Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Being Seven and a Twin

I love these girls. Two in one has been a whirl of joy. A multiplied happiness. Double birthday candles. Double smiles. Double hair-bows. Double hugs. Look how lucky they are. To have each other.

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Of course, it's been a multiplicity of other things too. Like diapers, baths, clothes, back-to-back piano practice, and sometimes bickering. But so far, the togetherness of twins has outweighed the hardness. 

Some moments, I stop on the gladness of it. I hear a giggly conversation behind a bedroom door. I look out the window to find them playing in the backyard - swinging, making homes for Raccoon and Rabbit. I notice Ali has made Sami's bed. Or Sami has found something at Target she knows Ali will love. And every morning I watch them walk to school together, backpacks bobbing in unison. There is confidence in being a team. 

Being a twin is special.

But it also comes with unique challenges.

Sometimes the togetherness is it's own hurdle. 

For the first time this year I've heard things like, "I wish I weren't a twin." "I want us to be in different school classes next year." "I don't want my hair to be like hers."

Recently I asked their 1st grade teacher how they interact at school. (They're currently in the same class.) I was surprised at her answer. She said they play with different friends at recess and they barely talk to each other in the classroom. She asked me how they get along at home.

I said they get along wonderfully. They have their moments of door-slamming and fighting. That's to be expected. But her observation made me realize how much they need their space. Especially as they get older. Space to be different. Because they are different. 

They want (and need) an identity independent of the other.

Granted, it would be hard to always have someone next to you. To not have much that is your own. To suddenly slip into the shadow of someone else. To not shine. To not be noticed. To be compared. I've seen it. The shadowing. The comparing. And it makes my heart ache. 

So I'm watching with careful curiosity how twinness is handled in our home. 

I want my children to succeed. I want them to have good relationships with each other. And I want them to be happy with who they are, independent of their twin.

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With two sets of twins under the roof, I've been watching for differences between fraternal and identical twins. Our girls are fraternal. The boys identical. And it's funny, the boys are closer in many ways. Their likes and dislikes are more similar. They play together more easily, more naturally. They never leave each other. And when they're apart from each other, an absence is felt.

Just Saturday I had to bathe Gordon without Spencer because Spencer ran off to jump on the neighbor's trampoline. Gordon sat rather dejected in the tub and mourned, "But I wanted to play boats with Spencer!" 

This might be a matter of personality, or gender. And maybe genetics is a factor too. It's hard to say. But you can bet our study of twin dynamics will be ongoing.

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Now, about Alexandra. What do I love about her? 

Ali is my helper. She's my buddy. Every day she sees a need and tackles it, without being asked. Sometimes it's toy clean-up, setting the table, helping the boys find a lost stuffed animal, or cleaning up after me in the kitchen. The other day I was preparing dinner and she had half the food items put back in the refrigerator before I had a chance to use them!

Ali is very astute. She doesn't miss a thing. She listens when others are talking. She's aware of people's feelings. She leaves me little notes on my bed at night. She's shy in many respects, but growing in confidence all the time. She's cerebral, wise, and trustworthy. And I love that she still likes to sit on the couch and snuggle with me.

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I think she's beautiful. Which is the one thing she's not aware of at all. I tell her how much I love her long, curly hair, but she prefers it in a pony tail. She wears all things blue, all the time, even if they don't match. And that's fine by her.

We love this whimsical girl who dances through the living room, sings songs to herself, and does her homework without being asked. That's our Ali-girl.

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And Samantha?

She might be one of the most fun people I've ever hung out with. She's all about experiencing life. It doesn't matter if it's dirty, wet, muddy, or messy. She's there. Right in the thick of it. Oblivious to any hand-washing, laundry, or bathing that might be necessary afterwards.

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Sami is as pure as water. Things roll off of her, pass through her, and don't leave her feeling hurt. She's a peacemaker. Ocassionally, I've noticed a few burs under her saddle and she pushes back. But really, she has a heart of gold. She's a defender of all things living. She includes everyone. And she's a pied piper to her little brothers.

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Often, when things get too quiet and I wonder where the boys are, I'll zoom through the living room to find them sidled up next to Sami on the couch while she reads them a story.

Or I'll hear her whispering to the boys when they're arguing over a toy. "Now, Spencer. If you let Gordon have a turn, you can have a turn right after. And while you're waiting, we can make a little house for your elephant." She's works magic with the boys.

Sami is full of light, full of spirit. She's the first to give me a hug when she sees my temperature rising. The first to say sorry. Her laughter makes us all laugh. And I think she's beautiful too. I love her long lashes and big brown eyes. I love the way her hair curls around her face when it's wet, and I love her toes. They still look babyish to me.

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So. A few thoughts on how to help twins develop confidence and an identity of their own. Keep in mind, I'm no psychologist, but I have some field experience.

1. Point out their strengths. Privately. And in front of others. Celebrate them when they do well. Identify their gifts and guide them in developing those gifts through lessons, projects at home, and conversations. Remember it's okay for them to choose an interest different from their twin. Because they are different. It's good for them to have something (an activity or talent) they can call their own.

2. Help them understand the importance of individual progress. This year, one of my girls was ready to advance to a harder spelling list than her sister. The girls and I had a long chat. I explained how important it is that they progress at their own pace so they can become their very best self. I mentioned how important it is to learn to be happy for others. That we are not diminished by another's success or joy. I set up a pretend scenario to illustrate the need for everyone to progress when they are ready. I explained that their teacher's job is to challenge them and give them new work if they are ready for it. I reminded them that school isn't a competition; they don't need to compare scores with each other. What matters is that they work hard and do their very best. 

They've done well with this. Even when one has had a harder spelling list or scored better on a test. I do think, however, that next year, we will honor their request to be in separate classes. 

3. One-on-one dates. Outings alone with Mom or Dad have helped us know our children better. When we take them out of the family mix, our kids open up about life. They share concerns, happiness, and just stuff. We love to hear them talk. We bond. And every outing we come away knowing better what that child needs.

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Outing with Ali (age 5) to the painting store.

4. Never compare. Especially out loud. For example, "Why can't you be like Ali?" Gah! It's so bad to compare any of our children with each other. It only increases sibling rivalry. And to make one twin "the smart one" or "the nice one" or the "hard one" is ridiculous. Any twin parent will understand what I'm talking about. I will never know why people are so bent on pegging twins into certain holes by asking something like, "Which one is the outgoing one?" I always respond, "They're both outgoing. In different ways. They're both smart. They're both fun. They're both very sweet." Because it's true. And even if it wasn't, labeling won't help them progress.

5. Listen and Love. Listen to what they have to say about being a twin. Listen with your eyes. Listen with your ears. Listen with your heart. So you can feel what is right. Trust them. They know themselves. They know what interests them, what they want, what they need. 

Time working together and playing together is the best way to strengthen family relationships. When a spirit of love abides in the home, children naturally grow in love towards each other. The way we treat our children, talk to them, talk about them, and show our love for them, will be the ways they show their love for each other.

Now it's your turn my dear twin parents. What are your observations? I'd love your thoughts here.


17 comments:

  1. I love how you talk about your children, that's pure love, ;-).

    And funnily enough -- my husband and his brother are fraternal twins, whereas their sisters are identical twins -- and the sisters are much closer, they were happy to be in the same class, although they had their separate friends and interests. It's still the same today. Whereas my husband and his brother really developed differently from each other. My parents-in-law separated them after first grade, because one of them had a much easier time in school, which made it all the harder for the other one. So they always looked out for the best interest of the individual, not the twin, ;-).

    Btw., I met with the missionaries and it was so interesting to find out more about your Church. Many interesting insights -- the one thing that struck me as particularly interesting was that your understanding life after death does differ from ours, I think you have more of a vision of what it is going to be like (although for a lack of vocabularly I can't really pin it down, ;-)).

    So long,
    Corinna

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    1. Corinna - Fascinating info re: your husband and his brother and their identical twin sisters! I don't think you've ever mentioned all the twins on that side of your family! So interesting. Thanks for sharing. And I'm so glad you were able to meet with the missionaries. I love your assessment of our belief in the afterlife. I have indeed had many of my questions answered through the doctrine of the church. Simple things that help me find purpose and understanding in life. Like where we were before being born, what is most important in this life, what path will help me live with God after I die, and what will it be like when I die; how can I prepare? I think people used to consider these things more than they do now. We seem to be moving at such a pace these days that most people don't take time to even think about these questions and if they matter. So I love your searching heart. For wanting to know and learn. Society, its pace and values, may change. But God and his truths do not. Feel free to send me any questions you might have. Did you schedule to meet with them again? Are there any books, videos, or pamphlets you would like? I can arrange for anything to be sent to you. Auf Deutsch too. xoxo

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  2. You have such a wonderful way of expressing things! I love reading your blog because so often you point out things to ponder or just express things I haven't been able to put words to.
    I have two sets of twins, eight kids altogether, all very close in age (range is 1-11), 4 girls & 4 boys. My twins are age 5 and 1 1/2. They are both boy/girl, so I think that automatically adds to their individual sense of identity. I love to observe when they interact and when they choose to be independent. In addition to making sure my twins feel they can be separate from each other, I have to make sure my "single" kids aren't made to feel like being a twin is more special. So many people around us make a huge deal about our twins and don't pay attention to our other children.

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    1. Shelley, eight wonderful children!? I'm in awe. Especially with twins squared in the mix. Yes, I didn't even address boy/girl twins. I agree, that dynamic lessens competition and comparing considerably. And I also didn't address helping singletons feel just as special in a family with multiples. Because it's true, they can get overlooked at times. Usually by others who are fascinated by the twin factor. Another reader emailed me with a question concerning that very topic. She also had two sets. Maybe something I can write about at some point. Thanks for your kind comment here. And thank you so much for reading! Blessings in your busy mothering. They are lucky to have you.

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  3. Well said. I have been acutely aware of this with my own girls. They are not twins, but they are close in age and compared often. I love your insights on this matter, and I appreciate your advice! I have to tell you that you are the best example I know of someone who truly listens with her eyes. You have a gift, it was one of the first things I noticed about you when we met. You are lovely!

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    1. Steph, you dear lady. That is such a nice compliment. It has carried me for a couple days. Thank you. You should know I have marveled at the way you are teaching your children to confidently be themselves. To not look sideways, but up. And to lean one each other, support each other. They have one of the best mothers to guide them in this because you live this way beautifully. You've made such a lovely, happy life for yourself. In which you judge no one and embrace all. I adore you.

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  4. I don't know you, but Facebook thinks we should know each other. We have several friends in common, and my twin is one of them. :) This showed up in my feed when she commented and I thought I would throw something out there. This may be long, so bear with me.

    Right along with the not labeling one or other as "the sweet one" -Whatever you do, avoid ridiculous shirts (and the sentiment behind them) that say things like "I was planned/I was not". But - They're hilarious and adorable! No. No, they're not. Also stop saying it. They reinforce the idea that you were unwanted, that if all had gone according to "plan" you wouldn't exist. It's not fun to hear. It doesn't make me laugh. I often heard "Well, we only wanted one, but you jumped in and changed our plans!" Or "The Lord threw Heidi in there as an extra bonus!" HAHAHAHAHAHA Followed up by the obligatory "of course, we wouldn't change a thing." Of course. Bless your heart.

    It wasn't until much later that I realized the constant saying of this (from pretty much everybody, including family and friends) was grating on me. Because, of course, it was all in jest, in LOVING jest, and I WAS a surprise, after all, so why not admit it? (Except why was *I* the surprise and not her? Oh, birth order. Planned ones arrive first. Got it.) And I KNEW my parents and family loved me. I had ample evidence of it. So why did those jokes always illicit a half smile from me that wasn't genuine? "HAHA, I should still be in heaven. Awesome." It wasn't until it was said in front of one of my friends, and she turned to me and said "Wow, that was harsh" that it hit me that it was a harsh thing to say. Joking about you being a biological accident isn't so funny to the accident in question. So don't do it. Don't let your friends/aunts/cousins do it. No matter how unplanned multiples are, it doesn't need to be reinforced from day one (literally) that nobody wanted you around, but your sister/brother? THEY were welcome.

    That made me sound more bitter than I am. I'm not really, because I know I am loved and that truthfully, they wouldn't change a thing. But when I see other people do it, it makes me crazy because I know it has major potential for issues down the road. That triplet picture everywhere made me sad. (I was planned. I was not. Neither was I.) The intentions are good? But seriously, stop.

    Not that there weren't perks to being born second. Constantly being pampered as "the youngest" "the baby" and "the littlest girl" often had my twin seeing red. "Hey! I'm just as young as she is! Why don't I get the precious 'youngest' label?" Birth order, sweetie. It's a double edged sword.

    We were always in separate classes. My mom made sure of it in elementary school. No idea how life would have gone if we weren't. We went to different high schools and colleges. It was a good way to go. I love being a twin, it's the best relationship in the world, and I can't imagine my life without her. Who would I complain about my boobs too? My mom??? Pffftt.

    Anyway, good luck. 2 sets of twins is a lot.

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    1. The Wiz - Funny. We do know each other. At least I remember you. We graduated from High School together. '93. And yes, Heather is one of my Segullah sistas. Love her. I wish I'd gotten to know you better in HS. But I did snap a photo of you at the reunion this summer. ;) Thanks for the twin illumination here. I'm with you completely when it comes to valuing both twins as planned, purposeful, and wanted! In fact, it's hard for me to imagine any thinking twin parent with half a brain buying t-shirts like the ones you mentioned above. Let alone having their babies wear them! Maybe it seems totally foreign to me because we had such a long stretch of infertility, all of our children are IVF, and we wanted them desperately. With our girls we transfered two embryos and prayed for twins. We were elated it worked. With our boys we only transfered one embryo. But the embryo split and we were blessed with two miraculous boys. It never even crossed my mind to use that phrase "unplanned." Because it was definitely God's plan. That they come together.

      I know you and Heather are close. I love that you talk almost every day. I'm hoping to take my girls' signal when it comes to being in different school classes and pursuing different experiences. They're ready to make that step next year. And yet, I want to do everything I can to foster a closeness between them. Thanks for sharing your experience here. Like you, I believe every child should feel welcomed and wanted. Like they are the greatest thing to happen to a family. All the best.

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  5. I love this! I have an identical twin sister and I think my parents did an outstanding job of raising us with our own identities-- we were in separate classes in elementary school, but shared some in high school and shared all of our friends. But- we made the decision (w/ some encouragement maybe) to go to separate colleges which was great for our independence. I think we both knew if we were together we'd rely on each other rather than making new friends. We now live about 4 hours apart, but still talk almost daily and she is by far my best friend.
    I also have identical twin boys (2.5 years) and I hope I can follow what my mom did. I've really seen the competition lately and jealousy. Raising siblings is challenging (they have a 4 y/old brother too) I can't even imagine the dynamics in your household! Great reminders about not comparing (I never do outwardly, but subtly it happens) and alone time-- the big brother gets it easily, but the little guys get so upset if only one gets to go!
    My other big twin rule- from being a twin- is NOT calling them "the twins," I call mine "the boys" (or their names) even though the other is a boy too :)

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    1. Jen. Wow. You speak from both angles. Twin yourself and twin parent. That's quite something! Your mother sounds wise. And so do you. I too find it a struggle to give our twins the "alone" time their singleton sister gets. It's a challenge logistically. But that's where little dates out of the house have helped. And I never refer to our twins as "the twins" either. They are "the girls" and "the boys." And yet, I know a family I'm very close to that call their twin girls who are the babies, "the twins." Kind of in jest. As a term of endearment or teasing by their older siblings. And they love it.

      In all this discussion I am realizing, even with twins, there is huge variance. Because personalities, circumstances, and family dynamics are so different. You sound like a fabulous mother. And sister! Wishing you all the best in your mothering. xo

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  6. My twins were put into separate classes this year. I was going to go have them put in the same one because I felt it would be easier for me to keep track of their homework and volunteer in their class and attend programs. I was going to switch them until I saw how thrilled they were to be in separate classes. They were so happy. I asked Gwenyth why and she said because then they don't have to fight. I left them in separate classes even though It made me sad that they aren't joint at the hip. I want them to be close and never fight. They are very close and love each other dearly but they really, really need a break from each other. They have said a few times that it would be fun to be in the same class next year. We shall see what happens. One interesting thing I have noticed this year as they have been in separate classes is that they tell everyone that they are a twin, that they have a twin in the next classroom over. :) I think that's pretty sweet.

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    1. You're so on top of what they need. And such a good Mom to help them find their way. I think we'll be following suit next year by putting our girls in different classes. I love, however, that your girls now tell everyone they're a twin. Definitely sweet. Ali and Sami have another set of twin girls in their class right now, one of which broke her arm and won't be at school for the next week. Tonight Ali said, "I wonder if Allie (the twin who will be going to school) will be sad to ride the bus without her twin sister. I might be." Tender. I'm hoping this relationship always proves to be more of a blessing than a struggle for them. I'll keep following your lead. xoxo

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  7. We also have two sets of twins - 3.5yo boy and girl, and fraternal 1.5yo boys. We do our best to politely decline to "peg" our twins as well when people ask those questions. Each of them is so unique, but forever part of a pair. Thanks for your observations and the loving ways you describe the girls. I will be interested to follow how they do in separate classrooms after being in the same room. We plan on crossing that bridge when we come to it, and trying to do what is best for each one (not just school, but activities, etc); we don't want to fall into a rut of putting them together for our efficiency or simplicity.

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    1. It's so nice to hear from you Lynn. I wonder every now and then how you are doing. Such wisdom here: "Each of them is so unique, but forever part of a pair." So true. It was definitely easy when our girls were young to lump them together out of efficiency and simplicity. And I have to admit, it's easier on us for homework and spelling tests to have them in the same class. But as we come to know their personalities better and which activities they are drawn to, it is apparent they will need different things. I like your plan of crossing each bridge as we come to it. Because each decision I think will require fresh assessment on their part and ours as circumstances, desires, and needs change. Wishing you all the best in your beautiful, full life of twin mothering. xoxo

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  8. I really enjoyed reading this post! As a mom to fraternal twin girls (a little over a year) I found this advice to be wonderful. Like most of the comments above, we as well do our best to decline labeling our girls. I answer the same way you do, with that response that 'they are both outgoing' etc. even if it is true or not. 'Labeling does not help anyone', and I need to remember that with my own thinking every now and then!

    Also thanks for being so honest in your assessments with your girls on being twins. It helps us mothers who are just starting this journey feel like there are others to look up to in raising twins and that you are not alone when it comes to certain things.

    I love having twins!

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    1. Monica, how are you sweet lady?! I love your enthusiasm. Because I love having twins too. It's a tremendous blessing. Amazing that your girls are over a year now. Keep trusting your own instinct and spirit. Your daughters are so lucky to have such a committed, happy, and deliberate mother. xo

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  9. Okay. After this post, I had a few comments on FB and instagram from twins themselves, as well as twin parents. And I wanted to download some of the most helpful information here.

    Other ideas in helping twins develop their own identity:

    1 - Remember to take photos of them separately. I have totally fallen into this trap. Because twins are so darn cute together. But they will want pictures of themselves alone some day. And so will you. You'll want them for school assignments, scrapbooks, and other unforeseen projects, I'm sure!

    2 - Let them dress differently. Especially when they start to have an opinion about it. Right now I have one girl who likes to dress the same and one who wants to be different. Kind of a struggle. So I try to honor the one who wants to be different by teaching her how to state her desires in a way that won't hurt her sister's feelings. That was another discussion we had: how to respect the other but still speak with love.

    3 - Remember you won't be able to negotiate everything for your twins. Much of their struggle along this unique path, they will have to work out on their own. But you can guide them with love and reminders as to the huge import of family relationships and the need to come to each other's aid. To support, strengthen, defend, and love each other. Always.

    One friend mentioned to me that this thread (some of which was on FB and centered around twins in the teenage years) stressed her out. Her twins are still young - age three. I had to agree with her. I was beginning to feel a bit panicked myself. And then I had this thought: I believe twins (or multiples) come together for a reason. It isn't chance or happenstance. And like all gifts or challenges in this life, God intends to make them work for our good. If we let Him be a part of the journey. So I'm looking ahead with optimism. And with total commitment to keeping our family close, making sure we are a team. The world will be hard on our children, even cruel at times, but home and family are the thing that make it bearable. Families are where we rally around each other, heal hurts, recharge, and strengthen each other. No matter the dynamics; twins or not.

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