I sat on the side of the pool during Caden and Brooklyn’s swim lesson, trying to avoid their inevitable splashes. It was the end of summer and we’d taken advantage of the break in our schedule (and the break in pricing) to do a two-week swim camp. Every morning at 8:45, swimsuits and goggles on, the two-year old occupied in the nearby movie room so I could watch the big kids do tiger paddles, pancake floats, and cannonballs.
Brooklyn is a fish in the water. No, a mermaid. Graceful and sure. If they made instructional videos starring students for each skill, she would be the one on-screen for Level Two, every time. Perfect.
Caden, usually the daredevil of the twins, isn’t quite as sure in the water. Used to the control he has on dry land, the water requires more trust, a letting go. He loves the water, but being asked to lay his head back calmly, without thrashing, is a bit much for him. He had made a lot of progress in the past week, with dramatic improvement in most of his swimming skills. But as the day for level recommendations approached, I had a sinking feeling about his back floats and pancake flips. (No pun intended.)
I warned them both the day before testing that they might not move up to Level Three together. I wanted to prepare them so it wasn’t an unpleasant surprise if Caden had to repeat.
“Mommy,” Brooklyn asked, “Will we still be twins even if we’re not in the same class?”
I was completely caught off-guard. My heart did that contradictory thing it does so often in motherhood, where it both breaks and swells at the same time. Tears sprang into my eyes, surprising me. She had asked it as most four-year-old’s ask questions, detached of any emotion, full of nothing but pure curiosity.
“Of course you’ll still be twins!” I told them, “You’ll always, always, always be twins, and nothing can ever, ever change that.”
I’d been expecting something like this to happen eventually, one twin left behind. I’ve been dreading it for years now, my heart already breaking for the first year they’re split up at school or in different friend groups. I’ve been anticipating the day — in middle school, maybe — when one is placed in the advanced math class while the other struggles, where one has a full social calendar while the other is left out. What I will do, what I will say. Planning for the moment there is a break in their relationship, in theirs, the strongest of twin bonds.
This one caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it so soon, at just four and a half. They’ve done everything together, mastered skills from rolling over to walking within just days or even minutes of each other. Parent-child classes and storytimes and play dates and gymnastics and dance class and preschool. And swim lessons. Until now.
At least for now they’re essentially devoid of emotion. While Caden understands he didn’t move up a level, he’s also excited to take swim lessons again by himself this fall, in the hope that he can move up and join Brooklyn again in the spring. Brooklyn is too young to be full of herself and her own mastery of swimming skills. “I moved up but Caden didn’t” is something she says more factually than pridefully.
It’s a delicate balance: how do I praise Brooklyn for her ability while not making Caden feel bad or like he’s done something wrong? How do I encourage Caden to try again, to work hard while also not comparing him to Brooklyn?
My own doubts, anxieties, and perfectionism creep in. All the things I don’t want to pass on to them. I choose my words carefully, praise Brooklyn when Caden isn’t around, assure Caden that repeating a level is perfectly fine.
While they’re each their own people — I am very cautious of using the phrase “the twins” to describe them — it also breaks my heart to think of them separately. They are so close. That stereotypical twin bond is a real thing in this house. While they do tend to be comfortable without each other, there’s also something special about their friendship and the ease in which they play together. (Well...most of the time.) “I miss Brooklyn,” Caden said repeatedly during a recent weekend Brooklyn spent at my parent’s house, even while he had plenty of fun without her.
They have their own fascinations, desires, and ambitions. Where Caden is a Batman superfan and a daredevil on the playground, we haven’t really discovered his hidden passion yet (besides anything related to the Dark Knight). Brooklyn likes superheroes mostly because her brother does, but glories in dance class and her artistic talents. I see where they’ve begun to diverge already and can only guess how that gap will grow over time.
Preschool has started up again for the year. (Finally. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it for awhile there.) Same classroom, same teachers. New friends. The ones from last year are a bit scattered. Except for each other. It reassures me that they still have each other. I think of Nolan entering the preschool world — all by his own little self — next year and the thought terrifies me a little. I realize this is the norm for almost every other kid ever. I’m too used to having built-in BFFs navigate the waters of life together.
We take pictures before the first day and they clasp hands, automatically. It would be almost easy to miss, they do it so often. But I notice today.
After school, they chatter away. Finish each other’s sentences, fight when the other talks over them, show me the pictures they drew (Caden drew Batman just in case you were wondering). They’re still here, together. They still have each other, despite what class or level or grade or friends or interests they do or don’t have. They’ll always be twins. And nothing can ever, ever, ever change that.