Last night I was reading a New York Times profile of Megan Rapinoe, a soccer star I really admire. The piece mentioned that she has a twin sister, and went out of it’s way to let readers know that her sister is “older by 11 minutes.” Cue the sound of a record scratching in my mind.
I have twin daughters. People love to ask us questions in public, and one of their favorites is “Which one is older?”
Let me stop right here. Say you meet someone. Say it comes up that you were both born on March 28. Would you ask that stranger what precise hour and minute he or she was born? Or would you just say, “Wow, we have the same birthday! We’re the same age!”
I think people ask this question because, like most of our first-meeting questions, we’re trying to “place” people and figure them out. Asking about birth order lets us know which one is supposed to be the bossy older sibling, and which one is supposed to be the attention-seeking youngest. People even seem to believe that the “older” twin should also be the bigger one, as if the 6 lb. size difference that currently exists between Etta and Claire could be attributed to a head start gained by a few extra minutes out in the world. These things are stereotypes at best, and they’re simply not useful in the case of twins, and, I believe, can be harmful. It attempts to impose a hierarchy where none exists.
I have heard about “older” twins lording it over younger twins, and about parents who truly treat their twins as if there is some sort of inborn difference that results from what is essentially the luck of the draw. Wherever an egg implants in the uterus, the twin closest to the “exit” is born first. And in the case of a c-section, isn’t it just whom the surgeon grabs first?
In a society that loves to label people and to lump twins together, I want my girls to feel loved and supported for the individuals they are, not shoehorned into some sort of role, be it birth order, or gender, or religion, or whatever. I don’t want strangers deciding that one is “the bossy one” because she’s “older” or something. I’m even thinking I may just keep mum on the whole thing if asked. Because really, from the moment of conception, their cells have been dividing the same. The entire time I was pregnant, they were the same gestational age. They still are. Who was first pulled out into the sterile brightness of the operating room really doesn’t matter much to me.
4 Replies to “but which one’s older?”
I never really thought about it before, but I agree with you that talking about twins’ birth order is something that could for sure be detrimental if one attaches a certain prestige to the one who came first. When I was teaching English in Korea, I had a set of seven-year-old twins in one of my classes and they had an extremely competitive dynamic with each other. They one who was a bit more aggressive mentioned on more than one occasion that he was the first one to be born. It makes me wonder how much that was spoken about at home with the kids.
Aw, The Waiting, now I am sad for those kids. I want to foster the bond between Etta and Claire, not encourage them to compete.
It’s actually funny that you say this because I ALWAYS get asked what time I was born at but only because my birthday is January 1st. They want to know if I was the first baby of the year. I hate that question, the likelihood of me being that baby is incredibly small and when I say no people always look disappointed!
This is one of my least favorite questions too, except that the idiocy of people can really be entertaining. Once, someone said, “He must be the oldest because he’s the tallest.” Um, yeah, he grew 1/4″ in the 45 seconds before his brother was pulled out.
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