Interview: Kari Ertresvåg of

22 Mar

Google “triplets blog” and you’ll find a lot of them.  It’s significantly rarer and more specialized than “parenting blog”, but there’s still no shortage.  As long as there are blogs, there’ll be parents saturating the web with pics, vids and anecdotes of The Adventures Of Raising Our Little Treasures.

KariWhat you won’t find in great supply are blogs written by the triplets themselves, chronicling what it means to live as a genetic threesome.

Kari Ertresvåg and her sisters, Mariann and Trude, grew up with the questions, comparisons, double-takes and pseudo-celebrity that comes with being identical triplets.  And since everyone was so curious, they decided to collaborate on a blog of their own, Triplet Diaries.  As you can imagine, I had lots of questions for Kari, and she was good enough to allow me to interview her.

(TIPS ON TRIPLETS) Can you tell me a little about yourself?

(Kari Ertresvåg) I’m a Norwegian currently living and working in Brussels. Similar to my sisters, I was an exchange student during high school (Costa Rica), and went on to study and work for longer periods abroad (last 7 years spent in Spain, Latvia and Belgium).

Do you ever wonder how it would have affected your relationship with your sisters if you’d been born as fraternal/non-identical triplets?  Do you imagine it would have changed everything?

Yes, simply because I perceive being a triplet largely as an external concept – that I internalised. The reason why being a triplet has had such a profound effect on my life is because most people recognised and perceived me as one as a child, which they in turn did because I was a spitting image of two other people, i.e. an identical triplet. The ‘triplet’ label is therefore more of an imposed one if you are identical, and as such the fraternal vs. identical distinction is to some extent a question of ‘to be or not to be’ (recognised as) a triplet. I might be stepping on some fraternal toes, but what I mean is that if you are fraternal you may appreciate that people recognise that you are triplets, whereas if you are identical that is a label that simply you can not avoid.

To better explain why I call being a triplet an external issue, I’ll give you a quick peek into my many-fold and internally inconsistent self-perception of being a triplet as a child: I was Kari – a little girl with two sisters very different from me. Since everyone seemed to focus on how similar we were, we tacitly agreed to find all the differences and focus hard on those. If we saw them, other people could, and hopefully would.

But, I also remember a regular ritual of standing next to my sisters in the upstairs bathroom, crammed together shoulder to shoulder. Not saying anything, just looking into the mirror. Looking at myself and these other two that shared my DNA – comparing and contrasting, just like the world did.

Though we (outwardly) repeatedly argued against the idea that we looked alike, there was no arguing against science: Three players, with the same starting number. Imagine a reality television programme featuring an extreme version of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, in which viewers and the three contestants themselves judge how well each player makes use of their given resources – the shared DNA.

And while we felt frustrated when people failed to see each of us for the trio, we also internalised this perception. As a child, my sisters were my best friends – but I recognise this only in retrospect. I failed to see it at the time. The honest truth, which is difficult to explain or more so admit, is that I also saw them as me. While triplets may appear to have a built-in-buddy, Trude and Mariann were my sisters and did not count towards ‘friends’. I was ‘the triplet’, and so were they.

You’ve undoubtedly gotten a lot of attention over the years, particularly growing up.  How did you feel about all the questions and stares?  Did you enjoy the attention?  Was it ever difficult or unnerving?

I think it’s illustrative that I today, as an adult, make a conscious effort not to look if I pass by children that I assume may be twins or triplets. No one likes to be stared at.

Have you ever wanted to hide the fact that you’re a triplet?

As a child, it was not an option on the table, and as an adult, it’s not something that I mention as it unleashes Pandora’s box of predictable questions. But perhaps more importantly, it does not come naturally: I speak about my sisters, but as opposed to ‘my twin’, ‘my triplets’ sounds like I’ve produced a large number of babies.

Parenting triplets is a pretty formidable job.  Do you think your parents were up to the task?

Yes, my parents were conscious about raising three individuals and I think they did a great job.

Kari, Mariann and Trude

If you had 3 identical daughters of your own, what would you do differently from how you were brought up?

If I failed to persuade my sisters to take a baby each (in solidarity considering that the children would genetically be half theirs as well…), I would hope to be able to bring them up in a town of a good size. While living in a small place offers benefits, it also makes it more difficult for triplets to form different friendships and seek out separate activities.

Your mother often made sure you were dressed differently from one another and wore your hair differently, which is contrary to how many mothers of identical multiples operate (you mentioned you’re opposed to identical clothing). Do you think it’s damaging to identical siblings when their parents attempt to keep them looking alike?

Yes – we’re talking about nature’s clones here. You already look so much alike that you want to make it easier for people to distinguish you, not harder. Parents dressing their triplets alike are communicating the triplet identity on behalf of the children– ‘they’re a unit’ – and also reinforcing that identity for the children. Not only are the children reminded of their similarity through the clothing, but you also give up on a tool to remind everyone else of their differences. I did not wear identical clothing to my sisters (after the age of 5/6, except on special occasions), and I still have a memory of my twelve-year-old self, a person full of little hurts and stories of how people failed to see ‘Kari’ and instead saw her as interchangeable with any of the other two little girls they also called ‘the triplet’. Thank God I had my own bloody sweater!

You’ve said the word “triplets” was banned in your house.  You were “the girls”.  What was your parents’ aim with that decision?  Do you think it helped?

At home I was ‘Kari’ – just me. In addition to being aware of what ‘the triplets’ term came to represent for the three of us (people failing to tell me apart from two others and choosing the easy way out by calling me ‘you, the triplet’), it was not the natural distinction at home. We were four small children, the three of us and a 2 years older brother, and we had one older brother of eight years. While our parents and our brothers called us ‘the girls’, the normal distinction at home was between the four smallest ones and our brother who was 8 years older.

You’ve mentioned little cues the outside world used to tell you apart (you have a tiny scar near your eye and Trude has a mole on the tip of her nose).  But what about the three of you?  Have you ever had difficulty telling your sisters apart or is it always immediately obvious to you?  What about over the phone, or in photographs?  Do you always know immediately?

In person or on the phone – yes. In photographs until the age of five, I have absolutely no idea. Our parents, however, thought ahead and we’re normally positioned in birth order in posed photos as children.

Kari, Mariann and Trude

Give me the real truth about the “psychic” or “telepathic” thing, because I’m guessing most people don’t know what to believe.  Can you communicate complex thoughts between you without verbalizing them?  Is it more than just “finishing each other’s sentences”?

That would have been a fantastic party trick, but I think triplets just cook that up to sell books.

I’ve been told that identical multiples that have been adopted and never known their siblings can grow up with a sort of sixth sense that an essential relationship is missing from their lives.  Or, even more, when a twin or triplet loses their sibling later in life, the grief they experience is significantly more profound than what’s typical.  Having said all that, you’ve made reference to the fact that the three of you were, originally, quadruplets.  Was it a surprise to you to learn that you shared the womb with a fourth sister?  Have you ever felt like a threesome-that-should-be-a-foursome?

The history of the potential fourth, a foetus not developed beyond the size of a finger, has always been somewhat fascinating. Imagining Mum’s thoughts when she was told about what was still attached to the placenta after already having delivered one baby more than expected, and the idea that I could have been the one fourth of the egg that ended its existence in a glass jar at the faculty of medicine at the University of Bergen.

As you already know, I’m going to be a father of triplets later this year and I’m a little terrified.  What advice would you give me (or any moms/dads expecting triplets)?

First of all: It may be hell for you, but your children just hit jackpot. Yes, it was challenging growing up a triplet, and our identity seeking may have been tougher than for most. But the cliché applies – I was born with my two best and closest friends, which I get to experience every stage of my life together with.

The first few years of triplet existence is not my domain – my memories begin a bit later in life – but if I were you, I would make sure to choose distinctly different names for the children. Dismantle the unit as soon as you can and bring out the individual parts.

A big thank-you to Kari for agreeing to the interview.  If you haven’t gotten the chance, visit her blog, Triplet Diaries.  It’s pretty fascinating.  (Also, be sure to follow @KariErtresvag on Twitter.)

20 Responses to “Interview: Kari Ertresvåg of”

  1. pam March 22, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Oh, this is awesome! I’ve learned more in the past five minutes than in the past 3 years. This is fantastic, thank you!

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Pam. Yeah, when I originally checked out, I was struck by how much quality and insight there was behind the writing. The things Kari (and her sisters) have to say seem almost obvious in retrospect, but they were things I’d only barely considered before reading her responses.

  2. Helen March 22, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Fantastic! Thank you for doing this interview. As a parent to identical triplets (boys in my case) I’ve often wondered about some of the things you covered.

    I’ll definitely be checking out their blog!

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

      It’s well worth taking in. The first time I visited, I don’t think I came up for air before reading every word.

  3. Jon March 22, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    Incredible insight. I love the image of three little girls silent staring at themselves in the mirror and contemplating all they share.

    Thanks Kari and Jer!

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Yeah, this went so well that I’m planning on future interviews and have even begun concocting my dream list of triplet-related subjects that would make for great interviews. Who knows?

      That said, I was thinking about adjusting the visual format to incorporate pull-quotes, like they use in magazines and some online blogs. If I were going to highlight a great quote from this interview, the one you mentioned would definitely be it.

  4. modvegan March 22, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    This is so helpful, to any parents of multiples I think even if they’re not identical. Thanks Jer for asking great questions and a big thank you to Kari for being so open and sharing. As a soon to be mom to triplets I feel like I have such a better picture of how to approach the “unit” as you put it and help them come into their individuality. Also, when you said they “hit the jackpot” by being born together I teared up. I love that picture and it makes all the fear and worry I’m feeling worth it knowing they’ll have that friendship and connection.

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

      Agreed. I’m still nervous as ever, but these insights help me feel a little bit prepared for the little ones’ childhood. (And I got a little emotional too at the “jackpot” thing.)

  5. kariertresvaag March 22, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks for the feedback – very happy to be able to share my thoughts and ideas and hear that it may be helpful!

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      You’re probably tired of hearing it from me by now, Kari, but thanks again. Great thoughts!

      And for the benefit of anyone else reading this comment: Kari’s sister Mariann also wrote me with some really fantastic advice, which I hope to organize and post soon.

  6. Jill Scott March 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Although I don’t have identical triplets, I do have all boy triplets (2 id and 1 frat), this was an interesting interview.


    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Jill.

  7. Terry March 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I’m glad to find some other triplet blogs. I mainly talk about home stuff on my blog, but I will be following you with interest. Good luck on the babies!! :o)
    ~Terry (mom to 8 yo b/b/g trips, plus an almost 4 yo girl)

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks, Terry! I’ll be sure to check out your blog. And thanks for giving T.O.T. a read, I’m going to do my best to fill these pages with all sorts of things in the coming months (including a substantial helping of “home stuff”), so stop back often!

  8. Sheri March 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Thank you for sharing, as a parent of triplets I have always encouraged the bond as your best friends but also encouraged individuality, seperate classes, different soccer teams etc. But I do have to say that I like telling people they are triplets because I feel so honored to have been given the gift of having them. Not many people to get the privalege of having tripets!!!

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

      Believe me, it helps a lot to hear a parent of triplets describing the experience as a “privilege”. 🙂

  9. Erin March 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Great questions and intriguing responses.

    • Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Er.

  10. Bob W. March 24, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    Great post Jeremy. I learned a lot from it. I am excited and happy for the both of you. Never having had the opportunity to father any offspring of my own, I can understand your fears and apprehensions and ,unfortunately, can offer little if no advice on the subject matter but I do know one thing. I know what good parents are and I know you and Carey will be good parents. Of all the millions of people in the world, these three perfect souls chose you two to be the portal through which they reveal themselves to the world. How great is that?

    • Jeremy March 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks, Bob. I hope you’re right. And, make no mistake, I’ll remind them of it at the end of their first “I never asked to be born!” tantrum.

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