When my first grandchildren were born just nine years ago, they introduced us to a title that bestows all manner of privileges. At the same time they initiated us into the world of twindom, a realm that is both fascinating and confusing.
My eldest granddaughters are identical. They own the same dark blonde hair, the same almond-shaped blue eyes, the same coltish legs and curlicue ears. And yet, in so many ways they also are vastly different. Different personalities. Different interests. Different relationship with a younger sibling.
Since their birth I’ve noticed more twins, and that observation was confirmed just days before my granddaughters’ recent birthday, when I came across a piece that detailed how the proportion of twins in the population has exploded since the 1970s. Though that proportion has waxed and waned throughout history, it’s now at an all-time high. Granted, this boom is due to the increase in fraternal twins — a result of assisted reproductive technology — but nonetheless the numbers remain impressive.
In the industrialized world, the twin rate has doubled in only 40 years and about every 60th person is a twin in Europe and America. This must make for interesting family dynamics.
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As a parent (or grandparent), experiencing twinhood is not unlike learning how to rollerblade after spending a lifetime on old-fashioned roller skates, the kind with four wheels and a key you wear on a string around your neck. The intent is the same but the logistics of movement change. With twins you’re dealing with two people who have been together from conception but whose reactions to situations can vary. A caregiver, no matter how experienced, has to adjust to shifting subtleties.
And there are so many mysteries!
Can genetics explain why one of my identical twins is more of a daredevil, unfazed by riding bareback on a horse or going parasailing with her father? Why one badgered her parents for architect camp and the other preferred summer weeks with geometry and word problems? Why one loves blueberries and the other turns her nose at them?
In spite (or because) of these differences, our twins remain a biological phenomenon, a peek into the tangled influences of nature and nurture. There is no question that being half of a twin combo is one of the most defining characteristics of a life.
Our twins fight with the fierceness that is typical of all siblings, but they’re more likely to form a self-contained unit that is impervious to the outside world. As toddlers discovering language, they understood each other when the rest of us didn’t. Now they separate themselves from a larger group to do what my daughter-in-law describes as "twinning."
The state of their paired union is so much part of who they are and how they see the world that when their cousin was born, they were mystified that most human babies arrived as singletons.
Studies have shown identical twins typically live longer than the rest of us. Researchers speculate that this longevity may be due to the strong bond that cushions them against life’s ups and downs. It’s so much easier to sail choppy social waters with someone who cares for you, a doppelganger who has known you even before you were an official you.
At 9, our eldest granddaughters are cocooned in their twinness. They’re sass and sauce, twice over. They possess strong opinions and even stronger lungs, a desire to separate but only as far as the elastic of their relationship will stretch. They are double trouble, for sure, but also twice the blessing.