As an Only Child, ‘The Parent Trap’ Was Everything to Me

Growing up as an only child, my house was a relatively quiet place. I had playdates and after-school activities, but I would always go home to a house where I was the only kid. Often, the quiet was cut with the sounds of the TV, filling the house with more voices. More often than not, those voices were the identical-sounding ones of Hallie Parker and Annie James. In that relatively quiet house, I found surrogate sisters in those red-headed twins.

I was instantly enamored by The Parent Trap from my first viewing the summer before I started kindergarten. What a fabulous fantasy The Parent Trap presents: I might think it’s only me in the world, but at any moment I could go off to summer camp — a glorious place filled with pre-teen girls bonding and running wild — where I could end up in a fencing match with my long-lost twin. It would be as simple as a haircut and ear-piercing session over some peanut butter-and-Oreos, and suddenly I would have the instant connection of sisterhood.

That sisterly connection is one that the movie glamorizes. You want someone to tell all your secrets to? Someone to push your bed up next to in the middle of the night? Someone to share your adorable Ralph Lauren-meets-American Girl doll come to life wardrobe with? You get yourself a twin.

Throughout my childhood, I hoped to find the Annie to my Hallie (despite having two happily married parents and no mysterious signs of long-lost siblings). She never did show up, but I tried to get as close to the twin action as possible by knowing The Parent Trap like the back of my hand. Annie and Hallie’s dialogue became a part of my regular vocabulary, and you could bet your last bottle of Parker Knoll wine that I knew who Leonardo DiCaprio was, should anyone quiz me with a rain-soaked magazine portrait of him. At age 5, perfecting Annie and Martin’s handshake was my lifetime goal.

I never discovered a long lost sister, but The Parent Trap inspired me to take that sisterly connection and translate it into the deep female friendships I formed as a child and throughout my life. I saw The Parent Trap twins as a paragon of what a true bond could be, and I sought to model my relationships after them. A lot of the time, this translated into literally playing pretend and acting out scenes from the movie under the table at Wendy’s while our moms gossiped. But I also longed to share secrets (and clothes!) with my friends, like Hallie and Annie, so I sought out friends I could depend on. I might not have a biological sister, but I have been lucky enough to have several soul sisters.

The movie does an excellent job of inspiring meaningful relationships because it showcases the magic of connection between two young girls. Of course, there’s the iconic moment when Hallie and Annie piece the two halves of their photo together. Time slows down, the music swells, and it’s as magical a moment as anything you’d see in an animated fairy tale. But, there are also the smaller magical moments, the ones when characters share un-ironic, pure feelings.

The movie never shies away from heart-on-its-sleeve emotions: Hallie running into her mom’s arms for the first time and crying at the sight of her, or when Chessy realizes she’s standing in front of Annie, “all grown up and beautiful.” The Parent Trap showed me that sentimentality was something beautiful and joyous, and that meaningful relationships are worth getting worked up about. This movie not only glamorizes familial connection, but also celebrates it. The Parent Trap knows how important the links between people are, which make the relationships in it feel more real. Maybe that’s, in part, why this movie and its characters feel so much like home.

The Parent Trap VHS tape rarely left my family’s VCR, the characters filling our house and my memories. The movie is so deeply ingrained in my mind and soul. What has stuck with me is how Hallie sniffs her grandfather’s jacket so she can make a memory, so she will always remember that he “smelled of peppermint and pipe tobacco.” As a child, I became conscious of these kinds of sensory memories, like the smell of the MAC lipstick my mom would always wear on special occasions or the music of the same James Taylor album my dad would play in our backyard every summer weekend. The Parent Trap is not only a memory itself for me, but it also helped me understand the value in forming those memories.

I might have grown up as an only child, but often Hallie and Annie felt like the sisters I never had. And when the the movie would end and Natalie Cole would start singing, they inspired me to go out and form those magic connections for myself. And they gave me a pretty cool handshake to share with my friends.

Parent Trap Week is an entire week dedicated to the 1998 iconic film, in honor of its 20th anniversary. See all the posts here.

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