A few weeks ago, Jesuit Publications invited me to their end-of-year Christmas drinks. The amount of joy and excitement I felt about standing around with a group of strangers drinking wine out of a disposable cup was perhaps a little out of proportion. I was writhing with anticipation. It didn’t matter that I was breastfeeding newborn twins. It didn’t matter that I was holidaying an hour’s drive away. I would be there. I would make this happen. This was more than just a Christmas party. This single event would transform a series of emails and corresponding bank transfers into a proper and legitimate job as a writer.
My husband, bless him, took charge of the older children and didn’t question my desperate zeal for a minute. My only hurdle was to try to contain my excitement enough to pass as a sophisticated writer and not a tragic keeno. Armoured in my best industrial-grade shapewear and a stylish black dress (not the one in which I was caught impersonating a pregnant woman), I tried to maintain a nonchalant expression as I heaved the double stroller up a narrow flight of stairs (yes, I know – I should have gone up and asked someone for help, but I didn’t know anyone there and I was feeling awkward enough as it was.)
As soon as I stumbled into the party, I drove my stroller into the nearest group of strangers and introduced myself. We immediately started talking about Daisy and Poppy, who were both awake and making eyes at their new friends. Having your own set of twins can be a useful icebreaker in these situations. In this instance, we embarked upon Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #5: “Do Twins Run In Your Family?”, and this kept us going for a good ten minutes.
Pretty soon my brother Bobby arrived. By a funny coincidence, Bobby also freelances for Australian Catholics, and for its sister publications, Eureka Street, Madonna and PrayerBlog (those links are to articles he wrote. No, don’t click on them yet, wait till you’ve finished reading my post.). We had thought nobody would know that we were related because we had different last names, but they had figured it out. I also met my editor for the first time. I was a little disappointed that he looked and sounded nothing at all like JK Simmons (“Bring me Spiderman!”), but I’m going to christen him ‘J. Jonah Jameson’ anyway.
I already knew the magazine’s photographer (Peter Parker), because he had also been the photographer for my wedding. I greeted him and he initiated Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #3: “Are They Identical?”
I hesitated. This topic of conversation is more awkward than it might sound. It starts innocuously enough:
“Yes, we think they might be”
I always try to hurry the conversation on to a new topic from here, but it never works:
“What do you mean? Don’t you know for sure?”
And this is where it gets tricky. You see, Daisy and Poppy look almost exactly alike and there is a chance they could be identical. But in the womb, they presented as fraternal twins.
“What do you mean ‘presented’?”
Erm. They each had their own sac and placenta.
It happens every time. As soon as I say the word ‘placenta’, things get awkward. I can see the colour drain from Peter’s face. His eyes fill with panic. I feebly continue explaining about “the stage in gestation at which the egg splits”, but everything about his body language screams “I don’t care! I don’t care! I need to get out of here!”
I’ve talked about this before. There’s no getting around it. There’s no way of answering the question without using the word ‘placenta’. I’ve tried euphemisms, like ‘food source’ or ‘environment’, but people just ask me what I’m talking about and then I have to say it and they instantly regret talking to me. I’ve even tried word substitution, but “Play centre”, “Plus sender”, and “Please enter” all produce the same effect
As Peter ran away to refresh his drink, I gave Bobby a confidential nudge,
“It happened again! I had to say ‘placenta’!”
Bobby’s eyes filled with confusion and panic. I have talked about this before. Just not, it would seem, with Bobby.
Pretty soon I was talking to another one of Daisy and Poppy’s admirers. This nice lady initiated Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #1: “Oooooh! Twins!”. Bobby, meanwhile was talking to J. Jonah and a couple of other people about writing. I was able to eavesdrop whilst still talking to the nice lady as I have the responses to “Oooh Twins!” pretty thoroughly rehearsed. I was beginning to suffer from a major case of Conversation Envy. This is when I tried my trick.
As my conversation with Nice Lady finished up, I took two large steps away from the pusher, and then sidestepped my way into Bobby’s conversation. I was now close enough to see my beautiful twins, but not so close that people would want to talk to me about them. As well as J. Jonah (who, incidentally, was just as nice as his emails, possibly even nicer), Bobby was also talking to theologian, writer, mentor, comic and all-round-good-guy Fr Albus. I already knew Albus from my work in youth ministry ten years ago, but I didn’t expect him to remember me. He knew who I was, however, and had even read my writing (!!!). Albus described my style as ‘like a domestic bushranger’. I have no idea what that meant, but I didn’t care. I was having a major fangirl moment.
A small crowd was forming around pusher where Daisy and Poppy were cooing and smiling. People were having Standard-Issue Twin Conversations with each other. I heaved a satisfied sigh, confessed my relief to Bobby, J. Jonah and Albus and prepared for more intelligent, grown-up writer conversation.
But it wasn’t long before a member of this small fan club broke away and migrated to our conversation.
“Are you the mother of those adorable twins?” he gushed,
“Yes she is,” said Albus in a firm tone of voice, “but Kate was just saying how she would like to talk about something other than babies.”
“Oh. Right.” said the doting Twinsketeer, and he immediately re-arranged his facial features from infatuated to informative. It turns out that this gentleman was also a veteran journalist from one of the major newspapers. What followed was a conversation so epic, the memory of it has sustained me through much supermarket small-talk in the weeks that followed.
As for Standard Issue Twin Conversation #3, I recently tried a new, if rather dishonest, strategy:
“Are they identical?”
“Are you sure?”