Twins

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Harry Potter

*insert Harry Potter reference just because I can*

Growing up in a family of seven children, I was used to people making a big deal out of the size of my family. I didn’t mind that. I didn’t really even mind when people were shocked to discover that there were two sets of identical twins in the family. What did bother me was when people assumed that the fact that I had a twin sister was a core part of my identity. It’s true that my twin sister and I have a lot in common, and that, since we’re the same age, we did a lot of things together that didn’t involve our younger siblings. But both of us are individual people, and neither one of us appreciated the way we were always linked together, whether we liked it or not. We could never get away from it and people would never let us ignore it.

Now that I’m older, the fact that I’m a twin doesn’t play as large a role in my day-to-day interactions. Most of the people that I meet don’t know that I have a twin, and I don’t go out of my way to volunteer that information unless I’m specifically talking about my family to someone I know relatively well. But I still have to put up with the fact that, once someone knows I have a twin, they assume that my twin and I are essentially the same person, or at the very least, that our relationship is almost supernaturally close. It’s somewhat deliberate that I virtually always say “my sister” instead of “my twin sister” or “my twin”.

Especially when I was a child, but even now, my sisters and I frequently get asked what being twins is like. That’s a hard question to answer, since we’ve been twins from the beginning and I don’t know exactly what it’s like to not have a twin. But I imagine that it’s actually pretty similar to not having a twin. This blog post touches on some of the misconceptions I’ve heard most frequently and why they’re not true.

Just for the record, I want to make clear that I am speaking for myself and not for my twin sister, or my younger sisters who are also twins, or for any other twins. I do intend to send my sisters a copy of this post before I actually put it online, and I will change anything that they vehemently disagree with, but this post is not meant to speak on anyone else’s behalf. Which brings me to point number one…

Twins are not interchangeable

twinsIf I say something, that doesn’t mean that my twin sister agrees with it. If she is upset about something or excited about something, that doesn’t mean that I feel the same way. If one of us has a skill or specialized knowledge, especially if it’s something that we worked hard to acquire, that doesn’t mean that the other one has it. I think everyone technically understands this, but it’s amazing how often people react to something one of us has said as if we said it together, or how often people joke about one of us taking the other’s place.

Aside from being untrue, it’s very hurtful. There are times when we were children that my sister and I both got in trouble for something that just one of us said. When we were in our teens and finally got to split ways by taking different kinds of dance, people could never remember which of us was an Irish dancer and which of us was a ballet dancer, which upset us both because our own respective dance forms were very important to us both. And all throughout my life, I have had to put up with people occasionally making comments that my sister could fill in for me if I had to take time off from school or dance or work. Even if such remarks are made humorously, it undermines my identity as a human being and the work I’ve put into establishing my own identity and skills to suggest that another person, even my twin, could successfully “be” me.

Even identical twins don’t have everything in common

Sweet Valley Kids

Not gonna lie, I did love this series as a kid.

Not only are my sister and I not interchangeable, we aren’t really identical, either. The term “identical twins” refers to twins who developed out of the same fertilized egg, and yes, that means that at one time very, very early in our existence, we shared the same tiny little undeveloped body before we split into two separate bodies. Therefore, we have identical or nearly-identical DNA, (fun fact: identical twins don’t necessarily have the exact same DNA) but not everything is genetic. Scientists and doctors may debate about the respective roles of nature and nurture, but everyone agrees that at least some aspects of personality, opinions and preferences, and even physical appearance, are not genetic. Even very young twins will have some differences, and by the time they’re teens or adults, identical twins will have each developed their own identities in a large number of ways.

My twin sister and I do not have exactly the same personality. We do not dress the same way or do our makeup the same way. Last I knew, we do wear our hair in similar ways, but she has dyed her hair and I haven’t, with the result that we don’t actually look the same in terms of hair. We have slightly different tastes in books, music, movies, and TV shows. There are some differences between our political opinions. We have never liked the same foods, not since we first started eating solid food, which is something that often took people by surprise when we were kids. In college, we studied different things. Although we have some shared hobbies and interests, there are also a lot of differences in the things we like to do, and now that we’re adults, even our day-to-day lives are completely different.

On the flip side, some people like to pick up on the differences between twins and act as if they’re exact opposite. For example, twins often find themselves labelled “the quiet twin” and “the loud twin” or “the nice twin” and “the mean twin” or “the silly twin” and “the serious twin.” My twin sister and I don’t get this as often as our younger sisters who are twins, but it’s annoying to hear even on occasion. And it’s always hurtful to get stuck with an unflattering label.

Lots of twins don’t like being twins

Double Act

I remember this book just well enough to recall that it’s about a rocky relationship between twin sisters.

I don’t have statistics available for this one, but most of the twins I’ve known, including me and my twin sister, really didn’t like it. Just like any other sibling, a twin sibling will sometimes be your worst enemy and sometimes be your best friend and rarely be anywhere in between, at least not as long as you live under the same roof. My twin sister and I had lots of good times together, but we hated having to share everything, even our friends and our reputations. We fought with each other even more than with our younger siblings, which was probably because we shared a room for our entire childhood. But what really made it rough was other people’s reactions. People assumed so many stereotypes, asked so many questions, made so many jokes, and couldn’t tell us apart even when we helpfully pointed out differences between us. I remember one time when we still took dance together when our teacher addressed us as “Twin X and Twin O,” as if we didn’t even have real names. Our parents thought they were being helpful by not referring to us as “the twins”, but we got called “the girls” all the time at home, which was almost as bad and even more confusing, since there are six girls in my family. So, long story short, in case you’re wondering, no, being twins isn’t fun.

Granted, there are some twins out there who do like it, usually because they get along better overall with their twins than I did with mine. I had roommates in college who were twins, and they did everything together by choice and never gave me any reason to believe that they wanted anything different. I haven’t really stayed in touch with them, but they frequently post highly affectionate things about each other on Facebook. That’s great for them and for other pairs of twins who feel the same way, but I’d like the record to show that it doesn’t always work that way.

Twins do not have ESP

Twins shining

If twins really had the kind of telepathic communication that some people imagine, I would completely understand why twins can be seen as creepy.

I think most people are aware that twins don’t actually have some sort of supernatural means of communication, but it’s amazing how many people still assume that one twin is supposed to know everything that happens to the other twin. It’s been a while since people have asked me if I can feel my sister’s pain or sense when something happens to her, but I used to hear those kinds of questions a lot. Sometimes, people will ask me what she thinks about something, which is something that I obviously only know if she tells me. And sometimes, even family members think they can check in on one of us by asking the other, as if we somehow have closer communication with each other than with other family members. By the way, in our case, that’s not true. We do keep in contact through social media and occasional texts and emails, but we don’t communicate with each other any more than with our other siblings.

Some twins do develop their own forms of communication, more often as babies or toddlers than later in life. Researchers say that about forty percent of pairs of twins have their own language, called autonomous language because they make them up by themselves. The term cryptophasia has also been used. That is actually significantly higher than I would have guessed, but the important things to note is that it’s a lot less than one hundred percent and that it’s a phenomenon not limited to twins. It can occur between any two very young children who spend enough time together to use each other as a model for learning language, and there is nothing extrasensory about it.

All those stories you’ve heard about amazing coincidences involving twins are just that: coincidences. Even if you believe in some sort of supernatural link between twins, I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly doesn’t always work that way. I have never instinctively known what’s going on in my sister’s life, or in her mind, unless you count situations in which I had enough background information to make an informed guess. I can’t think of any instances where we have had the exact same experience, unless we had that experience together or there was some other perfectly normal link between the two events or situations. And yes, twins do sometimes finish each other’s sentences, but so do non-twin siblings and friends who spend a lot of time together.

Twin jokes can be hurtful

Yes, it’s true that some people have a hard time telling us apart. No, that’s not funny. It’s actually kind of sad, and downright insulting if it’s someone who knows us well. Yes, if we tried hard enough, we could probably do a reasonable job of pretending to be each other for a short period of time, as long as we weren’t trying to fool people who know either of us very well. No, we don’t switch places all the time just to play a joke on people. And no, we couldn’t successfully switch places just for one of us to get out of doing things, and if we did, that wouldn’t be very funny, either. It would be immoral and unfair and kind of creepy. Yes, we sometimes argue, and we sometimes say things that sound mean even when we aren’t actually fighting. No, it’s not hilarious that it’s even possible for twins to fight or disagree. Yes, having an identical twin is essentially the same thing as having a clone. No, that’s not particularly funny. Maybe it’s an interesting science fact, but it’s not actually humorous. Yes, we’re twins, and maybe that is fascinating, but there’s nothing intrinsically funny about it and I have always found it confusing that other people, even family members, are so quick to poke fun at the situation.

The rule of thumb is really the same as it is for any other situation. If you make a joke about another person and they are upset, or inform you that they find it hurtful, then don’t make that joke again. The person who bears the brunt of the joke is the person who gets to decide whether that joke is hurtful, not the person who makes the joke about other people. If you hurt someone’s feelings by joking about something that makes them different than you, the correct thing to do is to be apologetic and avoid hurting their feelings again, not to insist that they’re being overly sensitive.

 

In the spirit of internet articles, I probably ought to finish this post by writing a paragraph about how having a twin is actually amazing after all because of all the wonderful things about my relationship with my twin sister. And it is true that there are some positive things about our relationship. It’s true that when we were little, we were built-in playmates, and that we still have a lot of shared memories, inside jokes, and similar experiences. But all that would be the case even if we were a year or two apart. In fact, those are all things that are true to a large extent of my relationship with my younger sisters, too, and they’re nearly five years younger than me. (Not to mention my brother who is in between the two sets of twins in age.) So in the grand scheme of things, being a twin hasn’t made my life better than it would have been otherwise. It’s just the way things are, and it’s not any more of a defining trait of mine than my relationship with any of my other family members.

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Assorted Childhood Memories

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When I was a baby, the wallpaper in my room had forest animals. I have been told that the design I remember was only a horizontal stripe, not the whole wall, but I remember it as covering more space than that because I was so small and it was right at eye level from my crib.

This picture was actually taken long before I was born, and I never knew Lysander as a kitten, but it's the only picture of him that I happen to have on my computer. He lived back in those olden days when cameras used film.

This picture was actually taken long before I was born, and I never knew Lysander as a kitten, but it’s the only picture of him that I happen to have on my computer. He lived back in those olden days when cameras used film.

I was adopted at birth by Lysander, one of my parents’ three cats. Lysander was black with yellow eyes, larger than average, and had the voice and personality of a Siamese. He was so intelligent and so capable of communication with people that I was about eight years old before I even realized that cats were supposed to be inferior to people in any way. From the time when I was a baby, Lysander would watch over me at night. When I went to bed, he would come with me and lie down next to me. I would put my arm over him so that I would know he was there even with my eyes closed, and he would reach out and put a paw on my cheek. My mother thought that we were so adorable that one time, when my parents had friends over late at night, she brought them to look at me through the doorway when she thought I was asleep.

There were nights when I would wake up crying and my father would take me downstairs and sit on the sofa in the darkened living room and sing Hey Jude and American Pie until I fell asleep. I remember staring at the grandfather clock and wondering what a Chevy was and what a levy was.

I don’t very clearly remember our church in Chicago, but I do have very specific memories of looking around the congregation and noticing that whenever I made eye contact with someone, they smiled at me. And I wondered if all adults had a rule that when a child looks at them, they had to smile. At some point, I thought that those smiles were in response to me putting a coin in the offering plate, because that was the only part of the service that involved any participation, since I couldn’t read yet. Sometimes, I would accidentally drop the coin instead of getting it in the plate, and then when I would look around and people would smile at me anyway, I would feel a little guilty.

When we lived in Chicago, there was a large family who lived near us, and a couple of the older girls babysat us. I don’t remember any of their names or very much about them, except that we were very good friends with them. I think that they homeschooled, and that their influence was probably part of what led my parents to start homeschooling. We were pretty close to our neighbors across the street, too. I don’t remember anything about them except that I think they were an elderly couple, and that one time, when we were at their house, I licked their glass door because I thought that was the only way to clear condensation off of a glass surface. There was a woman from our church that was a very good friend of the family, and she frequently babysat us, either at our house or where she lived. My memories of her home are very jumbled and vague. I don’t even remember if it was a house or an apartment or some type of condo, because I think I recall that other people lived in the same building, but I remember the outside of the building as a regular house similar to ours. The only memories I have of her home that I know are accurate are the wooden ducks that she had. I was fascinated by the fact that the male duck had a green head and the female duck was tan. I think that she also had a lot of small glass decorations displayed on shelves right past her front door, and that there was a large stuffed lion or tiger or something like that.

There was a girl named Brittany in my dance class, and she sometimes came home with me and my sister. I was jealous of her because she had Disney princess underwear. My underwear was pretty cool, too; it had the days of the week, but at the age I was then, Disney princess underwear outranked days-of-the-week underwear.

Every morning, Lysander would tell me when to get up, and I would go to my parents’ room and say, “Is it morning yet?” And they would look at the clock and say, “Not for you.” I would then point out that Lysander had told me it was morning, before going back to my room to pet Lysander. I have no idea what time I usually got up back then, but it must have been pretty early, because I do remember that it was always still dark.

Look what I just found on Google images! Oh, the memories!

Look what I just found on Google images! Oh, the memories!

My mother taught me to read using a book called “Teach Your Child to Read in One Hundred Easy Lessons”, or something along those lines. It was a large paperback book with an off-white cover, although that cover had mostly fallen off long before the youngest of my siblings finished the book. Those lessons actually weren’t very easy at all, but they evidently were effective, because after I got through that book, I was always considered a good reader for my age. As frustrating as it was at the time, I have fond memories of that book, and I still remember a lot of the goofy stories that were at the end of each lesson.

I went through a phase where I was obsessed with manatees. It started when my grandmother gave me a manatee Beanie Baby, and I didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t realized there were animals that I didn’t know; it astonished me that the world was still full of those kinds of wonders and surprises even when I had already reached the mature and sophisticated age of four and a half years. As it happened, the world still had plenty of new animals I had never heard of, such as the duck-billed platypus and the sloth and various odd sea creatures and bizarre insects, but none of those revelations fascinated me quite as much as the discovery that there were things such as manatees. So manatees became my favorite animal, and I can’t remember exactly when or why I stopped being so interested by them.

In our front yard at the house in Iowa, there was a large maple tree. My mother took a picture of me hugging that tree the day we moved in. That tree really meant a lot to me and I don’t even remember why. (Incidentally, I happen to know from Google Earth that it has been cut down since we moved away from that house, which is really sad.) In our back yard, we had a tree that we later found out was a crabapple tree, but for the first few years we lived there, we didn’t know what it was. Most years, it didn’t produce any fruit at all, but it had beautiful flowers in the springtime. They usually only lasted for about a week.

Look what else I found on Google images! This was what my first Bible looked like.

Look what else I found on Google images! This was what my first Bible looked like.

One Sunday in church when I was about five, my mother handed me a hymnal and told me that I could follow along now that I could read. It actually took me a little while to figure out the format of the hymnal, but that was a pretty big deal to me to be old enough to use a hymnal in church. On Easter 1997, my parents gave me my own hymnal. It was the LW (Lutheran Worship) because that’s what our church used at the time, although I’m now much more familiar with both the TLH (The Lutheran Hymnal) and the LSB. (Lutheran Service Book) My favorite hymn was “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice”, and I kept a piece of paper on that page. It was pink, and it stained the edges of the hymnal. My first Bible was a Christmas gift; I don’t remember whether it was in 1996 or 1997. It eventually fell apart, and I was going to get rid of it after I got a new Bible in 2004, but I think the old one is actually still packed up in a box that got put in my parents’ garage when I left for college.

At one time, each of my siblings and I were limited to two sheets of scrap paper a day for coloring and writing. Later, we each were allowed to own a ream of colored paper. Mine was pink. We still were originally limited to two sheets a day, but that was still a major upgrade because the paper was double-sided and because colored paper is a lot more interesting than white paper. I wish I had kept more of the stories I wrote when I was little. I have memories of a story that overused the word “declare” because I was proud of myself for knowing what it meant, and a story where I didn’t allow myself to ever use a word twice consecutively, and a lot of stories where I started by introducing all of the characters and didn’t get much farther because that was the best part. As I wrote, I had a habit of letting each line slant downward as it approached the right-hand side of the page, and the slope of that diagonal would become steeper with each line. For that reason, every single page had a blank spot in the lower left corner. It was a major, life-changing event when I started using lined paper.

The television was downstairs, and we didn’t use it very much. There were occasional family movies on weekend afternoons, but those were special and unusual events. My father would sometimes watch television late at night, either alone or with my mother, but he usually didn’t start until after I was in bed. The sounds of the television would sometimes come up through the air conditioning vents, which bothered me because the sounds were distorted and sometimes sounded scary. Long before I ever saw Doctor Who, I knew it as something my father watched that had a very eerie theme song. We did watch sports sometimes. For a while, we were major Chicago Bulls fans. I don’t actually remember much about the game of basketball and I no longer enjoy it. I think that the main reason I liked it so much when I was little was that it was fun to watch television with my father, especially when there were pretzels involved.

There was a member of our church who worked for the local radio station. I don’t even remember his real name, because I always referred to him as Mr. Radio Station Man, which my parents thought was pretty funny. Once a week, on Friday mornings if I recall correctly, he played nothing but requests for a certain amount of time. My father called in a request every single week. Sometimes it was a song that had come up in conversation recently, sometimes it was a song that he had sung around the house that we had doubted was a real song, and sometimes it was just a song that we really liked. There were a number of songs that were major family favorites for a short amount of time, and most of us also liked anything by the Beatles. Mr. Radio Station Man liked the Beach Boys. There was a special event that occurred once a year on a Saturday in the summer. It was called Superbee Saturday because the radio station called itself “The Bee.” Beforehand, all of the radio station’s listeners would submit a vote for their five favorite songs. It had to have been a top 40 hit during a certain time period. (I don’t remember what that time period was, but all of the songs that won were oldies) The votes would be tallied, and on Superbee Saturday, the top 100 songs would be played in descending order over the course of the day. My father would turn on every radio in the house so that we could all listen no matter what we were doing.

In our town in Iowa, there were parades on a regular basis. The best part about parades was the high school marching band. We actually got to see and hear them even if there wasn’t a parade, because they would often pass right by our house when they were practicing. In the fall, there would be high school football games, and we would usually go a couple times a year. The marching band was the highlight of that, too, but it was also exciting to get to stay up late. And it was exciting to walk to the football field, which was only a couple blocks from our house, along with a crowd of other people, many of whom we knew. I was unaccustomed enough to sports events that to me, the crowd that gathered to watch a small-town highschool football game seemed like a multitude. I never understood the game at all and I never cared who won or lost, and it didn’t bother me at all that we always left before the game was over. It was fun just to be there. But it was also kind of fun when we were at home while a game was going on and could hear the sounds coming from the field.

Lysander’s birthday was on May 13, which was conveniently when the catnip was most plentiful. We had lots of catnip in our yard in Iowa, and it came back more profusely each year. By the time we moved, the catnip plants were growing to sizes that surpassed garden-store-catnip to such an extent that it was getting ridiculous. Of course, we brought catnip leaves inside for the cats on a regular basis throughout the spring, but Lysander’s birthday was the biggest catnip day of the year. We would use my plastic tea set to have a party for Lysander. For tea, we soaked catnip leaves in water. Lysander loved it.

Meet KirstenFor a few years, my mother would read books to us before bedtime. The American Girl books were the ones that I remember most clearly. I distinctly remember that we started with Kirsten, and that we read the third chapter of the first Kirsten book on Halloween one year. I also remember one night when my mother accidentally sat on Lysander’s tail while reading to us. I interrupted her to point that out, and she stood up and moved his tail out of the way and told him that he should have said something. He looked at her with confusion and annoyance that she had stopped reading.

Next door lived a couple who sat out on their porch very frequently. They had a ramp going up to the porch because the woman was in a wheelchair; I think I remember my father saying that she had had polio when she was young. They really enjoyed watching us play and talking to us, so we spent a lot of time sitting on their porch and chatting. One time, when they had some friends over, they made a point of telling my mother how sweet it was when I would sing while I was swinging, and I was really embarrassed and literally hid my face in my mother’s clothes.

Friday was pizza day, and for that reason, it was the best day of the week. My mother would go grocery shopping in the morning and would bring home frozen pizzas. They would go in the oven as soon as she got back. My father was always the one who cut them. The pieces were squares rather than wedges, so that there would be less pizza wasted if someone didn’t finish theirs. Nobody wanted the corners, because they were the smallest pieces.

I was a big fan of peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwiches when I was little, especially after I was old enough to make them myself. There were two different tuna casseroles that I really liked, too, and they were the first non-sandwich and non-dessert foods I learned to cook. Then there were tacos. We didn’t have tacos very often because it was a time-consuming meal to prepare, so when we did, it was a special treat. We always had two kinds of fillings: beef and chicken. The chicken filling was the one that I liked. It had almonds and pimento and sour cream. I didn’t know until I was older that the recipe my mother used for her taco fillings was not what most people think of when they think of tacos. When it came to side dishes, my favorite foods were fruit salads. My mother had two fruit salads that she made fairly frequently, both of which were pretty quick and simple. The one that I especially liked was cherry jubilee, or at least that’s what we called it, although I’ve been told that it wasn’t real cherry jubilee. It was made out of cherry pie filling, whipped cream, canned pineapple, and chopped walnuts. I know that now because I made it once or twice, but when I was little, I had no idea what was in it except cherries.

Every Wednesday morning, we went to the library. If the weather was nice, we would walk, because it was fairly nearby, and all but the last couple blocks of the trip were through residential neighborhoods. By the time I was ten or eleven, I was allowed to walk to the library by myself occasionally in addition to the family library trip on Wednesday. The library was a three-story brick building. The basement floor was used for children’s programs, the ground-level floor was the children’s section, and the top floor was the adult’s section. The children’s librarian was called Miss Liz. She had short dark hair and often wore a denim dress. There was a man with white hair and a white beard who spent a lot of time in the library; I don’t even know whether or not he officially worked there. He was an artist, and he painted the walls in one room with a garden scene full of various animals. It was fun to walk around that room and count all of the animals, and I didn’t necessarily get the same number each time. My mother let us each check out two books each week. At any given time, we had a certain favorite series, and would mostly check out books from that series, then spend all of Wednesday afternoon reading them. By the time I was about eight or nine, I liked to check out non-fiction books from upstairs. I recall that I frequently told people that, but added that I still checked out fiction from the children’s section because I didn’t like adult fiction. It took me years to figure out why people thought that was funny.

Next door to the library, there was a place called the Sanctuary because it had once been a church. I could be remembering incorrectly about either the name or the reason for the name, because I don’t really remember that place very clearly. I don’t even remember if that was its real name or just a popular nickname. We went there for milkshakes as a special treat every now and then. I think they served other foods, too, but I don’t remember ever actually eating anything besides milkshakes there. I don’t remember exactly what flavors they had, or which were my favorites. I do remember that my mother absolutely always got a hazelnut milkshake.

I mean, I can understand why other people might think this looks gross. I just don't happen to think so.

I mean, I can understand why other people might think this looks gross. I just don’t happen to think so.

We had a lot of cicadas, and we would find the skins that they had shed on trees and walls all over the neighborhood. Sometimes, we like to count them when we went on walks. I never thought they looked disgusting, and I didn’t have any qualms about touching them. For some reason, I only saw whole cicadas a couple times, and I was astonished at how big they were. I had imagined that they would look exactly like their skins.

My siblings and I used to play outside a lot. In the winter, we would play in the snow and roll giant snowballs because that was somehow much more fulfilling than building snowmen. Sometimes the snow plows would leave a pile of snow on the edge of our yard that was big enough for us to bring out the sleds. My brother would always be the last one in; when he got involved in a building project, he’d forget all about the cold. In the autumn, we would play in the leaves. My father would rake them into a big pile and we would all jump in them together. Of course, the swings were there all year round. We used to like to swing as high as we could and then jump off. There were a few severe bruises that resulted from that sport, but somehow it never caused any serious injuries.

Holidays were always a big deal in my family. For some holidays, like New Year’s and Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day, we didn’t have any specific traditions, but it was always necessary that we do something to celebrate. (Saint Patrick’s Day, of course, became a much bigger deal after my sisters started Irish Dance in 2006. But there never was a time when it went unobserved in my family.) Birthday celebration customs varied from year to year and from person to person, but they were extremely important. Then there was Easter, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Christmas. I always saw Christmas as the big one. In fact, I had a tendency to get overwhelmingly excited about Christmas as early as mid-October. I was so impatient that, for a number of years, I had it in my head that it was bad to be excited about a holiday, and I tried to repress my anticipation. There were a couple years that I was actually proud of myself for not getting too extremely excited until Christmas actually was pretty close.

Making a wish list for my birthday or Christmas was a complicated process that took the good part of an afternoon. For reasons that I cannot explain, I made it a personal policy that I couldn’t send the exact same list to different people. For each relative, I had to make a unique list. They naturally contained more or less the same requested items, but the order was determined by a combination of how much I wanted the item, whether or not it was something I actually needed, how likely I thought that family member was to give it to me, and how many other family members were being asked for that particular item. I don’t actually know whether or not my family was aware that my wish lists were such carefully crafted masterpieces.

My brother and I tried to dig to China one time in the space under the clubhouse my father had built for us. Another time, we found particles of yellowish dirt under the swings, and decided that it was gold. A few years later, after my father had put leaves under the clubhouse, my sister and I discovered that there were lots of earthworms in those decaying leaves. We spent about a week digging around and collecting earthworms and carrying them around before my parents told us not to do that.

I had this set! I remember being so excited when I got it.

I had this set! I remember being so excited when I got it.

Paper dolls were one of my favorite and most long-lasting hobbies. My grandmother gave me my first few paper doll sets when I was very little, so little that my mother cut them out for me, and they usually didn’t last very long before getting thrown away. As I got older, though, it became very important to me to cut them out myself and to keep them permanently. The main thing that I did with them was beauty contests. My sister and I developed a game that entailed taking the children paper dolls from each set, lining them up in age order, splitting the line into pairs, and choosing the prettier paper doll from each pair. The pretty ones would then repeat that process over and over until only one doll was left, and that one was the winner. The contest would then start over in order to select the second place winner, and then the third, and so forth. Later, the beauty contests included all of the paper dolls, not just the children, and they were stacked rather than lined up, and they were in groups of three rather than in pairs. The entire contest could take weeks, and now that I think about it, it’s both a little strange and a little impressive that I would dedicate so much time to such a complexly regulated game when I was so little.

In the summer, we would take in some black swallowtail caterpillars that we found on my mother’s parsley and dill plants. We would keep them in a glass jar with cuttings of dill so that they could climb on the stems, and we would feed them parsley and watch them grow. We got to see first-hand how they transformed first into chrysalises and then into butterflies. Then we would set them loose, which was always kind of a bittersweet occasion. Usually, we had named them and had tried to keep track of which caterpillar was which, so we came to see them as pets.

Every year in the autumn, my father would record a Christmas tape to send to family and friends. It would include a lot of Christmas music recorded from his vinyl record collection and from other cassette tapes, it would include a few favorite songs of the family, and it would have medleys and other things he had thought of and taken the time to edit, usually humorous things. Sometimes, we would sing a song or two. The older Christmas tapes, from before I was born and from the first few years of my life, contained more references to current events and a good deal of current music. The ones that I like best are the ones from the first half of the 1990s, but I don’t actually remember when those were made. When I got a little older, I was a little more aware of what was going on in the recording process, even when it didn’t involve me, and it was exciting when the tape was finished and we got to listen to it.

My bedroom had a walk-in closet, and it was so large that we could even keep furniture in there. One of my sisters and I kept pretty much everything we owned in there, because we shared our room with two little sisters, and they frequently damaged our things. They got into the closet so frequently that my father eventually put a hook on the door so that we could keep them out. I spent a lot of time in that closet. It was a miniature playroom that I shared with only one sibling instead of all of them, and sometimes, I could use it as personal space just by myself. In the month of December, it became a workshop where my sister and I would take turns making little paper gifts to give family members, including cards, tiny handwritten books, and paper snowflakes.

My sister and I shared a biography about Paul McCartney that my parents had given us for Christmas one year. We argued over it so much that we eventually had to draw up a peace treaty concerning it. Essentially, the peace treaty said that we would take turns owning the book for a week. Whoever was not in possession of the book would keep the peace treaty, because it was understood that the peace treaty must be presented in order to compel one party to turn the book over to the other party. For this reason, that was an incredibly important document that was treated with as much care as the Paul McCartney book itself. It eventually came to pass that my sister forgot to bring the peace treaty to my attention and legally force me to give her the book, so I got to keep it for a while, until we eventually ended up keeping it on a shared bookshelf after all.

For a couple years, after my sister and I finished our math lesson each day, we would go downstairs to play with our Barbies and Kellies. Even after we no longer played with them every day, we would spend at least a couple afternoons a week with our dolls. Sometimes, they would explore castle ruins that we would build out of cardboard boxes, or sometimes they would stay at home and do schoolwork or have elaborate popularity contests that would be utterly ridiculous in real life. Other days, we would reorganize their houses, which were precarious stacks of cardboard and plastic boxes. My parents wished we would organize our toys in more space-efficient ways that weren’t in constant danger of being knocked down, but we couldn’t do that without mixing together the possessions of various dolls.

For a while, the Lees were the predominant characters. We each had a doll named Lee, and the Lees had more or less the same characteristics and talked in the same weird voice. Over time, the Lees decreased in significance and their roles were filled by Jane and Catherine, otherwise known as JAN! and Cafwin. Those two characters outlasted my doll-playing years; their tales lived on for many years through their diaries and through written D&D adventures. (Not only did our dolls play D&D, but our dolls’ D&D characters told long stories, and occasionally, the characters in those stories played D&D.)

Yes, we stuck with 2nd edition. The 2nd edition was cool.

Yes, we stuck with 2nd edition. The 2nd edition was cool.

I think I had been about ten when my father taught me, my sister, and my brother to play D&D. I played a chaotic neutral thief named Jacqueline. She was constantly endangering the mission by running after treasure, so everyone else simultaneously hated her and thought she was hilariously funny. We normally played on Friday evenings. I remember certain scenes of our adventures as clearly as if I had seen them in real life or on a TV screen. There was the fight with the giant boar that nearly killed my brother’s fighter at the very beginning of our first adventure, there was the time that my thief ran away from the group to search a fortress for a hidden treasure by herself, there was the battle with the giant that we won because of my sister’s mage’s blindness spell. There was a beholder and dwarves named after the children in The Sound of Music and mermaids who were weresharks.

For a while, we would play with legos every Sunday afternoon. I don’t actually remember how many of us were involved in that. It’s possible that I even did it by myself sometimes. At that time, we were going through our Phantom of the Opera phase, and so we would generally call our structure the Paris Opera House and name the lego people after Phantom of the Opera characters. The actual storyline of our playing rarely had anything to do with the Phantom of the Opera, except that the mirror in Christine’s dressing room always played an important role. Before the legos were our favorite toy, we used to play with duplos. (In case anyone isn’t familiar with those, they’re made by the Lego company and are basically just larger lego blocks.) Our favorite game to play with the duplos had something to do with the underground railroad. At one point before that, I think we used to play zoo with those blocks, because that’s apparently what the set was originally supposed to be. We had a lot of zoo animals, and there was a train that they rode. Sometimes, when we weren’t playing with the duplos, my father would take all of the blocks and build a pyramid.

In the summer, we went to the pool several times a week. Normally, we went in the evenings. There were various reasons for that, but I think the original reason was that the pool was significantly less crowded late in the day. Also, we were less likely to get sunburned. After we moved, our new swimming pool was much farther away from our new home than we were accustomed to, and it was a giant water park instead of the comparatively small kind of pool we were used to, but we still kept our old swimming pool schedule. I spent so much of my childhood summertime going swimming that I there are a lot of books, foods, and computer games that make me think of the pool.

At one point when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I invented a game that was basically a fantasy dance school. I would make up charts listing all the students, class schedules, cast lists, recital programs, and all sorts of fictional records. I started over with a new fictional dance school several times, but there were certain details that we always the same. It’s a little ironic that I actually started doing that back when I was still taking dance classes only once a week myself, and I think that’s part of the reason that I had to start over a few times; I felt a need to keep it somewhat realistic. I remember days when I spent hours of my free time on my “dance class thing” before going to my actual real dance class, just to do the exact same thing the next day and the next and the next. Somehow, even when I had hundreds of fictional dance students, I could remember details about all of them. I thought of them as characters in an epic tale, even though they were actually just names accompanied by a line of coded statistics that represented plot points of a story that had never been written in words.

Two of my sisters and I started recording CDs together in February 2008. At first, we made a CD about once a month, and each one took less than a day to make. They were basically themed playlists with a couple tracks of talking. We would have to script the talking, record it with background music, choose the songs, decide on an order, save each song onto the computer, and burn it. Our first medley was on a CD we made in May 2008, and it was pretty low quality, but we were proud of it. By the end of that summer, our standard for the quality of our recording was a lot higher, and we eventually started making CDs a lot more frequently and spending a lot more time on them. At any given time, we were in the process of making our next CD, and the computer always had a file full of works in progress. Over the course of a year and a half, we made 30 CDs. There were a few in there that weren’t particularly good, but overall, we were pretty proud of those CDs, and there was a lot of stuff on them that was funny, clever, and well-edited. I still listen to those CDs every now and then.

I’m Basically the Human Version of My Cat

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Our favorite kitten picture of Lysander

Our favorite kitten picture of Lysander

Actually, it’s not all that surprising that I would have more in common with cats than most people do. I was basically adopted at birth by a cat. For the first few years of my childhood, I thought I had three parents: my father, my mother, and my cat. Lysander told me when to wake up in the mornings (although my mother and father tended to disagree with his decisions in that area) and stayed with me when I went to bed to protect me from nightmares. He watched over me when I was sick, worried about me when my mother made me take baths, and was always available for moral support when I was angry with my schoolwork. I think I was about eight years old before I even learned that humans technically run the planet while cats are supposedly just pets. (Unless, of course, they aren’t, in which case they’re strays)

Lysander died of old age nine years and four days ago, and the other two cats that we had when I was little also have been dead for a while.  Now, my family has two cats who are both about eight years old and who both coincidentally look quite a bit like Lysander. It goes without saying that I love them and am very close to them, but I’m close to them in very different ways because they have opposite personalities. Bo is affectionate, energetic, extremely social, and so mischievous that we have to keep an eye on him all the time. That makes him happy; he loves having eyes on him. Bo isn’t exactly a lap cat, but he is the kind of cat who will curl up next to you, follow you around the house, tie himself in knots around your ankles, complain loudly if you leave him alone, rub his face on you, and help himself to your food when your mother isn’t looking. It’s not that he’s misbehaving, it’s just that he expresses his love through obnoxiousness and thievery. Heidegger, on the other hand, prefers to spend most of her time sleeping in places where she hopes that nobody will bother her. She can be sweet and affectionate, too, but when she is, it generally means that her food bowl is approaching emptiness and she’s trying to alert people to that fact.

Heidegger and Bo

Heidegger and Bo

Whenever I’m at my house, Bo and I spend a good deal of our time together, but I don’t necessarily see much of Heidegger. To her, I’m not much better than a stranger, because I only come to her house a few times a year. She remembers me, but she’s usually not entirely comfortable around me until I’ve been there for at least a couple days. Since Bo loves people in general, it’s not relevant whether or not he remembers me. I am one of his people and therefore, I am extremely awesome in his eyes. If it wasn’t for the fact that he likes to run away every now and then, Bo would the ultimate example of the loyalty and love that animals can have for their people. On the other hand, I relate more to Heidegger in many ways because sometimes I see in myself the human versions of many of her personality traits. Basically, I’m like a human version of my Beautiful Princess. Here are some reasons why.

Heidegger1. We both have conflicting desires for privacy and community, which we both resolve by preferring to be near, but not at, the center of attention. Heidegger likes to sit on the stairs or under a piece of furniture so that she is sees and hears everything that happens in the living room, and the sound of human conversation makes her happy. We have to keep doors open for her to go visiting people’s bedrooms when she gets lonely, and we keep the food bowl in the dining room because she likes to eat near us while we’re eating. However, it would not be permissible for anyone to pick her up or to pet her for more than a minute or two. The best way to interact with Heidegger is to sit several feet away and whisper compliments to her in a quiet and calm voice. I think that sounds like a pretty good lifestyle. If I was in a position to completely dictate my interactions with other people, I think I would set them up in much the same way, except with more intellectual conversations and more board games. I definitely agree with Heidegger that it’s often more comfortable to be an observer than to be the life of the party.

2. We both hate being startled, and therefore make a point of being very aware of what’s going on around us.  If we see a movement out of the corner of our eye, we instinctively need to look to see what it is. If we hear a sound, we instinctively turn to see what made it. If we didn’t see anything or hear anything, we instinctively look around us to see what might have happened without us noticing. My sisters tell me that, even when I close my eyes, they can see through my eyelids that my eyeballs are darting around. This amuses them greatly.

Heidegger in her Leave-Me-Alone box, the sanctity of which I defiled by taking a picture

Heidegger in her Leave-Me-Alone box, the sanctity of which I defiled by taking a picture

3. We both need to have some alone time and alone space. For Bo, (and, it would seem, for some people) the idea of solitude for any amount of time at all is completely unappealing, but for people and animals like me and Heidegger, life is overwhelming if you can’t sometimes tell everyone and everything to leave you alone. To this end, Heidegger claims any empty cardboard boxes she can find and uses them as her Leave-Me-Alone boxes. We leave them out for her, and when she goes inside them, she must be left alone. When the Christmas tree is up, she designates it as her Leave-Me-Alone tree, and she must be left alone when she’s under it. Sometimes, if Heidegger is in a bad mood, she demands entire rooms or even the entire downstairs as Leave-Me-Alone territory. When Heidegger wants to be left alone, no one may touch her, look at her, or talk to her, and if they do, she is not to be held responsible for the cat scratches and bites that will suddenly appear on their hands or ankles. Unfortunately, humans can’t insist upon acting according to those same rules. Even if one is fortunate enough to have access to a private place- and I acknowledge that my dorm room does offer me as much privacy as a person can expect to have on a college campus- one still has things to get done and problems to solve. I can sometimes make people leave me alone, but I can never make life leave me alone. I would rather have it the other way around. Still, it is worth noting that, if I had a Leave-Me-Alone box, I would definitely use it.

The Beautiful Princess

4. We both get lonely if people leave us alone too much. Heidegger hates when people are asleep. I actually like when I’m awake and other people are asleep, that’s my Leave-Me-Alone time, but I don’t like the kind of days when I hardly spend any time with other people or when I am not involved in any conversations other than small talk. The sad thing is that, because of my busy schedule and because of the things mentioned in the preceding paragraph, this is fairly normal in my life.

Heidegger taking a nap

Heidegger taking a nap

5. We both wish that life would follow patterns more consistently. In Heidegger’s case, that means that she can’t deal with it when her food bowl gets knocked a centimeter to the side; someone must fix it or she cannot eat. In my case, that means that I must know my schedule ahead of time and I can’t be spontaneous unless I have deliberately put ambiguous plans or multiple choices in my schedule or to-do list.

6. We both like sitting on top of high pieces of furniture, even though neither one of us is as good at getting up there as certain other creatures, such as Bo. Heidegger used to climb the Christmas tree when she was a kitten, but now she satisfies herself with the top bunk of a bunk bed, except when she would rather sleep on the lower bunk or on a sofa. I like to climb on top of my wardrobe. I can’t explain exactly why. It’s just fun to be up there.

7. We both have an urge to spit and run away if someone is annoying us. The difference is that Heidegger can do that because she’s a cat, and I can’t because I’m a person.

She's a beautiful Princess

She’s a beautiful Princess

That Cat Will Be the Death of Me and other stories

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At precisely 12:12 today, a cry went up in the hallway. “It’s 12:12 on 12/12/12!” said the cry.

Instantly, I opened internet explorer and yelled back, “Facebook or tumblr?”

“Both!” the cry instructed me.

But alas, I only had time to post it on tumblr. By the time I got to facebook, it was 12:13.

The aforementioned hallway was in fact the hallway at the house, and the aforementioned cry came from the mouth of one of my sisters. I left college and came to my house yesterday. (I refrain from using the word “home” here merely because I refer to both college and my house as “home”, depending upon the context.) This may not have been the brightest idea in the history of bright ideas, because I still have some final papers to finish. That is, I now have one final paper to finish, because I turned one in this morning. In the end, it turned out to be truly idiotic. But I’m now only about a day away from really being on Christmas break, which is nice, I guess.

One of the first things that happened upon my arrival at the abode of my kin was that my beloved cat Bo decided to sneak outside. He stood at the door waiting for an opportune moment, and then, as I re-entered the house bearing two armfuls of my luggage including my electric keyboard, he squeezed past me and escaped into the great outdoors.

I dropped my loot in the doorway and ran after Bo, who circled around the house once and then ran into the open space under the neighbor’s shed. Not long ago, he got out of the house, was lost for a whole day, and stayed under that shed until my parents and siblings found him and brought him back home. The incident entailed much distress and many tears, and his safe return was an occasion of much joy. Apparently, he wanted to reenact that scene for me, because he would not come out, despite the bribes of cat treats and turkey we offered him.

“Bo,” said I unto the cat, as I pushed my face against the wooden planks enclosing the space, “you can’t stay there. You have to come back. You know you’re going to get lonely out here.”

He rubbed his face against the planks from the inside with an expression of both affection and smugness in his eyes. “Why would I get lonely?” his face said. “You’re right here with me.”

He had a point there. We obviously weren’t going to leave him alone out there; we’d be too worried about his safety.

“But Bo,” I said, “You can’t stay there. You’re going to get hungry.”

“No, I won’t,” he said, “I’ve got grass down here. Look, yummy grass! Ooh, and look at all the dirt! Yummy dirt!”

“Ew, Bo, gross,” I said to him, “stop eating the dirt.”

He purred, because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop him from eating the dirt.

“Bo Kitty,” I said, holding out a hand with a couple cat treats in it. “Come! You know you want them! All this and more can be yours! Come back to us!”

Bo cleverly calculated the speed at which he could snitch the treats out of my hand and moved into position to execute the feat. But I took a step backwards to thwart his plans. “If you want them, you have to let me take you back inside,” I informed him. “I’m not going to be that easy to trick.”

“Then I’m not going to be that easy to trick, either,” said Bo, curling up on a cinder block and taking a bite of dirt. He let his mouth hang strangely open so that I would worry that he’d already caught some fearsome disease.

“Bo,” said I, “How about if we stop trying to trick each other and you just come back to me?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Bo, “Why would I come back to you now when I can have attention, fresh air, and all the grass I want just by sitting here, and I know that you’ll be right there to bring me back home when I do decide to come back?”

I had to admit he had a point there.

To make a long story short, we eventually got him back inside. He was thoroughly covered in mud and highly offended by our annoyance with him, especially when one of my sisters and the other cat both scolded him for making them cry again. But then this morning, he suddenly remembered how long it’s been since he saw me and how much he likes me, and he rejoiced greatly. And I pointed out to him that he didn’t really want to go live out under the neighbor’s shed. He likes our food better than dirt and grass, anyway.