When we found out we were pregnant with twins, the list of concerns was never-ending. The pregnancy was high-risk because the twins were monozygotic diamniotic, meaning they shared one placenta but had separate amniotic sacs. This also told us that they were identical twins, so we were prepared for some double vision. There were so many things to be concerned about medically, that I often found myself thinking about things that seemed trivial in relation. For example, I agonized over circumcision, debated name options, and worried about how we would tell them apart.
I was very concerned that people knew who each child was. We didn’t want them to constantly be confronted with the question “Which one are you?” It may seem silly, but protecting their right to identities of their own was important to us before we ever met them. We knew that making it easy to recognize each boy was going to be the key to giving him his individuality in the eyes of the world.
Everyone wanted to give us ideas on how we would keep these precious babies straight. We heard about painting toe nails and different hair styles. I read about bracelets and remembered the Full House “bootie solution.” A favorite suggestion was specific clothing colors, and we thought that idea had the most merit. The tentative plan was to assign blue to one and green to another. Baby A would be Emmett and wear blue. Baby B would be Simon and wear green. Yes, the reasoning was that alphabetical order made it nice and tidy. When we went to the hospital to have the boys, this was the plan. I love a good plan. And then, life . . . .
I was taken out of recovery and back to the room where the brand new daddy was waiting for me with two teeny, tiny babies. Looking at the two little burrito blankets, I asked, “All right, who is who?” Someone (truly have no idea who) responded, “Simon is in the striped blanket.” Reverting to a mnemonic device in my exhausted state, I said, “Simon, stripes. Got it.” And the rest is history.
That one moment, completely happenstance, set us on a new identification path. From that day on, Simon has always worn stripes. As infants, we had the fallback of hospital bracelets should we be presented with two naked little boys with identical bodies and faces. Time wore on, and we noticed small face shape differences and a VERY light birthmark that served as identity protection, but nothing has ever displaced the ease (and alliteration) of Simon’s stripes. As it turns out, having a system in place has been more helpful than we ever imagined.
People ask us how we tell them apart in almost the same breath to ask if they are twins and identical. I always reply, “Simon wears stripes.” When I’m met with a puzzled laugh or confused look, I end up explaining in a bit more detail. “Yes, he wears something striped every day.”
When the boys were young, people wondered, “What happens when he says he doesn’t want to wear stripes?” I used to say if he could tell us that, then he would also be able to say “No, I’m Simon,” so we were good. I never anticipated that he would embrace his stripes as he has and actually seek them out as an identifier.
Before you become concerned that I can’t tell my children apart unless they are dressed, please know that isn’t true. While their DNA is identical and they are similar in many ways other than looks, they are still two individual people. In addition to personality differences, there are slight variations in their face shapes, a significant disparity in voices, and even small details in their movements that clue us in to which is which. Very little of that is helpful when you’re standing across a playground and staring at two identical backs. Or when someone is about to step into the street and you’re 20 feet behind him, screaming his name.
But stripes. Stripes are easy to identify. You can see them from far away and from behind. There are MANY options for stripes in boys’ clothing. And stripes are easy enough to add onto something. I’ve striped VBS shirts and baseball jerseys. He’s worn striped shorts and striped socks. I even sew a stripe onto the collar of his uniform shirts. Y’all, he has striped pajamas. He is literally a marked man. And he loves it.
People don’t ask my twins, “Which one are you?” I’ve overheard their classmates explaining to parents and substitutes how you tell them apart. No one ever forgets that Simon wears stripes. By default, Emmett is also recognizable. Even in pictures, I know who they are without a doubt. I used to imagine handing my child a baby picture and saying “I think this is you,” and it made me shudder.
In reality, we all spend much our lives figuring out who we are as individuals. Can you imagine how much harder that must be for a person who is never treated as one? Think for a second: If no one ever called you by your name or knew who you were. People whom you see daily continue to ask, “Which one are you?” Others don’t even bother and just call you both by both names. To deny someone his or her name is to ignore his or her identity. It says to that person: “You’re not important enough for me to know who you are.” Calling someone by name MATTERS.
So the next time you see identical twins, triplets, or more, consider what you say. Instead of asking, “Which one are you?” inquire about each one’s name. Look for identifiers in their clothing, pay attention to their mannerisms and interests, and remember that they are not one person. They are identical individuals. And their uniqueness matters.
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