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
The other day, Ethan asked me if I wanted to hear a poem he’d made up. I beamed. My boy, the future English major! We were just settling in for the nightly ritual of stories before bedtime.
“Sure,” I say. “I’d love to hear your poem.”
“OK, daddy,” he says. He plops onto my lap in his reading chair. “Are you ready?”
“When lightning and thunder tear the night in two—”
So far so good, I’m thinking. Very vivid. Truly poetic, even.
“—I will come downstairs and lick you!”
Annnnnnd then I remembered he’s just four years old.
Funny kid, that Ethan. Perhaps not a future Poet Laureate, but still—funny.
As my dad and I (and a sleeping Ethan nestled into my arms) shuffled disappointedly out of the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, late last month, following the Merrimack hockey team’s still-incomprehensible overtime loss to Notre Dame, it wasn’t lost on me that even being at the Verizon Wireless Center for an NCAA Division 1 regional playoff game was a monumental step forward for my beloved Merrimack Warriors.
Nope, it wasn’t lost on me—but it still sucked.
I loved this year’s Merrimack team like I’ve loved no other sports team since the 2003 Red Sox. Once the laughing stock of the college hockey world, this year Merrimack finished 25-10-6 (16-8-3 in the conference) and not only cracked the top 20 in the USA Today national rankings, but actually reached as high as # 4 in the nation.
They beat every team in the conference at least once, won the regular season series against three of the “Big Four” (BC, BU, and UNH), clinched home ice in the conference playoffs—sweeping the final “Big Four” team, Maine, in a best-of-three—and played most home games in front of a sold out crowd at the newly renovated Lawler Arena.
It was a season for the ages that ended in heartbreaking fashion … twice.
First, they battled back against the hated Boston College Eagles in the Hockey East title game to tie the score at 3-3 late in the third period, only to give up the game winner less than a minute later. Then they followed that a week later with a late collapse against Notre Dame that ended with an overtime goal that didn’t even appear to follow the basic laws of physics.
But when all is said and done, I hope that’s not what I remember most about the 2010-11 Merrimack Warriors.
I hope I’ll remember that this squad set school records for wins, home attendance, and playoff performance. And that it was, without question, the greatest Merrimack team ever. And that, most importantly of all, it was with this team that I introduced Ethan to father-son and grandfather-father-son bonding via hockey. (Penny came to a couple of playoff games with me, too, which I loved—even though I think she was there more for the people watching than the hockey…)
Anyway, I took Ethan to games against BC, Maine, and the under-20 Swedish national team (all wins) during the regular season, and he loved every minute of it. So did I. It felt so cool to be able to share this with him, and to see him get excited every time I mentioned going to a game.
My dad joined me for a game late in the year against Umass (another win) and then again for a postseason game in the Hockey East tournament at the Boston Garden (yet another win). And of course the three of us—me, my dad, and Ethan—witnessed the loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA regionals.
It was a tough ending, but it doesn’t spoil the memory of a wide-eyed Ethan, bedecked in Merrimack garb and proudly carrying his “Go Merrimack!” sign, walking into the Verizon Wireless Center with us and saying “wow!” at the sheer size of it. Or of him telling me that it was “the best game ever!” the next morning. (In his defense, Merrimack was up 3-2 when he crawled into my lap to fall asleep early in the third period.)
Yep, it was a great experience and a great leap forward for the program as a whole, too.
To understand just how significant a season this was for Merrimack hockey, though, you first need to understand the depths to which the program had sunk. Here commences your history lesson:
For years, Merrimack was the doormat of Hockey East. And I don’t mean that they were bad—I mean they were absolutely terrible.
The smallest school in all of division one college hockey, Merrimack had always struggled to compete with Hockey East’s “Big Four.” But over the past decade or so, they set a new standard for misery.
As recently as 2004-2005, Merrimack finished with a staggering 1-22-1 league record. In 2006-2007, they scored a grand total of 37 goals for the entire season. From 2004-2009, they couldn’t even qualify for the playoffs as one of the top eight teams in their 10-team conference. The rink was a dump, the student body didn’t care, and the program was in critical condition. There was talk that “Merri-mat” (as in, “doormat”) didn’t belong in Hockey East, let alone in division one.
Then, remarkably—miraculously!—things started to get better. New school president. New athletic director. New head coach. Dramatic improvements to the rink. By 2008, the team was comprised almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores (22 of the 28 roster spots) who were bringing a new attitude and a much-needed infusion of talent to the program.
Last year, Merrimack won 16 games, qualified for the conference playoffs, and pushed Boston Univerity to a third and deciding game before falling just short of the semifinals at the Boston Garden. There was a sense that the program was on the cusp of something big.
I don’t think anyone knew just how big that something would be, though. I certainly didn’t. I also didn’t have any sense of how much a bonding experience it would become for me, my dad, and my son.
Maybe that’s why I really can’t wait till they drop the puck again in October.
With much fanfare—parties at home and school, multiple rounds of cake and presents with friends and family—Ethan turned four over the weekend.
It was an exciting time for him, as he’s seen numerous friends and classmates turn four at preschool this year and I think he really wanted to be four, too. Pretty exciting for Penny and me, too. Our oldest is now a big boy—there’s not even a hint of toddler left in him.
And what a fantastic four-year-old he is! I’m blogging about this so I don’t ever forget that on his fourth birthday, Ethan got a giant inflatable castle, added a few more weather books to his collection, and ushered in his fifth year with not one but two “force of nature” birthday cakes: the first decorated as a volcano, the second as a tornado.
At four, Ethan loves preschool and thinks everyone in his class is “a friend” even if he doesn’t know their name. He makes up a new song about weather every day (Sample: “Drops of water in the clouds get heavy and they fall, oh, they turn to hail stones in the sky and then thunk, thunk, thunk they go, oh!”). He’s recently added volcanoes to his list of favorite things and hopes we visit Iceland this summer so he can see one up close.
He likes sharks, lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes, hockey, flowers, bugs, and Curious George. Fridays are his favorite day because I work from home on Fridays and we watch tornado videos on YouTube when he wakes up from his nap.
At four, Ethan wakes up happy every day of his life. He says “I love you” all the time. His favorite people are his parents, his grandparents, and his sister Madeleine, who is his best friend and willing accomplice. Is it too much for me to hope they stay that way forever?
He is developing friendships with his classmates and the neighboring three-year-olds on our street. He also has numerous imaginary friends, including a blanket he calls Water Tower and a mischievous non-corporeal windmill from Tornado Alley who’s always getting into some kind of trouble.
At four, Ethan loves to hear stories and always asks for “one more” no matter how many I’ve read to him at naptime or bedtime. We have just started reading chapter books together and he’s loving the way the story continues every day. So far we’ve finished two Roald Dahl classics, James and the Giant Peach and The Fantastic Mister Fox. He loved them both.
At four, Ethan is the best little boy in the world. I love him more than he will ever know.
Happy birthday, eBear!
It’s still January (barely) so there’s still time for me to make some New Year’s Resolutions, right?
This year, I want to:
- Go to the gym at least 10 times per month
- Finish my scene-by-scene outline for the second draft of Coven Hill
- Finalize all of the backgrounds for episode one of Rise of the Hidden Sun
- Finish up the episode one animation sequences, too
- Take the kids to Europe, if our finances allow it
- Completely redo my online travel writing portfolio
- Organize the family photos dating back to 2007
- Repaint at least half the rooms in our house
So there: Some creative stuff, some around-the-house stuff, and a couple of personal or family enrichment goals.
I’ll let you know how I did when next January rolls around.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks here.
We took Madeleine for her first haircut over at Snippets. Ethan went first to show her it was perfectly OK, but she was still a little nervous about the whole “scissors near my head” thing, so she ended up sitting in Penny’s lap, looking at a picture book, and sucking on a lollipop. It got the job done! Now she is no longer shaggy.
Another biggie for Madeleine: We moved her car seat around so it now faces forward. She thinks this is the greatest thing ever. A whole lot less screaming during car rides since we did this.
Ethan had a little milestone of his own this week, too. We started reading his first-ever chapter book, James and the Giant Peach, at bedtime. We’re about 12 chapters in and he’s really enjoying it.
He seems to be following along well from night to night, too. We recap the previous day’s chapters before starting the new one, and half the time he remembers them better than I do.
So 2011 is finally here, but before I put 2010 completely behind me, I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass to take a few minutes to reflect on the year that was. In a nutshell: Last year began badly but ended well, and in-between there were many little trials and triumphs.
The story of 2010 really begins with the end of 2009. I’ll never forget that Christmas Eve, alone in my living room watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” after Penny and the kids had gone to sleep. The mysterious back and abdominal pain that had plagued me all through 2006 and 2007 had returned, and it was joined by a new and even more disabling pain in my arms and wrists. I had to take an extended leave from work, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to return, let alone live a normal life. The doctors I saw seemed to have no clue. Things felt very bleak, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (cheesy though it is) stirred up all kinds of emotions in me about my life, my personal goals, and what would happen to my family if I didn’t get better. So it was a difficult time for me.
I muddled through the early part of the year at home and work, just tryintg to “get by,” and I bounced from doctor to doctor at Lahey Clinic and Tufts Medical Center without any relief. They threw all kinds of potential diagnoses at me, a couple of them pretty scary, and I rang up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. But there was nothing definitive and no real prescriptive course for how I could get better.
But then I went for another opinion, this time at Massachusetts General Hospital, and things quickly and thankfully began to turn around.
Within weeks, MGH had gotten to the bottom of many of the problems I’ve had for years. Two badly misaligned joints—the sacrum and the pubic symphysis, if you’re at all interested—were the original cause of my lower body pain, and could be easily fixed. (Somehow a legion of doctors, including orthopedists and osteopaths who really should have known better, had missed this over the years.) The other half of the equation was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome—basically some nerve compression around my shoulders—which accounted for much of the arm and wrist pain. It was brought on by my body overcompensating in other areas for years and years.
Since September of 2010 I’ve been going to physical therapy twice a week and doing stretching and strengthening exercises at home, and I’m already feeling much better. But because I was compensating for pain all over my body caused by the misaligned joints, it’s now a longer slog toward getting completely better than it would have been if this had all been discovered years ago, as it should have been. It’s a great start, though, and for the first time in a while I’m actually hopeful. It feels good.
Meanwhile, the world turns, the kids keep growing, and life goes on. Here are some of the highlights of 2010:
I guess you could call 2010 the “Year of the Tornado” for Ethan. My three-year-old has fallen in love with wild weather. Tornados, specifically, but lightning storms and hurricanes, too—any kind of extreme natural phenomenon, really.
It took me three weekends and two failed attempts, but I somehow built a 144-square-foot outdoor movie screen for the back yard and my third annual Outdoor Movie Night. This year we screened “The Princess Bride” with about 30 friends. It was awesome, but I have even bigger plans for 2011.
Shortly after I got into the physical therapy program at MGH, I was able to start working, slowly, on the second draft of my novel. It still needs a lot of work, but that’s another area where I have bigger plans in 2011.
Ethan started pre-school three days a week, and he loves it.
I took the kids to the family cabin in Maine, by myself, for the first time while Penny was at a conference in Texas. I love it up there. Happy to say the kids do, too.
We vacationed at a rental house near Balch Lake, New Hampshire, over the Fourth of July, with Penny’s parents. Great time. Ethan learned to fish.
I made it to two Patriots game this year, both wins. My first Monday Night Football game: Patriots 45, Jets 3.
We took the kids to their first hockey game, a victory by my beloved Merrimack Warriors!
We totally gutted our basement and added 500 square feet of finished living space: a TV room, play room, laundry room, bathroom, and office.
On the career front, I didn’t do much writing, but one article that I co-authored was picked up for syndication by several national media outlets, including Yahoo, which put it on its homepage for a day. It was a fun story to write, too.
The year ended with a trip to upstate New York to visit family and see Niagara Falls. Ethan’s excitement alone was worth the nine-hour drive.
A few other odds and ends:
The best book I read this year was “In the Woods” by Tana French (followed closely by French’s “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place”). Other enjoyable books: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin; “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann; “The Monster of Florence” by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi; “World Made by Hand” by James Howard Kunstler; “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss; and “Hotel Pastis” and “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle. I also finished re-reading Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn,” which has to be one of the top five epic fantasy series ever written.
It’s hard to believe, but I only got the movie theater twice in 2010, and that was to see “Avatar” and the Disney movie “Tangled” with Ethan and his cousins. Best movie I saw on DVD was “The Kids Are All Right.”
Favorite TV show: “The Walking Dead” on AMC. Also good: “Fringe,” “Castle,” “Life Unexpected,” and “Modern Family.”
And I think that’s a wrap on 2010! Here’s to a healthy, happy, and productive 2011.