Double Trouble

In my wife Melinda’s 7th month of pregnancy, people finally started to notice she’s having a baby.

This week when we drove to Maryland to choose a slab of granite for our kitchen counters, the owner met us at the front door with a big smile. “How’s it going, momma?” he said to Melinda after shaking my hand.

To Melinda, the fact that nobody’s acknowledged her pregnancy until this point is an affront. She’s been cooking this human inside of her for more than half a year, dealing with a sore back and sleepless nights and, a shooting pain in her groin she’s Google-diagnosed as something called “Lightning Crotch.”

“Weird,” I said when she told me the name of her ailment. “Lightning Crotch was my nickname in high school.”

For all this hard work she’s putting in, Melinda’s annoyed that people haven’t noticed earlier.

I can see her point. We all love to be validated for our work, and I guess that’d go doubly for something as important as propagating the species. But what I think Melinda fails to understand is that for the most part, people are deathly afraid of asking someone about their pregnancy until they are certain beyond a shadow of a doubt the bump they’re seeing is indeed a child and not the result of last night’s trip to the Olive Garden.

I think where things get sticky is what to say to the person once there is no doubt. My go-to is the empathetic “how are you sleeping?” or “how’s your back?” knowing from recent experience that those are two primary thoughts ricocheting around a pregnant woman’s brain most of the time.

But Melinda reports the majority of people aren’t so tactful.

“Wow, you’re getting so big!” is a frequent comment she receives at work. “You must be due any day now!” is another.

I have to believe these observations come from a place of good intent, but they’re certainly not the type Melinda meant when she said she wanted to be noticed. It’s confounding to me because I feel like those are the types of things you learn not to say when you’re a little kid and your parents scold you for asking the man at the grocery store wearing an eyepatch if he’s a pirate.

The things her colleagues say to her always make me roll my eyes, but the one that really makes me groan is when they ask if we’re having twins.

“Are you sure there isn’t two in there?”

Are we sure? Over the last 36 weeks, we’ve been to the doctor’s 15 times and had six sonograms in two different hospitals. I’ve seen this kid on a screen in 2-D and 3-D, including a flattering view from below that make his testicles look like a speed bag. At some point, I assume our team of medical professionals would have notified us we were having a second child, but thanks to your half-assed compliment, I’m now rethinking everything and should probably begin construction on a second crib.

Apparently, it’s not as far-fetched as I thought.

I repeated this joke to my friend Tia, who just had a set of twins, only she didn’t laugh.

“You never know,” she said. “Sometimes they can hide in there for up to 24 weeks.”

24 weeks? How is that even possible? It’s not like a uterus is some Beverly Hills mansion and the doctor’s like, oh shit, I forgot to check the pool house for a fetus. I feel like even Doc McStuffins could look at a six month sonogram and see two kids.

Now I’m all worried that maybe there are two in there. And to be honest, it’s not news I would take in stride.

No offense to those parents of actors destined for Doublemint Gum commercials, but having twins sounds terrible. In addition to Tia, two other friends recently had twins, and they all reported crying upon receiving the news.

I mean, there’s the additional work load, and the compounded cost of doubling your family size instantly, but the thing I’d be most worried about if I had twins would be keeping track of who is who.

This is a fear I assume was imbued in me — as most things in my life are — by the TV show Full House. In one episode, Jesse has to care for his newborn twins alone for the first time, and after 90 seconds of crackerjack parenting can’t tell which baby is Nicky and which one is Alex.

Fortunately Jesse gets things under control just in time for the end credits to roll, but since I don’t have a stable of 1990s sitcom writers at my disposal, I doubt my resolution would be so succinct.

My buddy Matt, who just had twin girls, said mixing up your kids is a very real thing twin parents grapple with. He said initially he and his wife kept the kids separate by painting their toenails different colors. After a few months, he said he discovered one daughter has a small red birthmark behind one ear, and that has given him some piece of mind.

“That seems awfully convenient,” I said. “A birthmark just showing up out of nowhere like that. Are you sure your wife isn’t just marking her with a Sharpie every night before bed?”

Matt stopped and thought about it. “Well, I’m not anymore.”

I just know this is something I’d mess up because I have to deal with it at school.

As a teacher, I feel duty-bound to learn the names of my 150 students each year. It’s a task I take seriously because I’ve found I make a better impact when I can address the students by name. “Marcus, would you mind taking your seat?” is way more effective than “um, excuse me young man, would you please untie that child sitting next to you? He appears to be losing circulation.”

But when it comes to twins, I pretty much resign myself to never getting their names right.

Some twins make it easy. They find a way to differentiate themselves from each other, presumably not only to make things less awkward for their friends and family, but to salvage any scrap of individuality they might have left after their parents dressed them in identical outfits for the first decade of their lives. 

I went to high school with twin girls who eventually got so sick of being misidentified they agreed upon wearing different hairstyles. Once one sister got that short, sea urchin-looking haircut that was popular in the early 2000s, I lost all anxiety about calling them the wrong name, and I was a better friend. No longer were they a collective referred to as “the twins,” but two individual humans I could finally keep track of.

But I feel like some twins want you to be confused, as if they get some sort of sick pleasure out of you being wrong.

  Take last week, when one of my twin students walked into study hall. I said hello, but then I stopped him. “Wait,” I said. “Are you Gabe or Elliott?”

He stood there grinning at me, and I realized he wasn’t going to respond until I offered a guess. Because now it was a gameshow, where my other students were the live studio audience and I was the plucky but slow-witted contestant.

“Elliott?” I said.

“No, I’m Gabe,” he replied, pleased the way only a 14-year-old can be when an adult is publicly incorrect.

I guess I can forgive this sort of behavior from high school kids, but once it extends into adulthood, it goes from funny to creepy.

A few years ago, my school had openings for two English teachers, and my principal hired a set of twins to fill the positions.

I’m willing to concede that twins share an intangible, almost mystic bond with each other, a connection that can result in some odd behavior. But these two were so similar, we began calling them The Shining Twins.

It didn’t bother me that they went to the same college, or that they lived together, or that they clearly coordinated their outfits with each other before coming to school. It didn’t even bother me that their names — Tanea and Tanae — were one letter placement away from being identical. What bugged me was that when you called one of them the wrong name, they got pissed.

“Good morning Tanea,” I’d say to one of them in the teacher’s lounge.

“I’m TANAE,” the twin would growl, as though I’d mistaken her for her sister Eva Braun.

Not surprisingly, the Shining Twins put in for a transfer at the end of the school year, hopefully to a school where people would be more sensitive to the fact that they were completely different humans who just so happened to share the same face, clothing, apartment, profession, and name.

But for all of my efforts at identification, I’ve discovered there are some people out there who can’t be bothered. My teacher friend Pat, for example, recently banned a boy from his study hall because he kept smoking in the bathroom.

The day after he thew him out, the boy tried to enter his room, and Pat held up his hand.

“Oh no,” he said. “You can’t come in here. I banned you.”

The boy, confused, said he’d never visited Pat’s study hall before.

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Pat said. “We had this whole conversation yesterday. When I said you were banned for life, I meant it.”

The boy explained it was not him Pat had banned, but his twin brother. “We’re different people,” he said.

Pat considered this information for a moment, but ultimately decided to deny the brother access as well. “You’re both banned for life,” he said. “Get out of here.”

“You’re going to ban me because of something my brother did?” the boy said.

“That’s right,” Pat said. “I don’t have time to try and figure out whether it’s you or your brother. You’re out!” 

All this hidden twin talk had me pretty nervous, and I intended to grill the doc next time we had a sonogram. Unfortunately, because of new coronavirus regulations, I wasn’t allowed to attend.

Melinda told me when she got home that he’s happy and healthy, measuring around six-and-a-half pounds with three weeks to go.

I told her that sounded like a big baby, and then my heart caught in my throat. “Or…its TWO medium sized babies!”

“It’s not two babies,” she said.

“Did you ask the doctor specifically?” I asked.

Melinda said she didn’t, and the anxiety gears in my head continued to churn.

“I sweat to Christ,” I said. “If two kids come out of there, I’m pushing one back in.”  

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