Makes You Think II

This week’s round-up of the weird and wonderful thoughts from my students:

Magic
One of my reading class students read the word ‘magician’ and asked what it meant. I described the traditional image of a magician using a magic wand, and pulling something surprising from his (seemingly) empty hat. The boy had a flicker of recognition pass over his face. “Like a pigeon?” In a budget show, perhaps.

Attachment issues
I always encourage the nose-pickers to grab a tissue, and as a teacher of three and four year olds, I even have to show them how to blow their noses effectively. Perks of the job. One girl successfully blew her nose, and as she discarded the used tissue into the bin, she cheerfully exclaimed, “Byeeee!” as if it were a close friend.

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Holidays
Most of the children who are finishing Kindergarten and moving to Primary school in January (school term starts at the beginning of the year in Singapore) are now breaking up for the holidays. Some are travelling to China, Malaysia, Myanmar, India or the Philippines to visit their extended families. I asked one of my young students what China was like as I had never been. He said it was nice, before offering to take me to MacDonalds. What a gentleman.

Parroting
One of the inevitable situations in a classroom full of children is that someone will fart. It’s no good telling the children that it isn’t funny, because it is and always will be. Depending on the child in question, I will either ignore and deflect the attention to something else, claim it was my chair, or ask them that they wait for me to open the door first. During one class with six year olds, one child let rip. Another quickly rebutted, “Excuse me, I’m eating.” It was clear this was a regular comment at their dinner table.

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Honesty
After introducing my class rules song and threatening to enforce it by singing to the child each time they broke one, I lost my voice completely. I had to take a day off as it is difficult to teach phonics and reading without talking. My students were surprised that I wasn’t there and asked the cover teacher what happened. On hearing that I had lost my voice, one said, “She talks a lot.” Thanks, kid. On my return, I told them I did indeed lose my voice and I had to go on a daring quest through the jungle to find it. This was a bit more exciting than the Strepsil truth.

Proper nouns
I like to introduce the concept of proper nouns and capitalisation early, so when my reading class encounters such a word, I ask them, “What is special about that word?” I’ve coached them to say that it has a capital letter so it’s a name / country / month etc. On reading ‘Egypt’, I asked the same “What is special?” question. One student replied, “Nothing.” The pharaohs would be turning in their tombs.

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Feminine values
On discussing gendered nouns with my lower primary students, we listed the masculine / feminine names for animal species. For example, horses are stallions or mares, female lions are lionesses, and chickens can be named cockerels or hens. When we covered cows, the children rightly said a male cow was a bull. When they realised a female was still called ‘cow’, one boy exclaimed, “It’s rude to pull milk from a cow then!” I quickly moved on.

Finally, I leave you with this body-positive thought. I asked my student to make a sentence with the word ‘hips’. She said, “I shake my hips when I dance. It shakes my bum too because they are friends!”

I’ll be back next week with more insightful comments from my students. Likewise, if you are a teacher, parent or look after little people, share your comments below. I’d love to hear them.

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Makes You Think

Each week, I’ll be posting the most thought-provoking comments from my students. If you missed it, check out last week’s edition here.

Word association
One task that we frequently ask students to complete is working out the definitions of new words within a passage. In one example, my eight year olds were asked to deduce what ‘paraffin’ meant. The sentence spoke about pouring it, so we decided that it must be a liquid of some sort. Their answers? Turtles and muffins.

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Faith restored
One of my four year old kids had a very serious question for me during class. He asked whether jelly was made from jellyfish, and looked extremely relieved when I told him it wasn’t.

Manners
We teach the children a thumbs-up technique to differentiate between lowercase ‘b’ and ‘d’. There are plenty more techniques (such as ‘bed’ or ‘b has a belly, d has a diaper’) available on Pinterest. On discovering that some children were not angling their thumbs correctly, I have switched to the ‘OK’ signal as pictured below. After going round the class and checking each child could both do the gestures and tell the letters apart, one child modified his a bit. He curled down all his fingers leaving just the middle ones up.

Observant
Explaining what a disguise was, I told the students that it meant changing your appearance so that you looked different enough to go unnoticed. I gave the classic example of the bushy eyebrows, glasses and moustache. One member of the class suddenly nodded and said, “Oh, like makeup?”

Logical
Discussing journal entries, my primary class began thinking about secrets. One bright student raised his hand and told us that he used to have 45 secrets, but he told his brother two of them, so now he has 43 left. I never really considered it, but that is exactly how secrets work!

Reading
I gave my primary students a reading list and challenged them to play reading bingo last week. They were genuinely excited, except one girl who seemed perturbed. When I asked her which title she would read first, she asked how long each book was. I told her they varied in length. Another child then boasted about having read a really long book. The girl spun round and said “How long?” as she raised her arms apart. I realised then that she was thinking about the actual length of the books rather than the number of pages!

Don’t try this at home
Finally, as it was Bonfire Night back home this week, I’ll leave you with this final cracker. Reading aloud, one boy read ‘tested fireworks’ as ‘tasted fireworks.’ That would take more than some Gaviscon to fix.

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Curiosity – learning from my students

Curiosity. I lost it temporarily. The pursuit of it caused me to quit my job and move halfway across the world. Now as a teacher, my students often ask me about things I’ve never really considered, such as why a toothbrush is not called a teethbrush, or why carpet isn’t a pet for your car. I began to wonder about all the other things I took for granted growing up. After ten months, here’s a list of things I’ve learnt so far:

Simplify instructions
My classroom rules are simple. However, one boy in class took the first rule literally.

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Me me me
When we celebrate a child’s birthday in class, we sing the happy birthday song and give three hip-hoorays at the end. That’s if we can get through the song without everyone shouting out their birthday, or their dad’s, friend’s, or cat’s birthday too.

Toughen up
I had a student ask me if I had washed my hair (it turned out he liked the shampoo smell), and another about the mosquito bite (read: spot) on my face. One child told me I have vampire teeth, and another guessed my age at 90.

Holding a straight face is essential
During a mock oral exam, one student panicked:
Me: Do you have a pet at home?
Student: Yes, I have a fish…but it died.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. Which animal from the pictures would you choose to adopt instead?
Student: [Blank stare…possibly considering mortality]
Me: Right, what should a responsible pet owner do?
Student: [Shrugs shoulders]
Me: Ok, what things would a good pet owner do to look after their animal?
Student: Walk it at the park.
Poor fish…

Stickers
I rewarded a boy with a holographic sticker after class. He threw it back at me – even 2D glittery purple spiders are scary.

An honest mistake
Had a dictation in class and the word ‘aching’ caused some confusion. A fair few of the eight year olds wrote ‘Egg King’ instead.

Requesting back-up
I taught a kid to pause at commas and full stops today by mimicking swimming. We fixed his reading but now he does the front crawl at his desk.

New tricks
I did the ‘pop’ noise with my finger and the kids were floored. When I taught them how to do it, they successfully impersonated fish with hooks caught in their cheeks. Drool galore.

Literal learners
During an assessment with a four year old, I pointed to a caterpillar. The child called it a worm. I told him that it transforms into a butterfly. He still didn’t have a scooby. I pointed to the picture as a cat to give him a clue. His answer: catworm.

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Simplicity is beautiful
One of the nine year olds in my composition class wrote a wintry haiku. Bearing in mind it should technically focus on nature, he ignored this in favour of opening with: Hello hot chocolate. Accurate.

Imagination
To help some eight year olds imagine they were exploring the land of the giants, I pretended to zap them with a shrinking ray as they walked in. I had an over-sized tomato-shaped eraser next to a miniature man (representing us) for scale. When I suggested that a giant’s sneeze would create a green pool for us to swim in, they absolutely lost it.

Not all plans pan out
During pirate week for my phonics class, we covered the ‘ar’ sound and had a story and various isolation exercises. At the end, I offered to unlock the treasure chest if they could give me a word with ‘ar’ each. The first boy said “octopus” and the next said “rabbit.” Lesson well spent.

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Cultural understanding:
Me: [Reading speaking prompt question] Have you ever been in trouble?
7yo: No.
Me: [Surprised] Really? Have you ever had a messy room? Or left your dinner? Or had a fight with a sibling?
7yo: I’m from China.
Me: Right…

Silliness
One child asked me if jelly was made from jellyfish which is a perfectly reasonable question. On that theme, jamming with the kids in phonics class produces some unexpected results: 

Jelly on a plate. Jelly on a plate.
Wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble
Jelly on a plate.

Jelly on the the door. Jelly on the door.
Wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble
Now jelly’s on the floor.

Jelly in my eye. Jelly in my eye.
Wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble
Jelly made me cry.

Jelly in my tum. Jelly in my tum.
Wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble
Jelly out my bum!

Jokes
As Halloween is upon us, I must post these one-liners that one of my six year olds wrote and delivered to the class. I’m not sure they work, but the class struggled to breathe through their giggles and one boy even fell off his chair. Edited transcript below.* Enjoy:

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I’ll be posting a weekly round-up of my favourite moments this year so far. Until then, Happy Halloween!

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*Jokes courtesy of H, six years old:
Q: What do you call a bunny dressed up as a ghost?
A: Hoppy ghost.

Q: What do you do when a ghost scares you?
A: Glow like a lantern.

Q: What are you going to do when a lantern turns alive?
A: Hide in a cup.

Q: What is a spooky cup called?
A: Cup monster.

Q: What do you call a dinosaur with wings?
A: Chicken dino.

Q: Where do you go when a ghost scares you?
A: Scaryland.

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Consumer

I’m a consumer.

I consume the news, the views, the Fake stuff, the praying for you’s, the foibles of democracy, hypocrisy, tragedy.

I consume Netflix, binge drinks, hollow chick flicks, Japanese pop. lit. with rave reviews.

I consume the property owner dreams, the ageing Queen, the has-beens and the gossip of those I’ve never seen.

I consume the party mandates, the ‘jokes’ about rape, the double standards, the political correctness hazards and the dubious future of the UK.

I consume the banking liars, memes that pacify us, climate change deniers, the ocean plastic fighters facing an impending doom.

I consume the beauty ideals, today’s top deals, pictures that get you right in the feels and the lazy snowflake millenials.

I consume the “Put a ring on it” mantra, the high-waisted pants, the stay youthful forever, the pungent Sex Panther, sprayed with abandon.

I want to spit it out. Gag reflex.

But Wifi is a basic necessity. Like shelter. Or water. Always thirsty.

Stop. Use my own brain. Make my own name. Produce.

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The Serpent

A serpent lies dormant in my chest

It wraps itself around my ribs, sleeping.

When I think of all my failings

It slips down, landing heavily on my gut

Squashing my diaphragm

Redirecting the blood away from my head.

Its tail flickers dangerously up my throat

The death rattle by my tonsils

I am afraid it will escape from my mouth.

I blink then stare upwards, feeling the cold air hit my eyeballs.

Ragged shallow breaths.

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In…

Swallowing it down.

The lump returns uneasily to my chest.

Heart burn.

Blink. Breathe. Blink. Breathe.

Until those movements become automatic again.

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MIA

As I peed unceremoniously into a transparent plastic pot, I wondered how this process has been overlooked in the medical revolution. After thoroughly washing my hands, I tentatively clutched my warm gift as I surreptitiously walked back through the waiting room. I bee-lined towards the small window, and deposited my pot. I wondered if I should announce it to the lab technicians on the other side. I was relieved to see a hand sanitizer bottle on the wall nearby.

For the third time, I sat with my crumpled four digit number in my hand. Every minute or so, a new number flashed across the screen accompanied with a beep. My number seemed to have been skipped. After an hour of fidgeting, I approached the BMI station. The nurse glanced at my number and told me I’d be sitting in the wrong waiting area.

At last, I was summoned into room 42. The doctor did not look up from his screen. Before I’d even sat down, the doctor announced, “Well, I have some good news. The pregnancy test is negative. The bad news is that we cannot locate the IUD.”

My birth control had gone MIA. The coil had gone AWOL. The doctor the previous day read out my scan results from the radiologist. “Uterus normal size. Endometrium appears smooth. Right ovary measures 2.80 x 2.60 x 1.50cm, left ovary measures 3.40 x 3.30 x 1.90cm. Ovaries normal in size and appearance. No abnormal adnexal mass or fluid in the Pouch of Douglas is detected. No IUCD seen.”

I wondered what Douglas was doing up there before blurting out, “No sign of the IUD? Are you sure?” The doctor admitted that the scan was not available on the screen.

I had the pelvic ultrasound reviewed by the radiologist. I was not keen on having another since you have to turn up with a full bladder. As the technician squeezed the cold gel over my abdomen, I asked her how long it would take, mentally planning my escape route to the ladies. Instead of seeing a baby, the technician commented on my balloon of a bladder. I was proud. She also spotted the IUD.

The second doctor who reviewed my ultrasound results said it was likely the IUD had dropped out. But, given the fact I was not pregnant and had not had a period in two glorious years, the doc considered the slim possibility that it may still be there…somewhere. Apparently, this happens to one in a thousand women with the IUD. The next step is an X-ray to discover where the rascal has ended up, followed by a simple keyhole surgery to remove it. It can even find its way into the intestines.

As I am not insured through work out here in Singapore, I am paying for each visit and was concerned that surgery may break the piggy bank. I called my insurance brokers to see if they could reimburse the damage, especially as I had not added on the special ‘lady package’. However, if I was admitted for day surgery, I could then backdate all the investigatory bills. I argued that it may be a general health issue having a foreign body lurking somewhere off limits. A few days later in the post, I received a letter from them in rather bad taste. It asked me if I was thinking about starting a family of my own.

I went to see the gynaecologist at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. After more basic health checks for my BMI and blood pressure, I saw yet another doctor. After establishing that I wasn’t married, I batted off the usual barrage of questions about my sexual activity. I listed the various birth controls I have used for the past ten years, and the elderly doctor began to look amused. I became quite indignant as he attempted to explain the monthly hormones that cause periods. He thought the IUD had fallen out undetected, but the reason for no menses was because I had ‘confused’ my system through being on the contraceptive pill, the Nexplanon implant in my arm and finally the miraculous Mirena coil. Through frustrated tears, I told him I did not understand why the technician said she saw it whilst conducting my ultrasound.

Finally, the gynaecologist started to hear me. He asked me to have a quick ultrasound. As I pulled down my under-crackers, he ducked round the curtain before I was ready. Feeling embarrassed, I laid back on the paper towel. The nurse hoisted up my top and slopped more cold gel on my belly. He asked me to sit up and showed me a white blob on the screen. It was not a baby, it was a blurry ghost. “Is that my IUD in my womb?” He smiled and said it looked as though it was, but I could not return the smile. I was angry that it had been missed and that I was throwing money away sitting here.

He asked if he could have a look. I had already been clamped open and subjected to this at the start, but “Why not?” I thought miserably. Peering through his thick lenses, he said he could just make out a short blue string, which arguably was the cause of all this kerfuffle. I began to cry. He kindly waived the consultation fee of my visit, but I cynically knew that he would get it back when I returned for my second ultrasound results.

So here I am. I will revisit the hospital for another ultrasound first thing tomorrow morning. Hopefully, they’ll locate it this time. It’s a bizarre position to be in – on the one hand, I obviously want to avoid surgery, but on the other, that’s the only way I’ll get my money back. Wish me luck.

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The Inseparability of Twins 

Twins are not that rare a phenomenon, with 8-16 pairs of twins per 1,000 pregnancies in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Of these, around a quarter are a subset called mirror twins.

There is a simple Thai phrase which sums up my experience as an identical mirror twin, ‘Same, same but different.’ Here are my thoughts about being a walking clone of my sister for the past 28 years:

Birthdays
Our birthday is on the same day. Over the years, my sister tried to introduce a 3 minute curfew on me opening my cards and presents since she was that much older. I refused because most of our gifts are the same thing but in a different colour, which ruins the surprise element of opening them. Unforgivably, I forgot my twin’s birthday when I was 15 as I was away skiing in Austria. She is yet to forget mine.

Twins

When two become one
As a twin, sometimes it feels like you are half a person rather than a whole. In the Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, one character wonders if her twin girls, “have a life of their own each, or just one between the two of them.” We are used to the BOGOF jokes (buy one get one free), the ‘spare parts’ jibes where the dystopian reality of Never Let Me Go is a little too close for comfort, or the fact that if one of us were to die, at least there is another one walking around. Just so you know, pondering over our mortality is a total buzz kill.

Twins 7

Style
Thankfully, when we were younger, our mum didn’t always dress us the same. We developed polarised styles as we grew up, with her experimenting with hippy-goth vibes and me pretending I was an Australian surfer. Aged 12, I was inspired by the Jacqueline Wilson book Double Act, where Ruby chops off all her hair to look different from Garnet. The change was temporary, however, as my sister liked it and then did exactly the same. It was a compliment I repaid her in our mid-twenties. As we grew up, I was frustrated by her unwillingness to share her wardrobe, but I understand now that she was protecting our identities from merging even more. On the bright side, it’s handy having someone try out a style before you commit to it yourself, even if it is dark purple lipstick.

Twins 2

Telling us apart
Up until the age of three, it was almost impossible to tell us apart. Our family photo album has our names scribbled on the back, but some do have question marks. It is entirely likely that we may have swapped identities when we outgrew our hospital name bracelets. Luckily, as mirror twins, we grabbed for things with different hands which helped our family work out who was who. My sister wore NHS prescription glasses for a couples of years in primary school, but we rebelled against this distinguishable feature by breaking them at every opportunity, from flying off swings or (less elegantly) jumping on them from the bed. As we grew older, people started commenting on our appearance. It’s amazing how brazen strangers can be when analysing your faces. To be told that one is prettier, more rounded in the jaw, has a bigger cows-lick or widow’s peak, has nicer-shaped eyes, has slimmer legs etc. is not pleasant to hear as a self-conscious teen, let alone one who loves her sister. Note to the wise – let the twins tell you how they like to be identified before you offend them.

Twins 3

The evil twin
There is always one. I took this title in our pair. I was always louder, more aggressive playing sports, partied more, decorated myself in piercings and tattoos and have an incurable case of foot-in-mouth. However, as identical twins, we share the exact same DNA. If a crime was committed and a DNA sample framed one of us, people would automatically assume that I did it. I’m not a bad person, but when you compare our virtues, I’ll admit that I’m not as saintly as my sister. This keeps me awake at night sometimes.

Twins 4

Strangers are easily offended
My twin and I ended up working at the same company in Canary Wharf after graduating. She’d been there nearly 2 years and set me up, and I rocked up to my interview on crutches. Lots of employees smiled emphatically at me or shot me looks of concern. I was concentrating on walking on my sticks and listening to my tour, so I did not respond. Undoubtedly, some of Carla’s colleagues thought that she was being rude that day. We ended up working in completely different teams but were located on the same floor. Often, we would often get accosted by our colleagues and set various tasks. As an intern who wasn’t sure on what my role entailed, I dread to think of how many extra errands I ran, or failed to do properly on my sister’s behalf. When I quit my job, a few of our colleagues were surprised to discover there were two of us. They must have thought that our amalgamation changed outfits regularly each day.

Twins 15

Achievements are dulled
When we were 16, we landed on the front page of our local rag. The picture showed us waving our exam results in the air and grinning moronically.  My sister and I were the GCSE results story because, as she dryly put it, we were twins. She was at pains to explain that the one B result came from me, and resented the fact that her almost flawless sheet was marred with some of my unstarred A’s. She achieved an even greater accomplishment, though, having scored in the top 5 for English Literature out of over 365,000 papers. Unfortunately, I matched her on this too.

Twins 10

Telepathy is a thing
It’s just not our thing. Like anyone who has spent lots of time together and shared experiences, we often would react the same way and say the same thing. Jinxing is something I happen to do with close friends, too. However, we do not feel each other’s pain (stop punching us), we do not always feel sad at the same time (although there’s this thing called empathy), and we cannot communicate across the room using our minds (we use Whatsapp just like you).

Twins 8

Swapping
We never capitalised on being twins. I’d like to say we took advantage of our likeness to play the system, but for that to work, you need two willing volunteers. As far as I can remember, we only swapped classes once as she was far too rule-abiding to try it again. Our mum entered us into a Pears Soap advert competition but unfortunately we’d just lost our front teeth. I did ask her to apply for Bear Gryll’s The Island after I auditioned, but it wasn’t something she fancied doing. We’ve never tricked our dates, or sneaked into festivals or gigs on one ticket. However, my sister forgot her ID once and I managed to persuade a bouncer to let her in on mine.

Twins 12

History can be edited
When my sister and I are together and reminiscing about the past, we often find that we confuse who was actually in the story. I confess I have an unfortunate habit of inserting her into a story when it is embarrassing. Sharing a synchronized childhood together was special, and ultimately it doesn’t matter who beat who 6-3 in the last set of tennis, who created the Spirograph masterpiece, who rode without stabilisers first, or who grew their sea monkeys the biggest. When she’s not around, I can shamelessly claim these victories for myself.

Twins 16

Halloween
One Halloween in the 1990’s, we didn’t have a costume ready. We could have gone down the bed sheet ghoul route, but our mum had a better idea. We hit the streets in a large jumper and pretended we were conjoined twins. That evening, we got a sorry haul of just one orange to share between us, and oh, an old lady threw a bucket of water over us. I suppose we deserved it.

Twins 11

Mistaken identity
As fifteen year olds, we played for a women’s hockey team. We both played in mid-field, with her on the right and me on the left. Our playing style was markedly different. She was a more tactical player who would run miles each game, chasing down balls and initiating play up the field. I had already sent two girls to hospital with injuries from my (mostly legal) hitting technique. From my short hockey career, one game stands out. I scored the winning goal against a tough opponent. We had defended a short corner and their players had pushed up. I intercepted the ball and ran up the field, looking for support. I used reverse stick to get around one defender, then flicked the ball over the next defender. I was now in the D, facing their last line of defence. The keeper ran out, and I dummied running to the left before sweeping the ball in from the right. After the match, they gave woman of the match to my sister. Robbed.

Twins 6

What’s in a name?
My twin and I are both used to being called the wrong name by accident. What we are less tolerant of is when people deliberately call us the wrong name on purpose. Our response is to get their name wrong in return. Occasionally, our names are dismissed entirely and we are referred to as “Twin One” and “Twin Two” like Dr Seuss characters. For the record, being called number two is not something you can be proud of.

Twins 17

Double trouble
During a job interview I once had, the manager delighted in keeping me waiting for his decision, before congratulating me on landing the job on his bar staff. As I walked out, the manager shouted after me, “I wish there were two of you!”
“There are two of us,” I replied. “I have an identical twin.” He smiled politely and I walked out, thinking I needed to immediately inform my sister about her new job.

Twins 13

Occupational hazards
I learnt to scuba dive with my boyfriend and my twin. We were paired up with our buddies, did our checks, then descended down to the sea bed. The instructor was frantically waving at me to follow up ahead, but in following his instructions I had to abandon my buddy which is the ultimate diving no-no. I suddenly understood why – he had mistaken me for my twin. I wasn’t equipped to explain this mix up with my limited hand signals, so I just went with it. After that, I deliberately wore mismatched fins to be more recognisable.

Twins 9

BFFs
As sisters, we drifted apart in our teens. We went to different schools before she headed to University then polished off her Masters straight afterwards, whereas I went backpacking and ended up living in a caravan before studying my degree. Our friends would ask us why we weren’t closer and would say that if they had a twin, they would do everything together. I think people imagine their twin will be just like them, matching in personality and interests, forgetting that each mind is autonomous.

Being a mirror twin does certainly garner attention, but it’s not always positive. As a reaction against the constant comparisons and diminished individuality, I think we became opposite caricatures of one another at school. We are close now because those pressures have been lifted from us. We enjoy each other’s company, have adventures together and have varied experiences to share when we catch up. We can appreciate the differences we see, rather than wish they weren’t there. We were conditioned to be more competitive, but I’m relieved that we lead individual lives and have achieved separate goals. I am now teaching English in Singapore, and my twin is studying to become a speech and language therapist in London. Although our paths deviated, we are closer than ever.

Sources

Twin statistics, Mortality among twins and singletons in sub-Saharan Africa between 1995 and 2014‘, The Lancet, by Prof. Christian W S Monden, [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30197-3/fulltext]

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride, Hachette Digital version published 2009, p.79

 

 

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