“The McDaniel* triplets are applying to St. Mark’s high school,” I announced to my twins when I picked them up from school the other day. And thus began a lively discussion (and a bit of a debate) of twin fairness, ethics and just plain family logistics.
“Do you think the school’s admissions office takes into account that the brothers are multiples?” one of my sons asked. “I mean, do you think that they’d ever accept just two out of the three brothers? Or even just one?”
Good question but I honestly didn’t know the answer.
“I would think they’d have to take that into account,” I said. “After all, the school has to know that it would be hard for a parent to send just one multiple to a private school and the others back to public.”
Uh-oh. I sensed I had just opened the flood gates.
My statement was met with silence from the backseat. And then came the dreaded question: “What would you have done if only one of us had gotten into St. Mark’s?”
What would I have done?
It’s not like I had never thought about that possibility when they were applying to St. Mark’s last winter. In fact, it was the source of many hushed conversations with my husband, close friends and even a colleague who also happens to have twins. My boys had considered the prospect too but I brushed off their concerns by saying we’d cross that bridge if we came to it (but secretly biting my nails at the idea).
Back in the car, my boys waited for a response. There was no going back now so I sheepishly confessed to them that if only one had gotten into St. Mark’s, their father and I would have declined and sent them both back to public school. And, here’s the worst part, we would never have told the one who did get in the truth.
Does that make us horrible parents?
Over the years, we’ve faced all kinds of sticky dilemmas that households with singleton children never encounter. At age 5, for instance, we handled the birthday party invitation that came for one but not the other with a hug (and a bribe).
But that was just the beginning. Fourth grade was especially difficult when one son tested into the gifted program at school and the other didn’t. Feelings of jealously and rivalry penetrated their relationship for the very first time. But we managed all of these twin traumas one by one using a careful formula of love and empathy for the “rejected” and parental pride for the “accepted.”
Throughout the years, we’ve always tried very hard to avoid the all-or-nothing trap of parenting multiples. If they had both tried out for the same sport, for instance, and only one had made the team, we wouldn’t have stood in his way. The same for the coveted lead in the school play, medaling in the science fair, or any other competition where our twins would face off against each other. Heck, we even expect them to apply to many of the same colleges where it’s inevitable that one will get in somewhere that the other won’t.
Yet when it came time for my twins to apply to private high school, something seemed different. Never mind the logistical nightmare of having two kids in two different schools with different vacation schedules and dueling pick up times. Something else just didn’t sit right in letting one son attend without the other. Furthermore, telling them that only one got in and not the other seemed cruel as feelings of resentment and guilt would surely build on both sides.
I turned the question back to my boys. “What should we have done if only one of you had gotten accepted?” I asked.
Immediately one son argued that we should never stand in the way of one simply because he was a twin. That would be an unfair penalty. But his cotwin was quick to counter that the two schools in question had vastly different environments academically, socially, and spiritually. “It would have driven a huge wedge between us if we had gone to different schools,” he added.
Thankfully, we never had to “cross that bridge” as both boys got into St. Mark’s. But my heart goes out to the parents of the McDaniel triplets as they may.
So what would you have done?
* For privacy, all names of people and places have been changed.