Which brings us to this mo­ment: hurtling toward Twinsburg in a minivan with a cooler full of snacks, Dora the Explorer on the DVD player, and a deep curiosity about what to expect at this gathering of multiples. For the first time ever, my girls are wearing matching outfits.

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Twins pair up for the Double Take Parade
Billy Delfs
The first Twins Days Festival was held in 1976, and 37 sets of twins participated. In the 34 years since, Twins Days has become the largest annual gathering of twins, triplets and quads, many of whom come from around the world. This year, 1,779 sets of twins, four sets of triplets and one set of quads registered to attend.

When we finally pull into the parking lot of Twinsburg High School, we are a little early for the weekend’s first event, the Friday-night Welcome Wiener Roast. Refreshment tents are still being set up, the bounce houses lie flat on the ground. As our girls jump from the van onto the ground in a shower of cracker crumbs, two older women exit their car wearing matching pink blouses and crisp, white slacks. Their hair is the color of snow. We’ve been here five minutes, and already I feel like a fish out of water, and not only because I am not a twin. At home, we don’t belong to a twins club, as some families with multiples do; in fact, we don’t know many other sets of twins, period. Until now, Claire and Olivia’s twinness has been nothing and everything all at once: I’ve never once forgotten that they are twins (not when there were two sets of diapers to change, nearly always at the same time), yet to me they are Claire and Olivia — two very different, very individual girls.

I appreciate people’s natural fascination with twins, especially identical ones. But I will admit that, as a parent, I’ve held a secret worry that my girls would end up somehow different from most kids. I worried that they would be unable to stand on their own, that they would always need the other too much. And in a society that places so much value on independence, their dependence on each other would expose a weakness.

So, when I see this elegant set of sisters, I get a jolt of anxiety and anticipation.

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Claire and Olivia Schmidt, the author’s twin daughters.
Billy Delfs
In the high school cafeteria, twins mill about, shouting hellos to old friends. As the afternoon wears on, the building swells with people. Everywhere you turn, sets of twins huddle together for photographs, arms cast around each other’s shoulders and smiles stretched across their faces. It happens over and over again: Two sets become three, then four, and then five, as people run in to join a group photograph. I send Claire and Olivia in for one, wondering how they will react to being surrounded by 10 other sets of twins, facing a crowd of strangers with cameras.

Their smiles are so big, I think their faces will freeze like that.

Over the weekend I learn that photo­graphing other twins is a major event at Twins Days. Sets of twins we have never met approach us to ask whether they can take pictures with our girls, something that would earn them dirty stares back home. But here? My inner mama bear steps to the side, and I, too, grab my camera.

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Lorraine and Loretta Simon.
Billy Delfs
I discuss this phenomenon with 43-year-old sisters Mary Conners and Martha Newberry, who have taken this year’s Western theme seriously. They are dressed as identical cancan girls, complete with purple feathers in their hair and purple garters over their fishnet stockings. I tell them that letting strangers photograph my girls feels uncomfortable. “In real life,” I say, “I would never let that happen.”

“In real life? This is real life,” Mary chuckles.

By the time we wander outside, the kids’ games are in full swing. Teenagers are playing a game of beanbag toss, while young children squeal as Jungle Terry introduces his collection of live animals. Two by two, the kids jump in bounce houses or hit birdies over a net.

Outside, I meet a woman who brought her 5-year-old twin boys, as well as her 8-year-old and 3-year-old singleton girls. We laugh at the chaos — I tell her I sometimes have to use a whistle to get both Claire’s and Olivia’s attention, she tells me she’s considered getting an air horn — and it feels good to find someone who understands.

We talk about the difference between being a twin and parenting twins. Nearly every twin I meet at Twins Days has the same thing to say about being a twin: It means you are always with your best friend, that someone always has your back and that you are never alone. But parenting twins, we decide, is actually very lonely. Other parents try to understand, but the experience is hard to articulate and hard to simulate.

I could tell that my newfound confidante lives, as I do, on that high wire between two extremes: at once filled with a passionate love for her children, but given the chance to flee alone to Hawaii for a week? I bet she would strongly consider it. And I would fold myself into her suitcase.