Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Halloween! November 5, 2017

Filed under: Childhood Memory,Family Life,Holidays,In My Neighborhood — leighj @ 10:06 am

We had an assortment of costumes this year.


Gilbert was Luke Skywalker, Harlan borrowed a lion costume, Seamus got lots of laughs as Captain Underpants, and Porter looked sweet like an M&M.

They had a great time trick-or-treating. Harlan was happy in the stroller, until he figured out the other boys were getting stuff at the houses they approached. We went to two streets that had been closed to traffic. I love that! But it did mean that the kids were potentially easier to lose, since we weren’t watching them as closely. Porter loved the whole process, and said, “Happy Halloween!” very enthusiastically. We always start with our neighbors and get a neighborhood picture, then we all split off. We went over to Patrick’s dad’s neighborhood after we did our neighborhood so they could show off their costumes a little more.

There have been no fights about candy! Two weeks ago, they were already fighting about it, before they’d even gotten any! I said, “There will be no fighting at all about the candy, or I will take it all away.” And they picked out five pieces each to keep, sorted it thoroughly for two days, and I took the leftovers to my students. It feels like we managed much better this year than usual.

It was fun! Patrick and I have been so tired with Porter and Harlan waking up before 5:30 almost every morning, and Halloween seemed kind of like another late night chore, but I’m happy to say that the kids were great–well-behaved, polite, and excited–and that made us have more fun than we thought we would! Also, funny story: they realized on our trip to Kentucky that my parents have no close neighbors. Seamus and Gilbert were appalled: “How did you trick-or-treat!?”


A Trip to the Beach–Last Summer Hurrah August 18, 2017

We headed off to the beach on Sunday, after an excellent visit with Patrick’s cousin on Saturday. We made a 4:00 am departure, but we got to our ferry too early! We had to wait. Next time, we’ll remember that it just doesn’t take that long in the wee hours with no traffic.

Waiting for the ferry.

While we waited, they played with the wind. I loved doing that as a child. The wind on the ferries in Washington would practically hold you up! My brothers and I were enthralled. These guys liked tossing a flower over the fence and watching them blow back.

Windy on the ferry!

We did it all, it seems. Beach, boogie boarding, bike riding, bobbing the waves, sand play, shell finding, surfer watching, seawall walking, waterpark playing, riding rides on the boardwalk, and eating a ton of food.

It was a great trip!

We went out early to watch the surfers.

One day there was amazing surf. We saw 20 surfers riding waves, and Seamus casually spotted dolphins jumping out of the water just behind them. It was amazing!

We rode bikes on Monday, and Gilbert was so happy to be on a bike. He said, “Let’s do this everyday!” but Monday was the only day that was perfect for it. Tuesday, it rained, and we went to the library. The boys checked out books and sat and read for 2 hours. A lovely way to pass a rainy day. Monday, the older boys played minigolf, and I guess Seamus got a little too competitive.

One day, we did the water park, and everyone had fun. Seamus and Gilbert did all the park on their own in the morning, and then I did it with them in the afternoon. They talked nonstop. We also managed to finally pack enough snacks to make it through the day!

The sky pools ride was their favorite.

Gilbert made it all the way across the pool on the rope.

They both swam so much, and so hard, that we didn’t hear a peep from them after 7:00 pm. Thursday was more beach (but a little scary because Seamus was getting carried off, without his realizing it). We converted the excursion to shell finding, which they enjoyed with gusto. Harlan LOVES the water and the waves. He toddles down to the contact point and squeals with delight. When Porter, who doesn’t love the waves this year, notices Harlan is there, he runs down, and stands way back and screams for Harlan to come back, get away from the water! It’s endearing, and hilarious, and heart-breaking. I hope next year Porter loves the waves…but probably Harlan will be afraid (who am I kidding? that kid is fearless!).

Porter did drum up some enthusiasm for pizza!

Thursday also found us at the Tourney Towns, as the boys call the boardwalk. Gilbert was finally tall enough for the big rollercoaster, which I rode with him. At the top, he confessed he was terrified, but he handled it like a champ, until he told Seamus he’d go again, only to back out at the last minute, so Seamus couldn’t go again…I don’t know why Seamus puts up with it, but he does. He even gave Gilbert the yogurt he’d picked out for himself, so Gilbert would be mollified one morning.

Harlan’s first day at the Tourney Towns.

Harlan had no trouble jumping into the fray with both feet! He loved being part of it.

We had a great week, but I tell you, it is nice to go on vacation and distance oneself from the news. Unfortunately in the last two weeks, the news hasn’t gone on vacation. I’m gearing up for the semester and thinking about ways to challenge all sorts of things.


It Takes Three May 20, 2017

Filed under: Childhood Memory,Family Life,Just Thinking — leighj @ 7:18 am

My grandfather died last week. My brother was with him and has been making many of the arrangements, alongside my aunt. I’ve been providing moral support from afar for my brother. My other brother has also gone to Lexington to help out. I’m going to bring Porter and Harlan with me to the funeral (leaving tomorrow). It will be nice to all be together. Seamus and Gilbert have school. I probably wouldn’t have brought them anyway, because they’ve met my grandfather, and I’d rather leave their memories of him as they are.

When my other grandfather died, I was home from college before my semester abroad, so I hadn’t gone back to campus yet. I remember getting the call at the office, and all of us going to my grandmother’s house to be there with her and celebrate his life. There were margaritas, laughter, a cat, and three generations. I think because my dad’s mother died so long ago, it feels like there isn’t as much need to support a survivor (with perhaps the exception of my brother). In this case, it seems like a moment for part of the family to come together and remember why they are a family.

My Grandmother Evelyn and me, 1980-81

“That’s me Grandfather” (I always think of the line from the Beatles Movie, Hard Day’s Night)

A few times, my parents had to be out of town, and my grandfather stayed with us while we were in high school. That went about as you’d imagine. I attempted to repent my actions the next day by going to church with my grandfather; we did go to church, but then I was in the truck for the rest of the day, while we went “one more place.” When I got back home, I knew I’d paid.


Christmas Recap December 28, 2016

Filed under: Childhood Memory,Friends and Relatives,Holidays — leighj @ 7:16 am

As school was out for me, I took advantage of a few days off to get things positioned to an easier holiday break for the family. First, I galavanted off with my friend Indigo to relax for an afternoon. Patrick and I rediscovered the joy of White Russians (but not too many!). On Tuesday, we prepped the house for Santa–wrapping the Santa presents for the first time. This was done so my parents could see the kids on Christmas morning without us trying to coordinated wake up times. I also biffed the Sign Up Genius for Gilbert’s class gingerbread party. Somehow I had made is so people could sign up for one of 22 slots for a gingerbread cookie. A long story, but I ended up on the hook for making 22 gingerbread people that morning. (To answer the question from the last post: I didn’t make more cookies for the neighbors, since I had to make cookies for his class.) Gingerbread is fun to make because it smells so good. Last year, when I made it, one batch turned out good and one batch turned out bad, and I could not remember what the difference was! It was all fine though.

Wednesday, the kids were excited and wiped out from school. We headed to the lake on Thursday to celebrate with Nana and PopPop. I forget what it’s like traveling with newly potty-trained kids. Porter was great (no accidents) but we did stop a lot. And then Gilbert needed to stop! But we made it. We had fun with Nana and PopPop. The kids liked jumping in the leaves that PopPop had raked up. I’ve almost forgotten how sick Harlan was, but we managed to get him a late in the day appointment at the doctor. Good thing, because they would be closed the next three days, and he did need meds for his ear.

Christmas Eve, the boys wrote their letters to Santa, we watched the cartoon Grinch, my parents came, and we put the kids to bed relatively early. I was too excited on Christmas morning trying to organize times, and so forth, but when Seamus got up to go to the bathroom about 6:05, I told him it was still really early. He peeked to see if Santa had come, and satisfied, he went back to bed.

The last few days have been a blur of cousins, food, coffee, toys, books, and more. Yesterday was balmy and the boys played outside all day. I got a haircut (finally!).

Hot Tub fun at Nana's.

Hot Tub fun at Nana’s.

Seamus played Lego all morning.

Seamus played Lego all morning.

Porter loved the house Santa recycled for him.

Porter loved the house Santa recycled for him.

Harlan was feeling much better!

Harlan was feeling much better!

Gilbert built a fire and kept it going.

Gilbert built a fire and kept it going.


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.


Star Wars January 7, 2016

I am bewildered at how much Seamus and Gilbert seem to know about Star Wars, despite the fact that they have never seen any of the movies. I’m also surprised at how much they want the stuff that goes along with Star Wars.

I guess I’m not complaining that much, because they received Star Wars Legos for Christmas, and they played with them together for 4-8 hours a day for 4 days of the break. They did not want to leave the house, so enthralled with their game were they.

I do think it’s a bit strange the pull that this commercial franchise has over them. Seamus pores over the Star Wars books (that yes, I did get these for them at the thrift store) and I think, but I’m not positive, that these books are motivating him to read in a way that I don’t. His favorite book is the Star Wars Head to Head book with “match-ups you’ve never seen!” There’s a fair amount of quantitative data to mine in this book, which Seamus does diligently. Gilbert spends a lot of time looking at the pictures and decoding the words.

Their cousin gave them a book on how to speak Wookie, and another book on how to speak Droid. They’ve been practicing. I don’t even try to follow this.

Finally, I made a mistake and suggested that their grandfather could take them to see the movie. Then I found out that the movie is PG-13. Then I found out that it scared the pants off of multiple kids we know. Then I found out that they were really eager to go. Now I have already told them that it’s not going to be possible, and I’ll need to give the mea culpa to their grandfather, because I messed up. I think I’m just not used to checking ratings. I never go see movies anymore!

I’m pretty sure I remember seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater. I remember the Ewoks. However, I don’t think I saw the movies for real until I was 9 or 10. My aunt would know. She showed them to me. Her favorite story is how confused I was that the bad guys were wearing white. Thanks, Hollywood! That’s kind of my favorite story too…as the these things go.


December Fun Kentucky Edition December 26, 2015

Filed under: Academic,Childhood Memory,Family Life,Holidays,Kid comparisons — leighj @ 8:10 am

We made a quick trip to Kentucky as soon as the kids were out of school. Due to a radical miscalculation on my part, I was not done with school, and had to do some grading and calculating of final grades in Kentucky so as to comply with the drop dead time to enter grades for the semester. It was fun though, and we’d do it again.

Prior to visiting, my parents and I had struck an agreement that there would be no sugar served to the boys this trip. We really needed them to eat real food so as to keep moods level and cooperative. (Gilbert sill ate bread and butter pretty much the whole time, but Seamus and Porter did well.)

The visit, as always, sparks their creative and questioning potential. Gilbert learned how to set and release and animal trap when he caught Scruffy (a mean feral tomcat who’d been beating up sweet docile Charlie kitty). Seamus learned about how the farm changes at different times of year and overcame his fear of the unknown dog lurking on the back of the farm. Porter loved walking up and down the driveway to the barn and back. Porter also developed an adorable singing voice to call to the cats as he approached them for petting and talking to. I did manage to catch it on my phone video. It’s obvious to me that these are city kids, but a weekend in the country is tremendously good for them.

Bret arrived with gifts. I think their Christmas was made right there. In the best uncle fashion, he got them each a Nerf gun and a remote control monster truck. That was the most fun they could imagine. There was a lot of shooting across the room, but the best part was that Bret wanted to play with them.

We rounded out the visit with some other time with family, and I was excited to get to go to a baby shower for a dear friend. We had thought about going to Nashville to see the lights at Opryland Hotel, but the traffic was so bad we just couldn’t face it.

The best story: We sold our Honda Accord and bought a van. Because my parents did it when I was a kid, I wanted to surprise the kids with the van on Christmas morning, so we went to some lengths to hide it for the last two weeks. When we were talking about this with my parents and brother, Bret weighed in (without knowing the details of our plan) that the surprise van was the biggest let down ever on Christmas morning. It’s funny how differently two children in the same family will remember the same event. (This is actually my current research project, exploring how Anglo writers and Mexican American writers remember the same event from different perspectives.)

Anyway, based on that, we decided not to build it up too much, let them find it, and explore it. It did sort of restore Seamus’s faith in Santa because when Gilbert said to him, “I thought you didn’t believe in Santa,” Seamus replied, “I believe in Santa. I just don’t get how the reindeer can fly.”