They take life two things at a time. They have to. They're the mothers of twins.
The outside world may see their children as a matched set. But these moms are trying to raise them as individuals.
Boy, are they trying.
Twins turned Sarah Daniels into a contortionist.
''I learned to feed one baby and bounce the other on the same leg at the same time,'' said the mother of 3-year-old identical twin girls. To demonstrate, she pushed her chair from the table at the West Chester Willie's Sports Cafe.
She crossed her legs in a modified pretzel knot and stretched her arms as if she were about to hug a 55-gallon drum. Hunched over with a frazzled look, she assumed the mealtime position of a mother of twins.
So began another Lunch with Cliff. This time the noontime meal was with Sarah and the nine women giving her balancing act a round of admiring stares and knowing nods.
''We're the survivors in the West Chester Mothers of Twins Club,'' declared Chris Lemmon. ''Our twins are in school,'' the mother of his-and-her 13-year-olds added with a relieved sigh. ''Our sanity is intact. So we can have lunch out.''
Caroline Eder, mother of twin 8-year-old boys, formed the monthly lunch group two years ago to retain her sanity.
''When the twins were born, I didn't think I would ever go out and eat lunch again. I thought I was doomed.''
''Life was over for a good year,'' said Donna Leslie, mother of boy-and-girl twin 7-year-olds. ''Everywhere you went, the double diaper bags would follow.''
Until Caroline formed the group, her idea of a big adventure was going to the grocery store. ''Heaven is shopping Kroger at 10 p.m. by yourself.''
Diane Hickman, mother of 6-year-old twin boys, agreed. But for those moments when you just can't leave the twins at home, ''you use drive-throughs: banks, dry cleaners, restaurants, any place where you never have to get out of the car.''
There comes a time, though, when you must leave the car and take the twins into a store. From that day forward, you're dogged by questions.
''How old are they?''
Chris Lemmon bites her tongue if she answers, ''the twins are 13.'' She makes a habit of saying their names and their ages.
''They're not a team,'' she reminds herself. ''They're two people.''
''Are they identical?''
Kathie Roberts hears this one a lot. And her 9-year-old twins are a boy and a girl.
''People you've never met,'' said Ann Neltner, whose girls are identical 6-year-olds, ''ask the dumbest things.''
That comment set off a wave of chatter at the table. Suddenly, a list was being compiled: The top-10 dumb things strangers say to you at the mall.
Every woman at the table has heard this one:
''How can you tell them apart?''
The short answer: Sometimes you can't.
Diana Carroll has identical 4-year-old girls.
''Every night when my husband comes home from work, he gets them confused,'' she said. She bashfully admitted that on particularly stressful days she does, too.
For now, they identify the girls by beauty marks on certain parts of their anatomy.
''We won't be able to do this when they turn 13,'' she's warned her husband. ''We must come up with a better plan.''
They're still working on one.
While the top-10 list worked its way up and down the table, talk turned to encouraging twins to be independent.
Diane Hickman's sons express their individual personalities through their tastes in clothes. That's good for the boys. But bad for their mom. Sorting laundry is a nightmare.
Karen Leahy, mother of twin 6-year-old boys, has a twin sister. She thinks individuality comes naturally. She remembers how much she looked like her sister when they were children, but how differently they behaved. She was outgoing. Her sister was shy. She needed help in calculus. Her sister was a whiz in math.
Despite their differences, Karen and her twin were ''soul mates. Just knowing someone was there for you, and going through the same things, made life easier.''
A lull in the table chatter signified the list was ready. The top-10 dumb things people say at the mall to mothers of twins:
10. Were you on drugs?
9. Who's older?
8. Did you plan to have twins?
7. Are you planning to have another set?
6. Twice the work.
5. Glad they're yours and not mine.
4. Are you baby-sitting?
3. Are they yours?
2. Why did you have twins?
And the dumbest of the dumb:
1. Double trouble.
When she hears ''double trouble,'' Kathy Schmidt, mother of soon-to-be 3-year-old twin girls, has a polite reply.
''They're not double trouble,'' she says.
''Twins are double love.''
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.