Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins

My sister and I are only separated by a year and because we are so close in age, sometimes relatives gave us matching gifts, particularly for Christmas. One year we each received a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers stuffed doll, and in a different year, we received matching baskets of goodies. We even had matching furry white coats that made us look like Frosty the Snowman’s illegitimate children with a She-bear. 

However, not all the gifts were so innocuous. One year, my grandmother paid someone in her retirement community to paint our faces on sweatshirts – and she gave him our school pictures. And not just any school picture – the school picture in which I braided my hair into tight curls and wore a cowboy-style shirt with fringe. Utterly mortifying. If only I had the sense of humor I have now. I’d save the sweatshirt and eventually turn it into a throw pillow. 

I imagine this problem would be worse for twins. Not the horrifying picture of my own painted, curled visage smiling awkwardly from my chest – but the identical gifts. It seems to imply that you’re not two separate people but one duplex of a person.

In The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins, the BSC has a new client who is aggravating the club, but Mallory is up to the challenge. Or is she? (Of course, she is, but let’s pretend to have some suspense, huh? It’s a kids’ book from 1989, calm down, dude. Sheesh.)

Mallory watches over an identical set of twins at their birthday party
What if the secret is that they’re not even twins, but Mrs. Arnold told them they were twins so she could have matching kids?

Mallory Pike, the ginger-est, blindest, and braces-ist of the Baby-Sitters Club, wants to get her ears pierced. This seemed to be a common plot point of late-’80s to early-’90s culture. The sheer act of getting your ears pierced seemed to signal some serious maturing for parents. There’s an episode of Full House wherein Danny Tanner doesn’t want her daughter, Stephanie Tanner, to get her ears pierced, so she lets Kimmy Gibbler do it and it gets infected. And there’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gets angry after Bart gets an earring. Now, as I am doing a rewatch of every Degrassi episode, Ellie comes in with holes all over her body and Sean has both his ears pierced. I remember getting my ears pierced when I was, like, five at the Claire’s. It seems that ear piercing is not the direct stripper pole straight to hell after all.

But I digress. Mallory wants pierced ears and her parents think she’s too young. Or, she assumes her parents won’t allow pierced ears – she hasn’t asked them.

After the obligatory pages describing each babysitter (including referring to Claudia as “exotic” with “almond-shaped eyes” – oof), and pages explaining how the club works, we have a meeting. And surprise! Logan is there. It makes the girls nervous as if they’ve never seen Logan before. I feel like he’s been around enough that they should be used to having him there. I remember the boys I was friends with in middle school – at some point, they’re barely visible.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arnold, the mother of twin girls, Carolyn and Marilyn, needs a steady sitter while she works on a fundraising campaign for Stoneybrook Elementary. Of course, our favorite redhead takes the job.

Mallory arrives at the Arnold household and the twins are dressed in identical outfits – down to the haircuts. They are wearing bracelets with their names on them, but the bracelets match (except the name printed on them). Mrs. Arnold herself is quite a fussy woman, wearing matching bows in her hair, shirt, belt, and shoes. There will be no pattern mixing in her house!

When Mrs. Arnold leaves, Mallory offers the girls her Kid-Kit. Carolyn chooses to play with some puzzles while Marilyn chooses some books, including a book called Baby Island, which is real and not just a bad sitcom with one season from the ‘90s.

Mallory remarks that the twins are cute and “look like bookends.” This prompts the twins to speak to each other in their “twin language,” which is just nonsense and they try to trick Mallory by removing their name bracelets. However, it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano and Mallory is finally able to tell which one is Marilyn until the end of her job.

It’s another day and Mallory is back at the Arnold residence. This time, Mallory plays hide-and-seek with the girls. When Mallory finds one, she asks for a snack. Mallory obliges and goes to search for the other one. She finds one and Marilyn-or-Carolyn asks for a snack. Mallory obliges again and asks where the other one is. It seems she either hid again or is still hiding. Mallory finds another one and they ask for a snack. Mallory declines.

“There are two of you and I gave out two snacks. That’s it. No more.”

“No more? No fair!”

“It’s very fair. Two twins, two snacks. I think you guys just fooled yourselves.”

Then they go into their twin language. When it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano, Carolyn reads a Paddington book and they both ignore Mallory until their mother comes home.

Now it’s time for a different sitter to confront the Arnold twins – Claudia. This time, Mrs. Arnold has some special instructions.

“Marilyn’s piano lesson is at eleven-thirty,” Mrs. Arnold told Claud. “Her carpool will arrive at eleven o’clock. She’s going to be in a recital next week, and today is a special rehearsal and lesson. It’ll last an hour and a half. She’ll be dropped off here around one-thirty. While Mariyln’s gone, Carolyn should work on her project for the science fair. Carolyn just loves science, don’t you, dear?”

Claudia can’t tell the difference between the twins, but one of them leaves with the carpool. A few moments later, Claudia gets a phone call. It’s the music teacher and she has “a very tone-deaf Arnold twin” and asks if Claudia can get the other one there. Claudia can’t drive, so Carolyn just has to stay there until the carpool can bring her back.

When Mrs. Arnold comes back, she scolds the girls for playing a prank on their sitter, but she also scolds Claudia and Claudia has to go without pay. Okay, Mrs. Arnold, it was your horrid twins who played a prank – it wasn’t Claudia’s fault. You should have to pay her double. 

The BSC has a meeting, but before they can discuss the twins, Mallory obsesses over everyone’s clothes. Claudia dressed surprisingly toned down – a t-shirt she painted herself and come capris. Dawn is wearing an oversized blue shirt and if a girl from the ‘80s thinks it’s oversized, it must be able to house a small family and guinea pig. Mary Anne is the one whose outfit is, well, quote-worthy.

Mary Anne was wearing a short plum-colored skirt over a plum-and-white-striped body suit. The legs of the body suit stopped just above her ankles, and she’d tucked the bottoms into her socks. I don’t know where her shoes were. She’d taken them off. The neat thing about her outfit was that she was wearing white suspenders with her skirt. 

So a mime, basically. 

After that, they talk about the Arnolds, but nothing that we didn’t already know. They speak in a twin language. They look identical. But Carolyn likes science and Marilyn plays the piano, so they’re not completely the same.

Another day, another adventure with the Arnold twins. This time, whenever the twins speak in their twin language, Mallory responds with Pig Latin, which confounds the twins. Their minds are blown. Mallory promises to teach them if they stop speaking their twin language around her and put their name bracelets on – properly. They strike a deal.

In a moment of verisimilitude, the twins lament that no one can tell them apart. They show Mallory their one key difference: Carolyn has a mole under her left eye. Marilyn’s mole under her right eye. 

At the end of the sitting job, Mrs. Arnold asks if the BSC would be willing to watch over the twins’ birthday party. Mallory promises to bring it up at the next meeting. As she’s leaving, the girls call “Ood-gay eye-bay!” instead of their twin language, and Mallory is pleased with herself.

We switch to Kristy watching over her siblings Karen, David Michael, and Andrew. The chapter starts with a long explanation of what an estate sale is because we couldn’t leave it at “Mrs. Thomas and Watson are gone.” They’re going to an estate sale! Promise! Just a plain ol’ estate sale. What is an estate sale? Let me tell you in excruciating detail. I know all about those sales because I’m going to one. I’m not going to a secret island where we hunt the poors for sport! I’m going to an estate sale, which is something I know all about.

Karen and David Michael invite the Papadakis kids over. Meanwhile, Andrew needs to learn lines for a school play about a circus. However, Andrew doesn’t want to be in this play.

“But I don’t want to be in it,” replied Andrew, and his lower lip began to quiver. “I don’t want everyone looking at me and listening to me.”

“But you know what they’ll probably be thinking while you’re doing that?”

“What?”

“They’ll probably be thinking, What a good bear that Andrew makes. He knows his lines so well. I bet he worked very hard.”

“What if I forget my lines? Then what will they be thinking?”

“They’ll be thinking, Oh, too bad. He forgot his lines. Well, that happens sometimes. He still looks like a very nice, smart boy.”

Sure, Kristy. That’s what they’ll be saying. If you wanted to motivate him, you should have told him the truth: if he remembers his lines and just says them, the second he’s done, they’ll pay attention to the next kid; if he forgets his lines, they’ll remember him and use him as an example of why you should learn your damn lines.

While Andrew works on learning his lines, David Michael reads “Basho-Man” comics with Linny Papadakis. I think it’s lovely that the kids are getting into a comic book series about an Edo period Japanese haiku poet. Instead of reading poetry, which I’m assuming these comics are about, Karen and Hannie dress up identically and say they’re twins because the kids in this town are suspiciously in tune with the A storyline. 

As for the party, of course, the BSC helps with the Arnold twins’ birthday. Although, I guess it’s just Mary Anne, Dawn, and Mallory. When Mallory discovered the mole difference, she started noticing other differences between the twins. Marilyn’s nose is rounder and Carolyn’s cheeks are fuller. She also noticed the personality differences between the two. 

After the games, they open presents and every gift the twins receive comes in a pair. A pair of Raggedy Ann dolls. A pair of stuffed elephants. A pair of the complete second season of Designing Women on DVD. The girls are not particularly happy. That is until they get to Mallory’s gifts.

They were not the same size or shape. They were wrapped in different paper. The twins looked intrigued.

“Is this a mistake?” asked Carolyn.

“Who are they from?” asked Marilyn.

“Me,” I replied. “Go on. Open them.”

So they did. I’d picked out a tiny pin in the shape of a piano for Marilyn, and a book of simple science experiments for Carolyn.

“Boy, thanks!” cried the girls enthusiastically. They absolutely beamed at me.

But the twins are only allowed to be individuals momentarily because the cake has their identical faces on it and they blow out the identical candles at the same time. 

The next time Mallory sits for the twins, they show her some of the other gifts they received. Despite their sets of identical dollhouses, socks, and jumping sticks (I didn’t make up that last one), their favorite gifts were the ones from Mallory because they were different.

Mallory tells them about her triplet brothers. She says that they don’t dress the same, they act differently, and they don’t get three copies of everything. Mallory apologizes for calling the twins cute bookends when they met. The twins apologize for antagonizing Mallory and the other sitters. 

The twins, with the support of Mallory, speak to their mother when she gets home.

“Different,” spoke up Marilyn. “But we look alike and dress alike, so everyone treats us like one person – the same person.”

“And we aren’t one person, Mommy!” said Carolyn desperately. “We’re two. Only no one knows it. At school, the kids call both of us ‘Marilyn-or-Carolyn.”

I cringed, remembering that that was how I used to think of the girls.

“We hate it!” added Marilyn.

“The girls do look sweet in their matching outfits,” I said, “but,” I added quickly as Carolyn poked me in the ribs, “they’ve told me they think they’re old enough to choose their own clothes. They have different tastes.”

“If we went to school looking different,” said Marilyn, “maybe the kids would get to know who we are.”

Their mother agrees to let them use their birthday money to get new clothes and haircuts. Before we get to the shopping montage, bolstered by the twins’ success, Mallory has to speak with her parents.

After a lengthy explanation of negotiation, Mallory asks for a new wardrobe, her ears pierced, a new haircut, and contact lenses. They say she’s not old enough for contacts and they don’t have enough money for a new wardrobe (she didn’t really want those two – they were tokens for negotiation). She can get her ears pierced as long as she pays for it herself and she does the aftercare so they don’t get infected. She can get her hair cut as long as she doesn’t get a “green mohawk” and she has to go to a “salon downtown.” A green mohawk can be adorable, but I guess I’m biased as a member of the blue hair club.

We finally get our shopping montage with the twins and Mallory. They talk about how expensive clothes are and I wondered why they didn’t go to an outlet mall. Too good to be a Maxxinista?

Mallory buys matching book earrings for her and Jessi. I guess we’re not done with the identical gift motif. In the end, the girls show off their new looks to their mother, who is surprised but open-minded.

A few days later, Mallory is back at the mall with the rest of the BSC. Not only is Mallory going to get her ears pierced, but Jessi is going to get pierced ears also, Claudia is getting a third hole, and Dawn is getting a second hole. The lady at Claire’s just puts them on a lazy Susan and shoots their ears as they spin around in a circle. Just kidding. She does it normally. And the book doesn’t explicitly say it’s a Claire’s, but we all know it’s a Claire’s.  So in the end, both the Arnold twins and Mallory get to show off more of their individuality. Every kid has to go through this – when you have to convince your parents to give up some of their autonomy so you can pick out what you want. Even though every kid can relate on some level, being twins exacerbates the situation. If every Christmas my sister and I got the same gifts, I’d go insane also. Especially since her gifts were more of the Barbie variety and all I wanted were books about hostage-level parental negotiations and estate sales.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

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