Noe Valley Voice December-January 2000

More Mouths to Feed:
Henry Carlson Bennett-Hanes
Zoe Frances Bennett-Hanes

For most expectant parents, choosing just the right moniker for a new baby can be a daunting experience.

For Bob and Christy Bennett-Hanes, the task became doubly hard when an ultrasound at 12 weeks revealed the couple had conceived twins. The challenge grew exponentially when they decided not to be informed of the twins' genders. "It was like we had the A list and the B list," says Bob. "But eventually we narrowed it down to two boy's names and two girl's names, with a favorite for each."

As luck would have it, their favorites ruled. On Nov. 15, 1999, the proud parents welcomed both a son and a daughter into their family.

Henry Carlson Bennett-Hanes arrived first, at 1:02 p.m., hitting the scales at 4 pounds, 14 ounces. Zoe Frances Bennett-Hanes soon followed, at 1:07 p.m., weighing a slight 3 pounds, 5 ounces.

Bob was present for the birth at UCSF, as was a small army of medical personnel. "I had to deliver in the O.R.," Christy relates. "With multiples, they like you to be somewhere where they can act really fast if they need to."

A nine-day hospital stay ensured that the twins had gained sufficient weight and were in the pink before they joined their parents at home on 24th Street.

Now approaching their first birthday, brother and sister are a vigorous pair. Henry is a robust fellow with a luxurious head of blond hair, while Zoe is a more petite strawberry blonde. Both have blue eyes and a shining array of teeth.

"Percentage-wise, they're still about the same size--Henry is 50 percent bigger," Dad observes. "She's just 17 pounds." This fact has not gone unnoticed by the neighborhood when the twins are tooling around in their tandem stroller. "They're such different sizes, a lot of people assume they're siblings, not twins," says Bob. "They'll say, 'How close are they?' which is basically impossible unless he was a very small 15-month-old and she was a really big 5-month-old!"

"They're both very social," Christy says. "The weird thing is that before they were born, we had a strong opinion that girls turned out like girls because they were socialized that way, and boys the same thing. And we were not planning on treating these guys differently. We were going to prove everyone wrong about that [biology is destiny] theory."

To the couple's chagrin, their premise fell flat. "From the day they were born, they were as different as night and day," Christy reports. "Zoe was a lot more watchful, making eye contact and focusing on you, and kind of quiet and perceptive. And Henry was more about karate-chopping arms and kicking -- he is really physical. The same object that Zoe will spend 30 minutes examining, he picks it up and it's bash, bash, bash. They engage in stereotypical male and female behavior much more so than we ever imagined."

Bob, too, has noted some distinctions. "Zoe's really outgoing," he says. "Most of the time she's happy and talkative. She's more independent, will play by herself, and entertain herself much more. Henry's driven a little bit more by hunger, sleep, and physical action. He cries more when he's hungry."

Bob, 38, and Christy, 35, were living in Tokyo when they met in 1992. Each was teaching, and Christy also worked in the copyrighting field. The couple moved to San Francisco in 1996, initially settling in the Richmond District. Wedding bells rang the following year, and on April 1, 1998, the two took over ownership of the Diamond Corner Cafe on 24th Street.

"We feel like we have three babies, between the cafe and these two," Christy says. "The cafe was our firstborn."

In their early days at the cafe, the couple could often be found behind the counter, working alongside the staff. Now they are more involved in the business side of things. "We have a really good manager," says Bob, "so that allows us to be here [at home] with the babies a lot."

By request from the cafe's regulars, a continuously updated exhibit of baby photos is on display there. Although opinion among the customers is divided as to who resembles whom, Bob thinks that both offspring favor Christy.

Popular demand also dictates that Zoe and Henry make regular appearances at the Diamond Corner on Thursday nights. "That's the known night. Other friends of ours in the neighborhood who have kids stop by too, and it becomes Babyland," says Christy. "I think it's the reason the twins are so social, they've been passed around."

When Zoe and Henry pop by the cafe during daylight hours, they inevitably end up nestled in the arms of the staff at neighboring PastaGina. "They all have known the babies since they were little," says Bob. "When they hear that the babies are there, one of them will come over and take Henry or Zoe, and they'll be gone for 30 minutes, hanging out with the customers in their shop, completely happy. They don't ever seem to miss us."

The twosome are never at a loss for entertainment at home either, and lately they've taken a fancy to emptying out drawers. "Yesterday they pulled out the Tupperware drawer two or three times," Bob says. "They like nothing better than to pull CDs off the rack or go for a bag or box, just to take things out and drop them. Zoe especially, she's a great unpacker."

The twins love to play with the dishwasher tray, and if there happen to be dishes in the rack, it's not long before the sound of clanging plates and silverware fills the kitchen. They also like to park themselves in front of the washing machine and watch the clothes spin around through the glass door. And Henry amuses himself by pushing the little swinging vent on the garbage can lid. "Of course, it really grosses us out," Christy laughs.

"They're almost always together," says Bob. "You can put them across the room, and when you come back they'll be together. They follow each other around."

Christy jokes that upon receiving the news that she was carrying twins, her first reaction was, "Oh my God, we need a new car! Two car seats, two cribs!"

"Two of everything," Bob agrees. "Before they were born, whenever I would think about having kids, I'd picture one baby. I would think of me holding it, then Christy holding it. Two I could never picture. [But now] I can't imagine having just one -- it would seem so strange."

The couple have become pros at juggling their little ones. "Individually they're both easy babies," says Christy. "It's the combination of the two that makes it a challenge." On busy days, "Divide and Conquer" is the strategy that works best. "Each of us takes one of the babies and does different things for the day, which is faster than trying to haul them both around together."

For Christy, being doubly blessed has been "overall great. It's been super-challenging, but it's an amazing thing. Even being completely exhausted, it's amazing how patient you can find yourself to be -- that you can give that much."

"The lack of sleep is by far the hardest thing," says Bob. "To get eight hours of sleep would be great. But the next morning it doesn't matter. You go in and they're standing in their cribs and smiling at you, and it all melts away."