When I entered the girls’ MDO to drop off some books for their Christmas book exchange later that day, the director caught me in the hallway.
“Can I run something by you real quick?”
“Sure,” I answered, feeling much less apprehensive than the last time she asked to talk to me. The girls have been doing well in school, they love their teacher, and no one’s come home with any notes pinned to their shirts informing me that they gave little Billy their best left hook. I mean, I don’t even think either of them is left handed, much to my dismay.
“The other day…when you brought them to school separately,” she started, referencing one day in which Claire stayed home sick and another in which Rachel was throwing the tantrum of the century and I had no choice but to leave her home with her father while I took Claire to school, “…they’re really different when they’re not together!”
I nodded in agreement and told her that yes, I do notice the difference when I have one without the other, and honestly, I was thrilled that the school noticed. It doesn’t happen often, but taking them on separate errands is one of my favorite things to do. Each one of them flourishes as her own person, talking to me, and paying attention to her surroundings instead of her sister. She has me all to herself and lets me further into that vibrant personality that I know is there, but is so often masked by the “unit” that is a set of identical twins.
As a twin parent, I love seeing that their teacher can distinguish between the two of them, not just by what they’re wearing, but by the small nuances in their looks and the vast differences in their personalities.
And I knew what she was going to say next.
“What would you think about putting them in separate classes?”
I fumbled for an answer to bury the “Whatchoo talking ’bout, Willis!” that immediately tried to escape my lips. I knew she must have valid reasons, and I prayed that those reasons didn’t involve fist fulls of hair my girls were pulling out of each other.
The issue with my girls is that they do just about everything together. They sleep in the same room. They wake up together, eat meals together, play together, bathe together, and now they go to school together. Even when they’re not getting along, I can’t get them to give each other some space and engage in separate activities. They always want to do what the other is doing, and they’re so comfortable with one another that they have absolutely no qualms about fighting, taking toys, or stabbing each other in the eye with a crayon.
But that wasn’t the issue here. Although she told me that they do fight occasionally, the problem is that they often have trouble transitioning from play time to learning time, which isn’t that hard to deal with when it’s just one kid. But in their case, Rachel might stall sitting in the circle by pulling out toys or abandon an art project in favor of riffling through the cabinets, and then Claire is often tempted to do the same. So instead of having to coax one child back into the activity, the teacher and her aide are wrangling both of them.
Welcome to my world. Here let me thrown in a 23 month old so you can really get a feel for it. Ahem.
The director explained that she felt each girl would really flourish individually not having her sister to distract her. Instead of modeling each other’s behavior, they would start to model that of the other kids. (The ones who actually do what they’re told, I presume.) “Just a thought,” she said, and encouraged me to talk it over with Christian.
Man, few things will make you feel like a bad mom more than a suggestion from your kid’s teacher, director, or principal. Over the (agonizingly long) Christmas break I emailed some questions to their teacher. She told me that yes, they fight, but not every day. Sometimes they get physical with each other, but never the other children (whew!). They play together in class, but don’t shut out other kids, and on the playground they usually go off and do their own separate thing. She explained that Rachel started out as more boisterous than Claire, but recently Claire has been doing her share of swiping toys, hitting, or pulling hair, again just between the two of them, thankfully. But the main issue seems to be that they are a distraction to each other. And this is where she and the director feel that they would benefit being apart, so they can model the other children as opposed to each other.
And I know she’s right. I know that Rachel and Claire can seem like completely different kids, in a good way, when without their other half. I know that their behavior, good and bad, is often led by one of them. I know they would benefit from time apart. I actually complain that they need time apart, and school is the only chance for them to really get it on a regular basis.
And yet still I hesitate. My first instinct is to say, “No. Keep them together.” But why? Why, when I know this will be a good thing for them, do I resist it?
There’s just this thing with twins that makes us think that they need to be together. They’re a set, a unit, both in our minds and in front of our eyes, we often fear that we’re taking something away from them by splitting them up, even for a few hours a day, when in reality, we could be doing them a disservice by insisting that they stay together.
I know several twin moms who have separated their kids in school, and many who have chosen to keep them together. Here in Texas, the parent gets the final word on whether or not to separate. Maybe one twin willingly takes a backseat to the other, so separation will help him come out of his shell and build his confidence. Maybe the twins fight constantly, and separate classes give them a much needed break from each other, along with the satisfaction of having their own friends and teachers. Or maybe one twin relies heavily on the other, and separating them at this point would be truly traumatic for him. We fall in none of these categories, meaning I needed to rely on my mom instincts, which I often admit I am mostly without.
When they were babies, Claire was the leader, the front runner, the spunky, outgoing one, while Rachel was the quiet, shy, sensitive one. In the past year that’s changed. Rachel talks to every single person she sees, asking them what they’re doing, where they’re going, and whether or not they have to go potty. She’s gained a bit of confidence and no longer relents to what Claire wants to do all the time. She doesn’t give in as willingly anymore. On the other hand, Claire’s turned inwards a bit. She’s still a feisty, fun loving kid, but she no longer dominates play time like she used to. Her mood and emotions are determined largely in part by whether or not she’s getting along with Rachel. Now she’s the one who hides her face in my leg when among strangers, and she’s the one that often misses her sister more when they’re apart.
In separating them, I worried that they would miss each other, that one of them would have to leave her comfortable surroundings and acclimate to a new class, new teacher, new room. In keeping them together, I worried about the strain it would place on the teacher and the class aide. I was afraid that they would be burdened by having to focus on my girls so much. My good friend Vanessa, twin mom to boys 4 days older than my girls, assured me that I was raising strong willed and confident girls who would each do well in their own environment if I chose to separate them. My good friend Reba, an elementary school assistant principal, spoke from an administrative standpoint. She reminded me, “This is their job. This is what they are paid to do. Don’t worry about them. If you want your girls together, keep them together, that’s all there is to it.”
I had three long weeks to weigh my options, but from the get go I knew what I was going to do. I knew separating them would have its benefits, that they would still have plenty of togetherness at home, and that a separation could even encourage them to appreciate that togetherness. Yet a part of me was still sad. They’ve already changed classes once this year. They both absolutely adore their teacher. But mainly…well, I’m just not ready. Again, just like last time, it’s me, not them.
I’m not ready to separate them. I want them together. They’re little, only three. They’re each other’s best friend (and worst enemy, but we’ll stick with friend for now). They have plenty of years to follow their own distinct paths, and that may very well begin next fall if I grow some balls. But this year, their first year at school, they’re together. And I need to know that they’re there for each other. Even if it’s just for confidence’s sake. Even if it’s just to have someone to play cars with. Even if it is just to take each other’s toys.
The comforts of home, right?