Recently I was talking with my Aunt, who was born only 11 months apart from her sister. Essentially the two of them grew up like twins, and she laughed about how they would emerge into the hallway wearing matching outfits – after having gotten ready completely separate from each other. She explained, “twins deal with an identity complex — they each struggle to set themself apart from the other sister…" I interrupted and spoke on behalf of my sisters and I.
"Yep. We have that."
I have that.
“A big problem for identical twins is what is known as individuation. This relates to the psychological issue of identifying as an individual. For most singletons this occurs around the age of 3-4 years as they go through the ‘I’ stage - learning to distinguish themselves from other people and things around them. Identical twins often experience this stage very differently from singletons. For twins it's not an ‘I’ stage but instead, a ‘we’ stage, where twins learn to distinguish only so far as ‘us’ and ‘them’ creating a unit style identification. Many identical twins continue to relate to each other in this way into young adulthood and find themselves identifying as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ even in their adult conversation.”- TWIN TROUBLES (found here)
My heart has always gone out to twins. I always thought to myself, “That must be SO hard…” I mentioned this to my big sister the other day and she responded, “Are you kidding? We’ve had it worse than twins. Way worse.”
She was right.
Because we were a “group.” We’ve always been a group.
Dominique, Emma, and I are each two years apart. One at a time, we each took to singing. Everywhere we went, people would ask us to sing something and through the years, we caught on to the idea that it would be less of an awkward process if we just started preparing stuff. And… voila!
The Calvillo Sisters.
After that conversation with my Aunt, I became obsessed with the idea of a unit complex and how a collective identity can shape somebody growing up. I came across an article with the title: “Tips for Raising Individuals." It lists important pitfalls if a family is expecting triplets, or “multiples” as they call them, and points out tips to encourage individual identity in each child.
As I read the different key points, I had an earth shattering realization that my sisters and I have fallen into every single trap. We had an amazing childhood and fantastic parents who always loved and cared for us individually. The reality is that choosing to be a singing group in the music industry has afforded us very real identity issues. A "group complex."
It is important for every child to be encouraged to pursue their own individual interests... Just because your twins spend a lot of time together, it doesn’t mean that they both have to do the exact same activities during playtime… Consider enrolling your twins in separate play classes or social activities…"
Since we all sang, our parents wanted us to sing together. So that nobody ever felt left out. I don’t remember a turning point… it was just always encouraged for us to “blend.”
“Don’t sing over your sister.”
“It’ll be much stronger if you do it together.”
“Blend with each other.”
Acting lessons. Dance lessons. Musicals. Always together. Then by the time the year 2007 rolled around we were very serious about our music and anything outside of that was a “distraction.” Poor Dominique in a desperate attempt to have a boyfriend was sat down by our producer and reprimanded. "You will get pregnant. And DIE."
We grew up as very close friends. Dominique was always sweet to include me and I did the same for Emma. We were rare in that we not only got along, (for the most part,) we also shared friend groups and communities. Needless to say, "individual interests," were few and far between.
"Call Them By Their Names.
Parents, family members, and friends often fall into the trap of calling multiples, 'the twins,' 'the boys,' or 'the girls.' While this may seem natural to you, it can leave your kids feeling very unappreciated for who they are as individuals."
By the time I was starting high school we got involved with a production company who all regularly referred to us as “the girls.” Such a general reference; they could have meant anybody. But everyone knew they meant us: Dominique, Angelique, and Emma. This has carried on through the years. Our friends and family call us “the girls” when talking about us, whether we’re present or not. Could mean anyone. It means us. Always an “us.”
Family members and friends may find it particularly easy to identify your multiples by using labels, such as 'the smart one' or 'the artistic one.' Labels can be dangerous, however, as they tend to limit children from exploring different facets of their personality. If one of your twins is constantly labeled 'the artistic one,' she may feel that this label represents her entire identity."
We “needed” labels for marketing purposes long ago. They were divvied out like responsibilities. Through the years, they’ve matured and refined.
The diva. The entertainer. The lil' homie.
The sexy blonde. The mysterious brunette. The fiery redhead.
The visual. The musician. The businesswoman.
"Don’t Dress Them Identically.
Though you may think it’s absolutely adorable to dress your triplets in identical outfits, this is not a good way to promote individuality."
Need I even say it?
…Performing onstage together since we were teenyboppers… the same hilarious pedal pushers and sandals… This reality carries right up to the present:
“Everyone, we’re all doing the white crop-tops with the high-wasted shorts.”
"Praise Them Individually.
Multiples often do things together, so it can be tempting to offer praise to your children as a group. Instead, focus on praising them for things that they do by themselves… This will help to reassure your multiples that they are seen as individual people, not just as a package deal."
Recently, I was telling a friend about a special gift I was able to pull off for somebody. Back when I gave this person the gift, she cried and we had a wonderful, bonding moment. My friend’s reaction was, “Gosh. You three just have a way of making people feel so loved…”
Out of seemingly nowhere, my singular identity is constantly snatched and traded with a “you three," or a "you girls." When people give compliments to any one of us, they often sweep it across the board. OR, they compare us, which just makes it weird.
“She is just beautiful… I mean – you’re all beautiful, but – she is just…”
“She sounds amazing… I mean – you’re all amazing…”
Just because one of us is being complimented doesn't mean the other two automatically feel insulted. It's the constant side-by-side comparison that spoils the compliment. This has distorted my self image. I realize that throughout my life, instead of seeing myself as an individual, I have seen myself as contrasted against my sisters with whom I'm constantly, audibly, being compared to.
I’m sure that most people don’t realize they’re doing it, since they always see us together. And if they are aware, they are afraid that one of us will feel left out. This explains the average 20 group texts we’re clumped into on a daily basis: "Hey ladies..." People seem to feel guilty and paranoid about having an individual relationship with any of us. Because of this, we miss out.
"I wanted you to be my bridesmaid, but I couldn't have one of you without having all of you."
"Tell the sisters to come too."
There’s also the flip side of that, where in our adult lives, people still assume that when one of us knows something, the other two just magically know. As if we’re a computer system that automatically downloads the same information universally. Once Dominique and I were left out of a dinner party because Emma was invited and the host just assumed we knew about it.
“Where are the other two?”
“Which one of you was I joking around with about that one thing…?”
“If I’ve said it to one of you, I’ve said it to all of you.”
Everywhere I go I update people on both of my sisters… “Dom is good… Em is good…” I’m sure it’s the same thing for the both of them. Most of the time though, there is no singular inquiry. It’s a plural question.
“What’s going on with your guy’s music?”
“How are the sisters?”
“What’s the update on you girls?”
It’s no wonder that when I started journaling at age 15, I constantly used the “we” form when writing about my day to day life. I even remember feeling a twinge of guilt at first, recounting things about myself in an “I” form that I knew was something we were all doing collectively.
Reading through that list of advice, I started recognizing how severe my “group complex” was. Even though I wasn't born as a triplet, I certainly have the same psychological issues.
It was earth – shattering, and suddenly… a whole lot of stuff made sense:
Why I always felt an obligation to be opposite from Dominique, so that we could be different.
Why I hate feeling un-special or stereotyped.
Why I loathe and despise group texts.
Why I always felt free to be whoever I wanted to be when I was without my sisters, because when I was with them, I felt pressure to fulfill my “role.”
Why I liked having the nickname "Geli," because it made me feel distinctive.
Why I would give short answers to people and ask about them, because I didn’t want to go through the whole update on “us” and “our music.”
Why it took me so long to answer questions in “I” form.
Why I usually preferred to share the music I worked on by myself, apart from "The Calvillo Sisters."
Why I felt guilty for years to do my own thing or excel at my individual gifts because I was afraid of the constant comparison.
Why I could never figure out why mine and Dominique’s names had to freeking rhyme.
“What happened to the third one?”
“Why doesn’t she get an ‘eeque?’”
“She should be Emma-lique!”
Why I became furious when guys would claim to have had a crush on more than one of us… as if we were freekin Neapolitan ice cream and they could just pick which flavor they were feeling next.
Why some days I just wanted to quit all of it.
“A single thread in a tapestry
Though its color brightly shines
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design.”
- Through Heaven's Eyes -
There are family units that come to mind when I think about people I’ve grown up with. Siblings, clans, tribes. I can picture each of their faces and analyze each of their personalities. And it’s the individualization of each personality that makes for such a strong, dynamic family: a beautiful comfort for people to come rest.
For many people, my family has been that resting place. Even the house we live in is referred to as being a fortress for many. “The compound.” My parents have done an incredible job teaching us how to include one another, as well as others. We had our tiffs and still do, but we all have a closeness and respect for each other that people will say they feel drawn to.
People often marvel at how the three of us get along the way that we do – and more so, the way we share friends and make a singing group work. We just love each other. We like each other.
Both of my sisters are amazing young women, and my very best friends.
No one forced us to be a singing group. We sang together because it was great.
By the time I was 10, Mom had taught us how to sing in harmony. We kicked our parents out of our rehearsals and started to arrange our own songs, taking our own initiative. Now, as I work teaching harmony to church choirs, or girls in Los Angeles who have been trafficked, I can attribute my skill and 15 years of experience to the singing I've done with my sisters.
We represent something: family. The strength of family and all that you can do when you team up for the bettering of the world. One of my favorite things to do is to sing at church with the two of them, just us. We do things without thinking about it – like hold hands on stage… give each other an eye signal, and just know what to do telepathically.
Maybe in some small way, we can be role models. I love watching the young ones interact… siblings and cousins. Maybe they can learn to love each other and create things together. “That would be so special…” I think to myself.
The real truth is that I’ve learned A LOT about communication. We always had a motivation to stay close: our music. But we still had to work really hard at staying close and maintaining our relationship. It’s always been worth it, because we do have something special. We have each other.
Through the years, it has been my honor to be one of “The Calvillo Sisters” and a part of the Calvillo clan.
From such a support system, I have drawn unconditional love and strength.
“And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”
Sometimes it feels like I'm groping for my own identity. Like when people see me, they only see my as "one third," of the unit. The brunette. The middle kid... or whoever I am.
But I reconsider my friendships. Those that truly know me have always made me feel loved and appreciated. My parents are always listening to my crazy creations. My friends are always visiting me for one-on-one time... with morning tea and life discussions.
"So. Ang. How are YOU?"
I’ve had a unique upbringing in many ways. The closeness of my family has been a blessing and a challenge. A suffocation and a comfort. But I wouldn’t trade any of it.
I LOVE MY EXTRAORDINARY LIFE.
What I want to say to anyone out there who has felt synonymous with another friend, family member, or group of people is this: