“What’s it like, having twins?” she asks and then, while I am still working on an answer, she laughs to herself. “Well, I suppose you wouldn’t know any different, would you?” This isn’t the first time it’s happened and I wish they’d give me a chance to speak. I’d like to give an answer even though I’m not sure what it would be. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot.
“Do twins run in your family?” asks the ultrasound technician out of the blue. He barely gives us time to shake our heads before finishing with a practised “…because they do now!”
We laugh all the way home, only slightly hysterical. We’re thrilled. We’re not just having a baby, we’re getting a whole family.
It’s early in the morning and I’m awake because both babies are moving inside me. Are they having a party in there? More likely fighting. We watched them do it on the sonogram once, kicking each other through the membrane that divided them. Not yet born and already making each other cross.
The babies are a few weeks old and it’s late in the evening. I’m cradling one to sleep and my husband is rocking her sister. He smiles across the room at me.
“We’re so lucky. Isn’t it wonderful, having twins?”
I glance at the baby he holds. Even though I’m busy with her sister, she’s my baby and I long for her. It’s really hard, always putting one baby down so I can pick the other one up, when everything in me is telling me I need my newborns in my arms all the time.
For you, maybe, I think.
The babies have just learned to crawl. The play peek-a-boo with each other in the curtains and they laugh and laugh.
“Isn’t it wonderful, having twins?” I ask Barnaby as we watch the video together for the tenth time. “We’re so lucky!”
The babies love to watch each other be played with, danced with or swung around. They smile and laugh like it’s happening to them instead of their sister.
“Isn’t that amazing?” says my mum. “You’d think they’d be jealous”.
If one of the toddlers wakes in the night she usually winds up in our bed. We have to transfer her veeeeery quietly – if her sister hears then we’ve got two screaming kids on our hands and neither of them want Barnaby. They can’t stand the thought of their sister getting to be with me while they stay in their own cot. Both toddlers are implacable in their jealousy, miles beyond reason. Lately we’ve had to give in, unable to endure another hour of screaming when we should be sleeping.
We try the three of us at the head of the bed. Juney tells me to move the arm I am cuddling her with. There’s nowhere else to put it. I can’t exactly detach it. So we sleep top-and-tail. Another night we try width-wise, me in the middle, stretching my legs out under Nora. Barns sleeps on the sofa. I google king-size beds that we can’t afford. I’m appalled when I work out that they’re only 15 cm bigger, anyway.
There’s a bird shit on the window. A huge one. It’s been there for weeks, a foul streak of pestilence besmearing the ranch slider that opens off of the living room, the window I happen to look out of the most. A poor repayment, I think, for the half-chewed crackers and sandwich crusts I pop out on the lawn for the feathery gits.
I’m not a cleaning obsessive but I’m itching to do something about it. I’m sure it’d only take five minutes. If I could only get five minutes. Maybe when Barns gets home, I think, turning away to change a nappy.
I’m making lunch and I hear the scream. I know the scream in my bones. It’s the one that means one of them is hurting the other. I’m already running.
The need to protect my kids is primal. Although I try for gentleness in these moments, try to lead by example, the truth is that someone is hurting the person I love the most. But it’s the other person I love the most. I freeze, I panic, I yell, I put kids in time out just so I can calm down. I never get used to it.
The kids are ratty. It’s nearly bedtime. One of them won’t share. Her sister swings her arm back and I’m already moving to intervene when she hesitates, puts it down again, whatever violence she’d been contemplating left unfinished. I blink tears back as I praise her.
We’re running late. Really late. Blame yet another bad night. I stuff the lunch boxes into the pram, hoping we’ll get to playgroup at least in time for morning tea. I go to round up the children. Nora stinks. Never mind, a quick bum change and we’ll go.
June poos while I’m changing her sister. She’s in a mood and it takes ages to clean it up. I manage not to start crying from sheer frustration but it’s a near thing. Playgroup means a lot to me, much more than it does to the kids. For those few hours a week I’m part of a community. It’s fortifying in a way that I’ve never experienced before.
June poos again while I wash my hands.
I’m loading Nora into the pram when I notice she’s pooed again. She is absolutely furious when I unbuckle her. I have to change her in the hallway by the front door, unable to get her any further into the house. At least I’m calm again now, the zen of someone so late that they don’t have to care anymore.
We still go. The kids eat morning tea in the pram on the way.
“Let’s hold hands!” Nora says, reaching out her hand for June. June takes it, smiling, and they toddle off down the footpath.
“Look at us!” Nora calls over her shoulder. “We’re being sisters!”
It’s the first day of kindergarten and they are so overwhelmed that they don’t even wave when I leave. At least they have each other, I tell myself.
They stay all morning with no problems or tears. I never get the phone call I’ve been dreading. Later the teacher sends us some photos of their day. In one of the pictures they’re a little apart from the other kids, a little unsure, standing right next to each other and holding hands.