Navigating the deep end of tricky twin milestones

For The Baltimore Sun

One of the questions we get asked the most, as parents of fraternal twins, is if our two boys are very different.

The answer is yes, of course. Though they were carried in the same womb and born on the same day (90 long minutes apart!), they were initially two distinct eggs, separately fertilized, and are no more genetically alike than any other two siblings.

Their differences were evident to me even while I was pregnant. Baby B kicked incessantly, rolled and curled himself into tight balls, pressed his feet into my ribcage and planked across the arc of my uterus. Baby A was so quiet, that once, after a full day of inactivity, I poked the area where he dozed as hard as I could with four fingers, and burst into tears when he lazily protested with a tiny punch.

Today, one is fond of reading; the other of creating and building things with his hands. One gets satisfaction out of helping, doing. The other barely notices when someone is in need of help, or when things need to get done. One is a drama king and craves the spotlight; the other disappears when the house is too loud or crowded – slipping off to a nook to read or watch TV, happily alone.

One is organized, neat, responsible. The other is forgetful, dreamy, loosey-goosey.

And yet, they are the best of friends. Their relationship as brothers, as twins, has been fascinating to observe: how one contracts when the other expands, one gives when the other one needs. Like puzzle pieces, their dissimilar shapes complement. So much so that parenting them as “twins” has seemed incidental – their shared birthday the only real reminder of their dizygotic beginnings.

This summer, though, we hit a tricky twin milestone.

At a pool party for a school classmate, both boys desired to break free from the shallow end. They have had swim lessons for years, off and on, but are not strong swimmers; though they can get from end to end of the pool, it isn’t pretty when they do. Still, they opted to take the swimming test before the party – their ticket to the deep end, the diving board and their friends.

The first-born – my reader – conked out halfway through the test. His brother – my doer – gritted his teeth, pushed his little lungs and muscles to the limit and eked it out. It was ugly, but he did it.

At once, I was caught in my first real test of twin motherdom. Until this point, they’d hit their developmental markers at roughly the same time, or if they didn’t, they were too young – or the skill too inconsequential – for them to care. This was the first time they’d both tried to do something meaningful at the same time, with such opposing results.

Standing there with my cell phone video camera rolling, I honestly was unsure how to handle the moment. If I comforted my tearful son, would it diminish the accomplishment of his proud brother? If I celebrated my stronger, faster, more physical son, would that drive the knife deeper into his twin’s broken heart?

Each boy’s needs were real, and immediate. My Baby A was in tears; my Baby B was ecstatic. My heart burst with pride for one; it bled for the other.

Ultimately, I comforted the sad twin, and lectured him about not giving up, trying again another day; immediately after, I high-fived the happy twin – and then asked him not to leave his brother to suffer alone.

I expected a protest. After all, he’d worked hard and earned that diving board, fair and square. His prize awaited in the cobalt waters of 8 feet, while his brother sulked in the paler blue end, near where the babies played.

At the deep end, Baby B took this all in. He climbed the board, took a running start, and cannonballed in – his face glistening, beaming, as he bobbed to the surface. And then, my boy walked back to the shallow end, put his arm around his brother, and stayed in 3 feet for the rest of the party.

And that’s what it’s like to be a twin, I thought.

Two babies, same birthday. Two brothers, same heart.

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