Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twins, the way to do it

I have a friend who “is absolutely convinced that if you're going to have two kids, twins is the way to do it.” I laughed out loud, literally, at her comment, posted on Facebook, and I continued to smile for days afterward as the discussion unfolded among her Facebook friends.

The funny thing is --- I agree with her wholeheartedly. But for different reasons.

She has two girls, ages 4 and 2, and she is frustrated at juggling the activities of two of disparate ages. I agree that her inability to find “a soccer/gymnastics/ballet/swimming/riding class that is appropriate for a 2 and 4 yr old AT THE SAME TIME, IN THE SAME PLACE; Perler beads that are both challenging for a 4 yr old and not a choking hazard for a toddler; a school schedule that involves fewer than 4 daily round trips… and a good therapist and masseuse” makes life incredibly taxing for a mom of non-twins. I certainly appreciate that I can drop my own children at one preschool and register for one gymnastics class. And it’s nice that I can buy arts and crafts of the same level.

But that, of course, is in theory. Not in execution.

I’ve already blogged about the tensions created when one twin is sick and the other is healthy enough to go to school. But there are other school issues that weigh on me in ways that might make four trips to two preschools worth my while. By far the most difficult school-related issue (so far, anyway) is the decision I need to make about separating them in their classes. For a non-twin parent, this decision might seem trivial.

“Does it really matter?”

“Why wouldn’t you separate them?”

“Well, of course you wouldn’t separate them yet…”

These comments, all from well-meaning friends and relatives, get at the heart of the matter. It’s a very difficult decision, one that centers on parenting independently confident individuals who have unique identities, both to themselves and to others. I worry about this a lot.

MOMs of same-sex twins tell me I have it easy because my children are of different genders (B/G in twin-mom language). When I watch my children, who have rarely been separated, interact, I wonder. I see my daughter follow her more dominant brother. I watch her give in to him time and again. I see how she tempers his passion. I notice how she calms him and comforts him in ways others cannot.

And I hear both of them, whenever separated, ask where the other one is.

From their conception, they have been one unit. Caring for them in the first two years required that we tackle problems as a unit. It’s difficult for even my husband or me to separate them. It’s virtually impossible for anyone outside the family to do so. Others refer to them as “the twins.” We feel like something is missing if we attempt a solo outing.

So I wonder how we are doing at shaping individuals with their own identities. And school is highlighting this worry. I need to decide whether to split them into two classes next year or wait until they are older. Part of my indecision has revolved around my own needs; it would certainly be easier on me to deal with one teacher, one classroom party, one parent group, one set of classmates. The other part of my indecision has, of course, focused on what my son and daughter need. Can she survive without his lead? Will he behave without her beside him? Is this the time to push them to independence from each other?

Not all of these questions remain answered for me, but next fall I will begin to figure it out. In evaluating my selfish part of the indecision, I realized that if I want others to see them as individuals, I have to make that leap too. By dealing with two teachers, two classrooms, and two sets of friends, I will be forced to talk to each of them separately – and they will need to rely more on themselves and less on each other. So next year, we will separate them, and even though I will only have to make one trip to one preschool, I will have the dual-child burden of different classrooms.

Activities pose another problem to twin parents. Yes, I can sign my kids up for the same swimming or gymnastics lessons for toddlers. In both cases, however, I need two adults to attend because of the safety issues. Trying to organize coverage, from babysitter to grandparents to crazy working parents, might not require multiple trips, but it does require enormous effort.

And just because my kids are the same age doesn’t mean they have the same interests or activities. After watching my daughter flit around the room to classical music and mimic me as I returned to my days of ballet, I know that she will take ballet classes. Upon seeing my son change the tunes and bop to hip hop, I’m thinking he will want a different kind of class. Co-ed sports don’t last past age 6 anymore, I’m told, so even if they play similar sports, the teams, and schedules, will be different.

Even when we play at home – my daughter loves to play with play dough, paints, and markers. My son loves trains. My son will sit for hours and watch Thomas. My daughter won’t even give it a minute. I rarely, RARELY have days where both kids do the same thing at the same time in the same place. And I don’t have the luxury of leaving the older one to entertain herself while I play with the younger. They both want Mama all the time.

I tried to express this struggle I face on a daily basis to my friend – the “I want Mama now and you can’t have her” fight that occurs in music class, on the couch, at the dinner table. After all, I’ve never seen her 2-year-old and 4-year-old fighting to sit on her lap at music class. She assures me that they have the same fights. I wonder if it’s a constant in her house like it is in mine.

I haven’t had the chance to sit and talk with her yet, but I’m sure when we do, we will discover that twin-moms and non-twin moms have it equally tough. Perhaps it’s more about being a mom than about the ages of the kids, however.

When we do sit down to chat over coffee – which might happen when all of our kids head off to college and the two of us actually have some time to ourselves – I will tell her that I agree with her statement “that if you're going to have two kids, twins is the way to do it.” I relish in the differences of my kids, the interactions they have, the ability to see the individual natures of two children who were conceived, birthed, and reared together. I’m ecstatic that I only had to endure one pregnancy and infancy stage! Most of all, I love the challenges that twin-life brings, and I can’t imagine having the life of a singleton parent.

So when we have that cup of coffee in 16 years, I will tell her I agree with her – but for different reasons – and I’ll remind her that she had two years additional to save for that second college fund. In the meantime, I’m going to send her a message with the name of my acupuncturist and massage therapist.

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