Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 21, 2006

Two is the magic number

New camp provides activities for twins, support for mothers

by Alexandria Rocha

At first glance, Heidi Emberling's classroom looks a lot like a typical summer camp on Wednesday afternoons: The teacher busily preparing materials for an art project while children play in the room.

Take another look, however, and you might notice that one difference — each child bears a remarkable resemblance to another child in the room. Whether it's the same T-shirt, same curly hair, or the same smile, there is a common link among Emberling's students: They're all twins.

The Parents Place on Channing Avenue kicked off its first Twins Summer Camp last week, and so far, four sets of twins and their moms are enrolled. Because parents of twins face a multitude of issues that parents of singletons may not (including overly judgmental teachers and doctors who constantly compare the children's development, and extreme — make that extreme exhaustion) the child-care and educational center decided to launch the camp as both a support and recreational service.

"You're raising two babies at the same time. If they're identical, they may be on the same sleep schedule. But most here are fraternal so their sleep schedules, temperaments and social skills all may be very different," said Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, coordinator of Parents Place Express and a mother of 17-year-old twin boys. "Parents come here and they support each other."

While the children, who are all ages 2 to 5, play, do art projects and enjoy story time with Emberling, the mothers gather in a separate room with Moskowitz-Sweet to discuss and learn about twin development and the characteristics that make raising twins so different from bringing up singletons.

"It's the exhaustion. You are tired. It's hard to get anything done. You have to have a level of vigilance... . When they mobilize, it's in two different directions," Moskowitz-Sweet said. "You think: 'I need to break into two to make sure I'm getting the job done.'"

Although last week's camp was the first of eight sessions this summer, the parents' discussion quickly hit an intimate level more common among close friends than strangers. The moms sat in chairs in a half circle facing Moskowitz-Sweet, who asked them to share their twins' developmental milestones and challenges.

"Being a new mom is hard enough itself, but when everything is double... . It's just everything times two," said Pam Riley, whose twins are 2 years and 9 months old. "Right now we're potty training. There are diapers everywhere."

Stories leapt to the surface about raising two children who look a lot alike, but whose personalities are drastically different. This has presented problems for most of the moms.

Whenever one twin does something earlier than the other — whether it's learning the alphabet, walking or being more social — there are people, including teachers, doctors and relatives, who always assume something is wrong with the other twin.

"There's this constant level of comparing that we do and that the world does to us," Moskowitz-Sweet said.

For one of the moms, this has led to an especially difficult time. Because one of her twins is more social and verbal than the other, a pediatrician suggested the less social twin be observed for autism. He wasn't diagnosed, but the doctor told the mom to do the impossible: Continue to watch the one twin closely for signs, and, oh, relax.

The moms shared a moment of disbelief. Moskowitz-Sweet reassured them that such experiences are common.

"The bar is set so high in this area that what just looks different becomes almost a disability," she said.

For Kerry Yarkin, whose twins are 2 years old, getting out of the house with both children is difficult. Yarkin was relieved when she discovered the camp, which is close to their home.

"It's a challenge socializing them," she said. "I'm really glad we found this resource."

Setting up play dates for twins is also tough, the parents said, considering the ratio of children. Speaking as if she were the parent of a singleton, Moskowitz-Sweet said: "You mean you get one, and I get two?"

Moskowitz-Sweet reminded the moms they had, in fact, made it out of the house and to the camp.

"You're doing it. Your kids are in that room socializing right now," she told them.

For more information about the Parents Place Twins Summer Camp, call 688-3040 or visit www.parentsplaceonline.org.

Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at arocha@paweekly.com.

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