The Twins and The Pendulum
By Andrea Lani
It’s Thanksgiving morning. I’m in the kitchen making pies and my nine-year-old identical twin sons are in the living room torturing and murdering each other.
I blame video games and movies.
Stupify. Protego. Protego. Protego. Expelliarmus. Imperio. Rictusempra. Crucio. Crucio. Sectumsempra. Avada kedavra!
The boys have recently discovered they can download games on an old cellphone, and whenever the house falls silent—which is far too often these days, for a household of five—I find them squeezed together on the couch, heads bent over that silly little screen. This morning, I gave them a list of things they needed to do before they could have any screen time: play outside, practice their multiplication flash cards, read for half an hour, work on writing.
They did everything but the writing—their nearly wordless comics didn’t meet the requirement—and I nixed the game time and told them to find something else to do. Go back outside and make a snowman. Build Legos. Play cribbage. Anything, anything, but stare at that screen. They’ve decided to have a wizard duel—no doubt inspired by the five-hour Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows double-feature we indulged in yesterday, in celebration of my being let out of work early due to a snowstorm—and now blast each other with spells and curses.
With these two boys, there is a fine line between playing and fighting, the main difference being how long it takes for one of them to start crying. I have grown used to their near-constant wrestling, fake fights, and general rough-housing, only noticing when something breaks or when a friend is over and, as her sibling-less child plays with my boys, I see her visibly cringe with each crash and slam. Last summer, I attended a performance of Macbeth at a local community theatre, and, as Macbeth and Macduff, dressed in modern costume, threw fake punches at each other, I laughed out loud, despite the drama. The scene was exactly what I witness every day in my own living room, only less convincing.
There is a thing called a pendulum wave—a framework with twelve or fifteen heavy balls, or bobs, suspended in a row by incrementally longer strings—that is used to demonstrate principles of physics like energy, forces, position, and velocity. When the bobs are released together, they begin swinging in time, but soon break away into “quasi-chaos,” all of the bobs swinging in what appears to be wild disarray. After a few moments, however, the bobs align themselves so that each bob swings exactly opposite the next, like children on swings, one swinging forward and the other back, reaching their point of equilibrium at the same moment. Finally, the bobs break into the “wave,” like a crowd in a sports arena, each pendulum following the next in smooth, snake-like undulations.
The first time I saw a pendulum wave demonstration, I thought, that’s the twins! Like two pendulum bobs, sometimes my boys swing wildly out of sync. They call each other names (“turd nugget” being the current favorite), pick on each other, boss each other around, and, occasionally, they tumble together in a brawl. At these times all I need to do is send them into separate parts of the house. The two of them share a bedroom, ride together on the same bus, spend the day in the same classroom, attend the same daycare, and sit at the same dinner table—sometimes they need a break from each other. After five minutes alone, the friction usually calms and the quasi-chaos settles back into something resembling equilibrium.
More often, each pendulum will swing opposite the other, as the boys take turns being the difficult one and the compliant one. It’s like the Road Runner and Coyote punching out at the end of the day, but instead of working the same shift, they’re job-sharing. One day one boy hates dinner, slides out of his chair fifteen times while working on a single math worksheet, spends half an hour avoiding getting in the shower, keeps his light on long after bedtime. Meanwhile, the other gobbles his food, races through his homework, hops in and out of the shower, and is asleep by eight o’clock. The next day, or the next week (unlike objects governed by the laws of physics, my children’s moods are completely unpredictable) they switch.
As with the pendulum wave demonstration, things around here get most fascinating when the twins synchronize, like when, from different corners of the house, and apropos of nothing, they break into song—usually something by Weird Al or a bawdy tune handed down through fourth graders from time immemorial—one boy starting just a beat behind the other; when they invent an imaginary world and move through it as if they both can see the exact same invisible walls and buildings and creatures; or like now, while they point their wands at each other and fall down, petrified.
Of course, if they were real wizards with real wands, both of them would be dead by now and my living room blown to smithereens. But they’re not wizards, just two normal boys—as normal as you can be when you share the same DNA—a pair of pendulum bobs swinging through their days, sometimes crazily out of whack, and sometimes in near-perfect alignment.
Andrea Lani is a writer, public servant, and mother of three boys. Her writing has appeared in Brain, Child, Orion, About Place Journal, Kindred, and Northern Woodlands, she is an editor at Literary Mama, and she blogs at at www.remainsofday.blogspot.com.
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