By Alison Lee
Even as I count the number of Goldfish in the plastic IKEA bowls, I knew it was ridiculous. They are 18-months old; they won’t know if I dished them out at random. Yet, I give them equal slivers of mandarin oranges, the same amount of pasta on their plate, and measure their water bottles because they have to be the same. Exactly the same.
Call me crazy the day I whip out the digital scale.
From the day we found out we were expecting twins, I told myself that I have to be fair. No one gets loved more or less, or given more or less time. It’s laughable especially because I already had two children who do not get the same amount of my time and attention at any point.
Here I am, counting out the exact number of rice grains each twin gets for dinner.
It doesn’t stop at food. Whenever I buy my daughter a cute dress, I search for something nice for her twin brother. This distresses me each time because he has two older brothers who outgrew their clothes faster than you can say “Stop growing up so quickly!” and what’s wrong with wearing hand-me-downs? The economies of scale is supposed to work when you have children of the same sex.
So I put back the dinosaur tee shirt and the blue and white checked long sleeve shirt which he won’t wear anyway, and with a dollop of shame, pay for my daughter’s pink tutu skirt and dress which I wish they had in adult sizes.
As soon as she is seated on my lap, her twin comes rushing over, demanding for his fair share of lap space. I pick him up and move her over to the left. As he settles in, she reaches out and tries to push him off. A fight ensues. This is the same scenario for almost everything – reading together, drawing, eating, cuddling, nursing. They demand equal attention.
When they were born, my son was 4 pounds, 6 ounces, a good size for a 34-weeker. His sister was tiny, weighing in only at 3 pounds, 9 ounces, dropping 5 ounces over the next two days. However, she was the stronger of the two – she didn’t need help breathing and was off the oxygen after 24 hours. I held her for the first time when they were 36 hours old, and she breastfed for the first time at three days old. Her twin was on the C-pap for two days, and on oxygen for a further six days. When I had him in my arms for the first time at three days old, I had to navigate the many tubes and wires. His first nursing session was when he was a week old.
During their two-week stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I made sure I didn’t hold one baby for longer than I did the other. When I wasn’t cuddling or nursing a baby, I sat between their incubators, training my eyes on them for what I perceived to be the same amount of time. I did not want to be seen favoring one over the other.
From the beginning, things were not equal between my twins. Physically tinier but healthier, my little girl was feisty and full of life from day one. Her brother was hospitalized for bronchiolitis at six weeks old. Much of my time and attention was focused on him when he developed infantile asthma in their first year.
She crawled, walked and spoke words first. I imagine she will come into their future milestones first, blazing a trail for her brother. I found my expectations of them sliding into disequilibrium. Hence, my clumsy and comical attempts to equalize things by giving them the same amount of food.
Nothing I’ve read has ever given me a clue to how a mother is supposed to parent boy/girl twins. Boys and girls are physiologically and emotionally different. Yet, we are programmed to think that because they are twins, they should be “the same.” I can’t speak for parents with identical twins or fraternal twins of the same sex, but I imagine they find it more challenging to remember that each child is an individual. It’s easy to refer to them as “the twins”, and treating them as one entity.
So, I give them equal amounts of Goldfish and rice. I carefully measure their water and juice. I read, draw, play and hold each twin as equally as I can. Intellectually, I understand that this is impossible and unrealistic. When they are older, the scales will tip one way or the other. There can’t ever be fair and equal forever.
I can love them the same, though. And I do.
Alison Lee is the co-editor of Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice from Parents of Twins, Triplets and More, a writer, and publisher. A former PR and marketing professional, Alison’s writing has been featured in Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, BonBon Break and Club Mid. She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends (Fall, 2014), and has an essay in another, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood (Summer, 2016). She is also an editor at BonBon Break. Alison lives in Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/girl twins).