When my twin girls, Remy and Charly, turned two-years-old, my husband I realized that they had spent virtually every second of their existence together. Certainly, we have had plenty of play dates and been involved with activities outside the home, but even those activities had them together. They share a room, share clothes, eat together, play together, bath together, go to sleep at the same time, and are often in my lap at the same time much to each other’s chagrin. Our twins are very different just like most siblings. But the difference with twins versus a home with kids of different ages is that they are discovering the world together, hitting relatively the same milestones together, and experiencing their relationship with mom and dad at the same time as well.
Even before they turned two, we noticed them struggling to have individual time with us. If one was in my lap, the other would come over and try and push her sister away, usually resulting in a screaming match where I would try to put them both in my lap in a way that provided some space in between them. But trying to read a book with 2 girls in my petite lap was a struggle to say the least. And if I could manage a book that I could flip the pages, undoubtedly one twin would throw a fit because that wasn’t the book she wanted read.
My girls are so different from one another that they may as well have come from different families. One girl loves her blanky, stuffed animals, figurines, and drawing. The other loves balls, blocks, beating on a real drum kit, and dancing. Of course there are things they both love like singing but even some of the song choices are debated between the two. Charly will start a song and Remy will say, “No No!” Then Remy will start a song and Charly will start screaming. And I am not kidding when I tell you that when we sit down to have a snack and watch a movie and I ask, “What do you want to watch girls?” Charly will start shouting like a broken record over and over again saying, “Frozen, Frozen, Frozen, Frozen!” and Remy will start flailing her arms in protest shouting, “No! Wall-E! Wall-E! No Frozen! No Frozen!” Listen, if anything, I have strong opinionated little girls. However, when I have to make a decision on which of those two movies they are shouting, I know that the first few minutes of that movie, one girl is disappointed. And while I absolutely love those differences in opinion my little girls have, I was struggling with how my husband and I might nurture those differences since they are always together.
As a parent of multiples, we are constantly refereeing our kids. Whether they are fighting over the same toy or fighting over which one gets to be picked up by mommy first. We try so hard to be fair, but it’s not so easy. I work really hard to remember which girl I took out of their bed first yesterday, so that I make sure to pick up the other twin today. If one girl comes to me and asks for a hug, I make sure I give a hug to the other one. If I’ve prepared snacks, I try and hand them out at the exact same time. If I spend time coloring with one girl, I try and throw a ball with the other soon after. If both are coloring, I make sure to praise both their accomplishments simultaneously. To be perfectly honest, it can be exhausting. I often feel like I’m at a tennis match with my eyes moving from one player to the other. I worry that one daughter will think I like the other better, and so I try very hard to be fair in my attention to each of them. However, I never truly feel like I’m “present” with either one of them. I imagine if there was a video camera capturing my moves, I may look like a hyperactive child myself with my inability to sit still for more than a minute darting back and forth between one kid and the next. I can be in mid conversation with one over an activity that we are doing and then get distracted by the other one showing me something they want me to see. That stillness and eye contact that parents have when interacting with their kid, is often not a luxury for parents of multiples. At some point every single day one of my girls will have one of my hands pulling me in one direction to do something with her, and her sister will be pulling my other hand in the opposite direction to do something else. I am a human tug rope. In my head, I toss a coin and then explain to the disappointed one that we will do what she wants in 3 minutes. But in truth, this is not sustainable, and this is what led me to decide that I was going to take some serious one on one time with each girl.
The first time I took Charly out for a “date,” she was confused why her sister wasn’t with her. After all, they’ve never been apart from each other so she was right to wonder why her sister wasn’t in the car seat next to her. She kept asking, “Where’s Remy?” I tried to explain to her that Remy was with Dada, and she and I were going to go have some fun just the two of us. It was; however, truly wonderful to hear that she was asking about her sister – that despite the sibling arguments, they clearly love each other. As we continued our short drive, I loved being able to chat with Charly. There was something so easy about conversing with one child and not trying to banter back and forth between two talking heads. Likewise, Jason was enjoying his one on one time with Remy- enjoying the fact that there was no refereeing to do. No feuding over toys or which book to read. Things just seemed much calmer. Charly and I arrived at a restaurant for lunch. My girls love going to restaurants! We ordered her favorite- sweet potato fries. We acted silly and goofy. We made faces and laughed at each other. I’m sure people around us found it strange, but I didn’t care. I could smother her with as many kisses as I wanted, and our eye contact lingered in a way it doesn’t get to when her sister is around. Soon, she wasn’t asking about Remy. It was all about her. All mommy’s attention was on her. In fact, she behaved better because she didn’t need to compete for my attention. And for me, it was bliss! “Wow,” I thought to myself, “how relaxing and less stressful this is only having one kid with me! Is this what it’s like for my friends with singletons? I’m kind of jealous.” I could have stayed out with Charly for hours if truth were told. But alas, all good things must come to an end.
For Jason and me our ability to go to playgrounds is limited by which ones are enclosed. Our girls are wild! They are little explorers and adventurers. No one believes us when we say that until they’ve spent a couple of hours with us. Keeping up with them is like having your own live-in personal trainer. On the handful of occasions we have gone to playgrounds that are not enclosed, they run in different directions as we feverishly chase after them so they don’t run in the street. Once we were at a playground, and I was swinging Remy. In an instant, I couldn’t see Jason or Charly. When they finally appeared 15 minutes later, Jason told me that he chased Charly all the way around the library- that she ran around the whole darn building! This is one example of why we can’t go to an open playground. This limitation has narrowed the playgrounds in our city to only a couple enclosed places, making us feel like bad parents because we can’t take them to the “cool” playgrounds yet without worrying. In truth, Charly is less interested in the objects on the playground and more interested in how far she can run, and she is FAST.
My next date was with Remy, but instead of going to a restaurant, we went to a playground. She not only loves all the objects on a playground, but she’s the twin who walks up to any kid and starts chatting. This seemed like the perfect place for our date. Like her sister, she too was wondering where was Cha Cha? (We also call Charly, Cha Cha.) This made me smile to know that she also missed her sister. But the empty car seat next to her was soon forgotten when we arrived at one of the cool parks we never go to. I went up and down with her on the slides. We swung as long as she wanted. She didn’t have to take turns with her sister like we usually have to. If she wanted to explore a part of the playground, we could go there without wrangling her sister to the same area. We sat together and had a snack, feeding each other pretzels. We acted silly together. And like her sister, she was well behaved since she didn’t have to compete for my attention. At home, Jason was able to bang on the drums with Charly for as long as she wanted- something that makes my head spin when done for long. They rocked out on the Martin guitar. Charly didn’t have to share the instrument with her sister, which usually ends in a screaming match and tug of war. Both girls were in bliss with this one on one time with each of us, and so were we!
The take away for both Jason and me is that while they shared a womb together and pretty much everything since then, it is so important for one on one time with each little individual personality. As the oldest of four kids, my mom has often reminded me how different each one of us is. The difference though is that when siblings ages are spread out, there’s simply more room to nurture those differences. I absolutely adore the distinct differences that each one of my girls already has for themselves. I also know that they are constantly changing especially in the activities and things they like. I always want to make sure that I can nurture those differences rather than constantly lumping them together into one. I don’t ever want one to feel resentful or feel less understood than her sister. I know that if I can continue this one on one time, as they grow older, I may have a better shot at having an equally close relationship with each of my girls. And at the end of the day, I think that’s all we ever want for our kids- to make sure they know they’re heard, understood, that we respect their differences, and that we see them as distinctly beautiful individuals when they leave our nest.