Fostering the Twinness

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Categories Identical, Independence, Individuality, Parenting Twins, Same GenderTags 3 Comments

Full disclosure: I am a die-hard Type-A. I research, I make lists, I have a five-year-plan. True to my nature, when I was pregnant with my twin girls, I did a lot of information-gathering. This included reading up on what it is like to be a twin, what growing up as a twin entails, and watching documentaries about twins. My methods were unscientific and perhaps a little narrow in focus. I watched one particularly memorable documentary about the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, that featured the lives of a few adult twins. I was particularly horrified by a set of identical girl twins who were in their fifties, lived together, dressed alike, were incredibly co-dependent, and had no prospects for marrying, or living separate lives.

Basically, I was jolted into a paranoia that my unborn girls would become sideshow spinster sisters.

I made a silent vow that I wouldn’t ever treat my girls like twins, I’d never call them “the twins,”, never dress them alike, never give them the same bedding, nothing. They would just be two girls with the same birthday.

popsicles1We all know what happens when parents-to-be vow they will never do something, right? See, the thing is, the girls are two and a half now. I see them growing, both as individuals and as twin sisters. I have been pretty committed to fostering their independence and individuality, but I have also come to see that regardless of parenting choices, these girls have an innate, unique bond. And who, exactly, am I to tinker with that?

Sure, there’s the twin language, the monkey-see-monkey-do behaviour, the early development of interactive play between the two of them, but there’s something else. Something that can’t quite be measured, or even labelled. I see it when they spontaneously hold hands when we’re on a walk. When I check on them before I go to bed, and see them spooning in one bed. When they both draw very similar pictures on opposite ends of the table.

There is a very special connection between these two girls, more than the one they share with their other sisters, more than the one I know with my own sister. These girls have spent their days together since they were a single cell. When I think of the miracle of it all, I know I have to honour what makes them so special and celebrate it, rather than try to quash it.

I’ll just make sure they understand they will one day grow up and lead separate lives, or at the very least, in separate bedrooms.

 

SarahNSarah is the mother to four girls, two of whom are identical twins Hailey and Robin. They were born in the Yukon in a very small hospital at 35 weeks, and though they were small, they were mighty. She now lives in Ontario, where her high school sweetheart husband works very hard, and she stays home with the girls, freelance reporting on the side. In her past life, she was a journalist who covered everything from fast-paced federal politics to cats stuck in trees. Her writing has appeared in local newspapers and magazines, and in national publications like the Globe and Mail and ParentsCanada Magazine. She is a yogi, a mediocre cook, an awesome Beyonce dance move imitator, and an avid blogger at Cure for Boredom.

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Separate Preschools – An End of Year Update

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Categories Classroom Placement, Independence, Individuality, It Gets Different, Preschoolers, Same Gender, School, Special Needs1 Comment

Preschoolbeforeandafter

Some of you might remember my post last summer about separating my twin boys for preschool, not into different classes, but into different schools. We are wrapping up the school year so I thought I would share a bullet-point list update of how the year went. One kid was done two weeks ago, the other finishes today. (Making up the snow days.)

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Good

  • Independence. Every discussion on separating twins in school eventually independence is cited as a main reason to separate. In our case, I didn’t feel like they were ready to be apart, and they didn’t really understand what was happening. However, it was very clear to us as parents that one was incredibly reliant on the other, to the point he would defer to his brother to answer questions about the alphabet or counting. Being in his own school, he has been able to demonstrate he can do those things on his own, without his brother.
  • New Experiences. Both boys love their teachers and have enjoyed going to school. They love telling each other about what they did today in school and they are able to share these experiences with each other.
  • Excelling in the school. Without the other to lean on, they have each grown and really prospered.
  • New friends. They have both made new friends and look forward to seeing them at school. We have set up playdates with new friends and it is nice to see them form friendships without each other. 
  • Progress. This time last year we were at such a tough place, middle-of-terrible-3’s, a kid with un-dagnosed, indeterminate delays, and it was heartbreaking and frustrating. Now a year later it is so much better. We have answers, strategies and we are all working together. It’s truly amazing to see how much progress we have all made as a family.

Bad

  • Juggling two different school calendars. One kid goes four days a week, one goes two days a week, overlapping only one day, but forcing us to be two places at once. Both schools were considerate of the situation within our family and invited the other kid to class parties. It never worked out though, it seemed whenever the parties were scheduled, one or the other was sick, or the other was in class that day in the other school. Both schools had a policy of no siblings on field trips, but requested parents to accompany their kids. Every field trip except one we couldn’t go because the trips, of course, fell of a day the other was NOT in school. 
  • Dependence. My boys are very close and play well together (most of the time.) They have active imaginations and finish each other’s thoughts. They devise games and scenarios and have similar interests. We have a playgroup we have played with since the boys were babies, comprised of other twin families, and whom my kids play with really well. It was surprising to read in a progress report that one of my sons did not have any friends, did not play with any other children and did not seem to socialize with anyone other than the adults in the room. Considering how social he is at home and with his playgroup friends, this was unexpected. He has since made a couple friends and seeks them out occasionally, but without the companionship of his brother it seems like he is less confident in making friends.
  • Emotions trauma and drama. The first weeks were really hard. Tears, tantrums, acting out, you name it. Same thing happened after Christmas break and the first few days of spring break after they’ve been together 24/7 again. We’ve also seen a lot of jealousy when one kid has something fun at school like a field trip or pajama day. One kid would have a bring-your-favorite-toy day and the other would want to bring one too. I was always writing notes explained weird outfits or things in backpacks. 
  • The Twin Thing. When we have been invited to parties or playdates, I am not really sure how to include/not exclude the other kid. I have been “that Mom” who invited her other kid to a playdate because I didn’t want to have one miss it because he has a twin brother. At age 4, playdates are still a Mom-goes-too event and as far as I am concerned these two are a package deal for now. Eventually they can have their own social calendars, but for now where one goes we all go.

Ugly

  • Germs. Lots of them. One preschool class is a pertidish of plagues, two was ridiculous. We just got through the longest, crummiest winter in Chicago in a century so we were inside, a lot. And with two classes full of oozing, snotty, sneezy preschoolers exposing our family to bug after bug, we pretty much had something or another in an endless cycle the past seven months. We had so much plague at our house, it was gross. Pink eye, tummy bugs, endless coughs, colds, fevers, snot. Yuck.
  • Uncertainty. We had to wait until May for the IEP meeting to find out whether my one son would continue in the early childhood program. Truthfully I wasn’t sure he would, he’s done so well meeting his goals. So we had to enroll him in the other school with his brother so we could save two spots in one class. At the meeting we were told he would definitely be going back next year, that he still has ground to cover before he’s ready to start Kindergarten. Due to their November birthday, they will be almost-6 when they start Kindergarten and have another whole year of preschool where they will be 5 most of the year. After this year of preschool, though, it is uncertain what will happen next. Whether they will be back together, separate classes, separate schools, separate grade levels. 

 

Jen is a stay-at-home Mom of 4-year-old twin boys who just finished up a year of preschool, separated and on their own. They all survived and thrived.  Their adventures are (intermittently and mostly in photos) blogged at goteamwood.com.

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Information About Twins

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Categories Different Gender, Fraternal, Identical, Multiple Types, Pregnancy, Same GenderTags , , 9 Comments

*Note: There will be some tasteful “Birds and the Bees” talk on this blog post. If you are not comfortable with this, please do not read further.*

Twins in a Nutshell

When someone finds out I am pregnant, there are usually lots of congratulations: “Oh, that is wonderful! You are going to love it! You will be such great parents!”

Then they find out that we are going to have twins, and the mood tends to change: “Oh. Get ready to have your hands full!” or “I have a cousin who had twins,” or “Get your rest now,” or “Double trouble.”

When we first found out it was twins, my reaction was very much like those that we face every day. I was terrified. My perfect image of being a mom of my son or daughter and then having another little one a few years down the line… well that was gone. Could I go to the grocery store ever again? Would I need a bigger car? What happens when both of them cry at once? How can I do this?

Then, something happened, and I realized how unbelievably blessed we are to have not just one baby, but two. There is a reason why we were given this gift at this point in our lives, whether we thought we were ready for it or not.  So now, my reply to those Debbie Downers is “We are so excited to have twins! We are ready for this adventure.” Once I passively confront the negativity, it helps them change their mood too… usually.

Then the typical 2nd question comes: “Do twins run in your family?”

As I have answered this question about 100 times (and remember, I am 30 weeks pregnant at this point), I realize that so many people do not understand how twins “happen,” the differences between the different kinds of twins, and how it runs in families. I thought I might take this post to answer some of these questions.

What is an identical twin?

An identical twin is when one egg is released and is fertilized by one sperm. It separates into two different embryos, but they have originally come from the same egg and sperm. That means that they will have the exact same DNA. That also means that they will be boy/boy or girl/girl twins. There cannot be identical boy/girl twins, except in very rare cases of shared chromosomal abnormalities. They will look exactly the same (with minor differences due to “nurture” or development, but the “nature” is identical).

What is a fraternal twin?

A fraternal twin is when there are two eggs that are released during ovulation. They are both fertilized with two separate sperm. Genetically, these twins are no more similar than non-twin siblings. The only thing more than siblings that fraternal twins share are a birthday and a womb at the same time. Fraternal twins can be a boy/boy, girl/girl, or a boy/girl.

Due to the prevalence of fertility drugs and treatments that stimulate the release of eggs, the number of cases of fraternal twins is on the rise. Naturally, usually only one mature egg is released at ovulation. However, with fertility medicine, it causes more than one egg to be released at ovulation. With IVF (in vitro fertilization), more than one fertilized embryo can be transferred into the woman’s uterus. Although the release of multiple eggs can and does happen naturally, and identical twinning can occur with fertility treatments just as in spontaneous conception, twins from fertility treatments are usually fraternal.

Do twins run in your family?

Ah, the question that I know is coming upon the mention of twins. The answer that we give to these people is, “Yes. They run on both sides. We always joked about having twins, but we never thought that it would actually happen.”

But here is the real answer. Yes, they are FOUND in our family. My maternal grandfather was a twin (no surprise to any Doyle Dispatch blog readers as I talk about Papa Alan all the time). They are also found on Tim’s maternal side. However, here’s the thing: both of these cases are identical twins. Are you ready for this bombshell? Identical twins don’t “run in the family.” If you think about how identical twins form, it is the separation of an embryo. It is, in essence, a freak of nature. A really scientifically cool freak of nature, but a freak of nature, nonetheless.

Fraternal twins are actually the ones that can “run in the family,” and only on the mother’s side. For fraternal twins to be formed spontaneously, mom has to simultaneously release two eggs. However, we don’t have any fraternal twins in our recent family history. For us, it was just a fluke. But it was one that we are so excited to have!

What about the other kinds of twins I hear about?

In the twin world, it actually does get a bit more complex. There are different kinds of identical and fraternal twins, and their health and development in utero is tied to these differences. I will do my best to explain the differences here. If you are satisfied with the answers I gave above, please feel free to stop reading this section now.

Monozygotic Twins (MZ)

Also called identical twins. “Mono” = one. “Zygote” = egg. This is the “header” word for many of the following terms.

Monochorionic-Monoamniotic (Mo/Mo)

Identical twins that develop in the same inner and outer sacs.

Monochorionic-Diamniotic (Mo/Di)

Identical twins with one outer sac (chorionic) and two inner sacs (each embryo has its own amniotic fluid and sac). Both mm/mo and mo/di twins frequently share a single placenta. There are rare cases where fraternal twins have a fused placenta, but that is very unusual.

Dichorionic-Diamniotic Twins (Di/Di)

Two external sacs (chorions) and two internal sacs (amnions) to house the amniotic fluid. The Doyle Twins are Di/Di twins.

Twin Sketches

Conjoined Twins

These are identical twins where the division of the embryo starts, but it doesn’t finish. Often, conjoined twins will share organs.

Chimeras

It is possible, but enormously rare, for fraternal twin embryos to fuse early in development, resulting in a single person who has two people’s DNA. Chimeras usually go through life without ever knowing that theirs could have been a twin birth or that they have two sets of cells with different DNA.

So, that is “Twins in a Nutshell.” I hope that it has answered some questions for you. Leave a comment if you have questions or clarifications for me!

*This post originally appeared on Dory’s blog “Doyle Dispatch.” To read more posts about Dory’s pregnancy and nursery decorating on her blog, you can see the list here.*

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Separate Schools, Two Weeks In

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Categories Classroom Placement, Individuality, Mommy Issues, Preschoolers, Same Gender, School4 Comments

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Two weeks ago I posted about separating my twin boys for preschool, into two different schools. We are in the second week and still adjusting, but here’s a little update on how its going so far.

Both boys started on the same day, even though their schedules overlap only one day a week. We moved around my husband’s work schedule so that day he goes in much later than he used to, since we effectively have to be in two places at once. We stood on the porch and did first day of school photos, obligatory backpack shots, and lots of hugs. Even though only one kid got on the bus, the whole family waited outside for the bus, and his brother insisted on wearing his backpack too. Our little guy got on the bus that first day without a tear. Mommy, however, was not as tough. Yup, I cried. Not as much as I expected, and not as much as I had been in the months before this big day.

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Other kid’s private preschool has a very, very gradual, drawn out intro to preschool, in stark contrast to the school district’s put-them-on-a-bus-and-see-them-later approach. They have a two week orientation period which I suppose some kids probably benefit from, but our kid is ready to get going already. They only go for 1 hour, and instead of drop off, the first day was with the parent the whole time, the subsequent days the parents drop off in the room and get them into their routine before leaving. This Mommy is ready to just drop the kid at the curb, kisses and hugs and on your way, kiddo. The kid wants to know when they get to play at the playground (since they are only there one hour there’s no playground time.) Looking forward to starting for real next week. (and yes, I am one of those rip-the-bandaid off fast people.)

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Here’s a brief rundown of things the past two weeks.

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Kid 1:

  • Got kid onto bus, less than 1 hour later the bus company called (Mommy panic!) but only to tell me to expect him home a full 30 minutes before the original time they told me. Good thing we changed around Daddy’s work schedule.
  • Got a call from the social worker at the school even before he was home the first day telling me that “He was a little sad” when they put him on the bus, which I think is social worker speak for “Flipped his $#&!” when it was time to leave school. Which I guess is good he was having fun.
  • He had an ID tag on his backpack for the bus driver with contact info, but both our home address and phone number wrong. He got home safely anyway. If you ask where he lives he will tell you, “At our house!”
  • Day 2 on the bus and school day was without incident from the kid, but waving at the bus with the other kid, a nosy neighbor walked by adding, “But aren’t they twins? That one must have something wrong with him if he’s taking that bus to school.” IN FRONT OF THE OTHER KID. Gee, thanks.
  • Monday morning the bus driver was 20 minutes late, stopped way past the house, nearly to the neighbors yard and upset the poor kid so much thinking he was forgotten he cried getting on the bus and could be heard screaming as they drove away.
  • By Thursday the second week the novelty has worn off and he no longer has any interest in going to school or riding the bus. It was a major issue getting him to put on clothing and get outside for the bus. Thankful he gets Fridays off so we can not have that discussion for a few more days.

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Kid 2:

  • Went to the first day of school and had a total meltdown when the teacher told him the playtime was done and it was time to read a book. This was the first of many over-sensitive, emotional, sobbing outbursts we’ve seen since the first day of school from the typically laid-back, easy going kid.
  • Teachers told us he’s holding his own but it is obvious he misses his brother quite a lot, he talks about him constantly
  • He runs up to the bus when it arrives back home and has even run up the steps to hug his brother. It’s incredibly sweet.
  • By the 3rd day his brother was at school, he was so volatile and sensitive that I asked him to clean up his Potato Head toys and he sobbed, “But I didn’t get to give brother a hug AND a kiss before he left!”
  • He started a weekly story time session at the library, an extra activity he gets to do alone, since he doesn’t have school as often as his brother. The teacher said he did great and was one of the top participants in the activities and a great listener.
  • He told us he did not want to go to school this week because he wanted to be home for when brother’s bus came back.
  • After the bus nearly missed the house, he put on a Batman outfit because he thought meeting his brother in a Batman suit would cheer him up. (It did.)
  • His teacher at school said he was playing well with the other kids and was much happier than the previous day.

All in all, it hasn’t been bad, but it’s definitely been a transition. We have upped the frequency of random and seemingly senseless meltdowns. It’s heartbreaking to see how sad they are apart, even though they seem to both be enjoying school. They don’t yet “get’ the days of the week so it is confusing them who has school which day, and their behavior definitely shows they are hurting. With time we will all adjust to the new normal, but these first few weeks are pretty emotional.

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Time together and apart at playschool

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My daughters (R and S) are starting their third year of playschool next week.  They’ve been going to the same mothers’ day out program for those three years.

First day of Playschool - 2011 (age 2)

The first year, they went together to the toddler room. I don’t think the teachers learned much about their unique personalities that year, probably because even as parents we didn’t see many difference developing.  The teachers tried to support the girls as individuals by taking them to the bathroom separately, but it was challenging with a group of 1.5 and 2 year olds to be that structured, especially when potty training.

First day of Playschool - 2012 (age 3)

Last year, the girls went together one day a week and by themselves each one day a week in the 3 year old room. This gave the girls time at school by themselves and time at home by themselves with me.  It was during this last year that they really started developing their own unique personalities.  Their classroom teachers also recognized those differences. They told me how the girls behaved differently when they were together and apart.  R was more interested in crafts and writing her letters.  She also enjoyed helping the teachers.  S liked playing with the dolls and stuffed animals but sometimes she’d play with the cars and trains.  When they were at school together, they usually played together with each other but not with the other kids.

On the days they were at school alone, they made their own friends and ate lunch with other kids. R, who could write her name, even visited the 4-year-old class, which challenged her social and academic skills a little. The teachers encouraged this independence by separating them in different work groups or seating them apart at lunch time. R and S’s classroom teachers and many of the other teachers at the school could tell them apart. At home, I was able to include the girls in different activities like doing errands with me, playing their favourite games and helping in the kitchen.  I don’t need to tell you how much easier some tasks are with just one “helper.”

Soccer camp - Summer 2013 (age 4)

Next week, they’ll start going together one day a week and by themselves one day each again. I’m excited to see how they develop their own personalities even more over this year. At home, I’m going to work with R on her reading; I think she’ll be reading by Christmas. I think she gets bored without a challenge and that leads to potty accidents and baby behaviours. With S, I’m going to go at her pace. I think she has ideas, but she’s a little quieter so her sister and brother get to lead more. I’m curious to see what interests of her own emerge.

Even though kindergarten is still a year off, I’ve been talking to the girls about it.  They are quite definite they want to be in separate classes. I ask if they’ll be lonely by themselves, and they tell me “we will ride the bus together every day.” Since they look so much alike and their personalities are very similar, I think the time apart will let them explore their interests and develop their own identities.

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Friendships Between Twins

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Categories Birthdays, Friendships with Other Multiples, Identical, Multiple Types, Parenting Twins, Same GenderTags , , , , 2 Comments

I mentioned in my last post that we would be throwing a combined birthday party with another set of twins from my daughters’ classes. It went swimmingly. I had a great time, and it seemed that everyone else did too.
3 sets of identical twins and a little boy pose over a birthday cake

As luck would have it, the first guests to arrive were the other birthday girls’ cousins, who happen to also be identical twins. This happens to be the first photo I took but features no fewer than 3 sets of identical girl twins, plus one little brother.

My third reaction to the picture after a smile and an “Awww, how cute!” is to ponder how rare it is. I’ve seen statistics putting identical twins at 0.4% of all births. The girls in the photo, though, have no awareness of being part of a rare phenomenon. Some people just come in pairs, in their reality.

My girls have a number of twin friends. I’m partly responsible. I can’t help being drawn to other parents who face similar joys and challenges to the ones in my life. Chance meetings turn into play date arrangements and play dates turn into friendships. The girls in the picture are among the first twins my daughters have befriended outside my influence. After all, I don’t control who they hang out with at public school. M and J also became close friends with classmates in kindergarten, two boys who are identical twins. We don’t get to see HDYDI’s Tracey’s boys as often as we’d like to, but J and M talk about often and consider them close friends.

My girls definitely notice when their friends are twins. They use the word “twins” when describing their friends to me for the first time. They have a number of friends in after school care who are fraternal twins, but I’ve noticed that in those cases, they’re usually much closer to one sibling than another.

I recall a conversation I had with my daughters when they were 4. We’d run into a friend from my Mothers of Multiples group, along with her young boy/girl twins. When I pointed out that they, too, were twins, one of my daughters said, “No they’re not! They’re not the same.” When I dug a little deeper, she said that twins had to be the same gender. I got the impression that twins, to her, were identical only.

Now, at age 7, my daughters certainly accept fraternal twins into the fold, but they clearly feel a deeper connection to other identical twins. I wonder how it would be different to fraternal twins. I only know the identical experience in any depth.

Do your kids have an awareness of being multiples? Are they friends with others? Are they drawn towards twins of the same “type” as themselves?

Sadia is raising her 7 year-old girls in the Austin, TX area. She is divorced and works in higher ed information technology. She is originally from the UK and Bangladesh, but has lived in the US since college.

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To Match or Not to Match

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Categories From the Mouths of Multiples, Identical, Older Children, Same Gender, School-AgeTags , 7 Comments

My 6-year-old twin daughters’ closet contains some duplicates, but not many. When the girls were toddlers, I did dress them alike with with some frequency. We were still going through the enormously generous supply of mostly matching clothes for our baby showers. As they’ve grown, though, they’ve matched less and less. First, they stopped wearing exactly the same thing, although they’d generally coordinate their outfits. If one was wearing a skirt and Tshirt, so was the other. If Sissy was wearing a dress, then so was Sissy.

They don’t bother much with that these days. We don’t even get matchy matchy for formal photos any more.

J, M and Sadia, all in different sweater dresses.
Photo by Brandi Nellis

While I don’t think that my identical girls look a thing alike–their voices are an altogether different manner–people still get them confused. Just yesterday, I witnessed a schoolfriend try to get J’s attention by calling her M. It didn’t work. I wonder if that has something to do with their opting to dress differently.

Yesterday, M pulled out a favourite black sweater dress to wear to school. Her sister J is wearing it in the picture above, and we have two of them.

J’s eyes lit up. “Wanna match?” she asked her sister.

“Sure!” M replied.

“I don’t want to any more,” J responded.

And that’s why I don’t bother shopping doubles any more.

How do your kids feel about wearing matching or coordinating outfits?

Sadia is the single mother of almost-7yo identical twins, M and J. They live in Central Texas, where Sadia works in higher education IT.

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