Much like we experienced with Ethan a few years earlier, Madeleine’s language skills are finally developing to the point where she’s starting to string words together into complete thoughts… except sometimes they’re not exactly coherent thoughts unless you have a Madeleine-to-English dictionary handy. Fortunately, as her parents, we do.
Some of her more unusual words:
- Yowie = cat (a sort of derivation on “meow-ee”)
- Nay-nay = horse
- Ruffy = dog (which is, in fact, how we came to name our dog “Ruffy”)
- Blee-oo = Blue
The funny thing about that last one, ”blee-oo,” is that to Madeleine all colors are blue. It gets pretty confusing. For a while we weren’t entirely sure she could actually distinguish colors, but now we’re pretty confident she can. Just don’t ask her to name them!
The kids got a few books for Christmas that they already had, so I took them to Barnes & Noble yesterday to exchange them for some new ones. I was home with them on a weekday because Penny was picking up some extra hours at work, and really I don’t need much excuse to visit a bookstore under any circumstances anyway—even if all I’m doing is swapping one kids’ book for another.
I started reading chapter books to Ethan at bedtime earlier this year, typically one chapter a night. We began with some of my favorite children’s books: James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ethan enjoyed them, but I’m not quite sure he (or I) was ready for how graphic they get in terms of death and suffering. We moved on to Stewart Little (honestly, a little boring) and The Mouse and the Motorcycle (even more boring) before trying the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborn. They didn’t have these when I was a kid. I wish they did—they’re pretty entertaining for books aimed at pre-schoolers and elementaty school kids.
I actually had this vague impression that the Magic Treehouse and Magic Schoolbus universes were somehow connected, and having read more than my share of ponderous Magic Schoolbus stories I wasn’t too excited to dip into the Treehouse series; but it turns out they’re not at all related, which was a great relief to me. Nothing against the Schoolbus in theory—apparently they’re a great introduction to science, and Ethan does enjoy them—but to me they’re among the most boring things I’ve ever read.
Back to the Magic Treehouse books: They tell the adventures of a brother and sister named Jack and Annie who discover a (you guessed it) magic treehouse and go on all kinds of adventures in time and space. Ethan loves them because Jack is very much like him: a little bit cautious and really into science. Jack’s kid sister Annie is the risk-taker and seems to love animals—a lot like Ethan’s little sister Madeleine. So he readily identifies with the two leads, and I love the idea of getting my kids excited about dinosaurs and castles and mummies and pirates (which are the central adventures of books one through four). I also like that the series sets up a central mystery—who does the treehouse really belong to, and how does it work?—and carries that mystery from book to book, adding a new clue or discovery with each adventure. Narratively, it’s a good way to introduce Ethan to the idea that the story continues from book to book, sequentially.
So anyway, yesterday at Barnes & Noble we picked up the box set of the next four books in the series. At checkout, the clerk observed, “Someone likes the Magic Treehouse!” To which Ethan responded, “Oh, that’s me. I’m a four-year-old who just loves chapter books!”
The English major in me swells with pride.
Our 2011 Christmas letter sent to friends and family:
As 2011 comes to a close, we reflect on what an exciting and eventful year it was for all of us: We welcomed a new baby (*) in September, Ethan and Madeleine continued to grow and make us proud with all their various milestones and misadventures, and we enjoyed two family vacations (one with Nana and Grumpa in Maine and the other with Nana and Papa in upstate New York) as well as one gloriously kid-free midweek getaway in Nantucket.
(*) – Our new baby, Ruffian “Ruffy” Roberts:
Four-year-old Ethan completed his first year of preschool, and has become a budding young scientist with a particular interest in wild weather, volcanoes, dinosaurs, and outer space. He began taking soccer lessons on Sunday mornings, and spent summer Saturdays playing T-Ball. His visit to Niagara Falls spurred a passion for “waterfall hiking,” which we did quite a bit of on our summer vacation in Maine.
Madeleine, who turned two in August, has fallen head-over-heels in love with our new puppy. She’s also begun to string words together into sentences and now talks up a storm. Animals are her passion. It’s not uncommon hear a hearty meow, moo, bark, or roar in everyday conversation at the Roberts home. Madeleine’s favorite activity is visiting our local farms to see the chickens.
Penny turned the heartbreaking loss of our backyard maple tree (due to storm damage) into an opportunity to expand her gardening empire. Her new fenced-in garden (built where the tree once stood) was completed in the spring, and her first crop included beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, potatoes, pumpkins, melons, and tomatoes. She also learned to sew this year, and just in the nick of time: For Halloween, Ethan asked to be a tornado—and Penny made it happen!
As for me, 2011 was the year I took up hiking again, culminating with a climb of two 4,000-foot peaks (Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette) on my 36th birthday. This year I also rediscovered my passion for Merrimack Hockey—something made even better by being able to share it with Ethan and my dad. It was a difficult year at work, but after some upheaval in the spring and summer, the year is ending on happy note professionally as well.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas—and may 2012 be your happiest New Year yet!
—Josh, Penny, Ethan, Madeleine, and Ruffy Roberts