I rummage through the bin holding the stacked, folded clothes. A black polka dotted legging catches my eye. I pull that out and pair it with a pale green top. I look for the matching legging, feeling frazzled when I do not see it. I empty the bin, laying the folded clothes carefully on the table. The camis, the towels, the socks and the rest of the itty bitty clothes that make that load of wash. It’s missing. The alarm on my phone reminds me I have 30 minutes before the school bus gets to our development.
I sigh. I give up and pull an orange tunic top and a black legging. A part of me wonders if I should run upstairs to find the matching polka dotted pair. Pragmatism winning over emotion, I walk over to my twins.
“Pattu, close your eyes and pick one” I say.
Pattu dutifully does and picks the green tee with the polka dotted legging. I offer the tunic top to Ammu who seems thrilled to wear something different from her sister. I watch them get dressed and I am surprised by how emotional I feel.
I stand by the front door watching them walk along the snow drifts, pausing every once in a while to make a snow ball before they reach the bus stop. Red jacket, purple jacket. Snow boots, lace up sneakers, the blinking patterned backpacks, the differences are sneaking up on me.
I don’t understand why it matters so much. For years I have stuck to my idea of different but similar. Matching leggings paired with different colored tops. Summer dresses in similar patterns. Jumpers in matching hues, pink and purple shoes, crocs and jackets. I walk inside and note with satisfaction that Laddu is still on the sofa watching Mother Goose Rhymes. She is hopping like a bunny alongside the cartoon on the screen. I smile and head for the table where the stack of clothes lie clamoring for attention. Carrying the bin upstairs it comes to me. The emotional part of dressing the twins.
In the first few months after they came home, they were one unit for me. Two babies instead of one but in some sense my first children. I fed, put them down for naps and bathed them on schedule. They sat on their high chairs while I fed them from the same bowl. Their clothes were mostly onsies. All interchangeable, none earmarked for a particular baby. In the summer, they wore dresses that were identical. I pushed the double stroller to the park showing off my twin cuties. The gifts that came in after we brought the girls home were telling. Two sets of everything. Clothes, stuffed toys, chew toys. Nearly every set was identical. The clutched the same bear and slept on similar blankets. Their cribs were matching shades of maple.
I went back to work and in the care of others, they blossomed. In different classes, they made distinctly separate friends. I walked in to pick them up and Pattu would rush to my arms outstretched while Ammu played by herself, lost in a world to which I was not privy to. Ammu drew and painted with her left hand while Pattu finished her jigsaw puzzles in record time using her right. Ammu made up songs while Pattu danced to any music that she heard.
Twins are close by virtue of sharing their birthday and their mother’s womb. But when they are ripped and transplanted from their home into another, that bond takes on a new meaning. Bring elements of race, culture and language that is different and that bond becomes a lifeline. Us and them, brown and white. Often Ammu would lay her fair hand on mine and look at her sister. She would come over and the two of them would talk about how they were similar and how we were different.
I don’t know if I started dressing them similarly in an effort to cement the idea that they were one unit but what started off subconsciously now has become a compulsion. I look at them in different outfits and it feels jarring. When one twin had to wear glasses, my husband was distraught. “Paavam” he kept exclaiming until we found the other needed glasses too. The day we got glasses fitted on Pattu, I snapped a picture of the two of them against the door of the optometrist, it felt like the world had righted itself. Symmetry had been restored and we could go on knowing all was well.