One at Camp, One at Home with Identical Twins

One at Camp, One at Home with Identical Twins

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Photo by Michelle Dickstein

This summer I sent one of my daughters, Miriam, to sleep away camp and kept her identical twin, Ilana, home on purpose.

Separating them for two weeks of sleep away camp was a strategic move my husband and I discussed at length, but when my twin girls entered preschool, separating them was a no-brainer.

Educators and psychologists typically advise separate classes to give twins a chance to grow and develop in their own environments. So, separate classrooms were their reality in preschool and kindergarten, and then COVID hit.

For the next two years, my husband and I decided to keep them in the same class in school to reduce COVID exposure. I didn’t think keeping them together in school would be a big deal, but it has taken a toll. My girls share a bedroom, go to school together, and spend nearly every waking and sleeping moment together. Writing this now makes it obvious, of course spending nearly 24/7 with someone is going to make a difference in your growth and development.

Prior to 2020, my girls both had very strong personalities independent of each other. I was not worried about them socially and scoffed at the thought of one of them being characterized as shy. But the past two years have proven me wrong. My husband and I saw Miriam taking a backseat to Ilana’s natural social exuberance. This year, Miriam had a hard time making friends of her own and social anxiety was starting to creep in. Watching Miriam self-report her social struggles was really hard to process. To help address the emerging issues and course correct the direction I saw Miriam going, I needed to find a way for Miriam to just be herself, not half of twinship. A trial run of two weeks at sleep away camp was a great opportunity.

When I unexpectedly became pregnant with twins, I had no idea my babies would be identical (for the some reading this, my pregnancy was di/di and we did not even want to know the sexes of the babies). I read a lot about twins during my pregnancy, and when DNA testing confirmed their monozygosity (fancy term for identical), I gorged myself on identical twinship information.

One theme I found in my twin research is when one twin chooses to break away because she wants to create an identity for herself, it feels like an emotional divorce for the twin left behind. It’s natural to individuate from your parents, but establishing your own personhood as an identical twin is very different. The twin who did not choose to individuate is left baffled and hurt, unsure why their sibling wants to separate from them.

I saw the tremors of the brewing emotional earthquake the night before Miriam left for camp. Unsurprisingly, Ilana was acting out in anticipation of her perceived abandonment. Ilana ultimately broke down into tears and blurted out, “Miriam doesn’t want to be my twin anymore! She’s going to camp to get away from me!”

The next moment was priceless.

Miriam lovingly put her arm around Ilana’s shoulders and with great heart and tenderness said, “Oh Sissy, I didn’t mean to make you upset. I’m just going to camp to try some new things on my own. I’m going to miss you so much.”

This sweet interaction was confirmation for me on multiple levels. First, all the teaching moments my husband and I have used to demonstrate the importance of communication in every relationship has sunk in.

Second, even though it’s often scary and makes you feel vulnerable, my girls know having the hard conversation and talking about the tough things is important. Having the difficult conversation, saying the thing that scares us will help us feel better and actually closer to the ones we care about.

Following Ilana’s outburst and witnessing Miriam comfort her, I tucked the girls in and personally braced myself to drop my 8-year-old baby girl off at camp the next day.

My husband and I feel secure in knowing Miriam’s chance to establish herself outside of the twin relationship and push herself to make friends without Ilana there will be good for her. Miriam anticipated this solo experience will be really different from what her life has looked like for the past two years. It will be a little frightening, but also exciting.

During the camp tour this spring, she whispered to me “I think the first thing for me will be to get to know myself better, then try some new things.” This is her time to just be Miriam, discover who she is and it will be good.

Just like so many things in life, it’s kind of scary and exciting at the same time, but it will help us find ourselves and grow into a better version of ourselves.

About the author

Michelle Dickstein is a Midwest transplant from the East Coast with her husband. Michelle wears many hats as a life coach, writer, public health professional, certified lactation counselor, and certified project manager. Her most rewarding role is mother to three young daughters — two of whom are identical twins — who all get their curly hair from their father, but more than enough personality from Michelle. Her real passion is helping others by sharing her life experiences and she has made appearances on CBS 19 and Fox 8 news as a lifestyle and parenting "expert" (whatever that means). Learn more about Michelle Dickstein Life Coaching, LLC at michelledickstein.com.

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