Three’s company in the Follmer household
“Why are you writing about that? People always think being a triplet is interesting and cool. But it’s not.”
That encouraging morsel of cheer came from my brother Daniel when I called to ask whether I was allowed to use his real name in this article. “I concur,” echoed my brother Max a few minutes later.
For much of our lives, my brothers and I have gone to great lengths to avoid being known as “one of the triplets.” We’d cringe when referred to collectively as “the Follmer triplets.” You’d have thought the single pet hermit crab John Stern had given us for our fourth birthday (seriously, we have to share one damned hermit crab?) had crawled out of its shell and bitten our big toes off.
It was tedious to constantly hear, “Oh, you’re a triplet? That’s so cool! What’s that like?” because we didn’t think it was that cool. And we couldn’t say what being a triplet was like because we didn’t know what not being a triplet was like. To this day, I can’t see the difference between my having Max and Daniel around and my friend Katie having three sisters of different ages. Built-in playmate? Check. Someone else to blame when you take the liberty of taping the Miss Teen USA Pageant over Mom’s Dallas episodes? Double check.
Once, twice, three times the babies!
Blaming each other was an art we perfected very early in life. Once we mastered shouting, “Max did it” whenever our parents would call out to us from another room, we moved onto more advanced methods. All kids draw on the walls with crayons, right? But how many are sly enough to sign their siblings’ names underneath? Casual observers might have thought we had the next Picasso in the house with all of “Max’s” drawings on the walls. Poor Max was always the scapegoat.
Not that our entire childhood was spent plotting each other’s demise. When the three of us found a shared interest, life was a blast. Today I can’t dance to save my life, but the three of us choreographed some great crotch-grabbing dances to Eagles songs. And who can forget the great modeling clay massacre of 1991? I think that without a team of accomplices, most only children wouldn’t think to throw modeling clay onto the dining room ceiling to see how long it will stay, whether red sticks longer than blue or green, or how long it will take before Mom and Dad notice the stains.
It was really the loss of our own individual identities that bothered us most. Being “the Follmer triplets” meant that people didn’t actually have to remember all three of our names (to this day I’m still “Max’s sister” or “one of the Follmers”); that they could just buy three of the same birthday present and call it a day; or that they could just buy one present and make us split it (see: hermit crab).
The smiling Follmer triplets—just don’t make them share one hermit crab
I think it was this forced togetherness and presumed similarity that led us to keep each other at arm’s length. We had to assert ourselves as individuals with distinct styles and personalities, and in order to do that we could not ally ourselves too closely with each other.
Much to the shock of my singlet friends, I would not consider the three of us “close.” I don’t know when one of them is dating someone or when they have the flu. I only found out a few months ago that Daniel is allergic to cats, and other than a gift card to a coffee shop I couldn’t begin to tell you what Max would like for Chanukah.
And yet, we’re always there for each other when it matters. Even as a toddler when I would get upset I’d sob, “I want Max,” and Max would come running to give me a hug. After I ended a three-year relationship, Daniel was there to listen from 1500 miles away, even though he and I had never explicitly discussed the existence of the relationship.
Don’t worry, the irony is not lost on me that nearly every sentence I’ve written thus far has used plural pronouns, or that I’ve been basically speaking for my brothers without giving them a voice. No, I’m not using our triplet ESP to confirm that they feel exactly as I do; I’m simply guessing. But I bet I’m right.
Because yeah, sometimes the similarities in the ways we think are just too hard-wired to ignore. Senior year of high school we all three took the same English class. After reading each of our essays on The Odyssey my mother discovered that, completely coincidentally, we had all three written a nearly identical sentence (never mind that the teacher loved it in Daniel’s paper, thought Max could’ve said it better, and told me it didn’t work at all).
We all scored within ten points of each other on the SAT and were each in the top six of our high school class. We’d likely go Cain and Abel on each other if we found out that one of our siblings had voted for the political party that could have Dumbo as its mascot. We’ve probably all given our mother birthday cards with all manner of animals from Noah’s ark dressed up in tiaras and feather boas. But I’m likely the only one to find myself humming Adon Olam on a random Tuesday morning; though Daniel helped lead Shabbat services during college, I’m not convinced Max has set foot in services since we’ve been old enough to legally drink the Kiddush wine.
So I guess it’s a lie to say that there isn’t anything interesting about being a triplet. But the intrigue and the good times were not a product of my brothers and me being yanked from our mother’s womb in rapid succession on that fateful November morning; you could probably have put me in a room with any two random kids my age and I would have had a fine time. But at the end of the day, I’d still call out “I want Max (and Daniel).” Because for better or for worse, we are the Follmer triplets.