I was crossing a parking lot from the grocery store to the natural foods store, grasping one small hand in each of mine—the twins had gotten big enough that they could walk a fair distance on their own and sometimes it was easier to let them walk than hoist the 40-pound stroller in and out of the back of the car. We reached the middle of the travel lane, which many drivers use as a shortcut from one busy street to another, when one twin saw something he wanted across the lot and began straining toward it, pulling against my left hand. The other twin, meanwhile, had turned into a rag doll, and dangled limply from my right hand, over a puddle. At the same time, a large, gold car, making its way from the upper parking lot to the lower one, headed straight for us.
With both of my hands occupied, I couldn’t scoop up either twin, as one would with a single recalcitrant toddler. If I let go of the left-hand twin, he would run off across the lot, where cars zipped in and out of parking spots. If I let go of the right-hand twin, he would land in the mud. If I did nothing, we’d all three get run over by the car barreling down on us.
I honestly don’t remember how this situation resolved itself. Did the rag-doll twin suddenly regrow his bones and allow me to lead him toward the car? Did the straining-to-run twin forget about whatever it was that caught his eye? Did I drag them both, the limp one and the determined-to-go-the-other-way one, out of the travel lane and back to our car? I know we didn’t all get run over, because I’m here to tell the tale, which is just one of many similar stories of toddler twins running off in separate directions across fairgrounds or beaches or big box stores, leaving me to decide which twin was in more danger, or which one I liked better, before I ran off after him first.
Whenever I’m with a friend who has a toddler, or when I see a toddler in the store or a restaurant, I begin shaking and break out in a cold sweat. I had two of those, I think. I suffer from PTSD—Post-Twin Stress Disorder. People are fond of saying to parents of multiples, I don’t know how you do it. I know where they’re coming from; I have no idea how I did it, either. But I did, somehow, and over time, we put away the series of baby gates that had turned our house into a model of Fort Knox, took the slide locks and wing nuts off every door and cabinet, lost track of the number for Poison Control. I no longer expected to return home with fewer children than I went out with every time I left the house. The twins have grown into rational human beings. Well, maybe not rational, but much less likely to run out into traffic.
Today, at nearly twelve, one twin—the straining-at-my-left-hand twin—fancies himself a rural parkour practitioner and spends his time practicing headstands and flips, and gets in trouble at school for climbing over the top of the swing set. The other twin—the rag doll twin—spent a recent snow day climbing up on the barn roof and jumping down into the drifts below. So while I no longer live in constant fear of a twin calamity, I still keep the numbers for the doctor’s office and the emergency room handy, because with twins, you never know what might happen.
This post is part of a series of essays by the contributors to our second anthology, Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Twin Years. Subscribe to get new posts on your favorite reader as and when they’re published.
In 2016 Andrea Lani left a 17-year career as an environmental regulator to hike across Colorado with her husband and three sons and write a book about that adventure, a similar hike 20 years earlier, and two decades of change in the Rocky Mountains. Her writing has appeared in Snowy Egret, Saltfront, and Brain, Child Magazine, among others, and she’s an editor at Literary Mama. She lives with her family in Maine and can be found at her blog.