A few days ago at the park, a little boy came up to Pink and started hitting her. She hadn't done anything to him, but he obviously wanted to hurt her. I was horrified. It happened again the next day - same park, same boy - this time he was pulling her hair, yanking it by the roots and making her scream with pain. I was so angry that I could barely see. She was howling with anguish and tears were running down her little face. She lifted her arms to me and shouted cuddle! in a voice of pure panic, meaning save me, mama! And I did, of course. Before she had the word out of her mouth I had already swooped in and lifted her in my arms, shaking with rage at the kid who dared to maul my child. How dare he hurt my precious baby? What is wrong with this boy? What kind of mother brings up a son like that? How can she live with herself? What kind of person must she be?
A person like me, of course. A person who is me, in fact, because the boy attacking Pink was her twin. And so I don't know what to do with my rage, with my fury. What am I supposed to do when the person hurting my precious child is also my precious child?
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it's not. At the moment, Blue has a terrible scratch down one side of his face. It was quite deep, and I worry it may scar. People ask me how he got it and I tell them it was Pink. They look shocked and start to feel sorry for him, but I shrug my shoulders and say 'no, he totally started it by biting her. It was just self defence'. That shuts 'em up.
One tends to be a little more aggressive than the other, but really they are pretty much equally to blame for these skirmishes. No matter what we - J and I - do, they are always at each other's throats. It's at its worst when they are a bit bored, and for this reason the supermarket has turned into a miniature warzone. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a blood-curdling scream from the stroller and looked down to see the screamer with a bite mark on their plump little arm, the other sitting their nonchalantly as if butter wouldn't melt. Bad news - I'm beginning to worry that I'm raising vampires or werewolves. Good news - judging from the perfect half-moon indentations, their teeth really are extraordinarily straight and I don't think we will need to budget for orthodontics. Heh.
Extreme irony alert - when we were deciding between a side-by-side twin stroller and a front-and-back, we ended up choosing the side-by-side because friends with twins told us that their children loved to ride along holding hands. How could I deprive my little munchkins of that beautiful experience? I thought then. So we got the side-by-side and have spent the last two years barely fitting through doorways because I deliberately wanted them to be in close physical proximity. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! I think now, as I watch them hitting each other. Today I finally realised the real reason we are out of food - not just because I'm disorganised (although I am) - I just don't trust them not to get murderous during even a 15 minute shopping outing any more. We are currently watching a few of these on ebay but until we find one at a good price, I'm so full of fear about what will happen, who will get badly injured this time that I have decided no more supermarket excursions! I just can't take it. I think we'll be spending the next little while living on dried pulses and frozen foods.
I sound flippant about this, but I don't feel flippant. It's hard to know what to say about all this. Watching my children attack each other feels deeply, deeply not okay. People tell me 'oh, they fight now but they'll be such good friends when they are grown up!' Honestly, right now I don't care . And anyway, who says that is necessarily true? I have one friend who barely speaks to her adult twin. Right now I'm not even sure they are going to let each other live that long. I know that most siblings experience some degree of rivalry but I am beginning to suspect that the animosity my children feel towards each other is on the extreme end of the spectrum.
They seem to have been designed exactly to cause each other maximum irritation. Twins aren't supposed to start playing together when they are little, they are supposed to engage in what's called 'parallel play', where they basically ignore each other. Mine never, ever got to that stage. Instead, they only do what I call 'perpendicular play' - where they want to play independently but in a way that directly opposes what the other is doing. Poor Mr Potato Head, I should never have sent you into that mess, is all I can say about that. They do have moments of belly laughing with each other, of trying to high-five across their cots and giggling hysterically but that 1% does not even begin to touch the other 99. Blue loves rough and tumble, Pink hates it when he even touches her accidentally in passing (and no, I don't think it's opposite sensory processing disorders but thanks for asking). They both love to sit on my lap, but they won't do it together. They have a strange, aggressive, abusive and co-dependent relationship that seems to have a life of its own; I know with absolute certainty that it's bigger than our parenting choices, that it's about them together rather than them in our family. They cause each other untold grief but they can't bear to be apart. In some ways they are two halves of the same whole but the whole seems to be chemically unstable, like a nuclear compound that has reached critical mass and is always about to explode in all of our faces. Their mutual antipathy feels almost pathological.
Is there a conspiracy of silence about the realities of adopting siblings, or is our situation really unusual? I have no idea. I have no idea. I have nothing to judge it against. I don't really know how other siblings, other twins, relate to each other (apart from the deeply misleading stroller handholders, of course) because they don't live in my house. I do know that one of our two can't bear to have any part of the other's body touching them. I do know that I can't leave them alone together unless they are watching a DVD. I do know that Blue loves to hug Pink but it makes Pink wail as if she is a banshee, as if she is being flayed alive. J and I were discussing how that noise makes us feel and we agreed - it's like being attacked with a cattle prod, being electrocuted. It's absolutely unbearable, it's absolutely impossible to ignore. It happens about fifty times a day. I. Am. Losing. My. Mind.
It's odd, how hard I find this. I won't lie - at the moment, having siblings feels like the hardest thing in my life. There were so many things about adoption that I was unsure of, afraid of, and this was not one of them. This was something that I was sure would be hard but good. Instead, it feels impossible and poisonous. I find myself unhelpfully generalising from my own situation when I'm talking to people expecting their second child. I'm always consciously biting my lip, reining myself in, saying to myself do not make dire predictions of horror about having two children, Claudia! Because lots of people love having two children. In theory, I love it too. Individually, I'm extremely glad that I have the chance to mother both of them. It's just the two of them at once that I can't handle.
Of course, as well as them pretty much hating each other, there's all of the normal difficulties that come from having two kids in the house - it really affects how much of myself I can give to each of them. I can't do long slow mornings reading Blue stories, because Pink won't join in (since that would mean touching him) and she still needs looking after too. I can't spend time drawing with Pink because Blue can't yet be trusted with crayons but wants to be part of the action if there is any going on. They both want to be picked up and carried, but I can't carry them both at once. Boo Hoo. I know this stuff is normal - anybody with more than one child finds out that they can't give 100% to two different people at once. And yet I feel so awful about not giving them 100% - I feel like they need and deserve all of me, at all times. I wonder if this is a sign of really messed-up thinking - who says that children should get 100%? Honestly, where does that idea come from? I really don't want my kids to grow up thinking that they are the centre of the universe; not even my universe. They are utterly loved, but they are not the axis around which the world spins. They need to grow up knowing that other people matter too; that they are not the only people who exist; that they have feelings and needs and they are important, but the rest of the world has feelings and needs too and sometimes those other needs are going to win out. Theoretically, I think that having a sibling is really good for kids because they learn that they will not always come first, they will not always get what they want and yet the sun continues to rise. I also think that being annoyed by someone who mostly loves you takes some of the edge off learning to accommodate other people later. I think it knocks some of the rough edges off a person, and overall I'm pretty sure that's a good thing. I know all the theory about why siblings are so good. It's the practice I can't take.
I'm also aware of just how much some of my friends would love to have my problems. One close friend in particular, at the moment, is filled with sadness about how long she has been waiting to become a mother for the second time. (No, it's not YOU, if this applies to you - she doesn't read my blog. I hope). Her first child was long awaited and much loved, and number two is so far failing to make an appearance. She really wants another baby. Of course she does, and I sympathise deeply. But it feels odd how the very thing she is crying to have is the thing that most often makes me cry, too, because I have to work out how to deal with having it. It reminds me, yet again, of how it felt to be on the childless side of the fence while listening to my mother-friends complaining about how hard their perfect lives were. I button my lip and try not to complain to her about how hard I find the two-ness of my two because it probably just sounds like whining to her.
And yet I am not imagining how hard this is, how much it grieves me that my children want to hurt each other and find so many ways to do it. I want to justify to my friends who are parents of only children that two really is a whole different ball game. All that turning-up-late that I do? All that mess in my house? Not my fault. It's just that my life is really, really hard. MUCH HARDER THAN YOURS. The funny thing is, I felt the same way when I didn't have any kids. I'm pretty sure I'll feel the same way if I one day have three. I'm beginning to suspect that the impulse to assume that my life has to be much harder than everybody else's just springs from fear. If my life is more difficult than yours, then it's okay that I'm not really coping. It's reasonable to be crying during naptime (and bedtime, and mealtimes) because my life is unusually, unreasonably hard and any sane person would be going crazy. What I fear is this - if my life is really just averagely hard, then why am I coping so poorly? Why does my family have to live on lentils and frozen corn*? If my life is only averagely hard, and I'm coping really badly, then... what? I guess that would mean that the problem isn't my life, but me. I don't want to think about that.
So I'm off to order some groceries online. Who cares if I never get to go to the supermarket again, huh? That's what the internet is for. Who cares if we can never again go to the park, never use the swings? That's why we have a DVD player. Who cares if cuddling one causes the other to break down and howl? That's why I have earplugs. I think I'm just going to give up on trying to lead a normal life until these two are in high school, at least. We'll hunker down. I'll pad the walls and turn this into a bunker. It'll be fine.
It'll be fine. Because apparently - they'll be really good friends when they are grown up. So the horror now doesn't matter. I'll let you know how that works out. Stay tuned for the next update.
In twenty years' time.
*I'm kidding. We ran out of frozen corn WEEKS ago.