy two of the same when it is appropriate to buy more than one of a particular item.
Don't do what we did.
We made the mistake of buying Matthew a yellow Animal Alley Good-Night bear for his crib when the twins were 4-months old. We bought Jonathan the blue Good-Night rabbit. The animals were equally soft and similar in shape.
We never thought they'd care.
We were wrong.
Four months old and already they were fighting over a toy. They both wanted that yellow bear in bed with them and they would scream and cry until they got it. An emergency trip to Toy-R-Us resolved the problem, but it was a long time before I made that mistake again.
By 16 months old, the boys had developed definite color preferences of their own. At this point, we could buy them the same toys, but in different colors. Jonathan got the blue dinosaur while Matthew got the green one. Matthew got the red truck while Jonathan got the orange one.
Everybody was happy.
There was no point in forcing entirely different toys on them. They wanted the same things and they were happy with the same things. We wanted to give our children gifts that they would enjoy, that made them happy. Receiving the same gifts in different colors made them happy.
But that stage doesn't last forever.
Even the closest of identical twins eventually differentiate, at least in the eyes of those who are paying attention. And that differentiation can make holiday shopping more challenging and more satisfying.
We are just beginning to see those changes in our guys at 4 years old.
Matthew and Jonathan still enjoy the same general things, like trains ... and more trains ... and more trains. Did I mention they like trains? And movies about trains? And train T-shirts? And books about trains? And anything at all related to trains?
But, this year, they want different engines.
Matthew wants 'Arry and Burt of the Thomas the Tank Engine fame while Jonathan wants Neville and Issobella. They both want the wooden Tidmouth sheds, so Santa will probably give that as a combined gift. They'll get some games they can play together and lots of books that each can call his own.
Jonathan might get a new basketball, his biggest sports obsession, but Matthew has no interest in that. Matthew would likely prefer more Legos.
And, well, that's probably about it for now.
They have plenty of different food preferences and they like different textures of clothing, but toys are for playing together at their age and they love playing together. So they tend to love the same types of toys.
And the holidays, for 4-year-olds, are all about toys.
I am anticipating more differences when gifts involve clothing, iTunes and Wii games.
Forcing identical twins to accept different toys will not foster individuality. Nor will forcing them to accept the same toys somehow make them inseparable. It's natural for them to lean the same way and it's natural for them to want to be a little bit different.
Gift shopping for identical twins is a challenge, but the challenge is simply one of concentration, of focusing on the minutia.It takes more energy to find those differences and similarities that make gifts for identical twins the perfect gifts.
But, otherwise, it is really no different than it is for other children.
And the thrill on their faces -- that thrill they share first with their twin as they rip off the paper and expose the treasure inside and then with their siblings and with us -- makes all that extra energy well worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Casey and Connor: identical twins with Down Syndrome

Casey and Connor

Every day, I review the most recent news about identical twins, hoping to find information that will help us raise our two little miracles in the best possible way.
That's I how I found this story about Casey and Connor, a set of identical toddlers with Down Syndrome.
Like my husband and I, Meghan and Matt Wilkinson had declined all testing when they learned she was pregnant.
They knew they would not terminate the pregnancy should anything go wrong and she was only 29 years old, at low risk for Down Syndrome.
Multiple ultrasounds showed two perfectly healthy boys.
It wasn't until they were born that they learned the news.
In celebration of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I urge you to read this family's blog.
It brought me to tears, which isn't easy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Together in the classroom

So far, so good.
Matthew and Jonathan are attending two different full-day preschools this year.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, they attend a private preschool with a class size of 7 to 13, depending on the day. They go to the public preschool Tuesdays and Thursdays with a total of 16 kids in their classroom and 16 in the other.
The reasons they attend two schools are complicated, but the results are interesting.
Their overall behaviors vary from school to school because of the differences in structure.
But in both schools, the teachers say, they play separately with different friends and come together only when they are tired. They do share friends, but they play with them at different times.
They don't cry when they are dropped off.
They barely say good-bye.
They are comfortable.
They are well-adjusted.
And there is no doubt they are behaving like individuals.
This is important because of all the naysayers, the people who insist that all twins should be separated in school. We are fortunate in that administrators in both schools seem to be firmly against any such blanket policies.
At the public school, which is run by the county's Head Start program, the administrator I spoke with was already aware of the studies that show identical twins generally fare better psychologically and academically when they are place together in the early years.
She believes that most twins should stay together early on unless the parents have a firm opposition to it. So many parents want their kids in classes with their best friends so they will be more comfortable, she noted. Why would it be different for twins who take comfort in each others' company?
At the private school, there is only one classroom, so we had no choice.
No big deal.
No one even brought it up.
We will pay close attention to the Jonathan and Matthew as they move through the levels of elementary school. We will watch for any issues that indicate they need separation and, as they get older, we will ask them at the end of each year what their preferences are for the next year.
But until or unless we see any reason to separate them, we will not.
Why would we?

If you are a twin parent struggling with issues of school placement, check out this site for support and to learn about the laws in your state:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Someone Else's Twin: the story of an identical twin mistakenly switched at birth

Certain identical twin behaviors are unmistakably genetic.
For instance, just as soon as Matthew and Jonathan learned to walk, we noticed a funky run they do when they are between activities, trying to decide what to tackle next. They put their heads down and their arms to their sides with their hands slightly behind them.
Then they run from one side of the room to the other and back again along the same paths, continuing until they have decided on their next moves. They always criss-cross if they happen to run at the same time.
They never run together.
It's clearly a subconscious thing. Their minds are elsewhere while they run and they seem unaware that they are doing anything at all. Just for fun, we'll join them once in a while. They'll stop, give us puzzled looks and then put their heads down and go at it again.
With their identical DNA, monozygotic twins have long been subjects of study in the debate of nature verses nurture. It's hard not to wonder about nature's influence when, as parents, we see our twins cock their heads the same way or sleep in the same positions or present the same expressions when they taste food they don't like.
That's why I find the subject of Nancy Segal's latest book so intriguing.
I ordered her book, Someone Else's Twin, moments ago after reading this review from The Wall Street Journal.
Segal is a twin herself and an academic psychologist who specializes in twins. In Someone Else's Twin, she relates the story of  identical twins from the Canary Islands who found each other at 28 years old after one was mistakenly switched with another in the hospital at birth.
Like Matthew and Jonathan, the girls each had her own sac and placenta. The mother never suspected the girls had been switched because she assumed her babies were fraternal. They united only because a clerk at store they both frequented insisted they looked exactly alike and that the should meet.
According to the review, Segal manages an engaging narrative while also drawing sound conclusions about the women and commonalities between them that extend beyond the physical. ("The two of them realized that they push their food away when eating with a fork or spoon and fold their lips over their teeth when they get anxious.")
Other books have been written about twins separated at birth, but with Segal's expertise, Someone Else's Twin is likely to be the best among them.
It should arrive in a few days.
I should be immersed in it soon after.
I'll let you know.

Friday, September 9, 2011

First day of pre-kindergarten

Matthew (in yellow) and Jonathan couldn't wait to get inside their new classroom on Thursday.
It's hard to believe that next year they'll be heading into kindergarten.
And, no, Matthew is not taller than Jonathan.
Matthew is slightly elevated, though I'm sure he'll try to use these photos as proof during one of their "I'm taller than you are" arguments.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Raising the curtain on dramatic play

The goofy guys! Jonthan on left; Matthew on right
 I was walking past Matthew and Jonathan's bedroom the other day when I heard this:
"Get out of my room, you two! I said, get out now!"
"But we just want to play."
"Get out!"
I paused just outside the doorway and peeked in.
They were playing with the dollhouse their older sister had given them. Apparently, identical train engines Bill and Ben were invading their sister's bedroom. Their sister, a soft lavender engine, named Rosie, was livid. The engines whimpered away, muttering "Bossy boiler."
That plot sounded familiar.
Matthew and Jonathan have been acting out many familiar scenarios lately and they've spent even more time coming up with new ones. Sometimes they are at a huge splash park and each room is a different pool or slide or ride.
Other times, they are airplanes and they are flying to visit various relatives with a particular interest in the relatives' dogs.
Quite often, superheros, game show hosts and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote make appearances in our household as well.
Dramatic play rules these days and it's a mixed blessing.
It is fantastic to watch them play. Their games are seamless, each twin's actions and dialogue perfectly following the other's. They'll stick with one imaginative scenario for an hour or more and I can go happily about my housework or writing.
These guys click.
They really click.
But when it falls apart, the explosion is equally intense.
It is advisable to take shelter.
I have learned that trains can fly.
I have learned that there is a price to pay for my free time.
I have learned that disciplining identical twins and mediating their arguments is a huge time and energy drain, stealing back all those gains I might have made earlier in the day. Their level of engagement with each other is so intense that they have a long way to fall when they let each other go.
The cool thing, though, is that they always recover fully.
Their older brother and sister played together well, too, at their ages. Riley would pull out his dinosaurs and Kiersten would bring her Polly Pockets into the living room. Together, they would build huge cities that would remain sprawled across on the floor for days on end, providing hours worth of entertainment.
But as they have grown, their differences have grown too.
Riley and Kiersten are still close at ages 10 and 11.
Just not in the same way.
But this thing with Jonathan and Matthew is a little bit different.
Riley and Kiersten had to talk about what they were going to do. They had to plan, bargain, negotiate, agree. They did it well, but the need was still there. They negotiated endings too, each telling the other a few minutes beforehand that he or she was going to quit (at mom's insistence after many an argument).
Not so for Jonathan and Matthew.
When they start an imaginative game, it just happens and it flows naturally, smoothly, without guiding words. When they decide to move on to something else, it just happens too. They either play another game without missing a beat or each wanders off on his own.
Watching Matthew and Jonathan play together can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, particularly with their high energy levels. The anticipation of the potential explosion -- often caused by one claiming the other's coveted train engine -- can be stressful, very stressful, enough to undo all the work I've done to bring my blood pressure down.
But like anything else that is exciting, dangerous and beautiful all at the same time, it is worth it.
It is so worth it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fraternal verses identical: the attention factor

It's rare, but it happens.
Most often, parents of fraternal twins find the fact that Matthew and Jonathan are identical interesting, but it ends there. Raising identical twins has its unique challenges, but parents of any category of twins have so much in common that further discussion of their zygosity needn't come up.
But every now and then, I'll get that immediate snub from a fraternal-twin parent, that kind of look that I'd expect to see on a middle school playground from the girl who is envious of the other girl for reasons that are all in her own head.
I know what that look means because I am a curious person. I've explored it before. I've pushed past the snub and pursued conversations. It means that this parent is a little envious because she believes my twins get more attention than hers.
The hard part is that she is probably right.
The harder part is that it shouldn't matter.
The people we meet don't mean to upset anybody and it certainly doesn't mean that fraternal twins are any less valued.
It's just that identical twins are more obvious.
They attract attention.
But, as we were often taught during sensitivity training in my former career as a journalist, intention is pretty much meaningless. Perception is what counts. Reporter Dionne Searcey of The Wall Street Journal does a wonderful job of capturing that perception and the dynamic behind it at the annual Twins Days festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, last weekend.
Click this link for her story: At a Convention Full of Them, It's Apparent Not All Twins are Created Equal.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who was born first?

Matthew and Jonathan are competitive.
Very competitive.
For that reason, there is one question I dread more than any other.
One question that has not yet occurred to them.
One question that will, inevitably, come up.
Who was born first?
I have an answer, a clever one.
"It doesn't matter who was born first," I will say, "because you were conceived at precisely the same moment."
No doubt about it.
Jonathan and Matthew started life as one and then became two simultaneously.
They have existed for precisely the same amount of time.
So why should it matter who hung out in my uterus for an extra 20 minutes or so, doing the breath stroke, a little freestyle and maybe even the butterfly?
One got a little more experience with the outside world while the other experienced freedom in the womb, something his twin will never know.
Even Steven.
Logical, right?
I can see their reactions now.
For a moment.
A placid look, one of contemplation.
The one time when they truly look identical.
Then their faces will scrunch up and the nature of that scrunch will change quickly, from cute to annoyed to angry, expressions greatly affected by the amount of padding in each twins' cheeks, the slightly narrower bone structure of one twin's face and the different ways in which they have trained their facial muscles over the years.
It will be one of those times when I truly wonder whether the DNA tests were right, whether they really are identical.
And when I see those expressions, I can think of only one way to react.
The only reasonable solution.
My salvation.
"Go ask dad," I'll say.
"Just go ask dad."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Battle of the heights: an unwinnable game

We had an all-out brawl in our household the other day.
Fists were flying.
Legs were kicking.
Bodies were thrown to the floor.
It started when I noticed that Matthew and Jonathan had grown.
I stood them up against a kitchen wall and marked their heights with a pen.
My mistake?
"Look," I said, pointing to the lines on the wall. "You are exactly the same height again."
The reaction was simultaneous.
"I'm taller," they announced.
"No, I'm taller," they growled together.
"I am the winner," they screamed into each other's faces with fists balled at their sides.
I tried to speak.
I tried to intervene.
But, within seconds, the verbal battle had turned physical -- intensely physical.
And each time I tried to break it up, I simply got pummelled by both.
In my panic, in my frustration, in my anger, I screamed:
"Stop! Now! You are identical twins! You were born the same height. You will always, forever and ever, be the same height!"
First, they stared at me -- stopped and stared.
Then those wide eyes, both sets of them, filled with tears.
Finally, the tears fell and sobs shook their very tall bodies.
I got down on my knees and pulled them both close, hugging one with each arm.
I explained to them, or tried to, that their shared height, foot size and hand size were among the things that made them extra special.
They weren't buying it.
So I took another tact.
"You are both huge," I said. "When somebody tries to pick on a little kid and the two of you stand in front of him, cross your arms over your chest (I stood and demonstrated.) and tell him to leave that kid alone, what do you think he's going to do."
"Go away," Jonathan yelled.
"Say, 'sorry'," said Matthew.
"Together, you're pretty scary," I assured them.
With that, our talk disintegrated -- into a game of monsters.
Their shared-height crisis was, at least for the moment, forgotten.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nurturing the identical twin dynamic despite the eye rolls

Matthew and Jonathan no longer attend preschool.
The decision to pull them was difficult, but the people who matter were supportive.
Fortunately, I'm learning to ignore the people who do not matter.
You know, the ones who roll their eyes when you try to explain. The ones who exchange glances with another person in the room, thinking you don't see. The people who come right out and say you expect too much or you coddle your children too much or maybe you ought to just discipline them more harshly.
These are often the people who refuse to acknowledge the identical-twin dynamic or believe they understand it better than we do. The dynamic is real and its impact is deep. To deny that, is to deny a huge part of Matthew and Jonathan's identities.
In this case, the twin relationship was only part of the problem.
But it was, I believe, the part that pushed Jonathan over the psychological edge.
Their former preschool is a day care that began offering half-day preschool a few years ago, fullfilling a desperate need in this area. The boys learned a lot and made great friends. The teachers are loving, creative and caring.
But playtime there is like day-care playtime. It is unstructured. There are no centers that children are rotated among. If there is a theme for the week, the more outgoing children get the goods and the others have to wait for a teacher to notice that they haven't had a turn.
Jonathan already has to share most everything with his twin brother at home. He already has to fight for a turn when we're not in the room or not paying attention. And it's not just the material stuff. He has to share looks, height and even foot size with Matthew.
It seems that he'd simply had enough.
At first, preschool was new and that was a great distraction. Each day, he and Matthew would debate the letter of the week, recite words that started with the letter and badger the teachers until they got the appropriate letter up there on that wall.
When that excitement wore off, new friends he made were his motivation and Matthew's too. Every day was a "Jack" day or an "Adam" day or a "Jared" day. They couldn't wait to get there and see them, and they would be furious if a particular child was absent.
But the novelty finally wore off.
Matthew started acting out when it was time to leave for school.
We noticed that.
What we didn't notice was Jonathan's behavior.
He'd been digging his heels in at bedtime, refusing to go upstairs and he was becoming more aggressive after school, but we never associated that with school.
Until he lost it in the classroom.
One day, he ripped covers off three books when a boy wouldn't share.
Another day, he flipped over a chair in response to a similar incident.
The director informed me that such aggressive behaviors had been escalating for the previous two weeks, just before problems had started at home. He'd also been refusing to follow directions, like coming to sit in circle time. She offered to work with him at school, but I could see the pain in his eyes. I could see that this was more than just a phase.
He was angry and frustrated.
He needed out.
So we pulled them both.
It took about one week, but suddenly I noticed that an entire day had gone by with none of those particular behaviors. Then another day. Then three and four and five days. It's been almost three weeks now since they left school and I can honestly say that my happy boys are back.
They will return to preschool in the fall, but they will go elsewhere.
Not because the one they attended was inadequate, but because they are identical twins who need more. They need the kind of social instruction that a facility dedicated only to preschool provides.
They still have play dates with their friends and they spend four hours a week with a sitter across the road who has four other children in her care (because -- let's face it -- I have to get something done). Another set of twins will join them for the summer.
But, for now, they are spending more time with me and I am focusing harder on those social skills that will make their experience better the next time around. It's not easy. They are not easy (Have I ever mentioned how active, strong, curious, independent and stubborn they are?).
But already, it's worth it.
I am getting to know each of them better as individuals and both of them better as identical twins.
Despite what others might think, that shared part of them requires special attention.
And, sometimes, special action.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Difference and empathy

As I slipped a new shirt over Matthew's head for preschool pictures the other day, he said, "Is this my own, mom? Can it be my own?"
"Of course," I answered.
"Not Jon's?"
'Not Jon's."
"Just my own?"
"Just your own."
"Thanks, mom, for letting it be my own."
And Jonathan did not protest.
Moments later, a teacher asked whether Mathew and Jonathan would be sitting together for their photo like the other set of twins in the class or whether they wanted to take them separately.
Jonathan barely let her finish the question.
"Separate," he yelled. "I want my own."
Matthew did not argue.
"My own" has been the mantra in our household lately.
Matthew and Jonathan have always had their independent streaks. They have always had their own favorite colors, their own sides of the minivan, their own scooters, their own favorite foods and their own special stuffed animals.
But lately, we're seeing a different kind of independence, a gentler sort that seems to develop in conjunction with something else: empathy. The more Matthew and Jonathan strive to differentiate from each other, the more attentive they are to each other, the more concerned they are with the other's needs.
While each boy had his picture taken, the other watched.
They cheered each other on, encouraged each other to smile and told each other they'd made a good picture. Matthew won't get out of bed most mornings until Jonathan sings him the preschool "good morning" song and Jonathan obliges. Jonathan got angry with me the other day because he felt the jacket I'd given Matthew wasn't warm enough. Matthew gave up the Spiderman pajamas two nights ago because Jonathan wanted them so badly.
When one gets a Popsicle from the freezer, he gets one for the other --- in his favorite flavor.
When they were babies, I had always thought their similarities would be the foundation of their bond. Now, I'm seeing it in a new light. Their differences and their mutual respect for that desire for difference is just as important.
They have their moments.
They are siblings, after all, and with each other nearly 24 hours a day.
Injuries happen.
Harsh words are exchanged.
A lot.
But more times than not, I find myself listening to their exchanges from behind a corner -- eavesdropping -- and wondering what to do with all that pride that's swelling inside me. They amaze me and intrigue me. Every single day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Friendly indifference

I had always figured that Matthew and Jonathan's friends would easily be able to tell them apart.
Isn't that part of the magic of childhood? This extra sense that kids have, the lack of filters that allow them to see things as they are?
So I was disappointed the other day at preschool when Matthew's best friend tapped Jonathan on the shoulder and called him by his brother's name. Jonathan ignored him expect for the shrug indicating his annoyance at the constant interruption.
I politely pointed out his mistake and directed him to Matthew who just right next to Jonathan.
The boy gave me a puzzled look and then tapped Jonathan on the shoulder again.
"Matthew, Matthew. Come play," he said, his taps increasing in frequency. "Matthew."
I gave up.
These are the things I worry about.
It will be hard enough when adults mix them up as they grow older, but their friends?
I recently read about a 7-year-old girl who was shunned by a group of her peers for no apparent reason. She later learned that her identical twin sister had done something to upset them. They didn't change their stance when she explained the situation.
They chose not to differentiate between the two.
Jonathan and Matthew enjoy having different friends, though they all play together nicely. I hope that this boy is an exception. Another friend, the one Jonathan claims as his closest, tries. He doesn't always get it right, but he at least makes an effort.
If he is unsure, he figures it out within few minutes of play.
A little girl who greets us daily when we enter the classroom always asks me who is who first thing. She wants to be clear. She's always felt that need to know who is who.
I haven't paid enough attention to the others.
I have told the boys over and over again that people will mix them up and that they should forgive them. Simply correct them and forgive them. But I think I might have to revise that tutorial when they outgrow preschool and begin their elementary years.
We all make mistakes.
People will mix them up.
But if they are not sure, they should ask.
And if Matthew and Jonathan politely correct them, they should apologize and make an effort in the future.
I guess all I'm asking for is an effort.
Try to see Matthew.
Try to see Jonathan.
They are two boys, not one.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Twins divided, naturally and happily

A new dynamic is moving through our house.
Jonathan has ditched his twin brother as his best friend in favor of his older brother Riley, who is almost 11.
He draws pictures for him, fetches him Popsicles and emulates his every gesture, word and move when he is around.
When Riley is in school or otherwise occupied, Jonathan turns back to Matthew again, taking up where he left off.
This worried me at first.
How would Matthew handle the loss?
My heart ached for him.
As always, Matthew and Jonathan have surprised me.
Matthew isn't the least bit bothered by Jonathan's new allegiance, no more so than he is bothered when Jonathan plays with other children in school. A comfort level seems to exits between the two of them that allows them to explore other relationships without diminishing their own.
I would like to believe that we have contributed to that confidence by never forcing them to separate. Yes, they have gone off on their own with my husband or I at different times, mostly on errands. Occasionally, for a bite to eat.
But we have never felt the need to enroll them in different activities or classes simply to foster their individuality. We have never felt the need to tear them apart unnaturally.
Instead, they are teaching us to be patient, to step back and let them grow apart as we let them grow together. The pressure is on -- always -- from those who believe that forced separation is the only healthy way to raise identical twins. But forced separation is no healthier than forcing a shared identity through matching clothing, lumped nicknames  or constantly calling attention to the fact that they are twins.
They are who they are.
And we love who they are.
We'll make mistakes along the way and plenty of them. But Jonathan's affection for Riley and Matthew's reaction to it have assured me that we are on the right track. And we have one very proud big brother, who is who amused and thrilled by his new status.
For now.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Imagination explosion

(Above: A birthday interview with Matthew and Jonathan)

Just the other day, Matthew noticed a small embroidered palm tree on a beach towel. Within minutes, the towel was stretched across the floor and he and Jonathan were pirates, seeking lost treasures throughout the living room.
Only an hour earlier, they had been at the beach, wearing their swim trunks in the bathtub. Before that, I heard long tales about Dino Dan's impending visit. He was bringing his mother and his little brother and it was his birthday.
Would I please bake a cake for him, they begged?
The day I have been waiting for has finally come.
Jonathan and Matthew have become so immersed in their imaginations that they often forget to wrestle, to pull the cushions off the sofa, to tear their beds apart, to dump water on the floor, to demand fruit treats, to tease the puppy, to tease their older siblings -- to do all the little things they used to do when they were bored and wanted to stir things up.
It is still a lot of work.
I often have to provide props or act a part in their imaginary worlds. But that's okay. I would rather be the bad guy fighting Leonardo and Batman than the stressed-out mother who runs out of options and patience when time-outs don't work, and then yells far more than she ever wanted to.
Even better, their new-found manner of play allows their older brother and sister to take part. On Tuesday, when all four kids were stuck home for a snow day, they all played Pokemon together. The older kids loved the fact that the twins understood the show and they laughed whenever Matthew and Jonathan chose their Pokemons and unleashed them.
I wrote an entire chapter of my next novel that day.
A whole chapter with all four kids at home.
And I didn't feel guilty because they we all busy and all happy.
We still have our moments and I'm sure we always will.
But what a relief.
What a huge, huge relief.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy birthday boys!

In an email exchange two years ago, I asked author/twin mom Susan Heim whether it gets easier as twins get older. Her boys were about 4 years old at the time.
"It's doesn't really get easier," she said. "Just different."
I thought I understood and, the day after Matthew and Jonathan celebrated their second birthday, I wrote this:

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.

Silly, silly me.
Jonathan and Matthew turned four today.
It was an exciting day for me as well as for them. It was an emotional day. It was a trying day. It was exhausting.
Wonderfully exhausting, and loaded with strong little hugs and kisses.
They sang.
They danced.
They fought over the birthday song.
They hugged each other and pushed each other.
They cried a bit.
They laughed a lot.
Just as I had hoped two birthdays before, they are fully potty trained.
They understand reason on a fairly high level.
They no longer need a stroller, and they carry on long and fascinating conversations.
They are amazing human beings and my heart aches each day they grow just a little bit older-- each time they recognize the words "up" and "go" in books, each time they count on their little fingers, each time they create new, complicated games that include roles for me.
Part of me whimpers whenever they talk about their best friends: Jack for Jonathan; Adam for Matthew. I have to work hard to hold back when they want to put on their own clothes, cut their own food and ice skate on their own.
They rarely even let me carry their sleds.
I relish the moments when we cuddle.
I don't want to rush them.
I really don't.
But, as Susan said, four is not easier.
It's just different.
And, I have to admit, there is that little part of me that keeps saying, "Yippee! We're two-thirds of the way to six!"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Never say never: twins and harnesses

The question I am asked most frequently by parents of younger twins and that I see most often on online forums involves harnesses or leashes. Parents want to know whether I used them with my guys and, if I did, whether they worked.
Before Jonathan and Matthew walked, I will admit, I would have been mortified by the thought.
My older kids are 17 months apart. I taught them to stay with me by gradually allowing them more and more freedom from the stroller and returning them to the stroller when they misbehaved. And it worked beautifully.
If it worked for me, it should work for everyone.
But my older kids have inherently different personalities.
My oldest son is quiet, introspective and studious.
Rules are meant to be followed and he won't even let me break them.
My daughter is fiery, but she is a perfectionist.
She rarely ventured from me as a toddler because she wasn't supposed to, and that trait made disobedience disagreeable for her.
The older kids could play together with Playdough or Legos or Polly Pockets for hours at a time. They were easily entertained by activities that were mental, or by games that were intricately involved. They loved long hikes, but never really took to baseball or soccer or other competitive sports.
I had no idea how easy I had it.
The twins come from a whole different set of our genes.
Like their older siblings, they are very intelligent. But they were born to flex their muscles and that need overrules everything else. Bugs are for squishing, not studying. Crayons are for floors and walls, not paper. Imaginative games involve bad guys, running, chasing and wrestling rather than hours constructing cities, amusement parks and other worlds.
They never attempted to earn freedom; They simply took it.
By two years old, they were strong enough (They are very strong.) and tall enough (They are very tall.) to flip themselves over the sides of their stroller with the harnesses still on. I'd turn around to see them dangling from the sides, twisted in the straps.
Very dangerous.
No wagon was big enough to prevent them from kicking each other hard in the stomach and face every time I stopped and failed to set them free. They didn't even like it when I stopped the car at red lights. Forget about shopping. I couldn't stop to loook at anything.
Freedom and movement is what they craved above all else and they were determined to get it.
That might not have been a problem if not for the needs of the older kids.
The bus didn't come down our street, so I had two choices: walk them to the bus stop and fight constantly to keep the twins out of the road, out of the neighbors' lawns and out of the strollers of other parents; or take them into the school gym each day while I signed the older kids out and waited for them.
It soon became clear that the gym was the safer alternative.
At first, all was good.
The gym gave them ample space to run and play. Getting them to leave was a struggle, but I managed. Then they discovered the hallways. What a nightmare. I felt like I was the goalie in a fast-moving hockey game: always dodging to catch that puck before it passed through the net.
Unfortunately, there was no net to stop them.
So I broke down.
I did the thing I thought I would never do: I bought backpack leashes.
What a disaster.
Jonathan and Matthew loved them, of course. They were puppy backpacks and they were adorable. They wore them everywhere and they were quite proud. Until I touched that lead.
As soon as I put my hand on it, they plunked themselves down and refused to move. They kicked and screamed and yelled. They hollered and pushed and cried.
They suddenly realized that these cool puppy backpacks were a means of control and they weren't having any of it.
After about five attempts, I gave up.
Instead, I struggled with them daily physically and mentally, suffering a shoulder injured that lasted more than a year. I hired babysitters for short trips and errands just to avoid that struggle, and I enlisted other parents who took pity on me.
It was a tough year or two.
I wanted nothing more than for Jonathan and Matthew to grow up.
Now, at almost four years old, they are fairly good about staying with me because they understand consequences and danger. They know now that if they stray from me, they might become lost or a stranger might take them away. They understand injury and pain and how much it might hurt if a car or a truck hit them.
But the past two years could have been much better. We could have gone more places, enjoyed more sights, done with a lot less yelling. I could even have had pain-free use of my shoulder if those harnesses had only worked for us.
I still cringe when I see a couple with no other children using one on a child at that mall, or when I see a child yanking another sibling on a harness or when I see people who rely on them for every trip, everywhere never bothering to teach their children how to behave without them.
I still think some people misuse them.
But I now understand that there is a use for harnesses.
I no longer cringe at the thought of them.
Instead of disgust, I am more likely to be filled with envy for those for whom harnesses worked.
Thanks to Matthew and Jonathan, I have learned one very important lesson:
never say never.