Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Valentine’s Day February 16, 2018

Filed under: Academic,Fourth Baby,Growing up,Social Media — leighj @ 6:42 am

Both Seamus and Gilbert had parties at school for Valentine’s Day. I went to help out with both, but they were at the same time! That was fine, and to be honest, it made it easier for me to stand the boredom. Of course, I enjoy seeing them at school and observing their interactions with classmates and teachers, but standing around with other parents or leading a game is a little much. I did get to read to the kids some, and the candy heart tower stacking was funny. More fun was when I brought them to work with me afterwards. The early release day coincided with my afternoon meeting in a good way. They sat outside the room I was meeting in and unpacked all their Valentines. It was going pretty well until I heard them giggling 45 minutes into the meeting. When I came out, they’d found a college student to play with them and throw a glider back and forth. The student seemed to be having more fun than the boys!

In my office for a bit longer, they played, but then they found the soccer ball I have in there, and took it outside to get their yayas out. It was a great day for them and me. I got work done, they played, the younger boys napped.

And a funny Harlan story. He found a calculator the other day. He held it up to his ear and said, “Hello?” and then he held it out in front of him, and said, “Cheese!” There’s a good example of Generation Tech: he’s not the first kid I’ve had to pretend that a calculator is a phone, but he’s the first to also pretend that it’s a camera!



Senior Seminar–English November 26, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Books,DC Exploration,Teaching — leighj @ 6:15 am

I took my senior seminar students downtown to the National Portrait Gallery to see the short-term exhibit on Sylvia Plath. Our theme for the course was Questioning Author-ity, and we did some theory reading, including Barthes “Death of the Author,” Foucault “What is an Author?”, Derrida “On Roland Barthes,” Walker “Feminist Criticism and the Author,” Cixous “Laugh of the Medusa,” Paglia “Sex and Violence, Nature and Art.” All of these forced questions about how we read and what we can ascribe to an authorial presence or the “author function.”

We also read items by anonymous authors, unfinished work, work published from archives, and other items in which the authorship was not in question, but the intent of the author regarding the work certainly was.

We had a really fun time with the Plath memorabilia.

Some Senior Seminar with Sylvia Plath.


NYC By the Numbers April 16, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Growing up,Holidays,Travel — leighj @ 8:58 pm

3: nights we stayed in the city

4: children we took

8: playgrounds visited

I was joking with my mom that we were on a tour of Manhattan playgrounds, and that we’d seen them all, when I realized that was a gross misstatement, and in fact, we had probably barely scratched the surface of the playground situation. It was funny; they were all crowded, but at times that entirely depended on which schools were taking their recess there at a certain time.

Monkey bars are a hit no matter where you go.

5: restaurants visited

We love the food in NYC. We ate a few meals by necessity out, but our favorite way to go with kids is to eat the heck out of the free hotel breakfast, then eat out for lunch if that’s part of the plan, and order take-out for dinner. This is mostly because the delicious ethnic food restaurants are so tiny I couldn’t face taking a stroller inside. So we brought Thai and Greek food back to the hotel room. We ended up doing Greek two nights because it was so tasty! (And there’s a story about Indian food that I was going to order, but when I got to the restaurant someone was being arrested by 10 cops, so I decided that was a sign I should go get Greek food.) Otherwise, we ate at the museums we visited–not great food, but serviceable. And one day we happened on a Biergarten with outdoor seating. The food was much better than expected there! I’ll tell you about the food on the second leg of our trip in a separate post.

4: movies watched with hotel Netflix

We don’t do much screen time at home, but we do movies on non-school nights. It was very helpful that we restrict because in the hotel, we let them go nuts on the Netflix, which was hilarious and kind of sad. We didn’t feel too bad about it because the room was small (soooooo small), and it was a way to keep the three older boys contained on the bed.

3.5: books listened to in the car

This is how we prefer to pass the time. Although, if I have to hear Stockard Channing read one more Ramona book in a whine, I might have to stab myself in the ears….

2: science museums checked off

We had planned on going to Battery Park on our way into the city, (bonus drive through Brooklyn), but as we approached the city it started raining, and we went for plan B: the Liberty Science Museum and Liberty State Park. The science museum was interesting, but not as great as Richmond’s. A highlight was that the rain cleared and we were able to get out of the car and get good views of the back of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Playing in the infinity climber. Seamus and Gilbert are in the middle.

2: visits to Central Park

The weather was so lovely, we had to spend some time in the park. We watched part of a softball game, explored the fun playgrounds (epic slide!) on the Southern part of the park, and saw horses and pedicabs. We rode the Carousel, but missed the Chess and Checkers house (next time!).

Balto the Medicine Delivery Dog!

Honestly, they didn’t even need play equipment.

The rocks in Central Park were fun enough for the boys to have enjoyed for hours. They also like thinking about Peter Hatcher in the Fudge books. He has a special rock he likes to sit on in Central Park. This really came alive for them after exploring the rocks on their own.

I love photos of kids in the park with the buildings in the back.

4: Ice cream cones eaten.

I took Seamus and Gilbert to the park while Porter napped, and I figured I’d get them a treat. They were enthralled with the street food carts, so we did ice cream. But not before they saw the Plaza Hotel, which I’m embarrassed to admit wasn’t recognizable for literary reasons, but for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York!

The Plaza, and the Handsome Cabs.

Checking out Times Square.

And in Times Square, they liked seeing the ball and all the giant TVs. They weren’t very interested in the costumed performers, but Gilbert wanted to go in the M&M store badly (we didn’t). As far as I can tell they paid the nearly naked people no mind.

1: Cool thing I’d never heard of

We walked on the High Line, and elevated train track that has been turned into a park. Great views, and the helicopters going out into the Hudson nearly clip you. This also allowed us to see the Mega Buses loading (and I will never take one. That was a circus.) and experience a truly interesting set of art installations.

Brr! It was cold in the wind.

Beams to climb on and use as a maze.

3: days I spent at the conference doing work

It’s nice to combine family fun with work, and the best part about the conference was that I could really do that. I could go to a panel after the kids were settled, but before bed (so interesting on the Latinx v. Latina/o v. Latin@), and I could get in a full day with panels, including my student’s paper who came up to present, and then I could get in a day on Saturday before we had to leave out. I have lots of new ideas for writing and texts to teach! Plus, my paper generated some good feedback and ways to think about the work more.

I know there’s more, but at 1000 words, I’ll stop here. More in a few days. Here’s the blog from the time we went to NYC when Seamus and Gilbert were little, and the blog from the time I went by myself.



Taking Children to University Lecture April 7, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Growing up — leighj @ 1:58 pm

I took Seamus and Gilbert to a lecture on veganism, animal research, and Christian beliefs. It started at 7, and I figured it would be over by 8. It wasn’t. However, the boys were engaged, interested, and eager for tasting the vegan food promised in the reception afterward. I felt a little funny having them there when I realized how much concentration would be required. They really got it, though, and enjoyed the ways in which the presenter brought together Michael Vick (dogfighting), factory farming, experimentation on primate brains, and verses from the bible.

Afterwards, they tried the spring rolls, potstickers, veggies, and vegan cake. They asked how you would make a cake without milk (and I explained about soy milk “Oh yeah” they said as they remember that we’ve bought that before). Gilbert and Seamus loved the cake and asked if they could be vegans. Maybe they thought vegans only eat cake?

Seamus, who had paid a lot of attention to the lecture, was just dying to ask a question at the end. He finally turned to me and said, “I thought of a question, ‘Why can’t Christians just be vegetarian? Why do they need to be vegan?'” and I discouraged him from asking. The very next question came from another professor, and was essentially the same question Seamus asked. Afterward, I was really upset with myself for stifling his innate curiosity. He loves to ask questions, but people don’t always respond well to him asking constantly so he’s learning to stop asking. I wish I weren’t one of the people who had stopped him.

Anyway, I think it will only get to be more fun taking them to lectures, events, and performances on campus. They go for the food and stay for the love of learning.


Tenure! April 4, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Totally Me — leighj @ 1:46 pm

Well, it’s been busy around here. The best, most exciting news from my perspective is that I received the official word that my tenure application was approved. I’ve been drinking bubbly ever since. It is a good feeling to know that I will have a job (as long as the university stays solvent).

I have a big old file of information that supported my application, and now I guess I don’t know what to do with it. I bequeath it to the future. Things people have said:

  • Congratulations! (this is the best one)
  • Now you don’t have to write anymore! (um, I didn’t retire)
  • Now you can tell everyone where to go! (I still have to work with these people)
  • You’ll be here forever now! (I guess)
  • What a relief! (I’m not sure if what this means)
  • Let’s have some bubbly! (THIS is actually the best one!)

I’m also super happy that my colleagues who went up for promotion also got their good news.


The Recovery Conference in Houston February 14, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Fourth Baby,Totally Me,Travel — leighj @ 10:55 am

The 25th Anniversary Conference for the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference was at the University of Houston last weekend. I went and took Harlan. Work conferences with kids can be a challenge, but they can also be inspiring and rewarding. We had considered taking everybody, but then we realized that their school was out last week and that it would not be good for them to miss so much, especially if there was also snow to contend with. I’m really glad we didn’t take everyone because while the U of Houston is very convenient for a conference, it’s not particularly rife with activities for the family.

The conference itself was great! There were interesting panels that sparked discussion and collaboration opportunities. I felt inspired afterward to write and work harder to get my ideas out. This is important because I’ve been struggling with feeling really dispirited lately in my scholarly work. I also got to see some friends and colleagues and we cooked up ideas for future work. It was 80 degrees on Saturday, which was fun, but also made me glad I don’t live in Houston year-round.

Harlan was a good travel companion, sleeping from take-off to landing on both flights. Thank goodness we had nonstops both ways. Travel was smooth, and I enjoyed the surgical precision of the conference (fly in and out) but I was also pretty tired when I got back. I’ve recovered from the intense travel now. We’re now ready to night wean to sleep train Harlan!


Squeezing in one last January Post January 31, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Growing up,Teaching,Totally Me — leighj @ 1:09 pm

Just quickly, I hope to provide you a moment of brevity (levity! Oops. I’m up with the baby a lot) before you go back to reading the horrifying reality show that is the news.

  • My birthday came and went. I had a great time with fun celebrations with friends and family. The boys all wrote me nice cards declaring that I am the best mama ever (they still have time to learn about perception bias…) and we had pizza and cake. We also hired the girl next door to come over and babysit for a few hours on Saturday, and Patrick and I went out.
  • I did go to the Women’s March, taking Harlan. Gilbert colored my sign for me, and we had a great time. It was so empowering and refreshing (and hey! turns out we all needed to warm up our protesting chops).
  • We were having lunch today and Harlan came over to the table and started popping his mouth, indicating that he’d like to join us. So cute! He has almost completely switched to table foods now. I’m pretty sure he said mango yesterday.
  • Porter is a little hoarse, but he’s still feeling pretty good. He is still brave when the monsters come, and he loves his new pjs. He plays with his people and valiantly tries to keep Harlan from messing with them.
  • I’ve really been enjoying work.
  • We have a lot of stuff coming up in February, including a trip to the mountains, a work trip for me and a few school holidays for the kids. I’m just trying to keep everyone’s schedule moving.
  • The English 102 book is Olive Kitteridge, which I tried to read a few years ago, when it was super popular, but I had trouble getting into it. It’s great, though. The writing is beautiful and haunting.
  • Keep fighting the good fight!