Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Identity Crisis

A got sent to her room recently.  She was testing boundaries with great dedication and persistence.   After a while B went upstars to talk to her.

What's bothering you? he said.
Mummy got me wrong.

I don't think I did, although I do occasionally, grasping desperately for a name in a crisis.  In many ways, she's lucky I didn't call her M.  Is being thought a boy worse than being thought your twin?

Yesterday S came into the kitchen in tears.  Her birthday cards (now over six weeks out of date) were in the craft box and she didn't want them to be cut up.   Especially this one. It's from Annabelle.  Annabelle's her best friend.  She wants to go to Annabelle's party next year (Annabelle's party was last week, so we have some time to wait).  The tears flow faster.

But Annabelle won't know who I am then.

I can't empathise.  I'm me.  I've always been me, and aside from the occasional "which one are you?" frustration of every mother as she searches for the right name, I've never been anyone else.

But A and S aren't.  They are different, so different, but they're also the same.  Did you know that the type of identical twin depends on how soon after conception the fertilised egg splits?  If it's within four days you get totally separate twins with two placentas.  If it's more than 12 days after you get conjoined twins:  two people joined in one body. 

My girls must have split between days four and eight.  It's odd knowing that.  Odd too that no-one knows why or how they split; why or how they became two people when I am one, when most of the people they meet are one.

And they are beginning to understand this, to understand that people don't always know who they are, and it is beginning to distress and fascinate in equal parts.  It's partly my fault, of course.  L asked how twins happened, and I gave her the potted version: sometimes two babies grow inside the Mummy's tummy, and sometimes, for reasons no-one knows, one baby starts to grow, but it breaks (and I regretted that word as soon as it came out of my mouth) into two babies and so you get two babies who look the same but are actually two separate people.

Have I made them think they are broken?

I don't think so. I think, I hope, that this is a stage.  They are just four and these early years are (aren't they?) all about identity: discovering who you are.  How much harder must that be when you have a mirror image (complete with matching scar on her forehead) who is both you and not you. 

I can't explain this very well, because I don't understand it.  I don't have a twin.  I don't even have any close friends who are twins, although my father has a non-identical brother.  I don't know how to help them become themselves, separate but still linked. To grow into individuals with their own lives, while retaining the amazing bond that unites them.

Because although they were both so distressed at being confused, they adore each other.  They are separated at school, in different classes, and seem happy to be so, but there are hugs and squeals of delight when they are reunited at lunchtime.  They make a beeline for each other at gym and music, I am told.   They share a room and enjoy closing the door, shutting the world out and just being themselves.    We have our share of bickering - we have two four year olds, a five year old and a toddler in the house, bickering is our standard operating procedure - but more often than not, if it is just A and S, they get on, playing together, chatting together, just being.

Individuality's a process, I suppose, and the fear of losing their separate identities they are beginning to display is just the flip side of the fact that they still haven't, where each other is concerned, got the idea of personal space at all.   Fingers go in noses, tongues in ears: Look at this Mummy!

In a way I am the same: I want them to be separate - my nightmare for them is that they are still living together, dressing the same, probably with cats, at the age of forty - but I also love the special link they share.  I want to encourage their individuality, but I shy away from the idea of separate bedrooms.  Not yet, not now.   Plenty of time for that.

The study of twins is called gemellology; much cleverer people than I spend their lives thinking about twins and the relationships between them.  How best to nurture the individual while protecting the bond.  That's all I want too: I'm just rather less scientifically hoping that we'll get there in the end.

And hoping too that this time next year Annabelle will still know who S is.


In one of those brilliant coincidences, the subject for the Gallery this week is Bond.  As per usual I've been more wordy than I've been pictorial, but there are pictures, so I hope the Gallery's great and good will forgive me.  Click through to see other Bonds (although sadly not of the Daniel Craig variety).


  1. I wonder if it is problem for friends too? Knowing you could never be their closest friend because they already have each other? I part envy it and partly don't. Interesting.

  2. The bond between twins has always fascinated me too . I also find it rather interesting why and when twins occur.

  3. Ahhhh I've just left a comment on someone else's post about twins saying I don't think anyone truly understands twins (besides twins)..and they are so fascinating to watch!

  4. I think 4 is an interesting age in terms of identity. I've read some interesting studies that say that the age 4-5 is where they become aware of themselves in relation to others and how others perceive them, and this is frustrating for them as they learn to control the impact of their behaviour on others' perception of them as an individual. The upshot being this might be twin-related, but also more straightforward identity stuff... which is not to say that the twinny thing doesn't add a dimension as I guess they consider themselves as a unit, as well as as individuals.

    Who's been reading too much Freud, eh?

    Anyway, L has this too. She is increasingly trying to influence what others think of her by telling them what she is 'like', and it frustrates her if she thinks her behaviour has changed your opinion of her...

    Interesting stuff ;-))

    See you Saturday (hurray!).

  5. Really interesting post, I have no ideas, but it is fascinating

  6. It must be such a special relationship, like no other. Such individuals and yet part of the same person.

  7. As parents we can only ever do our best - but with a house full of children and a household to keep up we can only be mums not experts on every phase of their lives. By pondering the issues you must be answering the question yourself :)

  8. I think wanting them to be separate is a good thing, they will still have similarities and such a strong bond but being able to explore their individuality is important too.
    Lovely pictures xx

  9. Lovely photos - and lovely post.

  10. A really interesting post and your photographs are stunning!

  11. Really enjoyed reading your post - I'm godmother to an identical twin who's 4. She comes up to me now when I visit and says 'I'M Rosie' - which is so sweet of her! Her mum says it's endlessly fascinating watching them together. They are incredibly gentle with each other....not so much with their other sisters!
    (had to smile at the bit about the birthday cards in the craft box - I've just cut my son's ones up for a crafty project. Felt a slight pang of guilt!

  12. A really good post. It must be fascinating watching identical twins as they develop & grow, & the extent to which they develop their own individuality. And with both an older & a younger child you really must have your work cut out!

  13. Your post made a very interesting read, especially as I have no experience with twins!
    Lovely photos too.


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