Tag Archives: multiples

a tale of two toddlers

All toddlers are crazy, but they aren’t all crazy in the same way (to paraphrase Tolstoy). I was at a friend’s house recently, thumbing through a book I would never otherwise have seen, and I came across a schema that basically told you what kind of crazy you could call your two year old. This pleased me to no end. First because I love schema. And secondly because I love it when somebody else carefully categorizes what I have managed only to observe unsystematically.

The book – La Leche League’s Mothering Multiples – outlines three distinct types of toddler, using a travel metaphor (you know how much I adore these): the sightseer, the wanderer and the trailblazer. It’s not rocket science, to be sure, but as I read it I suddenly saw so clearly the difference between my own twins, a difference I live the truth of on a daily basis.

Twins are particularly eye-opening, of course, when it comes to the idea of innate personality differences for a whole host of reasons. One of which is that our memory tends to fade – not to mention warp – between children in a way that is impossible when the children are existing, at the exact same age, side by side. My first two sons are chalk and cheese, as we say in the UK, but their idiosyncrasies as toddlers weren’t as stark to me coming consecutively. Nor did they feel so overwhelming.

I remember those six months Oliver refused to put his coat on without a wrestling match and the same six months Leo refused to go anywhere without clutching a Wiggles DVD in his hot little hand. I remember that Oliver was a preternaturally neat eater, except with yogurt which he would smear across the tray of his highchair in a frenzy that bordered on the demonic. I remember when Leo could not eat a meal without standing up and sitting down and standing up and sitting down. These memories, though, are only icebergs in a sea of years. The precise timeline of the events, the details of my own emotional response, the tacks taken successfully or not remain, for the most part, under water.

I see the idiosyncrasies of my current travelers, on the other hand, bright as bright can be. Not simply because they are happening right now. But because they are measured against each other – and, more difficultly, they intersect with each other – every single day. Because, in other words, they are happening in the context of twinhood.

Phoebe is a sightseer, through and through. These kids are observers by nature. They are routine-oriented and thrive on predictability: if it’s bath time, you need only say it once and up the stairs she marches, cooing for her rubber ducky. Sightseers are content to stick with the program, in this way, and by your side to boot. As a result, they take direction well because they don’t like anything that threatens their sense of safety. They aim to please, preferring to walk with you rather than away from you. Sightseers have episodes of rebellion, don’t get me wrong, but they are few and far between. When Phoebe doesn’t listen to me, I almost want to applaud her for summoning the gall.

When Jasper doesn’t listen to me, I want to tear my hair out. Because it happens over and over and over again. Don’t touch the TV, Jasper, don’t throw your food. It’s time for your bath, Jasper, yes it really is, we’ve only been having a bath at 7pm for 700 days in a row now. He is a wanderer, this boy, in mind and in body. I read the description of the wanderer twice over – the vaguest of the group by virtue of occupying a middle ground – to confirm where the line is drawn between this type and the trailblazer. To see if perhaps Jasper would have been a trailblazer in another life, had he been a singleton or a first or second child. He doesn’t have the frenetically high energy level, though, or the brazenness either. And thank goodness for that.

Wanderers, well, they wander. They aren’t forging new paths per se or bristling against every attempt at restraint the way their trailblazing counterparts do, but they aren’t necessarily cleaving to the ones you’ve carved out for them. Unlike the sightseer who has a focus that belies her age, the wanderer is distractible. He has the potential to concentrate, if a particular toy or game captures his fancy, but he is more likely to flit from one thing to the next. He is the child who will ‘forget’ the schedule, no matter how many times it has been laid down. He is adventurous and inquisitive, but not overly so. He will follow the rules, but only sometimes.

When you put the two types together – oh the joy of twins! – the results are interesting. The sightseer can inspire the wanderer to engage in longer periods of sustained activity. The wanderer can inspire the sightseer to leave her comfort zone. But the wanderer can also disrupt the meticulously designed world order of the sightseer and take glee in doing it: how many times a day does Jasper snatch one item, just one, from Phoebe’s perfectly arranged teddy bear picnic, sending her into a fit of hysteria? So too the sightseer, often rigid and exacting, can seek to control the wanderer and quash his spirit: how many times a day does Phoebe take on the mantle of parental responsibility, chastizing her brother (no, Japsie, no!) for some wrongdoing or other and causing him to lash out at her in return?

As with any two siblings, there is much negotiating to be done.

And yet, I find the travel metaphor especially apt for twins because they tend to walk, or be walked, a lot. Usually out of necessity. With two babies and one caregiver, the pram (or stroller) becomes quite literally a second pair of hands, a way to settle them both at the same time. When they were very small, I used to push my twins at least once a day through the streets and parks near our house, through whatever the uncooperative Scottish weather would throw at us. And now that they are older, they walk themselves through these same places. Phoebe right beside me, more often than not holding my hand. Jasper some stretch of distance away from us, having stopped to pick up a flower.

my little wanderer, always a few steps behind

my little wanderer, always a few steps behind

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twinteraction

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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