Tag Archives: bond between twins

peas in a pod

Last week, I did a segment on HuffPost Live about multiples. It was a conversation among six women, each of whom had been touched by twins in some way. Of the six, two were a set of twins themselves, utterly lovely and unambiguously delighted with their twinhood. The point of the show was to discuss the challenges inherent in having two babies at the same time, but the presence of these two adults turned the table on the argument: raising twins is a different creature from being a twin.

I find this heartening. And also worrying. The unique bond that twins potentially share is the carrot dangling in front of the flummoxed parent of multiples. For me, as the mother of two two-year-olds, it is the prize looming in the distance, visible yet slightly out of reach. The difficulty of having twins is front-loaded. You stumble through the incapacitating pregnancy, the early months of sleeplessness, the first years of snatching and biting in the hope that it will give way to something grander: a relationship more intimate, a relationship more profound than the one between consecutively spaced siblings.

Does it always work out like this?

Every pair of twins is distinctive, just like every singleton, but there are two broad categories into which they all must fall: identical or fraternal. Identical twins come from a split embryo. They may have small variances in appearance, in face shape, in height, but their genetic make-up is fundamentally the same. Fraternal (or sororal) twins, on the other hand, arise from two separate eggs and two separate sperm. They are as different from - or as similar to - one another as any siblings can be. Their twinhood is contingent not on a commonality of DNA but on the fact that their mother happened to ovulate twice. Or on the fact that more than one embryo was transferred into the uterus of a woman undergoing fertility treatment.

Our fascination with twindom - with the special languages it inspires, with its mirror-images and tricks on teachers - is not with the second sort of twin. It is with the first. Much of the cultural iconography of twinhood features two people who look the same. Think of The Parent Trap, for instance, of the Doublemint ads, of the Weasleys, of Mary Kate and Ashley. Think of ‘Thing one’ and ‘Thing two’, the mischievous playmates from The Cat and The Hat who make for the Halloween costumes of doublets everywhere. Dr. Seuss had a well-known interest in twins generally, but most of his literary incarnations are identical. In a recently recovered story about two such boys, Tadd and Todd, he writes:

They were so much alike, from their hair to their feet,

That people would stare when they walked down the street,

And no one, not even their own mother, knew

Which one was what one, and what one was who.

My twins don’t have this problem, they never will. They are as un-twinny as it gets. And not just because they are a boy and a girl. They have different colored eyes, different colored hair, different skin tones and completely different temperaments. They have always appeared to me - and maybe this is more revealing of my mindset than the reality of the situation - as two singletons who by chance spent nine months in my womb together.

When they were born there was no twin synergy in our house through which one baby would mystically soothe the next by its mere presence. Quite the opposite: they settled better and slept better when they were separated. The only power they seemed to hold over each other was the ability to wake one another up, even through closed doors. Now, as toddlers, they are undeniably close, but the closeness often manifests itself in violence. They fight in a way, with a frequency and ferocity of temper, that shocks me.

Is this the stuff of a ‘special’ bond?

Maybe. Intimacy is a double-edged sword. It’s not only kisses and cuddles. It’s judging weaknesses and pushing buttons and staking claims, of which my two are early masters. At this age, they do it by instinct but I imagine it will become more considered over time. They are only just beginning to have the cognitive capacity to grasp the concept of their twinness. They are only just beginning to have the words to tell me how they feel about it. When they are both demanding my attention, scrambling over each other in an effort to get to me first, I say to them: ‘But Mommy has two babies! There’s room for you both!’ Ever so rarely my daughter will concede: ‘One baby, two baby, on Mommy’s lap.’ More often, however, is my son’s response: ‘NO! No twins!’

The distinction between identical and fraternal twins raises the question of what the ‘special’ bond between them is based on. Is it the shared genes or is it the constant presence of a same-aged sibling? Is there something a parent can do to encourage it or does it blossom - or fail to blossom - on its own despite external influences? Wouldn’t we love to know. You can’t choose what kind of twins you have any more than you can choose to have twins in the first place. Nor can you choose how your twins will react to the fact that they have a partner for childhood. As Dr Seuss’ tale unfolds:

Now Todd (on the right) was the happier one.

He thought being twins was a whole lot of fun.

He liked it ’cause no one

could tell him from Tadd.

But Tadd (on the left) . . .

well, it made him quite sad,

So Tadd (on the left side) one day said to Todd,

“I don’t want to be like two peas in a pod!”

Peas in a pod is exactly the image I picked for my twins’ birth announcement. It represents everything magical and harmonious about having two babies at the same time. I am increasingly aware, though, that it is a wish and not a given.



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My sister came up with this expression in response to my almost daily efforts to describe for her the unique - and often times bewildering - interaction I notice between my 20 month old twins. Watching them is an emotional roller coaster. One minute I am melting at the genuine tenderness they are able to show to each other at such a young age, an age where most toddlers are so (naturally) egoistic that they demonstrate very few other-regarding tendencies at all. The next minute I am reduced to despair, jumping from my place on the couch yet again to prise them apart and hoping this time I get there fast enough to prevent any major physical fallout.

Their entanglements can be vicious. Shockingly so, even to a seasoned mother of two older boys, neither of whom displayed anything like the ferocity of temper these two reserve for each other. The worst offenses involve teeth. I was embarrassed to admit this for a while, appalled by the idea of any kid biting another. But when a friend of mine came round and revealed the bodies of her own little twins, purple and peppered with bruises, I took some solace in the possibility that this habit might be more to do with their doubleness than to their inner demons. To confirm, I googled ‘twins biting’ and, wow, I am not alone.

Needless to say, not all twins bite each other. Like every parent struggling with problematic behavior, a part of me wants to believe otherwise: to make the worrisome traits I see in my children the ones that are universal. It would feel better somehow to know that there is always a dominant and more aggressive twin, for example, or that twins are bound by nature to hurt each other in ways and with a frequency that consecutively-spaced siblings are not. But the reality, as with singletons, is that each pair develops in its own way depending on the usual suspects of temperament, gender and place in the pecking order. When you multiply those variables by two, it should be obvious that there is no one-size-fits-all twin-set.

I still find myself wondering what my twins would have been like, for better or for worse, if they weren’t part of a set. In the harder moments, I am sure that my son would be less hostile without a sister chronically vying for the things he thinks are important: his space and his mother. In easier times, I am convinced that my daughter would be more melodramatic were the spotlight of parental attention shining solely on her as the youngest child. Of course, it is impossible to know now: too much time has gone by in which they have created a life only together.

It is extraordinary to witness any toddler’s personality emerge as he negotiates the world around him. The fascinating thing with twins is to watch what happens when that world is comprised of a same-aged sibling who is always there and always at the same stage of maturity. The depth and reach of the influence they have over one another is difficult to gauge, but it must be profound. So much of their day-to-day is determined by the constant presence of a partner: the hours slept, the games played, the words spoken.

In fact, all of my son’s first words came from the pre-existing pool of his sister’s vocabulary, to the point where he even adopted her idiosyncratic mispronunciations. She called our nanny, Ashley, ‘Shuh- shuh’, and so did he, despite the fact that he doesn’t have the same trouble enunciating initial vowels. If you ask one of them a question, you will often get an answer from the other, who very well might be out of view but who is so rarely, it seems, out of earshot. Pull a book from the shelf and they will ‘read’ it in entirely different ways, but even in their differences there exists an undeniable - and incredible - shared matrix of understanding. They learn from each other continually.

It is perhaps inevitable that their development should feel like a joint enterprise: they are hardly ever alone. But the older they get, the clearer it is that being not alone with each other is still different from being not alone with other children, even their own brothers. Their relationship is certainly ‘special’ in this regard. We go to playgroups, we go to music class, we go to friends’ houses and at none of these places do they behave vis-a-vis the other kids quite the way they do with one another. In a circle of their peers, neither will touch the toy being passed around while it rests in the lap of somebody else. The instant it touches down in one of their own laps, however, it is fair game.

They take things from each other, in this way, as if it is their right (and as any parent of twins will attest to, having two versions of the desired object doesn’t necessarily solve the problem). Theirs is an ongoing battle of staking claims and it occurs to me, as I watch it play out for the umpteenth time in a given week, that maybe, just maybe, they really think that it is a right. That from a psychological point of view each actually considers the other an extension of him- or herself, at this age in particular when a child’s sense of identity is only just beginning to crystallize.

How they will ultimately develop identities that are separate from each other - but at the same time intimately bound - will no doubt define much of their early childhood. Finding that balance might not be an easy road, but at least it will be one of the many they can walk together.

a bite? no, i think this one is a kiss.

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