Tag Archives: twins

what my twins taught me about gender stereotypes

I have girl/boy twins.

Aside from discrepancies in their sleeping and eating habits, they were treated virtually the same for the first year of their lives. Yes, we had blue and pink blankets, onesies swirled with flowers and onesies peppered with firetrucks, but such is the reality of the day-to-day with twins that, as babies, they often wore whatever was to hand. They dipped in and out of a common collection of age-appropriate toys. They ate and drank from a shared set of crockery, the designs of which were both traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine. They were read the same books; they were spoken to and praised in comparable ways.

And then, poof, somewhere around their first birthday, it was as if the gender fairy flitted into our house and waved her magic wand, dusting them both with stereotypes. All of a sudden, my girl twin started ferrying around the toy chest’s lone baby doll, tending to his manifold needs as much as her rudimentary coordination would allow. At the same time, my boy twin became absolutely obsessed with smartphones. He keyed in numbers and toggled buttons with gusto. He had a strange reverence for wires and the act of charging.

Here they were, at 1 year old, poster children for the power of nature over nurture when it comes to typical gender play. The writing, it would seem, was on the wall.

But was it?

You can read the rest of the essay here, at The Washington Post.

 

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they both wear superhero costumes; they both wear dresses

 

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the family you plan for, the family you get

According to the World Health Organization, the concept of “family planning” allows people to attain their desired number of children and determine the spacing between them.

According to the old Yiddish proverb, men plan and God laughs.

I had a plan for my family. I wanted three children. If you had asked me before, I would have said this: two boys, relatively close in age, and then maybe a girl, though I wasn’t bothered about the sex. I would wait a little longer to have the third child—settle the first one into school, break the back of the second’s toddlerhood—so I could appreciate fully that last ride round the carousel of new motherhood. So I could swill it in my mouth like the fine wine it is.

I had my two boys, just over two years a part. And then three and half years later, I had twins.

I’m not sure I think the configuration of a family is something we should aim to control absolutely, though modern medicine offers increasing opportunity to do just that. There is much beauty to be found in the unknown, in the mysteries the reproductive process is so good at serving up to us. But still we are human. And still we make plans, we make choices, whether Mother Nature is smirking behind our backs or not. We harbor ideas and desires about how many children will be sitting at the dinner table, about what they might be like, and we have regrets, too, regrets that creep in like frost, even though it’s not always socially acceptable to say so.

I planned for three children and I ended up with four, and it has changed my life more than I ever imagined.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

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why we shouldn’t dress twins the same

The two little girls go to the same playgroup we do. Matching blue eyes, matching tufts of blonde hair, and also, every week, matching clothes. Down to the socks. I wish I could say they were idiosyncratic, that this was the only pair I knew with constantly coordinated frocks. But twins with identical wardrobes is a common sight, indeed. As a mother of twins myself, I have an eye for picking same-aged siblings out of a crowd. And when they are dressed alike, as they often are, I’ll admit it is cute. For the parents, perhaps, for the onlookers. What message, however, is it sending the children themselves?

You can read the entire post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

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i let my twins cross-dress

This week at Brain, Child I am discussing early gender identity and why I let my twins cross-dress. It is a fascinating topic for me. According to Lise Eliot, the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, the inherent differences at birth between males and females are smaller than we think. And yet, societal influence can cause these marginal variations to grow into potentially troublesome gaps in behavior, which raises important questions for parents about the role we play. I want my kids to feel comfortable in their skin as boys and as a girl, but I don’t want them to feel restricted by what those labels often imply. It is not an easy balance to strike.

You can read the essay here. I would love to hear your thoughts!

here they are in each other’s pyjamas

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my biggest parenting critic right now? my eight year old

This week at Brain, Child I am wondering whether my eight year old thinks I am too hard on his two year old siblings because I was too easy on him. The essay is about how much my conception of good character and the discipline that shapes it has changed in the five and half years between kid number one and kids number three and four. This time around, I have decided to nip problematic behavior in the bud at an age when I used to think it was ‘character building’ and an expression of ‘individuality.’ I have come to believe that promoting kindness and respect starts very young indeed. Toddlers might be irrational and temperamental, but that doesn’t mean we have to meet their every demand at the expense of somebody else’s needs or feelings. Showing them early that other people have rights is just as important as making them feel valued themselves.

Christine Gross-Loh explains in Parenting Without Borders that a reverence for individuality is an American phenomenon and she warns that by privileging it at all costs we might be inadvertently teaching our children ‘that empathy and consideration of others is a choice, not a basic expectation of human decency.’

You can read my essay here and the other posts in our ‘blogging carnival’ at the links below:

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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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mommy csi

Dear Mom of the Kid My Kid Hit at Playgroup,

It wasn’t that hard, it really wasn’t. Sure, she was screaming like a banshee, but with a 14-month-old volume can be a red herring, can’t it? There are other things to consider, if the eye is trained. I’m kind of like the Mommy CSI that way. Show me the aftermath of a child-induced crime scene and I’ll tell you what happened. Or, at least, I’ll tell you how bad it was.

This ‘incident’, as you describe it, it’s a minor misdemeanor at best. No obvious signs of concussion, no instant bruising, no blood. In fact, I see no trace of my son’s hand whatsoever and, make no mistake, I’d recognize those fingerprints anywhere: they cover my windows.

But, let’s be honest, it’s the hair that gives her away.

Do you notice how it’s perfectly in place, even though you claim he ‘hit’ her on the head (yes, I know that’s where the brain is located and, in turn, her chances for a place at Oxford)? What’s more: do you notice how the clip is still there, the one that’s holding only three strands of hair (yes, I can tell she’s a girl)? Gil Grissom and I concur it would’ve at least come loose had he actually clobbered her. When my daughter gets into a scrape, it’s as if she’s been in a wind tunnel.

You saw the whole thing, you were standing right there? Well, I saw it too. It might have looked like I was having a coffee and reading People magazine and checking Facebook, but my peripheral vision is excellent. My two older kids are pretty convinced I have eyes in the back of my head. Don’t make that face, I was only aiming to strain the global population with one child more than the national average. This little bruiser, he’s a twin.

Oh, you didn’t realize that the other one I was intermittently stuffing full of crisps is the exact same height as him? Gosh no, they’re not just ridiculously close in age. Who do you think I am? Britney Spears? I was indeed as big as house, if you must know, and boy/girl twins can’t be identical…I’m positive. It’s hard, I’ll give you that, but there are benefits too. They are very socially advanced, for instance. That’s how this guy honed his skills, after all, the constant presence of a sparring partner. He and his sister learned to snatch toys and bite while nobody’s looking and holler ‘it’s mine’ well before the average singleton.

That’s pity in your eyes, isn’t it? Don’t feel bad for me: I’ve been you before. Believe it or not, my first child was also the angel of the playgroup. He never raised his hand to another kid, not once. If anything, he was the innocent victim like your sweet princess here: too perfect to even fight back, that boy of mine. (I should mention, for the sake of full disclosure, that he now beats the crap out of his brother on a regular basis).

Once, I’ll never forget it, I watched from the other side of the room (what was I doing so far away?) as the resident thug swiped him on the cheek. It was like a horror show unfolding…In. Slow. Motion. I’m sure you can relate. I couldn’t get to him in time, Lord knows I tried, tripping over toys as I crashed my way across the floor to intervene. Oh the carnage. I had to put anti-bacterial ointment on the cut and everything. The other mom, my goodness, she couldn’t even get her son to apologize. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure he could talk yet.

And you want to know the worst part? She hadn’t trimmed his nails. Count your lucky stars I believe in good personal hygiene.

Sincerely,

The Mom of the Kid Who Hit Yours

P.S. I probably should have started with ‘I’m sorry’.

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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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