Academic Leigh Speaking

A professor, four kids, and a crash course in work/life balance

Some Photo Evidence of Our Summer August 23, 2016

Filed under: Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation,Uncategorized — leighj @ 6:36 am
Porter encounters the bears at the Cape May zoo.

Porter encounters the bears at the Cape May zoo.

Seamus and Gilbert play a video game at the restaurant. They've been begging to do it again ever since.

Seamus and Gilbert play a video game at the restaurant. They’ve been begging to do it again ever since.

Seamus and I make pickles.

Seamus and I make pickles.

Porter and Gilbert in the kiddie pool.

Porter and Gilbert in the kiddie pool.

Seamus, Gilbert, and I ride Rip Tide!

Seamus, Gilbert, and I ride Rip Tide!

Gilbert and Patrick ride the lighthouse ride.

Gilbert and Patrick ride the lighthouse ride.

Gilbert jumps at the Lego fair.

Gilbert jumps at the Lego fair.

Porter needs a haircut.

Porter needs a haircut.

Seamus holds Harlan.

Seamus holds Harlan.


Harlan at Five Months August 22, 2016

Filed under: Fourth Baby,Growing up — leighj @ 6:35 am

Harlan at five months is a delight. He’s trying to crawl. I can’t believe it.


  • His brothers. He watches them and hopes they’ll come over and pay attention to him.
  • A blow up toy with balls in it. Porter likes it too, so they kind of play together.
  • Attention from everyone. He grins as soon as you start talking to him.
  • Being swaddled for naps and bed.
  • Flipping onto his belly and pushing up. He’s very good at rolling and turning in circles.
  • Baths. He is enjoying the water and splashing around.
  • Being carried in the carrier. He likes going for stroller rides too. Our stroller got a lot of attention last week. I think because it’s an urban two kid stroller, with one tucked underneath.


  • Belly gas.
  • Someone bumping his head (or doing that himself).
  • Being taken away from his food source when he’s not finished.
  • The bottle.


  • The car seat.
  • Where he sleeps (mostly in his crib, but for naps, sometimes other places).

He’s pretty easy, and he’s growing chunky. We enjoy having him around, and his brothers seem to like him. They go play with him regularly. He’s about 16 pounds.

Trying to push up and crawl.

Trying to push up and crawl.

Harlan at five months.

Harlan at five months.


It Changes Every Year August 20, 2016

I think what I’ve been struggling to capture over the last few blog posts and before I go back to school/work is a sense of how we go to the same places every year or season with the children, and yet, it’s so different every time because they are different ages and abilities (and numbers). And Patrick and I often ask each other, would you rather go to the same place over and over or different places on vacation with the kids?

We take this from our own experiences as children. I remember going to my aunt and uncle’s house every summer. It was always the same in that we swam a lot, ate a lot, watched movies, and went places. It was always different in that we talked about different music, topics, books, in each summer. There was Beatles summer, Shakespeare summer, Elvis summer. It was never boring. And being an only for a week was great. On family vacations we rarely went to the same places, but it seems like things were still always the same. We went skiing in Taos and had three feet of snow dump on us. We tried to go skiing in Wyoming, but it was so cold they had the lifts shut down. We did have some excellent ski vacations, but there was always a hitch–brakes catching on fire going down the mountain and packing snow around them, losing Bret in the village, somebody not stopping at the fork in the trail. My dad says he mostly remembers having to stop and get us hot chocolate all the time because kids get cold.

Patrick and I both say pretty reliably that we liked to explore new places, but looking back over the last few summers, we’ve been to the same places–Cape Cod, New Jersey shore, DC, and sometimes Kentucky. Yet, these places aren’t boring to do over and over because the kids are so different that we do different things.

We definitely hit a reset in having Porter and Harlan. I see how easy it would be with Gilbert and Seamus–we could go to the beach as a family with little fanfare. If we go now, we have to arrange for someone to watch Harlan, usually while he’s napping, and I have a limited block of time before he needs me again. We beg a shuttle ride, because Porter’s legs are too short to walk to the beach, and a stroller just won’t go over the sand. Then one person has to supervise wave jumping, while someone else supervises sand play. It’s fun, but a lot of logistics for a couple of hours. Is it worth it? In some ways, this is what makes going to the same place with kids easier–we already know many of the variables, so the logistics are easier to figure out. Maybe not easier to manage, but there are knowns and known unknowns that we can work with. Next year the kid variables will all be different, but the beach will be the same.

For instance, we went to ride the rides. Good times, and an easy marker of how much they change year to year. Gilbert still isn’t tall enough for some of them, but he did add a few this year. They were so excited to add bumper cars, but that was a huge disappointment, because they weren’t allowed to drive them (not tall enough). They did like the roller coaster and the rip tide that swings back and forth. We talked about rules: we all stay together, if Porter’s riding something, you can too, or you can wait. Seamus and I did sneak off for the big roller coaster because we didn’t want Porter to see us leave. Gilbert loved riding with Porter on all the baby rides. Porter, once he had a taste of riding was a basket case if he wasn’t big enough for a ride. I was glad we started with a few he couldn’t do so he wouldn’t know what he was missing. Seamus only wanted to do the big ones, and he did wait, mostly patiently, but he didn’t get to do the swings, as moods soured rapidly after the bumper cars.

Things to note in the above story. Most things didn’t change. Fundamental personalities didn’t change. Porter wanted to be part of it. Gilbert liked being safe and secure but had his own ideas about things like driving. Seamus wanted to do more with his competitive spirit. Harlan slept in the stroller, totally relaxed until he got too hot. Patrick and I didn’t realize when they’d had enough and tried to do one more thing.

But the surroundings meant a whole new generation for us of children being able to go on rides. We got to do it again and still see Seamus and Gilbert grow and interact with Porter on the rides. We get to superimpose our memories from years past onto this year. The tantrums or heat or whatever made parts of it unpleasant fade (or sometimes come into sharp relief!) and this year’s memory goes on top to get muddled up with the others next year. At the end of our lives we have a mishmash, that we won’t be able to tell you, the summer of ’16 this is what happened, but we will remember the sheer joy of watching the boys twirl around with the wind in their crazy surfer hair. We might also laugh about how each one generally reacted.

What we can do and enjoy changes every year, but the core of it stays the same. I’m sad to let this sense of growth and development go away from my minute to minute experiences.


Growing up in the Water August 19, 2016

Well, I can safely say that Seamus is a pretty strong swimmer. We did the beach and the water park, and he more than handled it all. There was a clear sign at the end of the day that they were done (kicking each other under water where we couldn’t see them), but they held up.

Patrick and Nana and PopPop took Seamus and Gilbert to the boardwalk water park. I took Porter and Harlan to the zoo. The zoo was very pleasant, with lots more shade than I remember. Porter especially liked the ostriches, bears, and the turtles. He demanded more animals frequently. Now when asked “One or two?” he’s cottoned on to Two being more, so that’s a new favorite word. When we got back, I asked him what we saw. “Owl.” Now if you ask, Did you see ___? He says yes to everything, even things like elephants, which we did not see. Not quite a reliable witness yet.

At the waterpark, the boys went down a waterslide called Shotgun Falls, which drops you in a tank of water 10 feet deep from a 6 foot drop. I about had a heart attack thinking about Gilbert doing that. Luckily he was wearing a life vest. They liked the rope swing, lazy river, and lily pads. I went back to the water park with them after lunch, leaving the two little ones napping. It was crazy and nerve-wracking, but ultimately a lot of fun. Last year, Seamus was brave enough to try the diving board at my friend’s house (in Kentucky) and then to try boogie boarding in the waves. This year, he’s fearless. We did some waterslides with double tubes, and then we tried single tubes. Then we went for the racing mat slides. Hilarious. Patrick talked me into the Shotgun falls, and I tried it, but it’s not for me. I got a chlorine rinse for my sinuses and thank goodness I invested in the “no-move” mom suit this year….that’s all I have to say about that.

Then we tried the water slides where you go down head first on the mats. Holy moly. I went first because I was worried about Seamus not being able to swim the distance to get out, but after I got to the bottom and anxiously awaited the rest of my family, I was so nervous that Gilbert would come down crying. I caught air going down that slide. I was terrified, and I was pretty sure Gilbert would be too. That’s the only one they didn’t come down begging to do it again, but it’s also the only one the said was their favorite when we checked back in after dinner.

The beach, as a free waterpark, also ranks highly. Seamus and Gilbert were attacking the waves when we went. It helps that in NJ the shallow area goes on forever. We were past the break but the waves weren’t over their heads. They were diving into them (I think they learned this from Grandma’s sister on our Cape Cod trip) and doggy paddling through them. Even Gilbert. Porter was up with Patrick getting just enough waves to keep him cool and interested. Everytime one got him, he’d giggle, shake himself off, look around, and say more!


Porter Says August 18, 2016

Filed under: Family Life,Growing up,Uncategorized — leighj @ 8:42 am

I’m about to lose track of his vocabulary, as it’s now rapidly expanding. But some new words:

ice, peanut butter, beach, (geese–but he means sea gulls), do it (for All by my self), mutton (button), briefs, potty, hot dee (hot cloth to wash himself), nakkin (napkin), shoes (which he can put on himself), water, bed, excuse me (after he burped at the table the other day), elbow, notebook, and when we’re reading he does eyes, ears, feet, teeth, and other body parts when looking at animals–He’s starting to do two words together. He said “Look, rocks!” to Patrick the other day when we were on a nature hike.

He runs at top speed for things he’s excited about doing, but of course top speed means the toddle run. He dances and twirls around. He loves to play with Seamus and Gilbert but they sometimes terrorize him.

We always laughed that Porter just wants to be part of it when he was a baby, but as he grows that just becomes more apparent.


Traveling with Kids–Ages 7, 5, 2, and 5 months August 17, 2016

Filed under: Family Life,Travel — leighj @ 3:32 pm

We’re on the second leg of our second big road trip with four kids. At this point, we do feel like we’re in a sweet spot of sorts. It’s hot and I guess my dad told Patrick something about nothing being worse than being broken down in bad weather than being broken down with small children. With this in mind, we keep the van very well-maintained. It’s been hot for the trip, but we’re working out okay.

Some things to consider about the ages:

Bathrooming–Doesn’t this make the stopping all consuming?! I think we’re about to enter a difficult phase on this one again, but right now, we’re enjoying it. Seamus and Gilbert are old enough that this isn’t such a big deal, and Porter and Harlan still wear diapers in the car. However, on the Garden State Parkway, I visited a family restroom with a little toilet. Nothing would do Porter but to sit on it. I’ll spare you a picture, but why doesn’t every rest area have this??? It was great! He had potty success, and I didn’t have a heart attack worried he’d fall in.

Food–We try to pack healthy snacks, bring a cooler, etc. However, we’ve been lax on the healthy in snacking. Last time we got home from a long road trip, G threw up from all the junk food he’d consumed. This time, we tried to do better. We did fruit, cheese sticks, and more, but because we left later in the day, we had to do lunch. Porter, Patrick, and I did pizza, but Seamus and Gilbert asked if they could try their first happy meal. And if McDonald’s doesn’t sue me, they got their first one from Burger King. Hoo-boy. Did they love the cheap toy! And the chocolate milk! They wanted to know if they could buy them as adults when they have their own money. I said they’re only for kids 12 and under. Seamus turned to Gilbert: “You could buy one and pretend it’s for your son at home.” We now enter the stage of sneakiness.

Entertainment–We may have let our morals slide with the food, but we hold tough on the audiobooks instead of screens. It’s working. We have done the pool and Olympics, but not much else.

Harlan’s a good traveler and that’s key to most of all of this working.


Anniversary Party August 16, 2016

Filed under: Events,Family Life,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 3:31 pm

We headed out of town one last time for an anniversary celebration. We had no idea that we’d meet such fun and interesting people. Patrick’s aunt and uncle were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they invited his family and her family to celebrate with them. I met some of Patrick’s cousins who I’d never met (and there were so many, I’m not sure I’ve got everyone placed right!). The boys made friends with Patrick’s uncle’s nieces and nephews on the other side of the family. It helped we all stayed at the same hotel with a pool, because when you’re six, all it takes to make friends is a pool, some goggles, and a competitive (or cooperative) spirit.

Patrick’s aunt hosted a beautiful party on Saturday, despite the oppressive heat. Kiddos got their faces–and arms–painted, and they challenged the balloon man to make pirates, pirate ships, swords, crowns, and all sorts of things. I don’t think anyone asked for a puppy dog, which is what every balloon artist starts with, I’m pretty sure. This crowd was cosmopolitan. The food was great. Seamus indulged his newfound love for crab cakes, and even Gilbert could be convinced to sit and eat.

What was really fun–aside from the kids in their matching shirts–was the sense of family and community. I always enjoy seeing people gather and celebrate being part of a community, even if they don’t agree politically, religiously, or otherwise. It is also astounding how people can be raised in the same family and come to very different conclusions about the world, or that two people raised in very different families come to similar conclusions and decide to make a go of it. A few years ago, the family gatherings we attended convinced us that we were ready for more children. That’s not the case this year, because we could see how much fun we’ll be having in a few years when they get just a touch older, but we also feel that having a bigger family was right for us. Anyway, we are also grateful people will host us, now that we’re a big commitment!

Happy anniversary, John and Denise! Thank you for including us in your celebration!



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