A few days before Kolbie Steiss's first birthday, her mother, Ashley Hardman, set up a special photo shoot at home.

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A few days before Kolbie Steiss's first birthday, her mother, Ashley Hardman, set up a special photo shoot at home.

She had so many pictures of her six-year-old daughter Kylee's first year of life, Hardman realized, and all the adventures they'd had out in the world; but there hadn't been as many of those with her second child.

It was for good reason, though.

On March 11, Kolbie turned one year old. So did the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kolbie Steiss was born in Winnipeg on the same day the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global concern.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kolbie Steiss was born in Winnipeg on the same day the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global concern.

And for a baby born in Winnipeg on the same day the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global concern, the first 12 months were never going to be the same as they were for her big sister.

Kolbie has never been inside a restaurant. Never sat in the cart while her mom shops for groceries. Never met some of the family and friends, because people had to become distant and the farthest the family could travel was the cabin.

Of course, Kolbie won't remember, and knows no different; but her family will, and does.

"This last year's just been a blur, right?" Hardman says, chatting over the phone Thursday, Kolbie's birthday, the last day of her maternity leave from her hospital work.

"Honestly, it felt like we went into a coma and woke up and we were in this different world." – Ashley Hardman

On the day Kolbie was born, Hardman and her partner, Derek Steiss, weren't thinking about a pandemic. They were going to the hospital, focused on bringing their daughter safely into the world.

They remember being surprised when visitors were made to use hand sanitizer before entering the ward; it was the first sign of changes to come.

"To think of it now, it’s funny we thought that was weird," Hardman says, with a chuckle.

Days later, back home with the newborn, the reality of the situation became clear.

Hardman's mother, Paula Leach, recalls going for a visit and updating the family on the wave of closures and cancellations sweeping across Canada; after being "cooped up" in the hospital, Hardman was astonished, and increasingly concerned.

Big sister Kylee Hardman (left), Ashley Hardman, Kolbie Steiss, and Derek Steiss.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Big sister Kylee Hardman (left), Ashley Hardman, Kolbie Steiss, and Derek Steiss.

"Honestly, it felt like we went into a coma and woke up and we were in this different world," Hardman says. "We went home from the hospital and our parents came to visit, and they were like, 'Oh my God, have you heard, everything is shut down? There’s this crazy things happening with COVID.'

"We were like, 'What?'"

Those early months were a challenge. At home, with an infant and a busy five-year-old, Hardman missed the support of friends and family. She missed being able to visit with other moms. She didn't take Kolbie anywhere for months; Steiss handled all the shopping, and for awhile, they cleaned all the groceries when he got home.

"It was really stressful at first," Hardman says. "I was worried that we were going to get sick.

"I think that’s a mom’s biggest worry about bringing a baby into this. We didn’t take her out anywhere for the first few months, just worrying that she was going to get sick, or one of us. It was a whole new level of fear with a new baby."

"As a grandma, you’re very proud and you want to be able to have your friends meet your new little granddaughter. That just wasn’t really possible to any extent, other than pictures." – Paula Leach

For Leach, watching from afar was hard. When Kylee was a baby, her grandparents loved to take her for walks in a stroller and babysit for hours; under the strictest COVID-19 cautions they couldn't even see Kolbie for weeks. Leach wished she could help her daughter out more, and of course, show the new baby off.

"As a grandma, you’re very proud and you want to be able to have your friends meet your new little granddaughter," Leach says. "That just wasn’t really possible to any extent, other than pictures."

Yet, like so many families in the pandemic, they found ways to adapt, and make the time count.

In September, when provincial pandemic restrictions were lighter, they held Kolbie's baptism in the backyard of Leach's home. Hardman made the best of the time, making little videos to share with friends and watching her daughters bond.

True, Kolbie spent more time in sleepers than the cute outfits her grandma wanted to buy. In a baby book, Hardman had to make notes about how the pandemic was impacting daily life. Steiss has noticed his daughter is more likely to make strange with people who aren't wearing masks.

With a a global pandemic ongoing, Kolbie's first 12 months were never going to be the same as they were for her big sister.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

With a a global pandemic ongoing, Kolbie's first 12 months were never going to be the same as they were for her big sister.

But this week, Kolbie took her first steps, and already wants to run like her sister. She can say words — "dada" and "uh-oh" and "ouch" — though she doesn't quite know what that last one means yet.

She is exactly as old as the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the first year of her life wasn't what her family expected, she is thriving.

On Thursday night, as the family gathered for a cozy take-out dinner to mark the milestone, their conversation drifted to how fun it would have been to hold a bigger event. They'll have to make up for it with an extra-special party when Kolbie turns two, her big sister says.

It's been a long year, but brighter days are ahead.

"I’m really hoping that before she turns two we can do some normal things," Hardman says. "We’re really looking forward to that. There are so many things you took for granted before, being able to do simple things… now those things will mean so much more. We’ll really be able to appreciate it, that’s for sure."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.