They walk, and that’s the first surprise, to the front door of their new home on the outskirts of Vernon, B.C., to check out a visitor. It is Krista, with her dark, impish eyes and big smile, who shyly says hello and gives the first hug. And then she shifts sideways, and it’s Tatiana’s turn. Tatiana, who had been small and frail and who had been a worry, is now—at three years and three months old—stronger and taller. She is thin, and likely always will be, but she is no longer gaunt. She is the “engine,” as her mother Felicia Simms calls her. Her heart does much of the pumping for these two girls, and her kidneys do much of the filtering.
Tatiana’s face bears the scratches of a recent run-in with Krista’s fingernails (now closely clipped). They fight, as sisters do, but it gets complicated when you are joined at the skull with your sparring partner. It gets very complicated when parts of two brains’ arteries and nerve fibres are so intertwined it is conceivable—as inconceivable as this sounds—that you are fighting with someone who knows your thoughts.
It has been 15 months since the last visit. In that time one misses the multiple small miracles that are part of children’s early years. So, the changes hit you all at once. They walk! A bit awkwardly, perhaps, but with surprising speed, their necks twisted to the side, leaning against each other for support. Prior to that, splayed like two legs of a tripod, they scooched across the floor on their bottoms. The breakthrough came last fall—inspired, their mother believes, by their little sister Shaylee, then about 18 months, tottering around the house. “One day they just kind of pushed themselves up and stood there,” says Simms. “They figured it out on their own.” She never doubted they’d walk, she says. She just never knew how they’d do it.
And they talk. Not big sentences yet. But they make their wishes known with increasing clarity, and always with an appropriate please or thank you. “Watch this,” says Tatiana. She scrambles onto the seat of a pink plastic push car decorated with figurines of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Krista stands behind. She pushes the car down a long sloping hallway, Tatiana steering them into one wall and then the other. A few moments later there is a crash, and a voice from the far end of the hall calls out: “We need help!”
The house, a rambling, 10-bedroom former old age residence, is a work in progress. The sign for the seniors’ home still adorns the end of the drive. The family moved in just four days earlier, no small feat, for this is no ordinary family. There is Simms, her boyfriend Brendan Hogan, their five children, age 7 and under, her parents, Louise and stepdad Doug MacKay, and various brothers, sisters and cousins. Fourteen people in all. Doug found the rental property while scanning newspaper want-ads. After years of living jammed together in smaller houses in Vernon, this place, with its institutional washer, dryer and dishwasher, is heaven-sent, says Louise, proudly leading the tour.
The bedrooms are assigned and set up. Doug and Brendan, who suspended his job search for construction work to help the move, were installing curtain rods and positioning the satellite dish.
For now, the twins sleep in Grandma’s room, in a custom extra-wide bed with a hinged drop side for easy access. Eventually they’ll move into the one unoccupied bedroom, now filled with unopened boxes. Simms—who named her twins for fairies, and who loves all things supernatural—has “Twi-fied” her room, covering the walls with posters from the Twilight movies. A mother since age 16, she seems at once older, and younger, than her 24 years.
After being thrust into the spotlight even before the conjoined twins were born on Oct. 25, 2006, the family has been off the public radar, the result of a contract giving exclusive access to a documentary crew for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel UK. The show will be broadcast first in Britain, and then aired later in Canada and the U.S. Simms says allowing selective access to their lives was a family decision. They dismissed as too intrusive another offer for a reality show, along the lines of Jon & Kate Plus 8. They’ve seen a rough cut of the documentary and say they are thrilled with its respectful, science-based approach. “Our whole idea was to make sure that people understand why we did what we did,” says Louise. “Why, you know—and everybody has their own opinions—why did [we] keep them?” To which she quietly replies, “Why not?”
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