Are They Identical?

Feb 10 2009

We get a lot of questions about our family from interested strangers.

When Abby (our oldest daughter whom we adopted from Vietnam) was an infant, I heard a lot of fun questions.

Is she yours? Um… yes.  That’s typically what adoption means.

Is her father Asian? Sure enough.  (I didn’t often feel the need to differentiate for strangers between Abby’s biological father, who almost certainly is Asian, and her adoptive father, who isn’t.)

How will you teach her English? Seriously?  Did you notice that she’s 3 months old?  I’m almost positive she’ll pick it up someday.

Will you raise her American? Well, we’re American and we live in America, so I’m going to go with yes.  Although, after that series of questions, I’m not totally comfortable with that.

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Then we adopted Ian and Aden from Guatemala, and the questions changed.

Are all three siblings? They fight in the back seat of the car.

They’re not speech delayed!  They just haven’t learned English yet. Have you tried talking to them in Spanish? Hmmm… I’d say that after 5 years of living in the States from toddler-hood on, it’s speech delay.  Plus, in order to transition from Spanish, they would have had to have some Spanish to begin with.

Why did you adopt?  Couldn’t you have kids of your own? Um… I do have kids of my own.  I adopted them and now they’re my own.

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And now we have twins.

Are they twins? Yep.

Are they identical?  (Wait.  You can’t tell them apart but you wanted to know if they’re twins?)  No.  They’re fraternal.

How do you tell them apart? I’m their mother, so it’s pretty easy, but I’m sympathetic to this question.  Cai and Cael look enough alike that it’s hard to tell if you’re an untrained observer.  There are no obvious “tells.”  Cael’s nose is a little wider, Cai’s hair’s a bit straighter.  It’s hard.  I get it.  And then their lame parents went with matchy-matchy names, which is a crime and should be illegal.  But that’s a story for another time.

The real way to tell Cai and Cael apart is to observe them for about a half a minute.

In fact, when someone asks me if they’re identical, my first impulse is to laugh.  Cai and Cael couldn’t possibly be more different.

It occurred to me very recently that Cai and Cael are as aware of this fact as everyone who knows them, as evidenced by their favorite, must-read-at-bedtime book, Opposites by Sandra Boynton.

For those of you less acquainted with early childhood classics, Sandra Boynton has to be my all-time favorite writer of board books.  Her characters are simple, but memorable.  Like the sad cartoon turkey who can’t remember which clothes go on which body parts resulting in such toddler-hilarity as a coat worn on the nose.  The poor turkey eventually gets it right and is dressed head to toe only to discover himself diving off of the high dive at the pool.  Awesome.

Opposites is pretty self-explanatory.  Each page shows animals who are opposite in some way.  Like the elephant and rabbit on a teeter totter (heavy, light) or the moose holding the mouse on a barbell (strong, weak).

Lately, Cai and Cael have begun to self-identify with the pictures.  As we go through the story, they tell me which one is Cai-Cai and which one is Cael for each set of opposites.  They never disagree about who’s who, and it’s remarkable how spot-on they are!

Where Cael is cautious, logical and thoughtful, Cai flies by the seat of his pants and jumps before he makes sure there’s a spot to land.  Cael’s primarily serious and stoic.  Cai’s never met Serious and wouldn’t recognize it if it introduced itself and hit Cai on the head.  Cael’s fastidious and clean.  Cai’s… not.  Cael does things the right way.  Cai’s too creative to acknowledge limiting concepts like right and wrong.

We try hard not to label Cai and Cael.  But they make it really hard.  We’ve long suspected that Cael’s like my husband’s family.  He’ll probably graduate summa cum laude and become a doctor.  Cai’s going to get Cael dates and teach him about keggers.  Cai’s, um, more like my side of the family.

For more on the boys’ self-identification, here are some excerpts from Opposites for your viewing pleasure:

fast-and-slow-2

Fast = Cai, who has the bruises from the wall corners, table edges and Matchbox cars to prove it.  Slow = Cael, who tests the jumping angle and factors in wind resistance before stepping off of the foot stool.

in-and-out

In = Cael, cautiously sitting back from the edge and watching his brother.  Out = Cai, who already fell over the edge, crawled out of the irritatingly confined box and is now egging Cael on to join him.

right-wrong

Right = Cael, always balanced, observant and correct; this is the best way to hold a phone.  Wrong = Cai, who always laughs at the pig with the phone on his head and tells me, “Cai Cai silly, Mommy.”  He won’t turn the page until I assure him that, yes, I know Cai Cai’s silly.

I believe I mentioned already how spot-on the boys’ observations are.  There’s only one page that Cai and Cael haven’t identified as themselves.

whisper-and-shout1

Whisper = Daddy.  Shout = Mommy.

Crap.