We have all met a “Fleegermonster,” a well-meaning person who imposes his or her views on others. I have borrowed the term from the first story of Adele Griffin’s Witch Twins series for young readers. In this book about a pair of ten-year-old twins with magical abilities (but no twin ESP), the “Fleegermonster” is Ms. Fleegerman, a long-term substitute teacher with very decided views on what’s best for her students. In the name of encouraging individuality, she separates Luna and Claire Bundkin into different classrooms against the twins’ wishes and without consulting the twins’ parents.
What happens to Luna and Claire in the story is a common experience for multiples in the United States, where many school districts offer parents little say in whether their identical or fraternal twins share a classroom. However, it seems a growing number of states and localities have started to give parents the flexibility to decide what’s best for their own children. The school district my twins will attend encourages separation, but allows parents to make the decision with input from educators.
As much as I favor parental choice and flexibility on this issue, part of me feels like it would be easier if the decision weren’t mine to make. There is no definitively “right” answer; each course of action has its pluses and minuses. The research is mixed, from studies criticizing “forced” separations to ones finding no difference in educational achievement in separated twins versus twins who remain together. The twin research is interesting, but there are potentially significant confounding variables and no study will shed much light on the particular needs of my children.
Based on each of our daughters’ current needs, we have separated them in preschool and plan to continue the separation in Kindergarten next year to encourage their independence rather than their individuality (which sounds counter-intuitive). While we always encourage them to recognize their unique attributes, it seems their togetherness, not their separation, forces them to differentiate themselves from each other. Together, they strike a balance by exhibiting complementary, but different, personality traits: one is comical while the other is serious; one is risk-taking while the other is risk-averse. Separated, though their personalities are more similar (somewhere between comical and serious), they get to practice navigating the world independently, without their other half, and thus learn one of the most important skills in life.
Having made this decision, we have found there is no shortage of “Fleegermonster” types ready to give their unsolicited advice. We’ve had strangers tell us that our decision to separate our twins in school breaks their heart, while others applaud us for treating our twins differently.
Our most ardent critic, however, is someone whose opinion matters: one of our twins. Yes, only one. While both continue to excel academically in separate classrooms, one of them misses her sister acutely, despite developing new friendships. The other one feels relieved that her sister, whom she loves very much, cannot stifle her ability to make new friends. So, the separation works better for one twin than for the other.
Adele Griffin’s Luna and Claire from the Witch Twins series also adjust differently to their separation, and I wonder what my own twins will think of these fictional twins when they become skilled enough readers to pick up these books. The first book is cute and set in Philadelphia, my family’s hometown and my favorite location for a book. The name of the series is almost a pun, as Witch Twins may as well be Which Twin because the stars look so much alike that the “only way to tell them apart was by the tiny chicken pox scar just beneath Luna’s chin.” Strangers might not recognize the variations in size, hair color, or face shape that differentiate so-called “identical” twins, but I suspect that my own twins will have a hard time identifying with fictional friends who are unrealistically similar. As one of my twins has said before, failing to recognize these differences is “silly.”
The separation ends up helping Claire and Luna explore their individual interests, and I hope that putting my daughters into different classes will have a similar benefit. If it doesn’t, and if my girls grow up to resent their separation, my husband and I can’t blame a “Fleegermonster.” The school may encourage separation, but it doesn’t require it, and to say so to our twins would be stretching the truth. As another fictional friend, Fancy Nancy, reminds us, stretching the truth is lying, and our daughters would probably resent that, too.