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.


Mary said...

We have a lot of the same going on at our house. If I have to fuss at one twin, the other twin tells me to quit being mean to his brother! If I'm passing out treats, they have to make sure the other gets one. Hayden always looks for Thomas stuff for Jack, Jack always looks for scooby stuff for Hayden. They have "their own" shirts and jammies as well as many they share. They seem to understand better than my oldest that being part of a family means sometimes doing things to make one person happy (like when we went to see Thomas the Train...that was mainly for Jack) but that is what families do and it's nice to see the people in our family happy.

Tamika said...

Although my Duo are only 20mths old, I am finding the same thing with the individuality which actually shows solidarity! One of the boys will get an ice pack and always gets a 2nd for his twin. No matter which one starts it. If a stuffie is searched out - his twins stuffie is also found. If one gets a cookie - so does the other. They don't seem to do this with their older siblings yet. The differences are their stuffies are different, their fave items are different - their blankets, their toys - yet they think of the other when they do play with or get something. I love this part of the bond.

Unknown said...

I have a set of 2 year old twin boys (id or frat is still under question) and reading this post brought tears to my eyes. My boys are little but starting to do some of the things you mention here. I can only hope and pray that they continue and that my boys can become as close as yours are. Thanks.