About a year ago, I wrote a blog post that discussed a twin dilemma. Namely, why do singleton children often spend a night away from their families from a much earlier age than twins? It was definitely the case with my own fraternal twin boys, who by age 15 had never spent a night apart while their younger, singleton brother started venturing out on his own by age 10.
Sure, my twins had spent time away from the family—five nights on Catalina Island for their sixth-grade class trip comes to mind—but they have always gone away together. It’s never been a conscious choice, mind you, but rather the circumstances surrounding the nature of twinship. Since most twins hit many milestones at the same time, share the same grade in school, and often hang out with the same group of friends, opportunities to spend time away are sometimes presented to both. And that’s been the case with my own twins.
This summer, however, when one of my twins asked if he could go to summer camp alone, I was thrilled. He’d finally get the chance to shed his “twin skin” and experience life as a singleton for a week. But I also secretly wondered what effect, if any, going solo would have on him as well as his cotwin?
While he was away, there were some pleasant surprises. The twin that stayed home, for instance, was actually a lot nicer to the rest of the family! There was a lot less eye rolling and a lot more cooperation. The sibling bickering was next to nil. The stay-at-home twin also had a chance to hang out more with his younger brother, a relationship that needed some nurturing. But when I asked him how he felt with his twin gone for the week, he gave me that typical uninterested teenage stare, and laughed, “I’ll survive.”
The twin that headed off to camp told me later that he enjoyed living on his own. He wasn’t homesick, he explained, nor did he miss his cotwin. “I liked that no one knew I was a twin,” he said. But then quickly added, “Not that I mind being a twin.” He likened it to the first day at a new school. “You can totally reinvent yourself,” he said.
Both boys clearly benefited from their time apart. But what about me? What did I learn from the experience?
Quite a bit, actually.
I was surprised, for instance, to see how much the family dynamics changed while he was at camp. But more importantly, I wasn’t prepared for how much I worried about him, a stark contrast to earlier this summer when both my twins attended the same camp, a leadership symposium, for a week. During those blissful seven days, I relished the silence at home and just assumed both boys were having a great time. So what was different this time around?
First, I wasn’t sure he even got to camp—an island oasis—as we had to leave before his boat left the dock. But if I’m really honest with myself I’d say that the anxiety stemmed from the fact that he was alone, by himself with no cotwin as his wing-man. Not only was this a new experience for him but it was for me as well. If his cotwin had joined him, I would have rested easier knowing that if something had gone wrong—like if he had fallen overboard!— he’d have his brother to yell, “help.” Furthermore, studies have shown that multiples, in general, can stand up to peer pressure better than single-born children. Not that my son would want to break the rules, mind you, but I guess I’ve always rested easier knowing that it’s harder to break the rules when you have a cotwin whispering in your ear.
My camper’s solo adventure taught me that I have relied way too much on the power of two. Yes, it’s great that twins have each other’s back, that they can watch over each other in times of uncertainty but one day in the not too distant future, they will go their separate ways and each needs to be prepared for that day, mentally as well as emotionally.
I now know that I need to prepare for that day, too.