A PhD in psychology and working with children for many years has done nothing to prepare me for the experience of living with my own twins. I often tell people I was a much better psychologist before I had my own kids - that's what having children does to you. It takes all those firm ideals, standards and dreams and confuses them, turning them (and your life) into chaos. This blog is about that, and also about the wonderful, maddening and exciting experience of life with identical twins.
Time for another post about the child's perspective. I recently came across the following while downloading my camera images and realised that Little Miss Snoopy had managed to sneakily lift my camera from my bag, take a few photos and then turn the camera off and return it to the bag. I was totally confused by the photographs for a while, thinking "why on earth would I have taken that picture?"
A charming still life
Another "what on earth...?" moment
Almost some human life in there....
Until the culprit revealed herself on the photos...
Once again, we were off doing a locum in another part of the country. We have found it a great way to spend time together as a family without having to worry too much about anything. The places we go to are usually so small that there is almost no chance that a pregnant lady is going to come into the hospital in distress, so the Sweetpea has almost the whole weekend to spend with us while ostensibly "working". We get to stay in lovely motels, and it is a like a paid holiday. What could be better than spending a holiday earning money for doing nothing?
This last time was exactly the same. After spending the weekend visiting every park and adventure playground in the vicinity (it's a small town - there were only two), we were back at our park of choice, the one the boys' insist on calling the Giant's Castle. It actually looks so much like one that we have actually thought about applying to the local council with our suggestion for the re-naming of their "Queen Elizabeth Memorial Park". I am not sure they would go for it though.
We were playing in the one section of the park when we saw some people running around the park carrying a huge brown stuffed bear, at least the same size as one of the boys. Curious, when they got near us, we asked what they were doing, leaving the kids to play on the Jungle Jim behind us. Apparently, the people were taking part in some sort of dare, where they had to take photos of the bear "doing" as many interesting things as possible - already he had been down the flying fox, been on a scooter, etc, and was now making his way around the park swinging on the kiddies' swings and going down the slides. The bear's people then rushed off towards the Jungle Jim on which our lot were playing. The kids had not noticed the people with the bear before then and were happily playing on the top level. There was some discussion amongst the bear people as to how to get the bear up to the top to let it then go down the slide. Eventually one of the guys (obviously the one with the most to prove), swung the bear with a mighty heave and threw it up onto the top of the Jungle Jim. The huge brown beast came flying down through the branches of the overhead tree with a vengeance, and our lot, packed onto the same top level, were speechless with horror as they saw this menacing creature literally flying out of the tree to jump on top of them.
Little Miss Snoopy, the closest to where the bear landed, was having none of it - she had such a fright that she started screaming at the bear - the naughty creature - how dare he frighten her? And then she burst into inconsolable tears. The Sweetpea and I tried to comfort her, but I am afraid the situation was too funny for us to be of much use.
One of the great things about a kindergarten is the trips. Every term, our little ones get to go somewhere exciting, and normally, the teachers require parent helpers to go along and make sure everyone stays on the right side of the law. It is a time filled with over-excited kids, crammed onto buses with long-suffering parents, screeching and laughing and generally causing havoc and mayhem. And this term, the excursion to the local marine reserve coincided with an almost total eclipse of the sun. The excitement knew no bounds.
On the bus, the boys and I put together a rudimentary pinhole camera which I patched together with some receipts and an old paperclip which I found in my handbag (see It's all in the bag...). The boys were fascinated as we tracked the position of the moon and the sun by using the camera, and shivered as the air got colder and the daylight turned to a weird twilight.
Then we got to the marine reserve and the leaders of the troupe advised us that, as parents, there was a job for us to do that only we could do. Expecting it to be something about safety, none of us was prepared to be handed a hat in the shape of an extremely unattractive sea creature and told to put it on and not take it off for the whole trip around the reserve. Mine was an especially unattractive specimen of crab, with long pincers that dangled around my ears. Not my finest moment.
The twins were absolutely fascinated by the touch pool. One of them picked up a large shell, and then dropped it just as quickly as a huge hermit crab emerged with an angry glint in his beady eye. However, the hermit crab took one look at the crab on my head (ever so much larger and nastier-looking) and decided to make a bid for freedom. He scuttled back into the pool over the boys' hands, causing great consternation, upon which they promptly asked to be able to hold him again.
But what made the biggest impression by far was the octopus. I have always heard that an octopus can squeeze through a hole as big as its own eyeball, and here we saw that it is true - the octopus flowed through the most minuscule of holes as though it was being poured through like water. The boys were fascinated to learn that the mommy octopus stays with her eggs once she has laid them, never eating or going away until they hatch, and in the process gets very thin and sick and sometimes even dies.
They were very upset by this story, especially seeing the small clusters of eggs on the sides of the octopus tank. "It's okay," I explained, "the people at the marine reserve will feed her and make sure that she doesn't get hungry".
As we walked back to the bus at the end of a wonderful day, Sam spoke his thoughts freely: "If you were thin and sick, Mama, I would feed you so that you didn't die!" he said.
There are a lot of firsts in life. The first smile. The first word. The first steps. And then there are the firsts that are a bit further removed. The first boat ride. The first bike ride. And the first train ride. Living in a city where there is so much emphasis placed on sustainable transport, etc. I have to ask the question: how is it possible that the boys are four and a half and have never been on a train before? It's a question I have actually asked a few times over their lives, but somehow we have never managed to make it as far as actually getting on the train before this time. It took the great-uncle coming out from South Africa to finally get us as far as the train station. And what excitement there was (actually, I think it might have been the great-uncle that was the most excited, but I digress). Making it to the station in time to actually catch the train was the greatest of feats. Normally, even allowing for the extra fifteen minutes it takes to strap everyone into the car, I am routinely late for everything by about half an hour. However, miracle of miracles, we were actually early for the train. Which is how we by mistake managed to catch the wrong train and end up taking the fast train all the way, arriving in about three point two minutes. As far as train journeys went, it could have been more exciting. Not to mention the fact that we were in a carriage full of businessmen on their daily commute. I can't help but wonder if their trip was made more exciting by the little voice piping up loudly as we went under each and every electric pylon (about three thousand in total on that trip): "We go under, we go under, we go under.." etc., ad infinitum. As we got out, the kids were already begging to be allowed to go back on again. Luckily we had the return journey still to come. After our time at the water park, we had to run all the way back to catch the return train, this time at least making it onto the right one. And this time, all the way home, the little voice piping up: "Are we there yet?" You just can't win!
Accidents will happen, they say. However, I am sure that, for a boy (or man, I'm just adding), no accident is as serious as when they lose face in front of someone else. Even the most privates-clenching insult is nothing as compared to the fact that, although not seriously hurt, they are the source of great mirth for someone else who witnessed their moment of falling short.
Sam was flying around merrily on his scooter on the deck today, as both he and Paddy do on occasion. Yet today, they had set up a challenge course, racing in and out of the other various vehicles that make up the parking lot that doubles as our deck. All three kids park their trikes there, as well as a large yellow tipper truck, two ride-on motorbike toys and a toy scooter belonging to Little Miss Snoopy. As you can imagine, the course was relatively hazardous with all of this lying around. Scooting too fast around the corners, Sam somehow managed to catch his back wheel on a tricycle and came off, head over heels, landing at the feet of his astonished brother. Although unhurt, his brother's obvious lack of sympathy for his plight made the whole situation ten times worse and he let off a yell that one would only expect to hear if he had fallen off the roof.
His brother did not turn a hair at his performance.
Eager to encourage a bit more of a show of empathy, I told Paddy he had to pick Sam up and bring him inside to the couch, and then get him a drink and see if he was okay. Paddy duly helped him to the couch and fed him the juice, asking him if he was fine, but Sam's wails continued unabated (a bruised ego is one of the worst injuries a man can acquire). I sat next to Paddy and offered a suggestion: "You could try patting him on the head to calm him down."
I could not hold in my laughter at his comment, and, seeing his mother acting insensitively, Paddy also began to laugh too until we were almost hysterical together. What kind of a mother laughs in the face of misfortune? But unfortunately, the more I tried to stop, the more we laughed, and the more offended Sam became, and what was originally a little accident now was the biggest accident in the world. However, on further examination, Sam's snorts of distress began to sound unmistakably like snorts of laughter,until all three of us were giggling together on the couch, accident forgotten.
Some experiences are just never meant to be repeated. When I was pregnant with the twins, about five or six months along and just before we returned to South Africa to pack up all of our worldly possessions to move halfway around the world, we went to a beach nearby on a lovely October day. The sun was shining, and it was (relatively) hot, but the thing that struck us the most was that the beach was covered in plants, and that those plants were blossoming with flowers with the most potent aroma I have ever been privileged to smell. It was as though the very essence of life itself, all of the most beautiful moments and heart-rending instants had been distilled into a perfume, and these plants were exuding it there, on a beach in the middle of nowhere, with no other people to witness it. Now I am not saying that the fact of my pregnancy and the joy I was feeling at carrying the boys had nothing to do with the way I perceived that beach and those flowers, but I do know that the Sweetpea was just as impressed and awestruck.
Every year since then, we have returned to Flower Beach (as we dubbed it then), faithfully, at the same time of the year, like pilgrims making their way to a shrine. And not once have we seen those flowers again. Today was no exception. After telling our lot that we were off to see Flower Beach, we took them to a beach which had, unfortunately, not only no flowers, but a large amount of sheep droppings instead (Flower Beach is part of a farm, although the farmer is kind enough to let the public have access to the sea).
One of the main attractions of the beach is that it is so isolated, yet today when we were there, a surprising amount of people were on the beach (at least eight other people). Isolation means no facilities, if you get my drift. With kids, almost every opportunity to be in the open is an opportunity to wee on a different bush or patch of ground of some sort, so of course it was not long before all of our three needed to go. On a beach that had as it's major feature heaps of sheep droppings and no cover for about 500m in all directions. Once again, I cursed the lack of forethought that had made me leave the potty at home (even I have been known to use this precious item in dire circumstances). I elected to stay with all the goods on the beach - I didn't want to walk all that way over the sand to see little boys trying to write their names in the dry bits - and Sweetpea got to drag all three superstitiously over to the closest available cover. It was performed with the utmost discretion, with the Sweetpea pretending to point out the interesting fauna and flora to the little ones and moving them in the direction of what we fondly called "the wee hole".
Little Miss Snoopy unfortunately missed the need for secrecy. "I go wee, I go wee, I go wee," she sang in a piercing voice the whole way back over the sand dunes.
We missed the flowers again, but I think the antics of the kids more than made up for the lack.
As they grow older, I have realised that dressing, which used to be so simple, now is a trial of epic proportions. I suppose it is good training for the bathroom-bound years of being a teenager, when every spot and hair is examined for hours to see if it is passable or not. But I am definitely getting a taste of it now.
When they were little, I could throw anything on them that would keep them warm. Cute little body-suits, adorable jerseys that made them look a teensy bit like girls, the works. Now I have to consider the relative merits of each outfit before I even present it, and here is why:
I have to consider the relative powers of each item of clothing, in relation to what I will be dressing the other child in. A t-shirt with a Spiderman pictured on the front will obviously out-weigh a Bob-the-Builder: that is a no-brainer. The one who gets Spiderman that day will lord it over the one who gets Bob, making sure that the t-shirt is exposed at every possible turn. But the clothing debacle does get more subtle than that.
I would like to know who came up with the idea of putting more than one super-hero on a shirt? For mothers of twins, especially if you choose not to dress them in the same outfits, this is a real trial. After all, my mind has to hold so many diverse and frankly essential bits of information, that it has no room for intricate calculations of whether two Spidermen (black and red) and a Batman out-weigh Superman and Iron-Man. Obviously, the twins know immediately whose shirt is carrying the most referent power, but I have to admit that as a mom, I am at a loss. With the result that I have come up with a points system to figure it all out. It goes like this:
A skateboard/bicycle/ scooter = 1 point, unless having fire on the shirt somewhere (especially coming from the wheels), in which case add 2 extra points
Any car/monster truck/motorbike = 2 points
Lightening McQueen = 5 points, unless pictured with Mater, then take off 2 points
Bob-the-Builder = 3 points, unless pictured with one of the trucks/diggers/grabbers
Any Disney character, including Shrek, is a minus point, especially if it has fur on it (like Donkey), in which case it is -2 points
Buzz lightyear is worth 7 points, but only if pictured without Woody. If Woody is there, minus 5 points
Superman, Spiderman, Batman or any other man, if pictured alone = 10 points, unless the logo is not visible, in which case take off 2 points
Superheroes in tandem with each other = 10 points for the shirt, plus a further 5 points for each additional immediately-recognisable superhero. If the superhero is unknown, 5 points are deducted for each guess the kids have to have to figure out who it is. This often results in a minus figure total awarded to that item of clothing.
Also, if the shirt has a hoodie on it, add a further 5 points.
If the shirt has sleeves that are too long and need to be rolled up, take off another 5 points.
No tracksuit pants with cuffs at the bottom, no matter how cool, can equal a pair with no cuffs at the bottom.
Calculate the amount per outfit for one child, and then make sure that the outfit for the second child exactly matches this number. See, brilliantly simple isn't it?
Father's day is an inspiring excuse to get the kids to make something lasting for us. I'm not saying that they don't ever make things, because they do, but on the majority of occasions, kindy is filled with superheroes and villains, and if one of ours puts paintbrush to paper or something like that, it is what we call a Big Thing. They like drawing, and doing artsy things; just not as much as they like running around with capes on and shrieking after the bad guys (who, coincidentally, think that they are actually the good guys). So I thought I would take the opportunity to do a bit of gentle persuasion (read: blackmail) and get them to make something nice for their dad for father's day. I wanted to photograph the results for posterity. These are not all Father's day presents, but are all special in some way:
This is Paddy's fire-engine. I particularly love the ladder and also the sirens placed strategically on the top.
This is the card that Little Miss Snoopy made while at music classes (with a bit of help from her lovely nanny).
This is Sam's impression of a snake. When I asked why it had three eyes, he told me "the middle one is his nose!" He then pointed out the tongue, because "all snakes have sticky-out tongues".
Paddy made this for me, because he didn't want me to feel left out. He knows that I love coffee and so he made me a special box full of "coffee" so that I could have it all the time. I haven't tried it yet, but he is wanting to know when I will....
Little Miss Snoopy made this lovely boat at playcentre, and we have kept it ever since. I find it extremely difficult to throw away anything that the little ones make for me - I can see myself in my old age living surrounded by heaps of junk like in those awful houses they show on Oprah at times. Oh well, so be it!
And the best thing about all of these priceless little gifts? The way their little faces look when they hand them over to the recipient: pride and excitement and the joy of giving all wrapped into one small little face. So, Father's day does not comprise fancy gifts of watches or cufflinks, or even not so fancy gifts of socks or ties. But somehow, I think our dad has the better part of the deal.
We made a decision not to have a television or access to TV in our house. It was mainly because we wanted to allow the kids to play instead of watch, to act themselves instead of watching someone else acting. This decision has had some unusual repercussions.
Firstly, we had no idea that when it came down to it, our kids would not be able to handle adverts. Those mildly annoying breaks in programming that everyone learns to sit through with patience so that they can get to the real business of watching the programme they actually want to watch. While we have shown the kids the odd DVD, and movie, they were obviously totally unprepared for something that could interrupt their viewing pleasure at the drop of a hat, and with little or no warning, and be totally unrelated to what was happening before. When we allowed them to see a movie on television the first time, the ad breaks almost led to tears of frustration and irritation, and repeated calls of "Mama, the DVD is broken again!"
Another outcome that was totally unforeseen took us by surprise the other day. The boys came home from kindy looking very subdued and visibly upset. I of course asked what the problem was. "Liz (head teacher) said some very bad things to Tanya (other kindy teacher)" said Sam. He was crying by this time, and I was alarmed. I could only conjecture what the teachers might have been saying to each other in front of the children, because he refused to say any more, and would not let me know what had been said at all. I approached the teachers concerned with trepidation, not wanting to overstep my place, but because the kids were so unhappy. Turns out that there was an innocent explanation. Apparently, some of the children in the kindy had been mean to the others, and had said a few things that the teachers thought needed to be addressed. In order to do this, the teachers put on an Oscar-winning performance at mat time to show the children what it feels like when opne child calls another names or says that they don't want to play with them. All the children took it in their stride, apart from my two. Not having ever been exposed to actual people acting before, like on TV, as opposed to cartoon characters, they were unaware of the fact that people can act, and say and do things that are not real. Even though I explained it very carefully to them, they were not convinced. Sam kept on stubbornly repeating "I don't believe she was acting."
It took an intervention on the part of the teachers to finally get him to believe it, and also they had to stage another skit that showed the children how Liz and Tanya were making up, hugging each other and saying they were sorry.
So, pros and cons - is that not just like life? It can't just be clear-cut, can it?
To have a twin is to have a best friend for life. If you are lucky, that is - some twins I know fight like cat and dog. I am one of the lucky moms - my twins are inseparable: one of those dyads you read about who feel each other's pains and stand up for each other in fights. This has not been without its own set of complications, however.
For the last few weeks, I have noticed that Sam has not been as happy at kindy as he was previously. He has been clingy when I try to leave, crying at night that he doesn't want me to leave him alone at kindy by himself. This, for Sam, is highly unusual. He is confident and outgoing, loves to approach other kids and is eager to form groups to play. Of course, the first thing that went through my mind is that he was being bullied. I am not sure that I would handle a situation like that well, to be honest. In fact, the exact phrase that went through my mind (although not printable in a family-related blog like this) was something like "if I catch the little sod that is hurting my boy, I will make him wish that ...etc, etc..."). Anyway, after much suspicious and devious questioning on my part, I established that, mystifyingly, there was no bully. Great! But also, what could it be that was upsetting him? For ages, I tried every psychologist's technique in the book to try to get him to tell me what was going on, but with little success. He just didn't want to go, he was unhappy, and so on.
This continued for about a week and a half. I dropped them off at kindy as usual, but stayed just that bit extra, making sure they were settled, playing games and finding things for them to do so that when I eventually left, they would be absorbed in what they were doing. But nine times out of ten, as I headed for the gate, the forlorn little figure of Sam would be standing alone in the midst of a crowd, mournfully watching me go. It was enough to break my heart.
Then, one day when I was there to pick them up a little early, I noticed that, sitting between my two boys on the mat was a little usurper. A girl. After mat time was finished, Paddy came rushing up to me. "This is Eva," he crowed. "She is my best friend here at kindy," he announced proudly. And then it hit me. Sam, whose whole life revolved around Paddy, had suddenly been confronted with the fact that his brother had other friends, and that he was now the odd man out. The piggy in the middle. The third wheel. They had always interacted with their friends as a dyad, and now, here was Paddy going off and making a friend of his own. What a hard knock for such a little boy (and such a sensitive one at that, too) to take.
But worse, how to put it right? Of course they will make friends in their lives, and there is a good chance that those friends will not be friends equally with both twins. I fretted for days, before eventually speaking gently to Paddy about having his brother as his best friend and other friends as just friends, then speaking to Sam about how he should try to make friends with other kids at kindy. In other words, I was generally not doing anything that was of much use at all.
In the end, the situation resolved itself. One day, when picking up the twins from kindy, Sam bounced into the car, bright and happy. I was very relieved and asked him what had happened that day.
"I decided to change my mind," he declared definitively.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I just thought I was tired of being sad, and I changed my mind to be happy instead," he said. "People like it better if you are a happy person," he added.
Wow, I thought. Imagine if we adults could just change our minds like that? What could we achieve?
I am not sure whether I understand "manly behaviour". In essence, men and women are so different, and nothing could be more apparent than when they play games. It starts young, apparently.
We recently had a wonderful picnic in Tunnel Gully, an amazing reserve that encompasses a long tunnel, built in Ye Olden Times, out of somewhat fragile-looking bricks and mortar. In fact, so fragile-looking that certain stalagtites have started to depend from the roof in certain places, a fact that a mother's mind instantly computes into her trusty inbuilt mom-o-meter of risk. (Mine went something like this: Stalagtites + Water = Instability of some kind minus the fact that the tunnel has been here for literally yonks and has been observed by several thousand tourists = okay, maybe it is safe for family to traverse. But quietly.)
After the usual wandering through the tunnel, me answering the usual flood of questions in a distracted way due to praying that said tunnel would remain standing for another few minutes at least, we emerged thankfully into the daylight on the other side for a picnic. It was at this juncture that the Rugby Ball made its appearance.
Now I have nothing against rugby, per se; apart from the fact that it seems rather a pointless game, a fact which is somewhat mitigated by the general handsomeness of the New Zealand team (after all if that many good specimens of menfolk want to get all sweaty running around after a ball and flexing their muscles, who am I to complain?), but I am not sure that I want my menfolk to be part of that. I don't think I am in any danger of that happening, to be honest. But, as far as I can make out, where a bunch of women would probably stand close enough to each other to get a good conversation going and in the lulls, kick a ball cooperatively to each other, it seems as the though the major goal of the manly interaction is to show off how well the ball can be kicked. Even when that means that the majority of the game is spent traipsing around after a ball that has been kicked so far that it has actually been sighted in orbit by the astronauts in the space station. There is no such thing as gentle kicking to one another so that the smallest and weakest members of the team (i.e. the four-year-old twins) can easily retrieve it. No, rather, that ball has to have the hell kicked out of it so that, like a pack, they can all run screaming after it to retrieve it. I think I counted two kicks in the entire game, and about forty minutes of hard running to find the ball as it shot into the forests and even, once, near to the entrance of the tunnel (about a kilometer away).
Luckily for Little Miss Snoopy and myself, caught in that horrible space of having to admire extremely boring manly interactions of this sort, an unknown dog appeared as if in an answer to prayer, grabbed up the ball, and with a single clench of its jaws, and an audible bang, that oval sucker burst with a satisfying pop, and the game was over.
There is a fine line to walk between disciplining your child and squashing their creativity and innate helpfulness. We had to discover which side of that fence we wanted to walk on this week.
The Sweetpea does Kung Fu for fitness. He always says it is really hard exercise, and raises his eyes to heaven as though to implore help for just how difficult it is, but secretly, he loves the chance of going out at night, being with "men", kicking stuff and saying things like "board-breaking" and "shall I do a chi-na (whatever that is) on you?" It's every man's man's idea of a good night out.
But, unfortunately, it is most often during this man-time that things go horribly wrong at home. I normally do all the usual things, in the right order, but sometimes all the best intentions lead to terrible consequences. Wednesday was no exception. After feeding the kids, I took them down onto the trampoline for a while to burn off some energy, where we played our usual fast-paced game of "the spider on the trampoline". This involves me sitting in the one corner of the trampoline, pretending to be a spider, as the kids run past shrieking and I then try to catch them. If, by mistake, I actually do catch one, I spend a long time "eating my prey" by biting their little bottoms and tickling them all over until they are rescued by their siblings. It can get quite long and involved and raucous.
On the night in question, Paddy excused himself to go upstairs to the loo. After he had not re-appeared for about fifteen minutes, I got suspicious and headed upstairs to find out what was going on. I was confronted by a strange noise. It sounded a bit like a cross between a waterfall and an extremely heavy downpour in the Amazon, the likes of which David Attenborough is always commenting on. I could not place it.
Then I noticed that it appeared to be raining in the lounge, in fact, so much so that large puddles had formed under each of the light fittings, through which was pouring (literally) liters of water. The carpet in the lounge was under about two centimeters of water. But it got worse. As I walked towards the stairs to my bedroom, I was surprised to see that a waterfall was indeed flowing gracefully down my stairwell. Rushing up the stairs, I found my bedroom flooded, as well as the bathroom, and the bath overflowing.
In the midst of rushing around frantically, I fear not doing much good at all, I managed to find out that Little Miss Snoopy, aware of the fact that we usually go to have a bath immediately after supper, had kindly decided to run one for me. She had snuck off quietly, put in the plug and started the taps, all by herself, no doubt believing herself to be a very clever girl.
And Paddy, you might ask? Where was he all this time? Turns out that, on his journey through the sodden and dripping lounge, he had got a bit wet. Not wanting to repeat the experience, he had rather decided to play quietly in the toy room, until I came upstairs and sorted the problem out. Fifteen minutes of flowing water later, I did, but by then, the damage was done.
Which brings me to my dilemma. Little Miss Snoopy was trying to help. The fact that she inadvertently caused the second Flood was a point which totally escaped her. So how hard should I be on her? And more, how hard should I be on the boy who saw the problem, and neglected to tell anyone about it, because he "didn't want to get wet"?
I hope I erred on the side of caution, but I must admit, the Sweetpea took it better that I did.
"Well, you have been wanting to wash these carpets for a long time now," he said.
Life with twins can be fraught with difficulties at times, and not for the reasons that one might expect.
I think I mentioned in one of my other blogs that early on, the Sweetpea and I decided to never let the boys know which one was the oldest and which the youngest. After all, there was a period of only three minutes between them, which didn't seem like enough time for one to be able to lord it over his sibling as being the "oldest and wisest of the twins". In fact, this has remained a closely guarded secret, with hardly anyone knowing which twin is older.
The reasons for this were because we did not want anyone to be able to say something like "ah, so is the eldest the leader?" or have an excuse to treat one as the responsible elder brother, while the younger one was seen as the mad-cap, devil-may-care rake. We wanted them to grow up without any worldly-imposed stereotypes of what older and younger siblings should be like.
Every day we are thankful for our decision. For one thing, they have grown up remarkably free of the need to compete with each other. Interactions can never be characterised by that horrible phrase: "but I am older, you must do what I say". Teachers can never say to us, "oh well, he is the oldest, so he would be a bit more responsible/trustworthy/more mature."
Unfortunately, we were required by law to put the birth order onto their birth certificates. So now, shopping around for a school, we were forced to confront the fact that the secret might get out somehow. Short of saying something like "well, you can view the birth certificates but then I am afraid I am going to have to kill you" (which did not seem like the best way to endear ourselves to a future educaitonal institution), we were a bit stumped as to what to do. Honesty is definitely the best policy, I thought.
The first time I tried it, it did not go down well. I think it was in the way I phrased my request. "I would like some information on the birth-certificates to remain confidential," I announced to the two secretaries accepting my application. I could see their minds working feverishly in an attempt to figure out wht exactly I could want kept confidential on the birth-certificate. Illegitiamate twins? Twins with two different fathers? A diabolical secret such has not been dreamed up yet by the creators of "The Days of Our Lives" and "Shortie Street"?
I could see their consternation, and when I revealed the real reason why I would like the certificates to remain confidential, it was obviously so mundane that they were only too happy to agree, and blacked out those two incriminating phrases "elder of twins" and "younger of twins" for me. And so now, when will the truth be revealed? The Sweetpea and I are still in doubt about that, but we are thinking maybe when they are 21, and we hand them the keys to the door. When they are old enough that their personalities have crystalised into the natural leader or follower, or two leaders, as the case may be, without having the predetermined stereotypes thrust upon them.
So I am afraid, readers, you will have to remain in the dark until that time too!
I thought we had more time before we had to answer the really tough questions in life. It appears not. And as an aside, why is it that the Sweetpea is always away for these discussions. It is really unfair and a bit rude, since he would be the one to answer them so much better than I.
We have been away for a few weeks (as is evidenced by the lack of blogs too), and during that time, Sweetpea was acting as a locum for the local hospital. Not arduous work, but at times he was out at night, which is when the uncomfortable questions usually occur.
Sam was musing in a concerned way as I tucked him into bed for the night. "We are getting older, aren't we?" he asked me.
"Yes," I replied, "at your next birthday, you will be five, and then you will go off to school."
"But if we are getting older, then that means you are getting older too?" he queried, making sure all his facts were straight.
I confirmed that this was indeed the case, that we all get older over time.
I was totally unprepared for all three children's reactions. Sam and Paddy set each other off first - they started crying as though their hearts would break. "I don't want you to get older," wailed Paddy. "Then you will die and leave us alone."
Sam was sobbing uncontrollably at this point, and he set off Little Miss Snoopy, who started a determined wail of her own. Trying to comfort three wailing kids is no mean feat - I only have two arms after all. I called them all into my bed and positioned them, one on each side and one on the top, and tried to make them see reason.
I talked to them about how they will one day go off to school, and then probably University, and how, at this stage of their lives, they will probably want to be out there on their own. And eventually, they might want to have families and children of their own, and then it won't seem as though they were all alone. But I should have recognised the futility of my arguments from the start, for while they were asking grown-up questions, their little minds could not comprehend a time when they would not feel like four-year old boys. A time when the answer to the question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" might not involve the answer "a superhero".
What a difficult and wonderful time of life. It reminds me of that classic quote from Aladdin, when referring to the all-knowing genie: "Phenomenal cosmic powers, itty, bitty living space".All this potential, trapped in four-year old minds.