We're on past the halfway point of my wife's pregnancy, and for a while there it hardly seemed real, but now quite the reverse is true: this is decidedly NOT a drill.
When the little guy was still a-gestatin', all of my anticipation was of a positive nature. I wanted to start having kids, I was ready to start having kids, and I knew and accepted all the hazards and hardships of parenting that were imminent (at least as much as anyone who has yet to make that transition from childless to ... childful? ... can know them). Obviously there were still surprises along the way, which were many and varied but by and large fell into one of two categories:
1. I was unaware, prior to fatherhood, just how profoundly babies start out needing to learn from square one how to do EVERYTHING. They don't start out walking or talking, right, that was well-established in my mind, but those first few days where even basic biological functions at either end of the GI tract could not be taken for granted - that was a shock. Two years and change later and I'm still profoundly grateful that at least we were lucky enough to bring a baby into the world well-developed enough to know how to breathe on his own.
2. I was unfamiliar with certain advanced definitions of the word 'exhausted' but I quickly made their acquaintance. Again, I knew babies were a lot of work and new parents didn't get a lot of sleep, but my ignorance here was a matter of degree. And this tied back to number 1 above in that our little guy absolutely was not born knowing how to sleep, and had to acquire that skill via a learning process which was long and arduous for all three of us.
And now the little guy is due to get a littler sister and I'm reasonably confident that I'll be starting out slightly ahead of my previous learning curve. But I'm also starting to think maybe ignorance was bliss. I can handle the whole "human babies spend their fourth trimester outside the womb even though they're still basically completely helpless" thing. And I could, theoretically, cope with yet another stretch of sleep-deprivation, possibly even using a little applied knowledge to shorten the process this go-round. But what worries me is the combination of both little guy and little gal under the same roof, with no attendant increase in the number of parents.
I mean, yes, we'll probably get some help from the various grandparents, possibly even in the form of prolonged stays at our house. But I can only expect to gain so much from that, and ultimate responsibility falls on me and my wife (and rightly so). I was confident in our ability to handle the little guy's arrival because my wife and I make a good team. When she's down, I pick her up, and vice versa. We cover one another's weak spots. We take up one another's slack. On those ultra-rare occasions when the little guy taxed one of us to the limit, the other one could assist at least, if not take over outright. I just don't think that the tag-team handicap match model applies when the second child comes home from the hospital. I mean, I know it doesn't. Mathematically there's a pretty obvious difference there. It's no longer so easy to swoop in for the save when there's a voluminous spit-up incident when it's not the tv or a newspaper you'd be turning away from, but rather a small child who remains convinced he can walk along the back of couch in brazen defiance of gravity and his own imperfect toddler sense of balance.
People say, "oh there's not much difference between having two kids and having three or four" but there's a marked lack of aphorisms on the gulf between one kid and two. Four months to go until my family unit makes the leap. If I've learned anything from the first trip through the maternity ward, it should be that I really have no idea what's waiting for me on the other side and won't until I get there.