How do you explain to a 20-month-old that his whole world is about to be changed forever more? How can such a young, unspoiled, wide-eyed creature fathom the concepts of "pregnancy," "baby" or "twins"?
Ya'ir has grown to be a sweet, friendly child; curious and fearless. However, my husband and I, while excited about the prospective birth of the twins next month, definitely feel apprehensive and more than a little guilty for the potential demise of the cutie he has become.
Will he survive the rough transition from superstar to chorus member?
According to Dr. Alan Flashman, a pediatrician and child psychologist from Omer, Ya'ir is heading towards a "maximum stress situation." (Very comforting words, indeed.)
For the past year and a half, says Flashman, Ya'ir has developed an awareness of having an immovable and permanent place in our home and hearts. Our job now is to start a dialogue with our bright young man, and make sure this feeling of security is maintained over the rocky period to come.
We must begin a way of relating to Ya'ir, advises Flashman, that starts before the births and will continue after.
"Say to him directly, looking in his eyes, 'Mommy loves you and continues to love you and keeps you in my heart.' Say jokingly and concretely, 'We will never forget Ya'ir.'"
It is recommended by many experts to look at your first child's baby pictures (which Ya'ir really enjoys) and tell him about how he was as a newborn. "Ya'ir just slept and ate and cried and pooped. What does a baby say?"
"Wah wah wah," says our obliging monkey and points to Baby Ya'ir.
Going to visit friends with young babies is also encouraged. Unfortunately, Ya'ir is the jealous type and throws a fit any time my husband or I lift another child.
Reading books on the subject is also suggested. The best one I found for Ya'ir's age is called Za-Za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins. Simple and clear, Ya'ir enjoys the story and often chooses it at bedtime.
But what can someone so young really absorb?
"A year and a half is a time when babies move both forward and back in their emotional development," says Flashman. The fearless wonder can walk happily to the edge of a cliff, knowing his mother is behind him all the way, then freak out at the edge and scare himself silly.
It's a period of experiencing aggression and anger, relatively new emotions that the toddler doesn't yet know how to handle. He doesn't grasp that having these emotions doesn't change his relationship with his mother and father. For him, the present moment is global: His anger or his parents' displeasure is eternal.
And so when a mother "abandons" her child, only to return with another attention grabber or two, this feeling of betrayal is seemingly endless to the toddler. Whereas the mother will come back and want to resume a normal relationship, the child may take a while to transition back into feeling loved and secure, says Flashman.
On top of all that, Ya'ir will likely view the new interlopers as disposable siblings, and his aggressive feelings may scare him into a state of hurt confusion.
But, "when keeping the newborn safe from the older child, you're also protecting the older child from himself," says Flashman.
With all this in mind, Flashman suggests creating a little game or jingle that can remind Ya'ir of all the good times he's had with us. We should speak with him now, before the births, about having all kinds of feelings when the baby is born, so that we can make him secure in the knowledge that he is OK and that we love him, no matter what.
"No year-and-a-half-old child understands or believes the stories of a baby in a belly," says Flashman. Until a child is seven, he doesn't fully understand the idea of inner organs.
"Talk more about what's happening to mommy, that she'll go away, where she'll be, where he'll be. And that everyone will be fine and safe."
The most important thing, says Flashman, is to stress that this is going to be a big moment for Ya'ir. We should tell him that we'll help him, that it won't be easy when his baby sister and brother come home, but that he'll always be our son.
When I mentioned to Dr. Flashman that we are also planning to move house within the next week or two, he said sympathetically, "That was not good planning on your part. It adds one burden to another. You must develop a language of big moments now."
We should talk about stress, perhaps encourage the use of a transitional toy. Give an animal a name, make him a fantasy figure, and act out moving and new babies.
"Make this a big moment, not an obstacle for growth," says Flashman. "You've been juggling with one ball, now you'll have two, which is essentially three. It's hard to accept how difficult it will be."
"For Ya'ir," continues Flashman, "it is the rough equivalent of Hurricane Katrina."
The writer is a first-time, unlicensed mother.