Actress and model Rebecca Romijn talks about her twins’ secret language and other parenting adventures, while her husband, actor Jerry O’Connell, can’t help dressing his twin girls alike, despite their two distinct personalities.
“I drove home laughing hysterically,” Rebecca Romijn recounts to P&C when asked how she reacted to the news from her obstetrician that she was expecting twins. “It was a complete shock for Jerry and me,” says the 38-year-old California-born model and actress, referring to husband Jerry O’Connell. Since delivering fraternal sisters Dolly and Charlie two years ago this December, Romijn and O’Connell have been on a classic parenting ride of diapers, first words, first steps, tantrums, and toddler-wrangling, times two.
Parent & Child: First let me ask, how did you choose the names for your girls?
Romijn: Charlie is named after Jerry’s brother. Dolly comes from Dolly Parton, one of my favorite singers.
P&C: In what ways are Charlie and Dolly similar to each other?
Romijn: Because they’re fraternal twins, they’re as similar as any other two siblings might be. They’re actually very different — one is a little wilder and more of a daredevil, and the other is more careful. Charlie will wake up at 5 a.m., Dolly at 7. But as they get older I do notice they’re taking on each other’s characteristics. Sort of mimicking each other.
P&C: Are they close?
Romijn: Yes. They have this language they speak with each other that only they understand. The other day at the playground they stood and talked together for like an hour. They were deep in conversation, ignoring everything around them. It was so cute.
P&C: Parents of twins often hear, “It must be so much harder raising two.” Do you agree with that?
Romijn: I don’t know because my only experience as a parent is with twins. But in some ways we feel like it might be easier because we’ll be done with diapers and sippy cups all in one fell swoop. Plus, they keep each other company — they have a built-in playdate!
P&C: Besides built-in playdates, do you see other advantages to raising two in your experience?
Romijn: I think it turns you into a little bit more of a relaxed parent. You only have two arms — sometimes you have to let one cry it out because the other needs your undivided attention. Having said that, Jerry and I do each other a favor by taking one alone from time to time. That’s important because twins are individuals, and they want to be recognized as such. It’s funny how after a few hours with just one we say, “Having one kid is easy!”
P&C: How has having children changed your life in general?
Romijn: Once you have a child you feel more connected to kids and with life, really. Even before the girls were born, when I was pregnant, I began working with Save the Children. I’m heading down to Guatemala with them in November to support the programs they run there to help lower the infant mortality rate.
P&C: Describe Jerry’s parenting style.
Romijn: Fantastic. Thank God I married such a hilarious man. We try to keep it as light as we can.
P&C: Jerry said when one twin acts up in a restaurant, say, he’ll swoop her up and take her outside to try to calm her.
Romijn: Parents won’t always agree on the way to handle outbursts. But every time Jerry does that I laugh and go, “Sucka! You’re giving her just what she wants!” One-on-one time with Daddy!
P&C: How else does he bond with them?
Romijn: He has fantasies about these girls being the greatest athletes of all time! I’ve gently suggested to him that ultimately it’s not going to be up to him. For example, the other day he kicked a soccer ball to Charlie. She stood there and it hit her in the leg. She just stared back at Jerry with that look on her face: “Why would you kick a ball at me?”
P&C: What are your hopes for your twin girls as they grow up?
Romijn: When it comes to girls, you have to raise them without any belief in limitations. You have to instill in them from the beginning that they can do whatever it is they want to do. Right now they’re so full of life, so happy and high-spirited. I dream that nothing ever breaks that spirit.
“Rebecca came home with the sonogram and there was not one blob, but two. Twins!” That’s how actor Jerry O’Connell recalls the moment when he first learned he would be the father of two. The 36-year-old native New Yorker, star of the new CBS drama The Defenders, told P&C he always knew he and Rebecca would have “at least a couple of kids — it’s just not something I thought we’d go through all at once. But it’s great having Dolly and Charlie.”
Parent & Child: What’s the best thing about having “two kids all at once,” as you say?
O’Connell: Each has a built-in playmate! I grew up in New York City, where I was used to going down the hallway of our apartment building and knocking on neighbors’ doors to play. Here in L.A. we have to drive to all our playdates.
P&C: In what ways are Charlie and Dolly different from each other?
O’Connell: Charlie is bigger. But I have to be careful saying that. I don’t want that to be an issue for either of my girls. I came from a household where no one stressed anything about size. My dad had a saying — “Height is measured from the neck up.” But a lot of parents see Charlie and ask what percentile she’s in. That’s always the big question.
P&C: That naturally leads me to ask, which twin is older?
O’Connell: They’re exactly the same age. Here’s what I mean: My wife and I had met some twins before ours were born and one would always say, “I’m the older one.” And that twin would have a kind of seniority over the other. We didn’t like that. Because Charlie and Dolly were born by Cesarean, we asked the doctor, “Can we say they were born at the same time? And he said, ‘Well, they were.’”
P&C: Rebecca mentioned that Dolly and Charlie have two distinct personalities.
O’Connell: That’s right. One is outgoing and one is shy. We had this rule that we were going to treat them differently and dress them differently. But I dress them the same. I just can’t help myself.
P&C: Is it true you cleared out your video games room to make way for the nursery?
O’Connell: You could call it my “man cave.” But the adult term would be “home office.” It’s where I had my computer and my Xbox. Hey, you gotta make room for the kids!
P&C: Do you still play video games?
O’Connell: Yes. But I find the girls don’t like it when I’m playing instead of paying attention to them. They get upset about that.
P&C: That’s classic. The same thing often happens when a parent is on the phone.
O’Connell: The computer, too! When Rebecca wants to use the computer, she has to make believe she’s in the kitchen cooking for them. She actually goes in the kitchen and rattles pots and pans so she can shop online.
P&C: Describe Rebecca’s parenting style.
O’Connell: She’s the best. Even when we have disagreements about the kids, I realize later that she was correct. I’m not saying that in a robotic, obedient husband kind of way. She’s a great mom, especially with girls. Maybe if we had had boys it’d be different, but we have girls.
P&C: Sometimes having a daughter can change a man’s perspective on girls and women. Did you find that so?
O’Connell: As the father, I’m going to have a few rules for my girls, obviously, as they get older. For instance, they’ll be allowed to date when I’m dead. When I’m gone they can go out with any boy they want.
P&C: You’re so old-fashioned!
O’Connell: Actually, I want them to shatter the glass ceiling. I’m hoping they grow up and don’t even have to think about being held back. I like to think we live in a modern society and it won’t be an issue. Luckily, it’s 2010, and we’re not living in an episode of Mad Men.
Nick Friedman is the editor-in-chief of Scholastic Parent & Child.