Fostering the Twinness

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.

Letting Toddlers Dress Themselves

It’s amazing to think that children as young as two years old can develop their own sense of fashion and clothing preferences.

When Mister and Missy were between two and two and a half, they started dressing themselves (“I do it myself!”). Proudly putting on their own pants, socks and even trying to remove/put on their diapers! (that’s when we knew they were ready for potty training) At first we thought it was limited to dress-up time.

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Twins dressing up and getting dressed


Then at some point, they started paying attention to the clothes I would set out for them the night before. Then things got interesting and their personal clothing preferences came out. We quickly discovered that Missy is all about pink, purple, dresses and generally complicated outfits. She would be the one trying to zip up her jacket and fiddling with buttons.

In contrast, we noticed that Mister started resisting wearing anything with collars, buttons or zippers. That meant no more jeans or cute hoodies over the winter. It also meant no traditional Pakistani outfits comprised of a tailored collar tunic and baggy trousers. When my cousin got married a few months before their third birthday, it was nearly impossible to get him into the cute traditional “kurta pajama” for the wedding festivities. It took 3 people to coax and wrestle this screaming toddler into the clothes. If this wasn’t a family wedding where Mister and Missy were part of the procession, we would’ve compromised.

To this day, Mister prefers to wear his Elmo jogging pants or any track pants with a stripe down the side. His favourite and only tops to wear are slip-on shirts, preferably with a favourite character on the front. To make weekday mornings easier, I would take out at least 3 outfits each and hang them up in both their rooms. It definitely helps to plan out kids outfits beforehand so we are not searching their closet in the early morning darkness. Once they turned three, our twins started to pick out their own clothes.

A few weeks ago we were going to a community luncheon where Missy wore a traditional outfit (purple) and I wore a red one. Although Mister refused to wear the outfit I picked out (shirt with a collar, buttons and dress pants), he chose another outfit to match what I was wearing. He came over, showing the red long sleeved shirt he picked out with black fleece pants. My first reaction was to tell him to put back the fleece pants. Then I noticed the excitement on his face and sensed he was seeking my approval. The look of pride on his face when I said: “Good choice! It match!” was enough to make my heart melt.

Missy likes to be cozy and will layer her clothes. One day this past winter, she wore 6 layers: undershirt, long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, dress, hoodie, and coat. And on her head were 2 headbands, 1 hair clip, and her usual requested hair style featuring three (yes, 3) ponytails… a la Punky Brewster.

There have been some (many) mornings when one or both would fight with us on their clothes choices, and even want to wear pajamas to daycare. The daycare educators suggested we offer up two choices for tops so they feel like they have some control. And let them wear pajamas if there is great resistance. That appeared to help a bit but we still had our morning challenges.

Amazingly, in the last 2 months or so and as Mister and Missy are nearly 3 ½, they have taken full control over their clothing choices. They even learned how to take their clothes off hangers and how to put them back on (their closets are child-sized).

Here is a description of recent favourite outfits:

Mister: Spider-Man underwear, blue top, blue Elmo jogging pants with white stripes, Elmo socks

Missy: Pink underwear, pink pants, pink long sleeve top, fairy dress, white & red Canada hoodie, pink socks

What’s the fashion in your house these days?

2Cute is a Canadian mom to 3 year old Boy/Girl twins who will be starting Junior Kindergarten this coming September. Their new school has a dress code (navy blue and white), which is going to cramp her twins’ sense of style.

Establishing Them as Individuals at School

I distinctly remember one of the most frequently asked questions during my pregnancy was, “Are you going to dress your twins alike?”  I really hadn’t given much thought to it, and I’m pretty sure I gave a pretty vague answer.

At our baby showers, we got lots and lots of duplicate outfits.  Thus, much of the girls’ first year was spent with them looking much like each other.

When I finally started buying the bulk of their clothes myself, I found them matching about half of the time, and the other half of the time, they wore coordinating outfits.

(There are reasons for this, as I’ve finally realized…from shopping lots of end-of-season sales and often finding duplicates more readily than separate outfits…to the ease of doing laundry…to the simplification of picking outfits for the day…but that’s another blog post.)

For the last couple of years, I’ve let the girls choose what they want to wear.  Some days one will say, “I want to look like Sissy,” and some days they’ll choose something different from each other.  With the exception of a few more formal situations where I like to select their outfits, this has been fine with me.

Before the girls started three-year old preschool last fall, though, I had a revelation, sparked by an incident at a park.  The girls were dressed alike, and a three- or four-year old came up to me and asked, “Why are they wearing the same shirt?

Well, duh, Kid!  It’s because they’re twins.  ;)

And then it occurred to me…while it’s super cute to most adults to see pint-sized mirror images, matching from head to toe…that might just seem a bit “odd” to the average preschooler.

Between this and my motivation to try to help the girls be seen as individuals, I promptly went shopping to expand the girls’ back-to-school wardrobe (after I’d originally vowed they had more than enough clothes to start the school year).  I wanted to make sure they had plenty of non-matching outfits, at least to get them through the first month or so of school.

There were a few times I allowed my girls to wear matching outfits to school, but it was long after their teachers – and more importantly, in my mind – their classmates, had gotten to know them as individuals.

This was definitely the most thought I’d ever given to the girls’ “clothing strategy”, and I felt really good about where I’d landed.

And then I had to laugh when, on the first day of four-year old preschool this fall, my B asked, “Mommy, can we please wear the same thing so people will know we go together?

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The girls settled on coordinating outfits for the first day of school

Do your multiples dress alike?  Does that change based on the situation?  Do you think it impacts how people view them?

MandyE is mom to 4 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures and about overthinking parenthood at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice About Both of Them…

As a parent of multiples, most of us eventually grow accustomed to the “You’ve got your hands full!”-type comments.  I have my stock answers to those, most of which [I hope] are pretty gracious, recognizing that folks don’t generally mean to be as annoying as they sometimes are.

What really bugs me, though, are comments that I’m sure all parents get…regardless of how many children are trailing them through the grocery store…comments centered on how our children look.  I am working so hard to model the importance of a happy, kind, and caring heart and the joy of curiosity.  Your braided pigtails and the adorable ruffle shirt you have on are no comparison to who you are as a person.

Even being sensitive to this topic, I know it’s hard.  When I see the most adorable chubby-cheeked kiddo, the first thought that comes to my mind usually is, “What a CUTIE PIE you have there!

Since having children, I’ve tried to reform myself.  My stock comment is usually along the lines of “What curious eyes you have!  I bet you love to learn!”  Or I might pick up on a clue about something the child is wearing.  “I see you have a kitty cat on your shirt.  Do you have a kitty at home?  What’s your kitty’s name?  We have a kitty, too!

I know I can’t count on that kind of engaging conversation from the general public.  It’s up to me to respond to the “What pretty little girls you are!” comments with “And they’re super smart, too!” or “They’re beautiful on the inside, too!

That, I’ve learned to handle.

What I think is toughest to deal with is when someone makes a comment about one of our girls in comparison to the other.

Our girls are “very” fraternal, as I like to say…one has blue eyes and fair skin, and the other has brown eyes and a more olive complexion.  B’s eyes are pretty piercing, and they get a lot of attention.  It’s happened more than once that we’ve heard, “WOW!  What amazing blue eyes you have!  They are so beautiful!”  And then the person turns to A, seemingly as an afterthought, and says something like, “Oh, and you have pretty brown eyes.”

Seriously???

Then I feel like I’m in the precarious position of trying to support that both my girls are beautiful, before I can even try to divert the conversation away from the physical.

I love taking my girls grocery shopping, as I think it can be a great educational exercise.  In addition to the meal planning, list making, coupon cutting, and produce weighing, I like that the girls get to practice their manners with a cross-section of people we encounter.

Maybe I should look at it as having twins just makes for more learning opportunities as we navigate what sometimes feels like a landmine of comments.

Do you have any stock responses to comments about your children?  How do you handle when people try to compare them to each other?

MandyE is a SAHM to 4 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures and reflections on parenthood at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

Connections

Yesterday, shortly before 1 pm, my phone rang. It was summer camp. M had been complaining about feeling unwell, and was running a mild fever. I went to pick her up, and asked J whether she wanted to stay at camp or come home with us. J decided to come home because she didn’t see the point of being at camp without her sister.

When I walked to the back of the room to retrieve backpacks, lunch bags and water bottles, a counselor I hadn’t met before approached me.

“I just wanted to say that your girls are just so sweet,” she said to me, smiling. “I saw J crying and asked her what was wrong. She was worried about M not feeling good. She said, ‘She’s my entire world.’ I totally get it. I’m a twin.”

We talked about the counselor’s relationship with her twin brother. She told me that they were the only twins out of her 22 siblings. I thought I’d misheard her, but she confirmed that she had 12 sisters and 9 brothers. (This makes my brain and ovaries hurt simultaneously.) Even with that many siblings, the twin relationship was a special one.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time. Adults we cross paths with, from teens to the elderly, tell me not only about how their sister-in-law’s cousin’s stepmother’s great aunts were twins, but often about their own experience of being part of a set of multiples. I once had a woman stocking wine at the grocery store tell me that her marriage counselor had advised her to stop expecting her husband to be her twin. That advice had saved her marriage. (I’d never met the woman before. People in Texas talk to strangers, and on just about any subject. It’s why I like it here.)

I love how much my daughters care for each other. I know that the teenage years may be especially hard for them, as J and M individuate not only from me, but from each other. It’s nice to hear from adults how precious they hold their connections to their twin siblings and that my daughters’ affection for each other resonates with them. It also helps me rest easy. I don’t need to force my girls to be separate individuals. They’re quite different without my having to push them to be different, but to deny the primacy of twinhood in their lives would be dishonest.

Maybe in 10 or 15 years, it will be J who smiles at the way a pair of young twins interacts with each other, seeing a reenactment of her magical connection to M.

Guest Post: Separating Twins at School by Dr. Nancy Segal

Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Nancy Segal, the director of the Twin Studies Center at Cal State, Fullerton.

Nancy L. Segal, Ph.D.
California State University, Fullerton
nsegal@fullerton.edu
drnancysegaltwins.org

The biggest dilemma regarding twins seems to surround the arguments for and against separating them at school. There is no simple answer to this question, but I strongly urge that there be no policy one way or the other. That is, each twin pair should be evaluated separately, taking their particular needs into consideration. I am, therefore, very much against mandatory separation of twins, a policy that is upheld strictly in some school districts.

Some schools maintain that twins will not grow up to be independent individuals if placed in the same room as their twin brother or sister. This is, however, not a research-based practice. It is known that when friends go off to school together for the first time they are more comfortable in their new situation, more interactive with other children and less likely to cling to their teacher. Interestingly, no one worries that two such children might not become separate, independent individuals!

Going to school for the first time can be a little daunting for some children, and forcing twins to separate from their parent and from their twin at the same time may be a lot to ask in some cases. A solution is for teachers to arrange for separate tables within the same classroom so that twins can see each other (that is often the only thing they need!), but develop separate friendships. I once tracked twins during recess and found that while identical were together more often than fraternals they were not together all the time. Often, just a glance at the twin was enough to make them feel relaxed and happy.

Separating Twins at School

We also need to be mindful of twin types. Identical twins are in a very different situation than fraternal same-sex twins who, in turn, are in a different situation from opposite-sex twins. Identical twins may be confused by their classmates and teachers, due to their matched appearance. If identical twins are placed together parents should have them wear different outfits or hair styles, or even wear name tags! It is important that people learn their names and address them as such. Fraternal twins (both same-sex and opposite-sex) will probably not be confused—although some people may forget which name goes with which twin in the case of the same-sex pairs. Same-sex fraternal twins will generally have different interests and abilities and may benefit from separate classrooms in some cases. Male-female twins may benefit from separation for other reasons—little girls mature ahead of little boys socially, intellectually ands physically. Girls in these pairs tend to mother their brothers, behavior that may not always be beneficial for the boys. Above all, however, all decisions regarding school placement for twins should be rendered on a case-by-case basis and evaluated periodically by parents and teachers working together. Young pairs, regardless of twin type, may benefit from being together during the early school years.

A word of additional caution: I have worked on cases of older identical twins who have been falsely accused of cheating on exams and projects because they produce similar scores and essays. If identical twins are in the same classroom, they should never sit together while taking tests!

For more information about all sorts of twin-related subjects, please visit my website at drnancysegaltwins.org.

Two of Me

I needed to assemble some new furniture recently. I put the first bookshelf together while my 6-year-old daughters were sleeping and presented it to them proudly when they awoke. J was unimpressed.

J: You did that by yourself.
Me: Yes, honey. Do you like it?
J: How did you do it by yourself?
Me: The same way I did the dining table. I just followed the instructions.
J: It’s supposed to take two people.
Me: I could see it being easier with two, but I was fine by myself.
J: Last time you had someone else.
Me: I don’t think so. Do you want to help me with the others? I’d love some help putting your book bag cubbies together!
J: You need two people. Two of me is one you. M is another me because we’re sisters and twins. Sometimes she has some different thoughts, but really, she’s another me. So me and M together is one you and we’ll help.

They did end up helping me assemble the cubbies we’re now using to house their schoolbags, dance bags, and piano books. M’s contribution was minimal, since she spent so long washing her hands that we were nearly done by the time she showed up.

When the girls were first born, I would have bristled at anyone saying that M was “another” J. Over the years, though, I’ve learned to embrace the similarities and closeness between my girls, while also celebrating their individuality and differences. Both my girls are well-adjusted, independent, and happy. Most of the time, they love being together, but sometimes they need time apart and they argue often.

I don’t think J’s conception of M as her other self was imposed on her from outside. It’s just one more aspect of the relationship that M and J share, one that might have existed even if they weren’t identical, even if they weren’t twins, perhaps even if they weren’t sisters. I kind of like the idea of my daughters adding up to “another me” when it comes to physical labour, too.

How do your multiples perceive their siblings in relation to themselves?

Sadia is a divorced mother of 6-year-old twin girls, living in the Austin, TX area.

Sneak Previews at School

My twin daughters M and J are in different classrooms at elementary school. Their teachers collaborate a lot, so the girls tend to cover the same course material at the same time, and are actually taught together–along with the other set of identical twins in their classes–for Language Arts.

When it comes to art, physical education, and music, though, the girls’ classes are on different schedules. They have different music teachers and learn different songs in music class while learning the same musical concepts.

Yesterday, M told me, she knew all the answers in music class. She “cheated” (her word) because J had told her all about her music class the day before. She earned a sticker for being about to explain the difference between beat and rhythm. M told the teacher that she had an unfair advantage because J had told her everything already, and the teacher didn’t seem to think much of it.

I can imagine that J’s music teacher might be pleased that J took away enough from class to want to and be able to share her new knowledge with a peer. However, I don’t want either of my daughters to be deprived of the joy of discovery in the classroom. I don’t want them to have an unfair advantage over their peers, either, from the early access to classroom material having a twin provides. When the time comes, I want them to choose to avoid previews of test questions, for instance, that would allow them to game the system. J and M are only 6 years old now, but I can only imagine that the next 6 years will rush by me just as fast as the last 6 did.

At the recommendation of some friends, I think I will talk to both girls about holding back from spilling the beans on new knowledge in the classroom until Sissy has had a chance to have the same experience with her teacher. Of course, I want them to feel like they can talk to each other, especially if they find schoolwork engaging. Some of my most effective learning in school came from discussing classroom material with my friends and getting their insights and perspectives.

How would you approach the matter of exposure to common course material at different times with your multiples? Has this come up?

Sadia’s identical twin daughters, J and M, attend dual language Spanish-English first grade in Central Texas. They have the same homework assignments, but get to choose 3 of 7 possible homework exercises each week per language, which keeps things interesting. They are lucky to have art and music at their school, in this age of funding cuts.

Where My Twins’ IQ Test Results Throw Me Into a Tizzy

Our identical (we think?) twin boys are in 1st grade now. While their speech issues hinder their spelling, they’re still performing above grade level in language arts. But math is where they really excel. This fall, G’s standardized test scores for math were the highest in the class, well above the 99th percentile threshold. Right now a parent volunteer is running a pull-out group for some of the kids who can do more challenging work, but next year that might not be an option. We wondered if the boys might be able to jump a grade for math. This isn’t something our district does readily, so we knew we’d have to push. We requested that our boys be tested for the district’s gifted program — if they qualified, we’d have the leverage we need to push for differentiation.

We were surprised by our results. G did not qualify for the gifted program, missing the cut-off by 4 IQ points. P did qualify.

Initially, I was upset with myself for even requesting the test. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of one qualifying and the other not.  Now we had this bona fide test result, on paper, saying G was less capable than his brother. And G has always struggled with self-confidence.

We had a conundrum, too. While we agreed it would be devastating to G for us to place P in the gifted program, we didn’t feel good about withholding enrichment opportunities from P just because his brother didn’t qualify. This is similar to the situation HDYDI blogger Sadia faced this year, except she was faced with moving one of her twins to first grade while the other remained in kindergarten. In researching what to do for our boys, I found this study of different twin types and their reactions to having one twin placed in a gifted program, while the co-twin was not. It definitely affirmed our gut feeling that our boys wouldn’t do well in that situation.

The more I’ve thought about it, the less I trust the IQ test results. I consulted with the director of the university speech clinic the boys attend, and she felt his speech issues could have thrown off the results. G is very aware of his articulation errors, and speaks very slowly to strangers so they can understand him. P does not make any effort to slow his speech for the benefit of others. The speech clinic director said G is likely to choose his words based on what will be easy for him to pronounce and for others to understand, rather than choosing the words that best convey his meaning. G is a kid who asks for math work on his days off of school, because he says he feels anxious on days when he doesn’t get to do math. He picked up his sister’s 4th grade math workbook and started completing the pages for fun. My other two kids who do qualify for the gifted program don’t do anything like this.

We will probably have him retested at some point, so we know what all of our options are. Our oldest child attends a charter school for academically gifted students, and our public schools have various levels of differentiation available. For now we won’t retest — G said he didn’t like the test and it was boring, so I hate to put him through the same thing with the same test administrator this school year. In the meantime we’ve decided to home school next year — we can let them work at their own pace, and provide as much enrichment as either of them needs.

What would you do? Have you run into a similar situation? How would your multiples handle one being placed in a gifted program, while the other remained in the regular classroom?


Jen is a work-from-home mom of 7-year-old twin boys, and two girls ages 5 and 9. She also blogs at Minivan MacGyver. Once in a while.

Classroom Placement: Part III – Full Circle

This afternoon, I received an email from my daughters’ school informing me that a spot had been secured in Mrs. G’s 1st grade classroom for our daughter M. She starts Monday.

Mrs. G is a great teacher, and a warm and lovely person. I once ran into her at the grocery store and we chatted for an hour. I’ve met her granddaughter, a sweet, well-behaved little girl. In the classroom, Mrs. G is loving but firm, supportive but demanding. Still, my head began to pound as I tried to think through the repercussions of this placement.

Our daughter J, you see, is already in Mrs. G’s class. At the recommendation of J’s kindergarten teacher, and following much agonizing soul-searching, we decided to allow her to skip 75% of kindergarten and 25% of 1st grade to join Mrs. G’s class midstream. M stayed in kindergarten for a further 9 weeks, which brings us to today.

Having M skip to 1st grade mid-year is a no-brainer. The academic work is no challenge for her, and her wonderful kindergarten teacher took the time to make sure that M is emotionally ready. M even spent some time in the 1st grade classroom before the holidays to confirm that she wouldn’t be overwhelmed. My husband and I have already talked through the consequences of J being a year younger than her peers, and having one fewer year in school. The same concerns apply to M. Weighing everything, we decided to let J move on up when her teacher recommended it, and we’re simply doing the same with M. That headache has, for the most part, dulled.

The source of today’s headache is that M and J will be in the same classroom. A lot of thought went into our choosing to exercise our right to have our daughters placed in different classrooms when they entered school. In a nutshell, we thought that the girls needed to establish themselves as individuals, both in their own perception and in that of their peers. Texas state law gives us the right to demand that our daughters be separated, but I recognize that the school has already gone to lengths to accomodate the girls’ learning styles, prior education and emotional maturity.

I may be worn out by the emotional drain of trying to make the right decisions for our daughters in uncharted territory. I certainly don’t have any desire to fight the school. My husband and I spoke briefly this evening, and agreed that the basic goals of splitting the girls into separate classes had been accomplished. They have separate friends. They know that they are liked as individuals, and not just as a set. They have learned to rely on friends for companionship, and to do so without Sissy to fall back on. J and M understand that they don’t have to do everything together.

There’s an entirely new set of concerns now. Mrs. G’s class is J’s territory. Will M be treated as her own person by the other kids, or will she simply be seen as J’s twin, the target of all the attention and assumptions about twins we were trying to avoid?

The girls are a little hesitant about the change. M doesn’t want to leave her kindergarten teacher, whom she loves dearly. J isn’t quite ready to share her spot as class cutie. She was a little miffed at her classmates’ excitement when M visited last month. She told me that she felt that the girls who told M she was cute were “M’s 1st grade girls.” They usually tell J that she is cute; she’s the class clown. She didn’t say that it had upset her, but I could read between the lines. Mrs. G told me that she had sat M next to another child during the school day, but recess and lunch are a different matter.

Mrs. G is someone we trust to teach our children, so it’s time for a leap of faith. We can always request the school to place M and J in different classrooms next year.

What do you think? Should I be asking the school to accomodate M and J’s placement in separate classrooms for the rest of the school year?

Sadia and her husband parent their 5-year-old daughters in El Paso, TX as full-time volunteers. They each have income-generating careers on the side, she in IT and he in the military.