Tag Archives: twins

Projects, Part Two… A Tale of Two Kids

So I wrote about how we’re moving to be more project based, but one of the major hitches in this plan has been two kids with radically different approaches to projects.  This is coming about especially for the projects they create for themselves.  Right now, we have a nice long chunk of time in the evening for them to work on projects that they’ve created.

BalletBoy immediately rolls down the hill.  Mushroom hangs back.
BalletBoy immediately rolls down the hill. Mushroom hangs back.

First, I’ve got BalletBoy.  Ever since BalletBoy became my little night owl (if he ever abandons the ballet, I may have redub him Night Owlet on the blog), he has been staying up late to do things.  He has written little books on his iPad, borrowing my keyboard and making illustrations for them on the Scribble Press app.  He has read books and drawn pictures and even sewn things on the sewing machines.  However, mostly he has programmed.  He has become a complete Scratch addict.  So much so that we all had to celebrate Scratch Day like a real holiday with a party.

Here’s a Scratch program he’s especially proud of.  The other night, the Husband came to tell me that BalletBoy fell asleep programming, his hands resting lightly on the keyboard and his head leaned back on the sofa.  The Husband had to remove the computer and carry him to bed.

Basically, when I set BalletBoy loose, he’ll come up with something to do and carry out most of his projects to completion.  He wants to share them with us and wants validation and support, but he doesn’t want us to do anything but play his games, read his stories, and generally praise his effort.  He might be the perfect project kid at the moment.  He wants to do projects, he’s open to some feedback, but he’s very set on doing his own vision.  He works diligently.  He turns out interesting things and doesn’t let himself get stuck in a rut.

Mushroom on the other hand…  Mushroom dreams big with great ideas for projects and ambitious plans.  He imagines elaborate Scratch games, writing screenplays, creating board games, drawing long series of comics, and more.  However, when it comes time to actually carry out his ideas past the initial exploration, it’s a flop.  He can spend hours imagining and planning, but when it’s time to do something, he always pulls back.  Even worse, the more he sees BalletBoy finish, the more he beats himself up and the less he does.  It had gotten to the point that he was wandering around every evening, complaining about being bored, refusing to work on anything, even refusing to dream big anymore.

The root of this is really his anxiety.  I’m not generally an anxious person, but I certainly recognize how anxiety keeps you from finishing things.  I don’t think I finished a single math assignment throughout high school.  If I just left the last problem or two unfinished, I knew it wasn’t really done, and therefore not really a reflection on my math abilities.  That was a pretty silly justification, but I know that’s how I felt.  For Mushroom, he is afraid to fail, which makes him afraid to commit to really doing anything.

If he was content to not finish things for awhile, that would be okay, but he’s clearly suffering and unfulfilled by this state of affairs.  He has always wanted time to himself to do things, but then struggled to figure out what to do with that time.  I worry that if I simply leave him to it and let him be that he will build up a bigger and bigger block about finishing things.  I see this when he doesn’t have an experience for awhile that’s in his anxiety provoking category.  If he doesn’t run across a dog for a couple of months or doesn’t get a chance to be outside on his own for a few weeks thanks to weather, those things become more and more difficult for him.  On the other hand, the more he does them, the easier and more routine they are, usually with minimal anxiety and fuss.

Mushroom and I have been in talks about all this.  He is, after all, an incredibly self-reflective kid.  He agrees that he’d like me to help him carry things out and finish things.  A couple of weeks ago, with him alone in the house for the afternoon, I suggested we finish a project together.  His enthusiasm for the completion of it was ecstatic.  Close your eyes and remember how good it feels to finish things, I told him.  Below is the little movie we made that afternoon (he did most of the camerawork and all the editing and had the vision, I helped with some of the art).

We’re trying out making a list of projects he’d like to do.  It’s a short list.  When he finishes one, he has to take it off the list and also take at least one other project off the list, a project that will never be finished.  The idea is that there’s this list of options, but he knows that some of them will never be completed and some of them will.  So far, this is working and he’s been more productive than before when we’ve tried to list things he’d like to do and it seemed too open ended or too intimidating.  Right now, he’s working mostly on inventing his own candy and trying to finish an online Code Academy course on Javascript.

Coming up next…  Projects for “School”


Separating Twins

We’re on our school break right now, so things have been slow here.  I really like this rhythm of starting our vacation as everyone else goes back.  Not because it feels like thumbing our noses at the schooled world (well, maybe a little because of that) but mostly because it lets us ease into activities as they ramp up, appreciate all the various fall festivals, and take trips when no one else is traveling.

To that final end, the Husband and I took separate trips with the kids this year.  We did this awhile back and felt it was high time to do it again.  So the Husband went off to New York City on the Megabus to take BalletBoy to row in Central Park, walk through the High Line, wander the neighborhoods, see The Lion King, and indulge in all the various sweets New York has to offer.


Meanwhile, Mushroom and I gallivanted off to Williamsburg, where we rode rides at Busch Gardens, slid down the water slides at Great Wolf Lodge, helped stop loyalist spies in the colonial city, ate lots of delish food, and battled dragons in Magiquest.


We don’t do these things often enough, but with all the brotherly squabbles we’ve had lately, it’s been present in my mind how important it is for my duo to get time apart.  It’s also   Of course, when they reunite is what’s special, because they are able to show how much they love each other.

Now activities are back in full swing.  Soccer games, ballet classes, co-op, piano lessons…  But I feel like we’re still at our leisurely pace even as the weather cools off.

Twinship Drama


I feel like I’ve been observing a lot of twin struggles and behaviors at the Rowhouse lately.  A jumble of thoughts…

  • When the boys talk to each other, they go a million miles a minute, skip words and mumble.  I never thought of them as having a twinspeak before, but approaching age nine, they still sound so unintelligible when they talk to each other.  I’ve started to wonder if it might be considered a form of twinspeak.
  • Mushroom drives BalletBoy crazy when he gets overly anxious and throws up drama.
  • BalletBoy drives Mushroom crazy by needing to play all the time.  He’d rather have more quiet times and BalletBoy being a whiner at him only makes it worse.
  • Mushroom still needs his sleep like a toddler.  Early to bed early to rise.  BalletBoy is slowly working on becoming a night owl this summer.
  • BalletBoy is often furious at Mushroom for dreaming up a game or a new facet of their imaginary world together and then not being interested in playing together with it more.
  • BalletBoy is tentatively more adventurous lately.  He will walk to the faraway park instead of the corner park, but Mushroom’s anxiety keeps him from going.

Overall, I see a lot of tension between them.  They’ve always been so in sync and so harmonious that I think they don’t fully understand that they’re separate people.  Maybe that’s an extreme statement, but it does feel like they see each other almost like appendages of themselves.  They assume that the other will always want what they want, always agree, always go along.  Of course, the older they get, the less true that will be.  For the first time since they were out of diapers, they have laid hands on each other in anger a couple of times this summer.  It was quite a shock to me and a shock to them too, I think.  No terrible hurts, but I see it a possible signpost of tween and teen twin trouble down the road.

Next month, the Husband and I will take them on separate weekend getaways, which should be good for their budding separation.

A Tale of Two Boys

As Mushroom and BalletBoy get older, I’m seeing their learning styles differentiate more and more.  They’ve always been in different places on many things.  I’ve posted in the past about how BalletBoy surged ahead of Mushroom in reading pretty early on, for example.  However, as they get older, their individuality comes into play more and more.

Right now, at least, Mushroom is thriving with read alouds.  He has been more articulate and has improved so much at narrations.  As he has relaxed with schoolwork in the last few weeks, he has shown his ability to make connections and really think about things.  His handwriting is nice, if slow.  In fact, he does everything pretty slowly and deliberately, but when he does something creative, it’s wonderful.  He is finally enjoying math again, but only when it’s playful and loose.  He has been doing a lot more with Miquon lately.  His reading is improving, but it’s still slow.  He doesn’t read for pleasure yet because his confidence isn’t good enough.

BalletBoy enjoys stories read aloud, but he increasingly gets less from our history and science read alouds.  I’ve just started giving him his own reading material on those subjects, which he doesn’t love, but can do quickly enough and seems to retain much better.  His writing is fast and he generally does all his work quickly.  With math, he has been doing well with Math Mammoth’s ample practice.  He likes doing logic problems.  He is picky with books, but he reads well on his own when he finds something he’s into.

Both wonderful kids.  But different kids.

In a perfect world, I would give BalletBoy more school reading, keep him doing Math Mammoth and the Singapore Challenging Word Problems, and push him to do a little more free reading.  I would cuddle Mushroom on the sofa and read aloud to him all the time, let him just do Miquon Math, play games and read living math books, and give him extra narrations to do.

The problem is, there’s not quite enough school time for me to facilitate both those approaches.  Plus, there’s the comparisons issue.  I work with them on it, and I think they’re really not that bad about it, but it’s still there.  The more I change what curricula they each use, the harder it can be for them.

I’m not sure how much I’m going to differentiate for them.  Hopefully I’ll find the tightrope line between tailoring so much it takes too much out of me and tailoring enough that they get to realize their strengths.  The sweet spot where they both stay challenged and don’t fall behind yet aren’t pushed to do things they can’t or compare themselves to each other in ways that don’t seem to help.

Hey, That’s My Thing!

One of the things we’ve been struggling with recently is twin identity.  BalletBoy’s thing has always been…  well…  ballet.  At the start of the fall, Mushroom decided he wanted to join BalletBoy’s ballet class.  After an initial hesitation, BalletBoy agreed, but at the end of the term, he was clearly relieved that Mushroom intended to drop it.  Then, just before the re-enrollment deadline, their ballet teacher moved away and they got a new one.  Mushroom decided to stay in the class after all and BalletBoy spent a full week moping about it.  He was wonderful about expressing his feelings.  He just felt sad.  Then, after some heart to hearts, he accepted that his brother wanted to stay in the class and moved on from thinking about it.

I’m really proud of him, but it brings up some issues.  First and foremost, I want my kids to be able to find their own paths yet still celebrate their twinness.  We are completely unsure of whether they’re identical or fraternal*, but either way, I want them to forge their own paths.  However, if they want to follow each other, that’s okay as well.  But it has to be okay for each of them.  It was clearly important to BalletBoy that he have something that was all his.  Now that Mushroom has honed in on that, I’m sure he’s feeling his identity pressed upon.  Yet I don’t have the heart to discourage Mushroom.

When Mushroom and BalletBoy were tiny, I thought that by the time they were six years old, they would have separate rooms, separate clothes, separate toys and separate personalities.  They are very different in some ways.  I’ve written before about how they read on radically different levels with reading and often approach learning very differently.  They also have different outlooks on life in general.  Where BalletBoy is usually sanguine, Mushroom is decidedly a miniature pessimist.  But the rest of those separates never came to fruition.  They sleep in the family bed with us and couldn’t care less about their rooms.  They draw from the same dresser of clothes and have never said they want it different.  Other than a couple of items, like their DS’s, they share everything.  World leaders could learn a lot from listening to these two negotiate and take turns.  They’re so brilliantly mature about it most of the time, it boggles my mind sometimes.  But in a way, that makes it all the more important that when they want to do their own thing, that I help support that for them.

There’s no simple answer.  But I’m thinking about it, working on it and trying to be aware.

*Note: Many people seem confused as to how we could not know our sons’ twin status.  The reality is that many twin parents don’t know or think they know but are actually mistaken.  Many of the ways doctors tell parents that they “know” the twin status are false.  Obviously, boy-girl twins and twins with radically different features like hair or eye color are fraternal.  Mushroom and BalletBoy look very alike and I suspect they may be identical, though fraternals run in my family and there are certainly a number of distinguishing features between them.  Nor do they have much of the sameness in personality, interests, learning style or pace that many people report with identicals, though they certainly have the sense of closeness.  At some point we’ll get around to testing them, I’m sure.

How the Kids are Learning to Read

Mushroom looking through Fly Guy.

One of the good things about having twins (and there are many, which is a relief to discover because most of these good things never showed themselves during the infant and toddler years) is that you can see two kids learn the same things in completely different ways.  Mushroom and BalletBoy often leapfrog each other in skills.  They take a yin yang approach to being “the difficult one.”  Mushroom was usually the first to do everything when they were tiny.  Sitting, crawling, babbling and all that.  Not to be outdone, BalletBoy spent months working on pulling up and cruising.  Then, one day, he took off and walked weeks before Mushroom did.  You can’t imagine what a difficult time we spent with poor Mushroom when he realized his brother had a skill he hadn’t even conceived of yet.

In some ways, this is exactly how BalletBoy learned to read.  He spent a long time working out the sounds and putting them together.  While it didn’t quite happen overnight, one day he was just reading, even if it was just some common words and very simple phonics, he was doing it on his own.  Mushroom, on the other hand, initially had the exact same reaction that he had when he saw BalletBoy walk for the first time.  His frustration level with the world, in particular the world of words, went way up.  When he didn’t catch up to his brother quickly, I began to get worried.  I had no fear that he was behind in any way.  My worry was that his frustration would get the better of him or that he would develop a conception of himself as a non-reader.

Mushroom is still struggling to catch up to his brother in reading.  I hope he won’t develop a conception of himself as “the one who doesn’t read.”  He definitely relies on BalletBoy to read all kinds of things, like TV shows listed on the Tivo, notes I leave them in the morning, or cards sent by grandparents.  However, he got over his frustration about it a long time ago and is making a genuine effort to learn to read when we sit down together or play reading games.  He seems to have accepted that different people learn at different rates and in different ways.  He knows there are things he can do that BalletBoy can’t yet, such as swim across the pool.  If he can carry that lesson with him for the rest of his life, then that’s more important than learning to read Frog and Toad before you’re six.  It may also be another benefit of being a twin, like learning to share before all the other toddlers.  The irony is that I suspect Mushroom may turn out to be a better reader than his brother.  He looks for context and has a much better ear for stories.  He can anticipate what’s coming next in a book, even a complex one.  The other day, while we listened to Half Magic by Edward Eager, he immediately understood that a character the children meet in a bookstore was the same character the children’s mother met on the road and that he would probably marry the mother.  He was so excited by the realization, I had to pause the book so he could explain it.  As an adult reader, it’s all very obvious plot devices, but it was the sort of thing I didn’t expect the kids to pick up on until it had been spelled out more clearly.  I was impressed.  Once you get the decoding part down, being able to understand stories and foreshadowing like that becomes pretty essential.

We haven’t been using a formal program for reading.  Next year, we may do something a little more formal.  I once heard an elementary teacher tell a homeschooler that you can’t teach reading without an expensive program, which I find completely absurd, as if money somehow equals quality.  Pardon my sarcasm, but I wonder if the parents of great eighteenth centuries writers had expensive reading programs.  I also see where homeschoolers are sometimes pretty harsh with each other, condemning any early reading materials that were written after the first World War (apparently our grammar is rather cruddy these days) or suggesting that if you let your kids see the pictures in the early readers, you’ll ruin their ability to learn to read.  When I taught, I often told students that there were some wrong answers, but there wasn’t one right answer.  I feel the same about learning to read.  I find it impossible to believe there’s one right way to learn anything, not even learning to read.  I also think, that while it’s good to have studies about what works and what doesn’t, in the end all learning is personal.

We have been using some of the BOB books with Mushroom.  Both the kids have played on Starfall and a few other early reading sites.  Mostly though, we’ve just been playing homemade games, sounding out words on cards and making words with Banagrams tiles or old fridge letter magnets.  BalletBoy especially likes a game we call “Reading Treasure Hunt” probably because it ends with a few chocolate chips.  I give the kids a series of clues that I hide around the house.  If the first clue reads, “Rug” then they’ll find the next clue under the rug.  This used to be a cooperative game, but their levels are so different I break them up now.  Mushroom gets clues like “Look in the pot.” and “Look in the tub.”  BalletBoy gets clues like “Go to the coldest place in the house.” and “Look inside a book with a red cover on the top shelf.”  After about half an hour of scouring the house, they find the final clue, which leads to the chocolate chips.  Chocolate chips and pride, that is.

Gender and Kids

This is a topic that’s been on my mind a good bit lately.  The other day, at our corner park, a couple of little girls berated my son for several minutes because they simply didn’t believe him when he said he was a boy.  “Are you sure?” one of them asked repeatedly.  I wanted to go over there and point out that he had a penis.  BalletBoy, in his infinite sweetness, just chewed his long hair and looked at them like they were on some other planet, which to him, I suppose they were.  However, he’s been getting it from the kids in T-Ball as well.  And he’s been getting it out in the world more and more.  I notice that he’s either grown extra oblivious to people calling him a girl or weary with correcting people because I rarely hear him even bother anymore.  If he’s pressed on it, he simply says, “I just like girls more than boys.”

I think that nowadays, in the homes of white, well-educated, middle class families, it’s pretty common to let toddlers and preschoolers play dress up in their sisters’ princess costumes.  I think it’s even pretty common to let them dress themselves however they wish, and that includes little pink dresses.  I know that’s not everywhere, but among the people I know, it was pretty common to see little boys, especially little brothers, in dresses, with genuinely nonchalant parents who know that a dress doesn’t make their sons girls any more than a superhero cape gives them the ability to fly.

But then most of those kids head off to school, where gender conformity is enforced through peer pressure, especially for boys.  The husband and I have often lamented that while there are plenty tomboy role models in literature and TV for girls, there’s not even an equivalent word for boys who like stereotypical girl things.  Thankfully, BalletBoy isn’t headed off to school any time in the near future, because if he did, I’m sure his hot pink Keens, purple T-shirts, and maybe even his love of ballet would all go the way of the dodo.  Kids would tell him there was something wrong with the things that he’s chosen to make up his sense of self.  He would begin to believe that he couldn’t love pink or needed to get his long hair cut.  He would be changed.  As it is, homeschooling is protecting him from that, at least until he gets some maturity and has to deal with that mysterious animal called the “real world” more.  Almost none of my sons’ playmates have ever even been to school.  They think BalletBoy’s look is totally normal because they have known him for ages and see him as an individual.  While they might exert peer pressure in some ways, they’re mostly pretty positive ones, encouraging the each other to play together, to share, not to be mean.

Having a son, especially a twin, who doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes has been an eye-opening experience for me as a parent.  For one thing, it makes me furious every time I hear a parent say something like, “I always thought it was how they were raised, but then I had my son and he only wants to play with trucks and my daughter just loves all that Disney princess stuff no matter how I discourage her, so I guess it’s all just hard wired into them!”  And trust me, I’ve heard that a lot since becoming a parent.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how my kids are “wired” and I think it shows that gender simply isn’t the only determinant of likes and dislikes in life.  My kids like a lot of “boy” things, but they also love their baby dolls and they used to love their play kitchen.  I’m sure some boys are born with some innate desire to push wheeled toys around, but I’m also sure that’s not every single one because both BalletBoy and Mushroom seem rank toy cars near the bottom of the toy ladder.  They like building materials a lot more.  And so did I when I was their age.

Second, watching how people react to BalletBoy shows me how completely we rely on the most crude external clues to inform our understanding of gender.  He has long hair and pink shoes, therefore, people assume that he’s a girl.  Never mind that he looks identical to his twin brother.  One look at the hair and even though he’s in a baseball shirt and a pair of jeans and their opinion is formed.  I don’t mind that and I don’t fault them for it.  But I’ve realized that our expectations of children fitting into gender stereotypes are even more set than when we look at adults.  I think this is because we expect adults to make choices about their appearance, but many people don’t see children as being capable of controlling their own appearance or making those kinds of decisions.  I think our society expects children to be very simple in every possible way, not fully fleshed out individuals, and that absolutely includes our ideas about gender.

Finally, let me just say that I have almost no doubt that my son’s propensity for pink and frills is more about defining his identity as separate from his brother’s than anything else.  Yes, he does actually like flowery things and ballet and the color purple.  He gets all doe eyed at me when I put on a fancy dress because he thinks it’s so amazing.  But he also has claimed these things very clearly as his own, not his twin’s.  My two boys share a lot, but this is one way that I’ve seen them carve out separate space.  You should have seen the look of relief they both gave me when I suggested to them more than two years ago that they didn’t have to have the same haircut.  BalletBoy decided to leave his long, thus heading down a path that has eventually led us to his borderline heavy metal length hair today.

It's not girl hair, it's rock star hair.