Twins Explaining Twins, Revisited

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Categories From the Mouths of Multiples, Interview, School-Age, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , 4 Comments

We got some funny and insightful thoughts last time I interviewed my daughters, 7-year-old M and J, about being twins. I figured I’d introduce a different related topic and see where the conversation went.

Me: So, I get a lot of the same question over and over when people realize that you’re twins. Does that happen to you too?
J: Yes.
Me: What kinds of questions?
J: Like really unimportant questions. Like, “Why aren’t you wearing the same clothes?” “Why is you hair so short and hers so long?”
Me: Mmm hmm.
J: And some reasonable questions, like my friend Amy’s*.
Me: What did she ask?
J: “What’s it like to be like a twin?” And I told her, “Sometimes it can be frustrating and sometimes it can be nice.” You know how it can be frustrating?
Me: How?
M: When we get into arguments.
J: When people can’t tell us apart.
M: Actually I like that.
Me: Oh?
M: I like pranking people like Mr. M and Mr. Michael and people whose names start with M. And today Mr. Michael said…okay, let me try to tell this one… he said, “J.” And I slapped my head because it was M, who is me. And he gave up and said, “Okay! Twins! Go to the line!”
Me: And there were some other reasonable questions, right?
J: Mmm hmm. And Mr. Joel asked, “What if you were fraternal?” And I said, “We would look more different and less alike.” And Mr. Joel said, “You look fraternal to me, but I know you were born identical.”
M: A wombat…
Me: A wombat**?
M: Mmm hmm. A Wombat asked us if twins, identical twins, always looked alike and were always wearing the same clothes. No! If one of the twins are a tomboy and the other is a girly girl, then the one that’s a girly girl might wear a princess shirt and the tomboy might wear…
J: A Spiderman shirt?
M: An Angry Birds shirt.
J: You know, some girls who aren’t tomboys wear Angry Birds shirts.
M: I know, that’s just because they, those shirts have at least one girl Angry Bird.
J: No, some don’t have any. Like, Amy isn’t a tomboy and she has an Angry Birds shirt that says, “I’m the bomb!” and it has the black bird on it. No girls.
Me: Do Caroline and Vanessa…(I began to type in parentheses “older fraternal girl twins” for your benefit. J stopped me.)
J: No, they’re identical!
Me: Are you sure?
M: No, they’re fraternal. They told me.
J: But they have the same colour hair and the same colour eyes and I can’t tell them apart.
M: Another argument! Yeah, but they told me and they know more about themselves than anyone else.
J: Fine!
Me: I’d like you to think about something, please. How do you feel when people try to tell you that you’re not identical?
J: Ugh, the girl named Annabelle who’s a Wombat… really a girl, but her group’s a Wombat… when she heard we were twins she was mean about it because we didn’t have the same haircut and weren’t wearing the same clothes and didn’t have the same faces and different sizes of shoes.
M: I don’t think that’s fair, because I like my unique heart-shaped face.
J: Then me and M, then me and M said we had enough of the talk and went to play Connect 4 and a little bit of Mancala and M was too shy to tell Annabelle that we were really twins and so I told her that it really hurt our feelings when people said we weren’t twins because it wasn’t really truuuuue. (I initially typed “true” back there, but J felt that some more Us were in order to capture what she was trying to communicate.)
Me: I understand the story. But how did you feel, when somebody said you weren’t identical?
M: Sad.
J: Really mad like I wanted to punch that person.
Me: Wow!
J: Embarrassed.
Me: Then how do you think Vanessa and Caroline would feel if they knew that you were saying that they were wrong about what kind of twins they are?
J: Like us? Like maybe they will feel like I was trying to be mean on purpose.
Me: I think we need to respect people the same way we expect them to respect us.
J: I didn’t know.
Me: I know you didn’t know, but does the lesson make sense?
J: (Nod.)
M: I’ve got a story. Once upon a time. Okay, sorry, did I mention that this was fairytale?
Me: No, you forgot to mention that.
M: Once upon a time, there were two little girls who were identical twins and they had friends who were older identical twins…
J: Older identical twins?
M: No, I mean fraternal twins. And J, one of the identical twins, liked Caroline more than Vanessa. And M, who was another one of the identical twins, liked Vanessa more than Caroline. They all lived in a castle together. But one day, a dragon came to eat them, but the brave knight killed the dragon into 5, no 10 pieces.
J: “5, no 10 pieces.”
M: The End.
Me: Which of the twins was the brave knight? All of them? (Yes, I know she was probably thinking of a man coming to save them, but I am going to do all I can to raise empowered women instead of damsels in distress. Back to the story.)
M: Yes! (whispering) Do I have a too big imagination? (regular voice) Well, actually, not all of them. Just Vanessa and Caroline. So, as you can imagine, each tore the dragon into 5 pieces each. The End.

*Names have been changed.
**Wombats are the youngest group of summer campers.

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Twins Explaining Twins

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Categories Childcare, Community, Education, From the Mouths of Multiples, Frustration, Identical, Older Children, Other people, School-Age, Singletons, Talking to KidsTags , , 5 Comments

I’m going to try something new. I’m going to let my twins write, or rather dictate, this post on twinhood. They started to tell me a story on the drive home from summer camp that seemed appropriate for this audience. My 7-year-old daughters could have typed this up themselves, but it’s much faster for me to simply transcribe our discussion.

Abridged Version

M: Soooo… today at summer camp, I met a girl who said that just because we weren’t wearing the same clothes and we didn’t have the same hairdo and J’s hair was short and mine was long and we didn’t have the same shoes and J was wearing socks and I wasn’t, she said that we were not identical twins. Not even twins.
Sadia: So, what did you tell her?
M and J, posed back to back in matching dance costumes,M: Well, I told her that even if you aren’t wearing the same things, one has socks and another doesn’t, no same shoes, no same hairdo, no same size as hair, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t a twin with someone else.
Sadia: What was her response to that?
M: Well, she said, “Wrong!”
Sadia: She did not!
M: Yes, she did… I said, “You don’t know anything about twins!” … “I do too know about twins,” she said. And she said that identical twins have to wear the same things and shoes and do everything the same. If one gets a haircut, the other gets a haircut. I just yose that as a example…. I told the teacher. I told her this story. And she said, “Ignore her.”

J: A few minutes after that, I gave her a lesson. At first, she didn’t wanna listen, but she didn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, and I knew that, so I said, “It really hurts my feelings when people say me and my sister aren’t twins.” And it was true. I wasn’t just saying to get her attention. First I said, “Twins doesn’t mean that people look the same or have the same voice. It matters about their birth. To be a twin, you have to be born from the same mother and the same day… And I cut my hair because 1) It was a way to tell me and my sister apart since we’re identical twins and 2) Because I kept chewing on my hair. Don’t tell anyone.”

Real Time Version

Sadia: So, what should the title be?
J: Nocturnal Twins and Identical Twins.
Sadia: Uh… Well… Okay.

Long pause

J: Did I say, “nocturnal?”
Sadia: Yeah.
J: Is that right?
J and M are both wearing South Asian attire, but in different styles and colours.M: How are twins different from identical twins?
Sadia: Identical twins are one kind of twin.
M: But it’s a twin? What’s another kind of twin?
Sadia: Fraternal.
J: Fraternal?
M: What’s a fraternal twin?
Sadia: Ones that come from two different eggs.

Potty break.

Sadia: So, shall we start again?
M: Yeah. Mommy!
Sadia: What? I’m writing down our conversation!
M: Mama!
Sadia: Mm-hmm? Okay. J, you were telling me a story in the car.
J: About what?
Sadia: About the girl… wait… was it you, M?
J: No, me. About what?
Sadia: giggles
M: No it was me. I told you about the girl who said that because we weren’t wearing the same clothes…
Sadia: Yes. That story.
J: One second.

Trash break.

Sadia: Okay, so why don’t you get started? M?
M: giggling at my typing Soooo… today at summer camp, I met a girl who said that just because we weren’t wearing the same clothes and we didn’t have the same hairdo and J’s hair was short and mine was long and we didn’t have the same shoes and J was wearing socks and I wasn’t, she said that we were not identical twins. Not even twins.
Sadia: So, what did you tell her?
M: Well, I told her that even if you aren’t wearing the same things, one has socks and another doesn’t, no same shoes, no same hairdo, no same size as hair, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t a twin with someone else.
Sadia: What was her response to that?
M: Well, she said, “Wrong!”
Sadia: She did not!
M: Yes, she did.
Sadia: gasps
Sadia, J and M making facesM: (whispering) You gasped.
Sadia: I got it!
M: You forgot the… waves her hands to indicate italics.
Sadia: I’ll do it later. I just want to get the content now. So, J.
J: running off Yeah?
Sadia: Where are you?
J: returning Hmm? Yeah?
Sadia: I understand that you…
M: Mom, I’m not done with the story.
Sadia: You’re not? Oh.
M: I told the girl. Wait, where are we?
Sadia: “She said, ‘wrong’.”
M: Oh, yeah. Right. I said, “You don’t know anything about twins!” (laughing) Okay, back to where we started. I don’t mean started. I mean stopped. (giggling) You’re typing it down!?
Sadia: Yep. Okay. Continue, pleeeeeeeease.
M: “I do too know about twins,” she said. And she said that identical twins have to wear the same things and shoes and do everything the same. If one gets a haircut, the other gets a haircut. I just yose that as a example.
Sadia: Mm hmm. It’s a good example. (long pause) Is your story done now?
M: No. So, ah, oh yes. I told the teacher. I told her this story. And she said, “Ignore her.” The End from M.
Sadia: I love you.
M: Hello to J!
Sadia: All right, pumpkin. You ready?
J: For what?
Sadia: To tell your story.
J: What?
Sadia: You were telling me you gave her a bit of a class?
J: Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh!
Sadia: If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to hear what you told her.
J: Uh. Uhhhh. Uhhhhhh.
M: Mom, can anyone do this? I mean, read this?
Sadia: Yeah. Is that okay?
M: Mm hmm.
Sadia: I’d really like to hear your lesson.
J: A few minutes after that, I gave her a lesson. At first, she didn’t wanna listen, but she didn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, and I knew that, so I said, “It really hurts my feelings when people say me and my sister aren’t twins.” And it was true. I wasn’t just saying to get her attention. First I said, “Twins doesn’t mean that people look the same or have the same voice. It matters about their birth. To be a twin, you have to be born from the same mother and the same day.” Am I true?
Sadia: 100%, baby.
M: giggles at my typing again
J: M!!! Stop giggling! Stop giggling!
M: “100%, baby!”
Sadia: Was that the whole lesson?
J: Mm mm. “And I cut my hair because 1) It was a way to tell me and my sister apart since we’re identical twins and 2) Because I kept chewing on my hair. Don’t tell anyone.”
Sadia: But if I write it, people will know. Or did you tell her, “Don’t tell anyone?”
J: I told her, “Don’t tell anyone.”
Sadia: So, I can write it, and that’s okay?
J: Yeah.
Sadia: Was that the end of the lesson?
J: Yeah.
Sadia: Well, you know what? I think you guys handled that situation very well.

And we followed up with a hands-on lesson in editing.

Do your kids know that they are multiples? Have they ever encountered a multiplicity denier? How do they handle misconceptions?

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"Afu ge ge", "Leila mei mei"

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Categories Behavior, Parenting Twins, Relationships, ToddlersTags , , , , , 8 Comments

“Which twin is older?” The question is absurd. In China, I get it all the time. And it works me up.
“They are twins. They are the same age.” I reply, irritated.
“Yes, but they didn’t both come out at the same time, did they? One had to have been born first.”
They insist, “Is she the older sister or is he the older brother?”
“But they were born minutes apart. What’s the big deal?!”

In Chinese there are no words for sister or brother; only for older brother “ge ge”, younger brother “di di”, older sister “jie jie”, and younger sister “mei mei.”

I don’t want to impose birth-order stereotypes on L and R; they are born 7 minutes apart. When L joined us at home, 3 weeks after R, Maher and I both unintentionally spoke to Rahul referring to Leila as his little sister. It was more in the sense of endearment and physical size than of age. But we quickly realized that it was untrue, and imagined implications of such labeling. We stopped.

When we returned to Chengdu from Hong Kong 5 months after the birth, our ayi (nanny) would tell R, “Look, Leila mei mei is sleeping. Why don’t you sleep as well?” I was upset. Drop the comparison, that issue is for another post. I firmly asked the people close to us – ayi’s (nannies), Chinese friends – not to use ge ge and mei mei; but to refer to Rahul and Leila as Rahul and Leila. Initially, they considered my request strange. I was interfering with cultural norms and habits. I insisted. They complied, at first with an uncomfortable smile, and probably a thought of how the lao wai (foreigners) always do things strangely. Now, they don’t hesitate. I’ve heard our ayi herself telling people in the street – “How can one be older? They are twins.” And if pushed she says, “I don’t know who was born first,” and then she looks at me to save her from the situation!

From what I remember of my Social Psychology 101 class, and various family talks, the oldest child is more responsible, self-motivated, and more dutiful, the middle child struggles for attention, and the youngest child is light-hearted, sometimes babied. It’s not as “straightforward” as that in reality, and certainly not in our household. I hope R doesn’t turn around one day and say a silly thing like, “That’s the way it goes because I am your older brother,” or someone guilt trips him with, “but she’s your little sister.”

When we go downstairs to play with the other kids in the complex, mums often tell their children, “You are her older brother. Let her play with your toy.” In China today, it’s rare that a child has a brother or a sister; so mum is usually referring to her child’s playmate. L and R may not know any of their friend’s names, but they know who is older and who is younger than them.

About half a year ago, R surprised me when he pointed at himself and said, “Afu, ge ge”. (R calls himself Afu. It’s his Sichuanese name.)  In another incident, a mum of a two year old girl asked me if L is a jie jie or a mei mei. Before I could say anything, L pointed at herself and replied proudly, “Leila, mei mei.”

L and R were obviously beginning to understand what people say. I realized that unless they use the words describing their relationships, they won’t be able to refer to their friends or themselves in an understandable, and respectable manner.

I am impressed that they know the words, and maybe the meaning. I don’t think they understand what the words imply in relation to each other, but they know that’s who they are.

A few weeks ago, a pair of 22 year old identical Chinese twin girls automatically introduced themselves to me as older sister and younger sister. When I dug deeper, probed them on whether they actually feel like one is older and if they live by that, “not really,” older sister replied, “At home we call each other by name. It is just for others that we use mei mei and jie jie.”

Other than it being a naming issue, it is a cultural one. We live in China, L and R were born in HK, and speak Chinese, so it only makes sense that they follow the social and cultural norms when engaging in society here. Now, when people in the street ask me the question, I answer straight up, R ge ge and L mei mei. Still some days, when I am in a feisty mood, I refuse to answer.

At home, with ayi’s and friends, we stick to L and R.

How do you answer the question, “Which twin is older?” If you have older twins or multiples, what are their thoughts on this?

 

Natasha, mum of Leila and Rahul was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until her little yogis became the teachers. You can find more of her thoughts and stories at Our Little Yogis.

 

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The making of a little girl

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Categories Fraternal, ToddlersTags , , , 21 Comments

I’m not much of a girly-girl.  I don’t really do makeup, I don’t have a purse or shoe collection. The SAHM thing means I spend my days in jeans and t-shirts.

By extension, it would seem, my daughter isn’t the girliest thing around, either.  I have a very pragmatic approach to dressing my kids, and I prefer casual and inexpensive clothes that let them climb and get dirty.  And my little girl, in particular, is quite a little monkey.  She’s very active and climbs all over the place.  Not only are frouf-y headbands and frilly dresses (with tights!) not my style, but they just don’t seem all that practical for climbing ladders and digging up handfuls of dirt in the yard.

But then, as all neurotic mothers will do, I start to wonder how I’m impacting my child and her view of herself as a girl. Am I imposing a “tomboy” label on her that has more to do with me than with her? Am I going too far in trying to avoid the stereotypical pinks and ruffles? Am I doing it more (or less?) because she has a twin brother? I don’t really think so.  She’s an active kid, there’s no two ways about it.  And plenty of her clothes are pretty clearly styled for girls.  But still, I wonder.

Silly girl

Now, as we approach her second birthday, she is once again letting me know how silly this all is.  Now that she knows her colors, she seems to be expressing a mild (but not exclusive) preference for pinks and purples.  She finds the baby doll in the pile of stuffed animals and gives it a hug and a kiss. She is (finally) letting me put a barrette in her hair to keep it out of her face. Of the two demands she will sometimes make in clothing choices, one is an insistence on butterflies (the other is her collection of Obama shirts… sometimes a little brainwashing isn’t so bad…).  And, of course, she still loves to run and bounce, she loves to kick a ball, she loves monkeys and pirates.

pink striped dress

And I have allowed myself to develop a love for dresses.  Still not the fussy, frilly (or expensive) type. Those still go too far against my fairly practical nature.  But a nice jersey knit from Old Navy?  Easy to wear and wash, and…. oh my lordy, so very cute.

21 Months

I will still try to keep checks and balances on how I impact my kids in terms of gender expression and stereotypes.  But darn it if that little dress isn’t fricking adorable.  And, at least now people don’t look at my kids and say “oh, two boys!”

What do you think? Do you struggle with clothing and gender stereotypes or practicality?  Do you just embrace it or ignore it?  Do you think your kids’ gender combinations (b/g, g/g, b/b, etc.) impact how you choose to dress them?

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