School makes a fine battleground, too. The loose talk among parents of twins is that elite private schools don’t like to admit multiples because it limits the donor pool (nobody has hard evidence of this). When twins get older, says Nancy L. Segal, a developmental psychologist who specializes in twins, they are often accused of cheating together on tests and plagiarizing each other’s papers. The New York public-school system, like many around the country, discourages twins from being in the same class, based on the new orthodoxy that separation helps them develop individual identities. Parents are challenging that, saying those decisions should be theirs to make.
Raising multiples in New York is extreme parenting on the major-league level. There isn’t enough time, there isn’t enough space, and even for people who otherwise seem fairly well off, there isn’t enough money. “You’re overwhelmed, but you’ve got to learn to let go,” says Schneider. “Your house will never be clean, the dishes will never be done. You see this?”—she picks up a stack of color Xeroxes—“These are the holiday cards from 2001 we never mailed.”
To see what we were in for, we invited ourselves over to dinner at Bart and Elizabeth’s, acquaintances of ours who live in Tribeca with their 3-year-old twin boys. They also invited their friends Jacob and Alice, who have their own set. (To achieve maximum candor, we agreed to refer here to the grown-ups by their middle names.) The scene there looked idyllic. By 8 p.m., three toddlers in bathrobes, their hair damp from a communal bath, were sitting peacefully on the sofa with their sippee cups, absorbed in Dora the Explorer. The fourth was nearby, eating a floret of broccoli without having been bribed to do so and looking adorable in an Elmer’s Glue T-shirt.
The grown-ups, meanwhile, sat at a dinner table drinking a bottle of red wine and eating takeout from Odeon. All are in their mid-thirties to early forties, work in arts-related fields, and, in the typical New York way, had experienced most of their adulthood as extended adolescence. They spent their money on dinner and clothes, went to movies, and saw rock bands. Then they decided to start families.
Both Elizabeth and Alice went through multiple rounds of fertility treatments. Both were overjoyed to be having any babies at all and happily embraced the news of twins. And both admit that the blissful scene at the apartment tonight, with four chilled-out kids, is 100 percent anomalous. In the months following the birth of their boys, Bart says, he and Elizabeth experienced “white-hot isolation.” Living in New York, he imagined they’d be the people arriving at rock shows with their kid in a sling. “But there was no way,” he says. “You know, I’d imagined what it would be like to be the president of the United States and to be an astronaut, but somehow it never came on my list to be a father of twins.”
“Oh, it was so beyond anything I’d imagined,” says Alice. “On the one hand, it’s unbelievable joy and it’s everything you wanted and you wanted so badly to have these kids. But I was just remembering those moments where it’s Saturday morning and you’ve each slept about half an hour a couple of times during the night and you’re each holding an upset baby and you say, ‘Can I give you both babies so I can brush my teeth?’ And your husband’s like, ‘No, I’ve been waiting for two hours to make the coffee,’ and you’re like, ‘Well, can I just take my puked-on shirt off?!’ And he’s like, ‘No! I have to pee!’ And you know that there’s, like, fifteen hours ahead of you before bedtime where nobody’s going to get sleep again.”
For a moment, no one at the table says anything.
Multiples put considerable strain on a marriage. “Basically, the wife hates the husband,” says Jacob. Alice cuts in: “You say to your husband, ‘Why can’t you save me from this? Why aren’t you helping me?’ ” It doesn’t matter how much the husband might be helping. Or think he’s helping.
“It’s what all first-time parents feel,” says Elizabeth, “but more.” With twins, Bart grew more attached to his urban life, while Elizabeth set her sights on Austin, Texas, and a yard. Why stay in an expensive place where you can’t take advantage of the good things it has to offer? she figured. No one was exactly getting to the theater much.
Part of what kept the couple in the city, or what made the city manageable with their multiples, was their relationship with Jacob and Alice and their boys. Bart and Jacob were college friends who had fallen out of touch. Then they ran into each other in Union Square a few weeks after their boys were born. “I was in a fog,” remembers Bart. “I said, ‘Hey, what’s up, man?’ ‘Nothing, just had twins.’ ‘Twins?! Me too!’ We made plans to hang out, which never happened. Then six months later we ran into each other again and had the same exact conversation. ‘Hey, what’s up, man?’ ‘Nothing, just had twins.’ ‘Twins?! Me too!’ ”