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.