Thursday, January 12, 2012

One birthday cake or two? An unnecessary stress

I have some advice for parents who fret over whether their twins should have one birthday cake or two, one birthday song or two, one birthday theme or two.
Forget it.
Who cares?
They don't.
Not at one and two years old.
Don't be embarrassed.
We've all been there, thinking that the wrong decision, the wrong move will forever scar our little babies and toddlers, particularly since they already share looks and DNA. How will they ever become individuals if we make them celebrate their shared birthdays as units?
As Matthew and Jonathan approach their fifth birthday, I can assure you that when it matters, they will tell you. They will tell you over and over and over again until you instinctively cringe whenever the topic comes up and make elaborate attempts at distraction.
For us, it started with cakes at three years old.
Matthew made it clear to me that his cake should have yellow frosting. Jonathan wanted blue.
They also wanted their own versions of the birthday song. They stressed these points with anyone who would listen for weeks prior to their birthday.
That was it.
We complied and they were happy.
Their fourth birthday was a yearlong obsession.
They understood, for the first time, what a birthday meant, and the excitement overwhelmed them.
Over the preceeding months, we made cakes for Dino Dan, for Dora, and for the dog. We celebrated on picnic blankets on the living floor, with paper plates on the dining room table and at Friendly's with the Birthday Bash dessert.
It seemed birthdays were all they thought about.
They started planning a full year in advance. Jonathan requested a chocolate cake with blue frosting and Matthew asked for a banana cake with yellow frosting. They wanted separate birthday songs once again and they knew exactly who they wanted to invite.
No more family-only parties.
They wanted the real thing.
Lots of friends.
We complied and they weree happy.
This year, the plans are even more elaborate.
They attend two different preschools together (two days at one and two days at the other). I had planned to bring treats only to the school they attend on their actual birthday. Not fair, they said, not fair to their other friends.
Fine, I said. They won.
So I decided to bring only one treat to each class, certain that the teachers would appreciate limitations on sugar consumption. Not fair, they argued once again. Jonathan and Matthew are two different people, each with his own birthday. They should each be able to bring a treat.
How could I possibly argue with that?
I agreed, but only for the one classroom.
In the other class, we will bring drinks and a treat.
Their party requests are the same -- specific colors and flavors for cakes, separate songs and lots of friends. Thank goodness the community center is cheap. But they added one more thing this year -- pinatas. Not one, but two.
The argument was the same: two birthdays, two pinatas.
I had dug my own hole by caving to this premise before.
Two pinatas it is.
We will comply and they will be happy.
I can't even imagine what their sixth birthday will be like, but I'm already starting to work on it, planning my arguments for less separation, less individualism,  more focus on the fact that their shared birthday is part of what makes their relationship so special.
Yes, it's a selfish argument, but we have to draw the line somewhere before they drive us into financial ruin. We will not entirely comply, but they will be happy.
So my advice is to relax.
Children who can't barely form sentences have little or no concept of what a birthday is so much for whether a joint celebration defines them as a unit. Their birthdays will present enough opportunities for stress in the years to come.
Relax and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Someone Else's Twin: a review

I picked up Nancy L. Segal’s new book Someone Else’s Twin, in part, because a Wall Street Journal reviewer described it as an “engaging narrative.”
That, it is not.
The book is a case study, clearly academic in its structure, voice and format.
But it’s a fascinating and worthwhile read, regardless.
Someone Else's Twin tells the true story behind a lawsuit filed by identical twins and a singleton who were mixed up at birth in a Canary Islands hospital. The mistake was discovered somewhat by accident 28 years later when a store clerk who had met both twins and had noted their striking similarities insisted they get together.
The meeting threw two families into permanent turmoil.
One twin had been raised as a fraternal twin with the singleton. The other twin was raised as a singleton by a family that was not related to her. All three women struggled with their new relationships and identities and the results were heartbreaking.
It is a situation I can, thankfully, only imagine.
In reading Segal’s book, I had hope to learn more about nature-verses-nurture – about likes, dislikes, mannerisms, social preferences, habits and more that these reared-apart twins share despite their separate upbringings. I wanted to read about their differences, too. I had hope to learn more about my own twins and the influences we have, as parents, on their identities verses the natural influences of shared DNA.
I did come away with some of that.
The identical twins, for instance, developed an immediate report upon their meeting.
“Delia and BegoƱa accomplished in seconds what many sisters never achieve after a lifetime together – a mutually deep understanding of how the other thinks and feels,” Segal writes.
They found they had several remarkable mannerisms and gestures in common, like the way they ate and their physical reactions to anxiety. They both had an urge to clean and made careers of it while sometimes aspiring to more intellectual pursuits.
Yet one identical twin developed leukemia as a teen, while her separately raised twin did not, and their IQ scores differed more than Segal had expected. Interestingly, the women who were mistakenly raised as fraternal twins had closer IQ scores, a finding that seemed to surprise Segal.
But, when I finished this book, my interests in nature-verses-nurture felt selfish compared to what Segal’s truly explores.
As a result of the mix up, the Canary Island courts were faced with a daunting task, one which Segal was asked to help resolve. The courts had to place a price tag on the losses these women suffered and the pain they continue to live with as a result of their separation so many years ago. They had to decided how to make reparations and whether reparations could really be made at all.
In Someone Else‘s Twin, Segal touches on issues of nature-verses-nature, but she explores more deeply the very nature of family relations and their biological bonds. She dives into controversial questions about how we form a sense of self and how mothers identify and bond with their children. She explores the psychological bonds between non-biologically related siblings and the potential for harm when that lack of biological relationship is unknown.
Segal gives new evidence in the argument for openness with children who become one with families due to adoption, egg donation and sperm donation – all important observations in this world of high-tech fertility solutions we live in today. These children need to know who they are, where they came from or, at the very least, that they do not share their parents’ DNA.
With that knowledge, children have a chance to adjust to and appreciate differences in appearance, attitude, social preferences and behaviors. Without it – as in the case of the identical twin raised as singleton in an unrelated family – they can become lost – unsure as to why they are somewhat different, why they don’t fit in. Always struggling.
Though not the fastest read, Someone Else’s Twin is indeed fascinating and well worth reading. It is not what I had hoped. It is much more.