It was a rough night, which meant an equally tough day. Francesca was home with a double ear infection while Emilia was at camp with her friends. The day passed by quickly and uneventfully. The antibiotic was kicking in and Francesca was willing herself better. She went with me to pick up Emilia from the camp bus and hugged her so sweetly when she saw her. It was then I noticed the green wristband. Emilia excitedly told Francesca and I and anyone else who would listen on 23rd Street, that she had passed the deep-water test at camp that afternoon. I was so excited for and proud of her. Francesca's happiness quickly turned very serious as she announced, "I will never pass the deep-water test!" I tried to reassure her that as soon as she was better, she would be back at camp, in the pool and passing the test. This did little to assuage her fear and anxiety and she fell asleep convinced she would fail the deep-water test.
As Emilia and Francesca approach their 5th birthday, what is abundantly clear is that although they are twins and have that very special "twin bond," they are distinctly different in so many ways. One could be misled into thinking that twins would have similar personality traits, but in my experience, this is the furthest thing from the truth. They look, speak, think, and emote differently. Francesca is connected to her emotional side, while Emilia is more logical and deductive in her thought process. Emilia rarely seeks assistance, whether playing a game or solving a problem. Francesca, although equally smart, will almost always ask for or seek assistance before figuring out the problem by herself. They started crawling at different times, and when they did, Emilia crawled forwards while Francesca went backwards. First words; potty training; deep-water tests...
I think one of the hardest things to do as a parent is recognizing that every child has their own unique DNA. Now that the girls are about to begin kindergarten, the stress of who's at a higher level of reading; chess, tennis, soccer, write, and/or speak Mandarin better is increasing. "Tiger" moms and dads and helicopter parents are poised ready boast their child's latest and greatest accomplishment. It's so easy to get caught up in the hysteria and feel that in some way, you are "failing your children." Despite the myriad of options this summer -- Mandarin immersion, intensive science camps, etc., I made a conscious decision to give Emilia and Francesca the summer off from school. I strongly feel they needed to "rest their brain." After a full year of serious Mandarin immersion, tennis, swimming and chess, it was time to shut it down.
I have chosen to parent in a way that I feel is appropriate for Emilia and Francesca. No child needs to compete with another; rather, they need to be encouraged to be the best that they can possible be. When I was young, I was always told "do your best, that's all that's expected of you." When I have doubts and get stressed over whether I am doing "right" by my girls, I find myself saying "RELAX, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT!"
Now, back to the deep water test. Francesca got up the next morning full of stress, self-doubt and anxiety. I said "but 'chesa, I believe in you", do you know what that means? "Yes daddy, she replied, "it means I have to tell the truth." No 'chesa, it means that I believe that you can do anything you set your mind to do. She didn't say anything, but gently smiled. We ate breakfast, brushed our teeth, got dressed, grabbed our backpacks and bounded towards the bus stop. She held my hand tightly and as she got on the bus, she looked at me and said, "Daddy, I am going to pass the test." Well, I couldn't wait to hear the results of the test. When my phone rang at 9:45, my heart started beating faster. It was Jody the swim director calling to tell me that Francesca had passed her deep water test with flying colors. At pick up later that day, I made believe I didn't know as Francesca explained in detail what she had to do to pass the test -- treading water for 60 seconds, two laps of crawl and two laps of backstroke. She was so proud of herself and I was so thrilled for her.
The reality is there won't always be a happy ending. ust last week, Francesca excelled in her piano lesson and it crushed Emilia. Every child is a gift from G-d. The other day the girls and I were leaving Whole Foods and a much older, well-dressed woman stopped me to tell me how beautiful my girls were; and told them how special a sister's love is. As she was leaving, she turned and said to me "take good care of Emilia and Francesca, you are only G-d's babysitter."
As a final thought, I'll add that I know that I was blessed with the two most amazing daughters. When I think what it means to be raising twin girls in this crazy, too often, cruel world, I am drawn to the profound and powerful words of Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Parenting is a series of "deep water tests." How we love, guide, teach and nurture our children through life's tests will help our children be all that they can be. As we raise loving, kind, strong and confident children. we empower them with the tools necessary to deal with all the world presents to them.