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MAKING ROOM FOR A SIBLING

For a while, my son just looked at me like I was getting fat.

Mind you, he accepts without question the story of Santa Claus. He not only believes in Peter Pan -- he expects that one day we'll visit the Never Never Land subdivision for a play date with the boy in green tights.

So when I announced that a baby was growing in my belly, I figured he would take this news in stride as well.

Alas, no.

As I looked into his unblinking eyes, I could tell exactly what he was thinking: This time, you've gone too far.

Being patient -- for a 2 1/2 -year-old, anyway -- he amused me, politely listening to my descriptions of the child kicking within. But the moment I stopped for a breath, he'd take the opportunity to address the real concerns in his life, like the missing shoelace on his sneaker or the second serving of Teddy Grahams I'd promised.

Perhaps a book would do a better job of convincing him that our household would soon be expanding. With that thought, we trekked to the library, filling our arms with as many titles on the subject as I could find.

My son enjoyed these newborn tales as much as any "Curious George" installment or "Thomas the Tank Engine" adventure. However, as I delved into the narrative of "Why Babies are Not Like Cookies," I noticed an unsettling trend developing.

The books were falling into two distinct categories: Cheery propaganda about life with a newborn -- or a stark documentation of events recounted with boot camp candor.

In the first, the illustrations look like something out of the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. The picture-perfect infants sleep and coo as adoring family members marvel at their tiny fingers and toes. The second features graphic renderings of poop-streaked diapers and older siblings all but foaming at the mouth with jealousy. That's the case with Lindsey, the surly protagonist of "Silly Baby," an older sister so peeved that her place on the pecking order has been disrupted by a pacifier-sucker that she labels her younger sibling "stupid."

Kids are suggestible. What if my son was getting ideas? I returned the books weeks before they were due. Trying another tact, I let him join me at my monthly doctor's visit. Surely he would marvel at the thump-thump of the baby's heart, I told myself. That would make it real.

Well, not quite. Had I foreseen that he would have been far more fascinated with the fact that his mama got to pee into a cup, I would have sprung for a baby sitter.

Where to turn now? At a friend's suggestion, I enrolled him in a "new siblings" class offered at the hospital where I'd be delivering.

About a dozen children were present for the one-hour baby briefing. Dutifully they diapered and swaddled dolls before visiting the nursery to check out the real, wailing deals.

As it turns out, the nursery newborns left a lasting impression on my son. For some time afterward, he would announce out of the blue, "Babies have clips on their bellies," referring to the umbilical cord clamp.

It was something. And it was certainly a worthy distraction from his unsettling obsession with urine samples.

The weeks progressed, and it became apparent that this soon-to-be big brother had been absorbing the messages about the baby all along. Gradually, he acknowledged that the fresh coat of paint on the spare bedroom walls was more than our attempt to conceal the previous owners' weak attempt at stenciling.

One day, he asked me to open my skin so the baby would come out. Another time he simply lifted my shirt and waited, as if his younger sibling would rip through my gut like the slimy extraterrestrial in "Alien."

As we drove home from a playground, he chimed from the back seat, "I'm going to be a big brother or sister." Close enough.

Most recently, he has assembled enough information about the life-altering event to tell me that A) Mama's going to the hospital soon, where the baby will B) "fall out" and C) be caught by the doctor before coming home to D) live with us forever and ever.

That's more like it. Now, if only his parents could accept this version of events so matter-of-factly.

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