That twin thing

When four look-alike teenaged girls share the same household, ohmygosh. The energy, the decibel level, the drama.

I caught an episode this week of “Four of a Kind,” the Lifetime series about Calli, Kendra, Megan and Sarah Durst, identical quadruplets who live in Buffalo, Minn., and are in their senior year of high school.

Camera crews followed the girls and their mother, Naomi Durst, as they traveled to North Dakota State University to check out the campus. They met a cute guy, toured the dorm rooms, climbed an indoor rock wall and squabbled in the minivan on the way home. In the second half of the episode, they organized a fashion show to raise money for cancer care and learned the value of teamwork.

Like many siblings, especially those who are close in age, they don’t always relish the togetherness. At one point Kendra declares, “If we all end up at the same college, I’m going to lose my mind.”

Deep down, though, I suspect they share a bond like no other. It’s just that the path to independent adulthood can be rocky for any adolescent, and even more so when there are four of you. In many ways I totally get it because I’m a multiple too. I’ve had a fraternal twin sister ever since… well, ever since the day I was born.

Humanity has always regarded multiples with a certain amount of fascination. (Look at all the attention generated by one of the latest videos to go viral on YouTube, a clip of infant twin boys babbling with each other.) In ancient times, twins and triplets were variously thought to be magical or demonic, depending on specific cultural beliefs. These days society has a much better understanding of multiple births but it seems we’ve clung tightly to the attitude that multiples are special.

Studies abound about twins, and they make for compelling reading. Researchers have tracked pairs of identical twins, who share an identical genetic makeup, in an attempt to tease apart the influence of nature vs. nurture. There’s been considerable debate about twin psychology and the best way to guide twins from childhood into adulthood. Should you dress them alike? Should you keep them together in school or should you separate them – and if so, at what age? Twins have even been studied for their alleged powers of telepathy, although the evidence is shaky at best and may simply indicate the presence of a strong emotional bond between some twins.

For the record, my twin sister and I don’t look very much alike, other than sharing a family resemblance. Our personalities aren’t especially similar either; for one thing, she’s smarter and much more hard-working than I am. But we are very, very close. So close that when she broke her wrist in three places several years ago and spent half the night in an emergency room, I was up half the night too, even though I was 100 miles away and didn’t know about her ordeal until the next day.

It wasn’t always like that. Like the Durst quadruplets, we often bickered in our teens. This is an age when adolescents are trying to forge their own identity and it can be more challenging for multiples, especially when the rest of the world still perceives them as a single unit. All through high school, my twin and I were constantly compared – our grades, our clothes, our hair, our likes and dislikes. Classmates and even some teachers seemed to develop a mental block when it came to telling us apart. It was probably inevitable that there would be a certain amount of sibling rivalry (although the rivalry was never serious and has long since disappeared).

Multiply that times four and you get Calli, Kendra, Megan and Sarah Durst. Although “Four of a Kind” critics have called the girls immature, noisy and and obnoxious, I’m inclined to cut them a lot of slack. Constantly being seen as “the Durst quadruplets” may have been fun in second grade but it can wear thin by high school.

The girls are not, in fact, merely “the Durst quadruplets.” When you look closely, they clearly have slight physical differences. They also have distinct personalities and interests. That their individuality is starting to emerge shouldn’t be a big surprise or sideshow curiosity to anyone; it’s the necessary emotional and psychological process of becoming an adult, albeit writ on a more complicated scale.

One of the things we owe to the study of twins, triplets and other multiples is how these processes, from language development to the influence of parenting skills, unfold from infancy through childhood and into adulthood.

Calli, Kendra, Megan and Sarah might squabble with each other right now and long for the day when they can escape each other’s orbit, but take it from another multiple: Ten years from now, or 20 years from now, they’ll have the separate identity they crave. And more than likely, they’ll realize that having a twin, or being a twin times two, is one of the coolest things ever.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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