My daughter J cried herself to sleep last night, as she had the night before.
The first night, it was because I made her go to bed without a bath after she earned a timeout. She earned the timeout for backtalk and kicking at me for asking her to take a bath. Yes, that’s exactly as circular as it sounds. Last night, the tears were because I didn’t let her finish her science homework because she remembered it (after I’d asked 2 hours earlier and she’d told me she was done) 1 minute before bedtime.
Over dinner tonight, I had to lay out our ground rules again. I’m willing to hear the girls’ opinions, but they are to listen/obey first, then talk.
We’d talked specifically about what had gone wrong last night earlier in the day, after we’d all had a chance to sleep on it. I reminded J that I’d made it very clear that both my 6-year-olds were to be in bed at 8:30, no matter what.
“You didn’t explain that properly,” she retorted. “‘No matter what’ isn’t even words!”
“I know what ‘no matter what’ means,” her twin, M, piped up helpfully from the other bed. “It means, ‘no exceptions!'”
My girls have a tendency to react to bad behaviour from Sissy by being extra-helpful and extra-cheerful. It’s actually a great arrangement from my perspective, since it means that I have only rarely had to deal with both girls crying or acting out at once. Most of the time, they’re both very good-natured and bouncy, so I’m glad they don’t get down in the dumps together.
When I go to the bottom of what was bugging J, it was concern about the next week. Spring break starts tomorrow, and the girls will be driving off with Daddy to spend the week with him in El Paso. They live with me, and this will be the longest they’ve spent with Daddy since he and I separated last April.
Tonight, it was M who cried at bedtime.
“When the overwhelmness fills my whole body,” M explained through her tears, “it makes tears come from my eyes. I’m going to miss you too much. I hate this divorce. Divorce is a ugly stupid word. I wish no parents ever fought ever and there was no word of ‘divorce.'”
J was the one to try to lighten the mood, reminding her sister of a movie they’d watched with their school counselor at ‘divorce club,’ the monthly meeting for 1st graders with divorced parents.
The nutty thing is that, until the last month or so, J has been the one completely in touch with her emotions. She’s been the one who explains to me clearly exactly how she feels about all the recent changes in her life, while M has acted out and needed a lot of help to get to the root of her worries.
This sort of role switcheroo happens all the time with my girls. One will be extremely mature and in touch with her feelings, while the other is a mess with no idea what’s bothering her. After a few days, or weeks, or months, they’ll suddenly switch roles. One will bury her nose in a book 24/7, while the other wants to play, and one day, the arguments will remain exactly the same, but with J and M reversing positions. When they were babies, M was the one who loved to be held and rocked and snuggled, while J would cry to be put down. Today, J’s the one who lists “snuggles” in the “need” column on school assignments on needs versus wants, while M tells me that my goodnight hug was “too much squishing.”
Of course, there are a lot of ways in which M and J are consistently distinct from each other. M can talk the hind leg off a donkey and just be getting started. J takes earnestness to a fine art. M is a picky, picky eater, while J is usually open to liking new things if I can convince her to try them. J has the ability to warm a stranger’s heart with one word or look, while M can leave people writhing with laughter with her wry humour.
I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing conscious about the way that J and M go about reversing roles and maintaining balance, but I can’t help thinking that the sensitivity that they’ve learned from adjusting to each others’ moods and needs will serve them well in personal and professional relationships throughout their lives.
Do your multiples switch roles?
Sadia lives and overthinks matters of parenting in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is newly divorced and works in higher education IT. She will be at work, not at SXSW, this week. Her daughters, M and J, are identical 6-year-olds in 1st grade.