January 30, 2005

Seeing Double

Martha Brockenbrough, writing for MSN "Encarta," discusses the sub-culture of twin-dom, and the possibility that calling the Olsen twins fraternals is really some sort of publicity stunt, given that they are dead-ringers for one another.

After all, plenty of identical twins write with different hands. (In fact, though Brokenbrough doesn't cover this ground I wonder if the Olsens could be identical twins who formed later: apparently, the later the egg/pre-embroyo splits, the more the identicals will have in common. If it happens very late [yet not late enough that they are conjoined and therefore "Siamese" twins], one often gets "mirror image" twins, who share DNA but have organs on complementary sides.)

On the other hand, I certainly knew one set of twins who were technically fraternals, yet hard to tell apart. Heck—sometimes that happens with siblings who are close in age and share all the same features.

The two twins I know best, Professor Purkinje's boy-girl fraternals, don't even necessarily look like they're the same ethnicity. (This was the case between my two-year-older brother and I; he shows all the Creek Indian genes, and any black ones we've got lying around in the bloodline: dark skin, dark curly hair, high cheekbones. Other than my full lips and our both being smart Alecks we have nothing in common physically at all.) The professor's kids are an amazingly beautiful dark-haired girl and a light-haired boy who looks a little Celtic for my money. People will be mistaking him for a gentile, left and right.

I still want to adopt twins. But the odds are not in my favor. Not at all. Or a redhead. Or redheaded twins. If we got redheaded twins I'd start getting up every morning and going to mass during the week. At 7:30 a.m, which is like the rest of you doing it at 3:00 in the morning.

Did you know that every now and again a set of identical twins marries another set of identical twins, and that in each household the nieces and nephews are genentically equivalent their own kids? (I'll have to use that in a murder mystery someday.)

As for the Olsen twins, Wikipedia has an entry on them that includes a chart explaining all their differences—subtle to the outsider, presumably glaring to those who know them.

To me, though, the mystery is how the dynamic works among groups of triplets. I've been told that the most common configuration is "a pair and a spare." If you're the fraternal twin, and the two other triplets are identicals, do you feel perpetually left out? How does that alter the family dynamic?

Professor Purkinje tells me to give up on the romantic assumption that all twins play nicely together and entertain each other, making them "easier" to raise than singletons. After all, sometimes the twins are fraternal boys who fight a lot.

So there's that.

UPDATE: The good professor informs me that if we adopt twins—redheads or not—I'll be getting up by 7:30 anyway, but it won't be to go to mass. However, he's not the least bit clear on why I'd do such a thing.

Perhaps he thinks I'll be so excited to have babies in the house that I'll be blogging more than ever. That's certainly possible, but I should imagine I'll do that at night.

Hm. Very mysterious.

Posted by Attila at January 30, 2005 04:28 AM

Our twins, fraternal, boy and girl, were not, repeat, NOT easier to raise than their two older brothers. They did entertain themselves, though, by egging each other on to all kinds of mischief.
My older sister's twins were identical, just not to each other. One was, and is, a dead ringer for my (and, of course, my sister's) mother, the other was and is a carbon copy of our mother's younger sister. Their voices are even like the women they look like. When one called me after some surgery and I was kind of spacey from the drugs I fell back to sleep thinking my Mom called, she'd been gone for some years then. Toni recalls that it was one of the strangest conversations she'd ever had.
Dunno what this has to do with anything, just don't expect twins to be easy, they'll keep you busier than a one-armed wallpaperhanger.

Posted by: Peter at January 30, 2005 08:28 AM

the right/left handed twins you were referring to earlier are gnerally referred to as "mirror twins", kind of a neat phenomenon. I had friends in school who were mirror twins, and in fact if you held a mirror to the side of their faces, you would see the other twin in the mirror. It was pretty creepy. They were pretty damn identical, too.

Posted by: caltechgirl at January 30, 2005 09:39 AM

Dorothy L. Sayers used the "mirror twin" phenomenon in a mystery story once.

Where I was going with that was that those who maintain that the Olsen twins are not identical by virtue of their being different-handed are not taking into account the existence of mirror-image twins.

Peter, my mother continues to call me by my aunt's name, and my aunt's by mine. I've stopped correcting her. Of course, this may reflect my mother's absent-mindedness more than a resemblence of me to my aunt.

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 30, 2005 01:27 PM

LMA, your self-description here is most intriguing. Where's a pic? :-)

Posted by: McGehee at January 31, 2005 07:26 AM

That's something you, of all people, should be able to figure out. The truth is out there.

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 31, 2005 12:05 PM

Me and my twin used to cooperate to get into trouble. We would beat the child proof doorknobs (the ones you have to squeeze and turn) by one of us squeezing and the other turning the first's hands.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at January 31, 2005 03:10 PM

Professor Purkinje and his wife had the baby monitor on in the twins' room until they started hearing instigations of trouble, wherein one would have an idea for mischief and the other would end up going along with it.

They decided it was unethical to listen in, cute as the discussions were to hear, and turned the monitor off. How many parents have that kind of self-discipline?

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 31, 2005 03:57 PM

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