While expecting my now two-and-a-half-year-old twins, I received a ton of advice from other moms of multiples. Just like every child is different, every set of twins has a nuanced relationship with one another and with the world. The fun part is seeing two people of identical ages mature and meet milestones in completely different ways. It’s a unique window into the variances in human development, the way the environment may be explored, and discovering that some personality traits seem to be innate and unchangeable.
My husband and I welcomed our two beautiful baby girls in January of 2015. We could easily tell them apart from the first moments of life. Baby A, Juliette, had big eyes and light, wild hair that stuck up in every direction, with little-to-no eyelashes. Baby B, Leila, had dark hair that curled softly around her head, and dark prominent eyebrows. Juliette screamed all night, and Leila could be swaddled and placed down to sleep.
With my first child, my singleton son, tummy time involved lots of attention from mom and dad. We encouraged him to roll, and demonstrated it on the floor for him. The twins required no such intervention, unless you count separating them when the hair pulling started at barely four weeks old.
The most common advice I received from other moms of multiples was to keep my twins on the same schedule. This proved difficult with Juliette being reluctant to sleep and Leila being a lazy eater. Eventually, I did keep them on the same schedule. They were always changed when the other was (whether they needed it or not!) and I tandem nursed them whether they were hungry or not. Trying solid foods was another adventure. Juliette sought the sensory experience of crushing her food and shoving it into her face as if that was her last meal. Leila developed a perfect pinscher grip early on, eating her food with a delicate purposefulness.
Carole Gervasi, a twin mom, marketing executive, and Staten Island native, was one of the first experienced twin moms I reached out to. Unlike me, Carole had the experience of having twins and later having a singleton. My son, Mason, arrived three and-a-half years ahead of my daughters. I was sure that because of his high-needs personality, that I might be a bit prepared, but I was daunted when Carole said that a singleton was so easy after twins that she could “change a diaper with one hand.” When my husband returned to work ten days after their birth, I looked at my girls and wondered aloud, “Can I change both of you with one hand each? Hmm.” I never had a chance to test my ability with one-handed diaper changes, but instead developed other multi-tasking talents. I frequently managed to change one of my daughters while the other was latched and nursing, without so much as a squirm – and never breaking the latch.
It was official. The twins had changed me. I was a Supermom.
As toddlers, Juliette walked at exactly one year and Leila took her time, tentatively walking at nearly 16 months old. Each step for Leila was deliberate and careful, while Juliette breezed through each room (and through life) with an unmatched zeal and seemingly with no direction.
Weeks and months rolled by with new discoveries each day. Juliette’s vocabulary grew exponentially, and she spoke in full sentences before she was 18 months old. (And I am the mom who never believed anyone who said they had a child who spoke so early!) That is when we noticed that our delicate, careful, purposeful daughter, Leila, was making limited speech sounds.
Renee McGrath, a Staten Island elementary school art teacher, also noted that her two-and-a-half-year-old twins, Mallory and James, varied in their speech development. Like Juliette, “Mallory began speaking with multiple words and sentences earlier than James. Her letter recognition was also ahead of James’.”
In these times, it is difficult to see your babies, a mere nine minutes apart, be so far apart in their development. Other parents would tell me to wait, and that she was still too little, but my mother instinct couldn’t let it go. “I think you know best,” my husband, Alex, said when I pressed the issue. “It doesn’t hurt to be too careful,” he added. At 21 months old, Leila qualified for speech therapy and has been receiving help twice weekly since. She has also benefitted from having tubes placed in her ears to drain fluid. This has great improved her hearing.
These differences don’t stop twins from communicating. People often ask if our twins have their own language. They have their own way of communicating. Great Kills native Amanda Thompson noted her twins, daughter Marin and son Grayson, developed at different rates as well. “Marin was the first to lift her head, sit up, and crawl, but Grayson was the first to walk. He was 14.5 months and she started walking at 17 months.” She also observed that while her daughter had more advanced verbal skills, her son developed motor skills more quickly.
She added, “We were never concerned that one wouldn’t catch up. We knew it might take a bit more time since they are two different individuals.” As Renee says, “As parents, we hope that they can learn and benefit from one another.”
Wherever we go, we are inevitably asked if our girls are twins. Having twins is always a conversation starter. Everyone seems to have a twin story, whether they have a set of their own, have twin grandchildren, or just know a set of twins. It’s always interesting to hear the perspective of someone other than a parent. Local twin Grandma, Mary Spirocostas, loves to talk about her 8 year-old granddaughters, Olivia and Chloe.
“Olivia very sensitive. She enjoys cooking and crafty things, dancing school and is a girly girl. She worries about everyone and makes sure everyone is fairly treated,” said Mary. “She is like the little mommy. I feel like she took care of Chloe in the womb. Chloe is the confident one. She prefers athletics over cooking or dancing. She never gives up. She is not easily offended and shrugs irritations right off her shoulder.” The differences don’t stop there, of course. They even like different food. “It seems like their DNA was split in half and each obtained different traits but they are ALWAYS there for each other.”
Many moms worry that their twins will grow apart as they get older. Marissa, a local event planner with her own small business, noted that her twins, Jake and Milana, are very close at nearly four years old. She said, “At this point it’s interesting to hear their conversations. They really are best friends. When they go to the pool club and play, it’s really sweet to see how they look out for each other. It’s funny when they tell a story together. It’s also funny when they tell the story separately and you see the versions differ a bit. But the relationship is so close and it’s the truly greatest gift.”
Like Carole, Marissa also added a singleton to her family after her twins. “A lot of people ask me why I went for a third when I have a boy and a girl. This amazes me!” She explained that her and her husband grew up in families with three children, and expanding their family seemed natural. “I think that people who have one child first and then twins have it a bit more difficult,” she added. Personally, I am uncertain which is more difficult; each has its own set of challenges and rewards.
Age 3 is rapidly approaching, and despite Juliette and Leila being in different places with their speech and interests, there is always shared hijinks, from coloring and drawing on the walls, to taking Mommy’s makeup and giving each other makeovers.
Each night, we tuck our girls in side by side in their queen-sized bed. They’re wholly unique in every way, but they sleep with identical blankets and stuffed dogs every night. Different, but the same; in a way that only twins can be.
By Jennifer Long Levy, a Staten Island native and freelance writer who is passionate about her family, fitness, fashion, and the Oxford comma.