The girls played peacefully at the library, putting plastic plates on a table. A mom with a child about their age spotted us as soon as she entered the play area, her dark eyes immediately focusing in on my two daughters.
“Twins, right?” she said excitedly.
“Identical,” I responded, with a smile.
“I knew it. I’ve read and studied a lot about twins. Do they have psychic abilities?”
I inhaled slowly, kept my smile intact. “Not that I know of.”
“But they do have their own language, right?”
“It’s called twin talk, and yes, they made it up.”
She turned to her companion, a young man who looked somewhat amused watching the scene before him play out. “Twins have psychic abilities,” she continued. “Especially identicals because they’re really just sharing one brain.”
“Um, it looks like there are two of them,” he responded playfully.
“Yeah, but their brains are the same, just split in two. They are each only half a person.” She threw this last comment into the air with authority, a final-word definitiveness echoing through each syllable.
My cheeks burned. My two daughters, outwardly identical but very much separate human beings, continued laying out dishes for their invisible guests, oblivious. “They came from the same egg, but the egg split. That’s how it works with identicals. The egg splitting made them two separate people,” I explained, my voice steady.
“Yeah, but the same. There’s two of them, sure, but they are essentially two halves of the same person.” Her smile was radiant and all-knowing as she lumped my children into a category that suited her idea of multiples.
The need to argue rose in me, lava ready to obliterate the landscape. But this conversation was not new territory. Declining to engage, I gave the five minute warning to my older children and comforted myself with the fact that my twin girls were 2-years-old and wouldn’t remember anything this woman was saying. However, I knew that was a hollow comfort. In a hidden place, I never stopped dreading the day I would see their eyes as they comprehended another human being explaining away their very existence as individuals.
It’s a joke in our house that for the first part of our daughters’ lives they each thought their name was Other Baby. My husband would finish bathing one and need the other; unaware of who he had just bathed he would scream down the hall, “bring me the Other Baby!” While changing a diaper for one I’d tell my older children, “Go grab the Other Baby so I can change her.” It became a habit that finally ended when unique freckles and birthmarks appeared. At some point during the second year, I was able to remove “apply Piggy Paint to Asher’s toenails” from my to-do list and replace it with “look for birth mark on Eowyn’s knee.”
By then the girls had started using their real names interchangeably, which caused my husband and I to panic. They could be Asher or Eowyn; to them it was all the same. We seized every opportunity to say their names to their faces, banishing Other Baby, even if it took several minutes to find the mark that told us who was who. We paid attention to which child liked salmon and which one wouldn’t touch it, remembered that Asher always wants covers pulled right up to her neck when she sleeps and Eowyn will scream if the slightest edge of a sheet touches her legs. Still, it felt like their identities were coming from a compare and contrast game between the two of them, whether we intentionally chose that or not.
“We’re taking the older kids on dates this weekend. We need to take the twins. Separately,” I said to my husband as we sat in the house under a blanket of quiet, all the kids asleep. The library encounter wouldn’t leave me, especially the self-examination it caused. My rage for the woman who lumped my daughters into one moved from being directed exclusively at her and found a wider audience. I now saw my actions in a new, disturbing light.
“I know,” my husband agreed.
“It’s our job to make them see themselves as fully functioning individuals, especially because other people are not going to do that for us. But I want to respect their bond. I’m not even sure how the bond works,” I confessed.
I am 100% sure it is not one soul living in two bodies as many well-meaning spectators have tried to explain it. As frustrating as it is to hear, I understand to an extent what fuels these kinds of beliefs: The Minnesota Twin Family Study found that twins who are raised apart still tend to live similar lives despite the absence of their sibling. The loss of a twin sibling generally carries even more devastating effects than the loss of other siblings. Denying the bond is not an option. The fact that I don’t fully comprehend how it works leaves me floundering as I try to figure out how, as a non-twin parent who has never experienced this intense connection, to raise my identical girls with respect to both their individuality and their twinness.
My husband and I decided on a way to start: separate dates, one-on-one time for each of them. We would gauge their reactions and hopefully work them into the idea of being apart and okay. The test was set to begin the next morning.
Asher woke up with a fever, low grade but enough to make her clingy, grabbing for me all day, needing to keep her twin in sight. Separate-date day starts to look iffy, and as night falls over our home, both girls are getting restless and irritable, a shared ailment with only one showing the symptom of fever.
“I’m going to take them on the food part of their date, together. Maybe the time out of the house will calm them, and we won’t be getting out of the car so we can’t expose anyone else.”
“Sounds like a plan,” my husband responds.
I order two fries and two chocolate milkshakes and when we get to the pick-up window, cheers erupt from the back seat, two sisters ready for their junk food, a rare treat in our house. They are singing a song together in a language only they know, content. They quiet down long enough to eat french fries in companionable silence, scream “ice cream” when they understand the concept of a milk shake. They’re happy either because of junk food or each other – I’ll never know for sure.
Picking off fries at the bottom of the bag, I guiltily pull up the calendar in my brain and attempt to locate a day when we can take them on their own dates. Despite the success of this joint venture, I feel we’ve failed, lumping them into the one-person-two-bodies category that we detest, becoming the enemy. Today they seemed to need each other, Asher especially pulling from Eowyn’s reservoir of health while she struggled. But I can’t shake the feeling that we are reinforcing the idea of being a twin equaling the loss of a unique identity.
I think back to their birth and how when Eowyn was pulled from my abdomen, Asher’s tiny hand flew up reaching for Eowyn’s foot, already fearing her absence. The doctor’s pulled Asher out quickly before she choked on her screams and amniotic fluid, her entrance into the world a mere 15 seconds behind her sister’s. I can tell anyone what it’s like to observe my twins, my girls. That’s been my job from the beginning, to see, to witness. But I can’t tell anyone about their bond beyond what I’ve always known: they are each a unique person; they have a connection to each other.
These statements seem inadequate, especially to the people who want more. Staring into the back seat where both girls chew fries slowly, looking at each other sporadically to laugh, I admit something I’ve always known: it’s not my story. It’s theirs. When they are old enough for careless words to injure, I will make sure I’ve raised them to feel free to respond, to inform, to share as much as they want about their journeys, together and apart. Even the stories they share won’t be identical. Their fingerprints in this world will leave a unique mark, each one existing separately, snowflakes finding their own place to land.