Growing Up “Irish Twin” Part One*

I am lucky to have survived childhood with an accomplice, a partner in crime. She’s my sister, my Irish twin. It was not always fun or even nice to have this Irish twin. At times, I would have gladly smothered her with a pillow or at the very least led her out into the fields behind our house in the hopes that she might get lost and never return. We fought often and I will admit I was not always nice. But now more than ever, I can say I appreciate her and love the fact that we have the bond we do to this day.

I came first you see, which should come as no shock to any of you. I will ALWAYS come first. Seriously, you should see me behind the wheel. It quite honestly KILLS me to be stuck last in line in traffic. I like to lead the pack. It’s a cross I have to bear; a cross that those around me have to bear too. Sorry not sorry. My parents were very young; I came bouncing into the world a little less than 8 months after their wedding day. That was a fun conversation to have as a kid…when you find out in health class how long it takes to have a full-term baby and then you work backwards from your birthday to find out that shit does not add up. To add insult to injury, apparently when dad called the rest of the family to let them know I had arrived, no one believed him; they thought it was an April Fool’s joke. More on that another day…

To their credit, this young couple beat all the odds and are still together today. I secretly think they really fell in love again once my sister and I finally left the nest, which I don’t want to unravel overmuch. They traveled and got to hang out and have fun. Coincidentally, they also decided to sleep in separate rooms when we moved out. You do the math, but I can tell you from experience that sharing a bed with someone who snores and tosses and turns is no picnic. Sleeping alone is a glorious thing and makes for a happier human.

And again, I digress…. it happens.

So I had this perfect only-child existence for a mere eleven months before this competitor showed up. Mom is not shy about the fact that she had gone to a postpartum checkup only to be told she was pregnant again. Tears were shed. Gram (Mom’s mom…a spitfire of 4’8″ who was widowed the year before I was born and was frankly a force of nature) was quite possibly the glue that held it all together; she lived right up the road and I can not tell you a time when she was not present. My earliest memory of her involves peeking under the door of my bedroom into the living room to make sure I could still see her feet in the recliner after I was supposed to be in bed. She helped a lot in those early years. Regarding the tears, I can’t say as I blame Mom; I waited until my oldest was out of diapers before having #2 and still it was no picnic. Let’s just say my oldest watched a LOT of Sponge Bob while I attempted to calm her colicky little sister.

What they don’t tell you about being an Irish twin is that your mom will dress you the SAME until you are at least 15 years old. Exhibit A to the right. Now, you’re going to ooooh and aaaahhh about how freaking adorable we were, but let me tell you, this is only one of 3,000 photos of us looking the same way. It’s no wonder our tastes and styles are so different to this day. Rebellion takes subtle forms, my friends. I swore I would never do this to my girls, but apparently I was slipped some sort of amnesia-inducing concoction from my mom when I gave birth, because I absolutely did this when my girls were small. Before you judge me harshly, it was only at Christmas when I felt some sort of need to make them wear coordinating dresses. I’m not proud; I’m in a 12-step program for it today.

Life with this demon twin child was hellish in those early years. She would turn the TV off whenever my favorite commercial for BumbleBee Tuna came on. This was awful. I loved that jingle as a small child. Kids now will never know the glorious tunes of those great American jingles. Some of you may recall it and are already humming the jingle. The rest of you should Google it. I’ll wait.

Done? OK…you’re welcome for the ear worm. Now it will be in my head for the rest of the day and should be in your head too.

The other thing this awful twin would do to me would be to climb from her crib into mine in our little shared room and BITE me. On the BACK. She was a regular little piranha. This biting thing was apparently a big issue and I don’t know if she ever really lost her taste for it (no pun intended)…she has been known to playfully bite the feet of her kids, my kids, her own grandson. Now that I think about it, my grandmother used to do the same thing (the biting of little feet, not backs). It’s got to be some weird family trait. I don’t have it, but I take after my dad’s side of the family.

By the time we were ready for school, that eleven month gap was a Godsend because I started first (again, I must always be FIRST). I have to search my memory banks, but I don’t think we had many of the same teachers, which was a good thing. Whether or not that was by the design of our mom or the district or just happy coincidence, I will never know. By the time we hit high school though, we started to feel the comparisons coming on. “ohhhh, you’re Shannon’s sister…” a teacher would say to my sister. That comment was a double-edged sword. It came bundled with a lot of expectations, some of them good and some of them bad. I was a good student, an overachiever, though not really athletic. I was sometimes a bit of a loudmouth. Shocker, I know.

Throughout high school, we found our paths converging occasionally as much as we resisted being known as a “set,” like we had been when we were dressed the same as little girls. I opted to play soccer (not well, but well enough to make the team and enjoy playing the second string) and my sister became a cheerleader. One would think all would be just ducky in our separate lanes. Until you learn that all of my friends, ALL OF THEM, were cheerleaders. On Fridays, I was the lone chick in a Gap sweater and pegged jeans sitting at a lunch table with a bunch of girls dressed in their cheerleading uniforms. The whole sports uniforms was a thing in my high school; sports teams all wore their jerseys on Fridays. Cheerleaders included.

If you don’t remember what pegged jeans were, leave now, we cannot be friends.

Kidding…just Google it.

So this cheerleader connection proved to be the thing that made our high school lanes converge completely. Suddenly, all my friends were her friends too. I began to realize that having this Irish twin was a boon and not a curse. She had thankfully stopped the biting before we hit high school and low and behold, she was damn fun to be around. We realized we had more in common than we ever thought. Instead of her heading to my grandmother’s when our parents went out of town and I threw a party, she was included in the crazy and often took first place in the ice cube tray races. You don’t know about ice cube tray races? You know the drill people.

We have the same laugh. We don’t think we look a lot alike, even though some people have said we do. I think it’s more a matter of us having very similar mannerisms. We have wildly different tastes in music and clothes and hair and makeup, but we have similar parenting philosophies. Taking a cue from our mom, both of us love to throw parties and have both worked to organize our class reunions. Taking a cue from Gram, we both love to bake and are damn good at that too.

And she might disagree with me, but she’s also loud; the life of the party and living a life resisting invisible. She’s pretty awesome and I have forgiven her for for biting me and flicking off the TV when that BumbleBee Tuna ad came on. But I’m not above reminding her about it.

Stay tuned for part two…the tale of how these Irish twins went to work together, planned their weddings together (11 months apart, because, of course), how they both married men named Jim and realized that they shared a brain after all.

*Afterword…I just learned that “Irish Twin” is apparently an offensive term. Who knew? As someone with Irish blood (though the German genes tend to win out much more than the Irish ones, I do have a shamrock tattoo and no, I am not telling you where it is) I feel that I can still use it. Irish people don’t really get offended by much; if they did, that Lucky Charms guy would have been gone years ago.

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