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2003 – A year in review

This year had many “big stories”, including SARS, the blackout, Mad Cow, and the war in Iraq.  However, I feel a need to be selfish for just a few minutes and rank the birth of Katlyn Near as the #1 event of the year.


We began the year with everyone aware that we were indeed going to have a baby.  Our family had known for quite some time, but we had told everyone else and made it public over the holiday season of 2002.  So 2003 was set up to be an exciting year.


Pete holding Elliot days after his birthWith a bang, the year started.  Alex celebrated his third birthday at the end of January, and was anxiously awaiting his baby brother who was due to arrive soon thereafter.  He was working on names for his brother, and settled on “Eel” which seems like a perfectly good name to a 3-year old.  On February 7, Alex could proudly proclaim that his new brother had arrived (and even knows biologically where he came from).  His name was Elliot, a tribute to the name Eel.



As with every year, spring is the season of birthdays for the Near family.  This year marked John Near’s 60th birthday, a ripe old age.  Mom set up an elaborate surprise.  All of the kids and grandkids came down to Chatham and waited at Rossini’s restaurant for the birthday boy to arrive.  When he did arrive, he didn’t even notice that everyone was yelling “surprise” for him, and was on his way to sit at another table.  Happy 60th Dad / Grandpa!


Also this spring, we saw Jason off to his semester in Australia with a party in Welland amongst family and friends.  Jason left for his 30-hour flight in late February, and planned to be home in time for Jodie to give birth to his little niece or nephew.


Grandma Diane started the year with a new puppy, named Shadow.  We had all been looking for the perfect dog for Grandma and finally found one.  Hiding in Milton at a local pet shop was a little black puppy – a mix of Cocker Spaniel and German Shepard.  We packed up that little puppy along with all of his accessories, and took him down to Welland to meet his new owner Diane.  At first he had a hard time separating from Jodie, but quickly became attached to Diane. 


And it was around this time of the year that we started to think about nothing other than the arrival of our own little baby.  We got all of our exams and ultrasounds completed, Jodie’s coworkers threw a surprise baby shower for her, and we finished off the nursery back at home.  We elected not to find out the sex until the baby was born, so the whole thing was going to be a surprise.



And surprise is what we got!  After a weekend in Welland to celebrate Mother’s Day (May 11), Jodie and I headed home.  Not more than 60 seconds out of Diane’s driveway, Jodie’s water broke.  Having just seen the doctor a few days ago, we knew that if Katlyn was born early then she would have to go to a major hospital with the people and tools to handle a preemie.  So it was off to Hamilton’s McMaster Hospital for us!  We both feigned calmness as we drove to the hospital, knowing in the back of our heads that this was more than 6 weeks too early.  We agreed on boys and girls names on Main Street in Hamilton while stuck in traffic.


Upon arrival to the hospital, we were greeted by a security force bent on tackling the SARS crisis that had gripped the region.  Jodie just about killed the guard who told us that the father would not be allowed to enter the hospital.  In the end, I was allowed into the hospital and Katlyn was born after a total of 4 hours of labour.



We spent the next week at McMaster in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  It was emotionally draining, what with all the interns trying desperately to find something wrong, and the other babies who were much more sick than Katlyn.  I slept on a chair in Jodie’s hospital room while she was there, and then commuted in every day from Milton after Jodie was discharged.  Other than a tube to help her feed, Katlyn was absolutely fine.  In fact they asked us to move to Oakville Trafalgar Hospital so that they could make room for the truly serious cases.


It was a joyous day when they moved her to Oakville.  Finally, the grandparents, friends, and family could come to see the newest addition to the family.  The environment was much more relaxed, it was an easier drive from Milton, and it was the final reassurance that a nervous dad needed to convince him that his baby was going to be okay.



After 17 days in the hospital, Katlyn was finally able to come home.  In retrospect, the additional time in the hospital gave us time to learn how to do some of the “new parent” things while still being reassured that everything was okay.  By the time we brought her home, we pretty much had figured out the big things like feeding, changing, and bathing.  The cats got to meet their new “sibling” and we got to take her out into the neighbourhood for a walk.




And so begins the “new normal”, a family unit of 3, a new definition of who we are, and a new understanding of what we do, a new respect for night time sleep.  We are mom and dad.


I have told people in the past that unlike most dads, I cannot claim that the day my daughter was born was the happiest of my life.  It was not; in fact it was probably the most traumatic day of my life.  As I judged the “best day”, I came to an uplifting realization that the best days of my life are happening right now.  Every day, my daughter learns something new and fascinating.  Every day, my wife and I learn more about who we are.  Every day brings something new and better, it’s a great time to be alive!


The rest of the year is all about experiencing life as a new family.  The good times we’ve had with family and friends, and the even better times to come.


We enjoyed a baby shower with our family and friends, and the guest of honour (Katlyn) was unexpectedly able to attend. 



My parents (John and Lynn) celebrated 35 years of marriage, and we took the opportunity to drag out several old photos of the two of them.



In August, we once again visited London to take in the annual Rib and Balloon festival.  The ribs stole the show, but didn’t make for very great pictures.  The balloons however did look great, and were wonderful to watch with Tim, Steph, Alex, Elliot, Marcus and everyone else who was there with us.




We had an eventful lead-up to Laurie’s wedding in August – I was stranded in Miami and Tim was stranded in Detroit.  You see, 2003 was the year of the “big blackout” which happened on the night before my sister’s wedding.  Power went out all over the north-eastern United States and Ontario, and the area was in chaos.  Jodie was stuck at home with a newborn in 30 degree heat with no air conditioning.  We eventually made it to the wedding and the power even stayed on for the entire ceremony.




From Laurie’s wedding in Belleville, we packed the Jetta as full as a Jetta can be packed and headed out east.  Our first family vacation; Katlyn was only 3 months old, trapped in a car for two weeks and 6000 kilometres.  Oh baby!  We enjoyed great food and great scenery as we drove through Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, and Maine.




As summer turns to fall, life started to slow down a bit more… 


Jason graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with his business degree, and started the long journey to his law degree at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

We celebrated Thanksgiving in London with Tim and family, and enjoyed a walk through the woods as the leaves changed colours (which presented some interesting photo opportunities).  Katlyn experienced her first Halloween and was mesmerized by her first jack-o-lantern.



Katlyn picked up a few new tricks, including her first taste of solid food, how to ride daddy like a horse, and how to cheat at cards (thanks to Grandma Mac).



We begin to wrap up the year as Christmas approaches.  It was a year of new traditions for us, traditions that will hopefully last for generations to come.  Christmas Eve in Welland with Grandma Mac, then everyone gets changed into their new jammies and tucked into their beds back home in Milton.  On Christmas morning we all wake up at home, open our gifts and then spend the rest of the day playing with them.  Then on boxing day it’s the extended family Christmas celebration, where all of the kids and grandparents, nieces, nephews and cousins get to open up even more gifts and eat a huge turkey dinner.




And now here we are.  I hope to make this an annual essay, only time will tell if that is a promise I can keep.   As I look forward to 2004, I am excited to go camping as a family, I am excited to watch my baby grow up, and excited to see where this adventure called life takes the family Near.


I will end with a collage we’ve put together of Katlyn, and her growth over the last year.



– Pete

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