When I was a kid, I adored "The Parent Trap," a Disney movie starring British teen idol Haley Mills playing the role of twins — a rarity at the time. Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith starred as her flustered, divorced parents. Hard to believe, divorce was relatively uncommon then, as well. My infatuation with the film had little to do with the movie’s theme. My parents were not divorced. I was not a twin. No, what captivated me was the possibility that sisters could be friends. Clearly, this was Fantasyland.
In geopolitical terms, my relationship with my older sister Murgatroyd (not her real name, but close) could’ve been described as East and West Ukraine. We didn’t have rockets, missiles or drones. But that didn’t stop either of us from acts of sabotage, torture and forming unholy alliances with our parents. When she was fifteen, Murgatroyd announced that she was adopted, which came as a surprise to my parents. How else to explain our irreconcilable differences?
These days, thanks to fertility drugs, twins are as common as Starbucks. So when my friend Suzie, a single mom, recently invited me to go to a beach resort with her 14-year-old twins, it rekindled my adolescent fantasy of sisters who are best friends. It was also an opportunity to get reacquainted with the girls, Becky and Austin, who, until two years ago, had lived in Prague. The last time I had seen them, they were skittish seven-year-olds, enamored of glitter, unicorns and ponies.
It was only when we met outside a two-star motel, apparently favored by a gang of geriatric Harley Davidson enthusiasts, that it occurred to me. I had volunteered to share a room with two TEENAGERS for four days! Was I nuts? And had I brought the appropriate mood-altering drugs?
The answers were yes and no. Going on vacation with other people’s kids is like participating in a reality TV show. But without the big pay day. And I had idiotically left my happy pills at home.
The first surprise was discovering that Becky, now an avid equestrian, was taller than her mother (and me) with the kind of lithe blond beauty that causes speculation about modeling careers.
“If she reaches 5'10" by the time she’s sixteen, they’ll snap her up and you won’t have to worry about college tuition,” I whispered. Suzie shrugged off the compliment. Her twins are not identical and it’s every mother’s job to be impartial.
Austin, on the other hand, has turned into a pixyish brunette with a Barbie nose and a determination to be her own person. If Becky wears blue, Austin dons pink. Becky orders chocolate ice cream; Austin has butter pecan. These girls are not going to fight over boyfriends or march down the aisle in matching wedding gowns.
Whatever qualms I had about being with hormonally charged adolescents 24/7 quickly dissipated. Maybe it’s because they were raised in Europe, but Becky and Austin displayed none of the petulant, entitled, tiresome mannerisms I associate with American teens. No whining, tantrums, sulking or unreasonable demands. When I requested that they turn off the TV at 10 p.m., after a marathon of "Big Bang Theory," they acquiesced without a whimper. And while their mother and I swooned over soft shell crabs and raw oysters, the twins didn’t wince or make gagging sounds. They quietly ate their chicken tenders and fries.
Were there moments when they acted like any normal fourteen-year old siblings? Of course. They grumbled over identical hair bands (You took mine! No, I didn’t! Yes, you did!) and over space in the back seat of the car (Get away. This is my side!), but most of the time, the twins displayed a flowing symmetry. They rode ocean waves together on boogie boards for hours, shared a bed without complaint for several nights and French braided one another’s hair. (If my sister ever touched my hair, it was to scalp me, Comanche-style.)
When it was time to say goodbye, Becky and Austin giggled and said, “You know who you are?” Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes, expecting to be identified as an unsavory character from "Twilight."
“You’re Phoebe from 'Friends'!” they crowed unison.
Me? A lovable, flaky, tone-deaf, folk singer? How perceptive. We sang an off-key version of “Smelly Cat,” had a last ice cream for the road and a group hug.
The Disney movie version of teenaged twins was just a Hollywood fabrication. But I realized that the sisterly love I had always coveted was to be found in the warmth of my female friendships and in the embrace of their children.