Hey, Jealousy: the Virtual Twin Thing

Wyatt popped out of the pool with the traditional summer blue quivering lips and begged for his towel. “Can I sit on your lap?”

I beckoned him in, and he settled, warm and damp, with me in the deck chair. I turned to the friend I was with and sighed. “Twenty seconds,” I said.


“Twenty seconds. You’ll see. Give it twenty seconds.”

Within fifteen, Rory–who just minutes earlier had been happily going off the diving board with Lily and shows no signs (yet) of pool-induced chill, appears. She seizes her own towel. “I wan’ sit in your lap.”

“Wyatt’s already in my lap.”

“But dat not fair!”

Friend is snickering beside me.

Yesterday, under the same circumstances, I scooted Wyatt over and made room for both. But we were about to leave then. Today, we have plenty more pool time ahead, and this is ridiculous. “No. Wyatt is in my lap now, and you can be in my lap later. You sat in my lap yesterday. Last night, I snuggled with you on the couch and I didn’t snuggle wit Wyatt. I love you, but you don’t need to be in my lap right now.”

Disgruntled, she hovers for a bit—-but Wyatt isn’t going anywhere with her waiting, and she knows it. She drops the towel (into the puddle on the pavement, natch) and heads back to the pool.

Five minutes later, Wyatt gets up, joins a friend and heads out for more water time, and I turn to my friend again. “Thirty seconds,” I say.

“What now?”

“Just wait.”

A little over the mark, Rory is back picking up her now soaked-thru towel. “I wan’ sit on your lap.”


But she doesn’t want to sit on my lap. Not really. She wants to swim. She loves to swim like no one I have ever seen. And so she doesn’t cuddle back, or even lean back (the way she usually would). She sits perched on my knees like a coiled spring, and I can’t stand it. I don’t know how long she would stay, but this is just silly. After a minute or two, I kiss her. “I’m getting up now,” I say. “Do you want to stay in the chair?”

Nope, she’s off. I wander around for a bit, socializing, and eventually settle in a different chair. Some days, they both repeat this process all afternoon, but that day it was a one-off.

Those are my virtual twins.

That’s the downside, or at least, the pain-in-the-ass side. The upside is that they play together nearly all the time. Defend each other. One reads to the other. They clear each others plates and take baths and ride bikes and throw balls. I never have to play knee hockey or even Candyland–they’ve got that covered. It took a while, but at two years in, they’re completely intersected in dozens of ways and very happy about it. (They also tell each other they hate each other, poke each other, hit each other, provoke each other, steal each other’s toys….)

For the most part, I think they came out ahead. On the one hand, because I don’t HAVE to play knee hockey or Candyland, I never, ever do—but the truth is that I rarely would have. I only had so many games of Candyland in me, and I my oldest child exhausted them five years ago. The well has not refilled. I love to cook with them, read with them, hang out with them, bike with them and even swim with them, but I really don’t do much in the way of playing with them. And they push each other to greater and faster achievement. If Rory can ride her bike, within an hour, Wyatt can too. Reading isn’t coming along quite as quickly for her as Wyatt was able to pull of the bike-riding, but it’s a whole lot faster than it would be.

But Wyatt’s time as the only baby of the family was cut short, and Rory never had that at all. And when it comes to activities, I tend to gravitate towards things they’ll both like, even though they might be better off with separate teams or places to excel. If every kid gets his or her own separate sphere, I’ll be doing nothing but drive them to activities for the next decade, and it already feels that way. Until someone rebels, if one of them plays hockey or tennis, they both play hockey or tennis. Worse, there’s this competition thing, which sometimes seems as though it will go on for life.

Why does Rory feel like she HAS to get that time in my lap even though she’d rather swim? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe if Wyatt sits in my lap and she doesn’t, there’s the chance that later, I’ll favor him in some other way because she let me give him “more” today. Maybe it’s just too risky not to grab any bit of me that she can get. Maybe Wyatt secretly gloats. Maybe, even after two years, she’s still not sure what could happen next at any moment. Cementing that her place in our family is exactly like Wyatt’s may seem like the best way to go. That last one seems most likely. It’s all of a piece with some other Rory-isms: leaping to help, resisting doing some things she can do for herself and constantly going over the memories we share together. I think she needs to emphasize her connection with me.

And so maybe I should let her perch on my knees instead of pushing her back towards the water. I don’t know. Maybe encouraging her to do what she really wants to do isn’t pushing her away, but giving her permission to go away–and then come back.

Cross-posted to No Hands But Ours.

6 Responses to “Hey, Jealousy: the Virtual Twin Thing”

  1. Yes, yes, yes. Same with my virtual twins. If Isaac asks for a snack, Matthew needs one too. Even if he just ate. Then he lays across the table and groans because he was never hungry in the first place. If Isaac takes a train with him in the car, Matthew is literally FRANTIC to find a train to take. Ditto silkie or teddy bear. He has an intense need to be EQUAL, even in situations that make no sense to me. Most of the time, I just let it be, but more often, I am reminding him–you just had a snack, remember? or Matthew, take something YOU want to take in the car.

  2. Andrea D. says:

    I found your blog through Slate, and through you, I found Shirlee McCoy’s blog, as you had it linked one time. Shirlee seems to me to be a caring, compassionate, and selfless person who is truly inspiring. She also has four or five children and probably has to manage issues similar to yours. I don’t know Shirlee, and I don’t know you, but it seems to me that Shirlee’s blog postings, or perhaps Shirlee herself could provide you with loving, creative, and effective ways to guide the interactions between your children and between you and your children.

  3. Sarah says:

    Every once in a while, why don’t you invite her on you lap, or give her a snuggle or hug when she is not expecting it. Some children need you to show them that you love them in a physcial way, words don’t mean as much to them. This seemed to help a lot with my youngest, who was super clingy and jealous.

  4. DameCatoe says:

    “Maybe encouraging her to do what she really wants to do isn’t pushing her away, but giving her permission to go away–and then come back.”

    It’s like whatever part of her needs the lap time to be equal was getting in the way of her enjoying herself swimming. You gave it enough that it quieted that part and let her go back to having fun.

  5. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    oh, she does! best of all, because her daughter is older, but not so old that she would hide her feelings, I often get insights into what Rory is doing based on what Cheeky has said. It’s HUGE.

  6. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    You know, I actually HAVE been–and I do think it’s going to help. I’m going to make a point of doing it even more. The past couple of days I’ve been running to her and just scooping her up and kissing her all over, and she just loves it. And so do I! I get really caught up in their fairness crap, too, and don’t do stuff for one because I’m not going to do both–silly.