Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Garden Update July 11, 2017

Filed under: Garden,Just Thinking,Outdoor Pursuits — leighj @ 7:55 am

My garden is yellow. I went over to spy on my neighbor’s garden tonight, and hers is super green. And now I’m green with envy. My plants have a yellow tinge, and I’ve tried putting compost around the base of the plants, but I don’t know if it’s working. Do I need more? Less? Water? I’m uncertain.

When we got back from our week away, I had a lot of green bean growth (enough for an actual mess of green beans!), some overly mature snow peas, a cucumber, a patty pan squash, and some good basil growth in the pots by the door. My tomatoes were sprouting, but I know the squirrels have been at them, and today my Cherokee green had blossom rot on one of the promising tomatoes. It’s like my garden has grown into a disappointing teenager from the adorable toddler it was a month ago. I don’t know what to do for it to make it talk to me.

I still love it, but I have more work to do to figure it out. Meanwhile, I go out to stare at it every night and try to train the branches to do what I want. I brought in a few tomatoes tonight to see if I can get them to ripen on the windowsill….


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.


They Grow Fast March 13, 2017

As I think about this Sunday last year, I’m struck by how the kids have grown and changed. It’s easy for me to feel exhausted and frustrated with the daily (hourly) physical and emotional effort of parenting four children at different ages. They don’t need the same things–but in some ways they do. Each one needs conversations that challenge his thinking and develop vocabulary. They need nutritional food and space to practice physical accomplishments. They need baths!! If I can slow down and focus on some of these things they need, I can marvel at their growth.

Getting from newborn to one is full of incredible moments, but seven to eight brings its own joys. Seamus can get his own breakfast (and get breakfast for Porter, since they’re my early birds). He has a lot to say and think about school and bullying and now I feel weird about going too much in depth about his social life, since (of course) it’s not mine to talk about anymore. He still needs Patrick and me to be present and helpful, but our job now is to coach him through some difficulties but not to be overly involved in how he chooses to handle scenarios. We do work on losing gracefully and winning charitably to no so effective ends!

Porter is entering a difficult phase of transition problems and understanding compliance. He’s hilarious with his stories and comments, but he is getting to be a royal challenge when we say no to an activity he’s enjoying. This can also happen with an activity he’s not enjoying but has decided that he’s not ready to quit. The upshot is that he’s loving to take baths and play with his toys quietly, but naps, bed, and food times are a little more difficult. He’s really excited about school and has plans for his backpack all laid out.

Gilbert is helpful most of the time and is fully immersed in being part of the family. He loves these Table Topics (cards with ideas for conversation around the table) that our neighbors passed over to us. They are kind of fun to spark conversation, except that Porter answers Elmo to everything–mostly spurred on by Seamus and Gilbert. He likes to feed Harlan. Occasionally this backfires with a bonk to Harlan’s head, which nearly always results in delayed action tears. Even when Gilbert’s frustrated or wrongfully accused (which I admit I do more than I’d like), he manages to hold it together better than he has in the past. I’m really trying to get an answer from him before admonishing him. We did work on engaging cooperation together and it’s been helping. A process.

So, back to my initial contention. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in almost eight years of parenting, but not really enough to make it easy. We’re supposed to get snow tonight. One snow day plan is to fill out March Madness brackets with Seamus and Gilbert. Patrick taught them to play Blackjack today, so I think gambling problems are just around the corner….I’m sure I’ll feel differently about the glow of them after time cooped up in the house!

Working on steering the trike! Gotta keep up with the others!

Part of what gets me is the body. How does it become strong and capable? Plus I just bought these HUGE shoes for him!

We loved the park before the storm. I also love how they dress themselves. Button-down and athletic shorts? Why not?

Porter loved the change of scenery at the park. He can climb!


Update Since My Last November 19, 2016

Filed under: Growing up,Just Thinking,Politics,Totally Me — leighj @ 12:10 pm

I’ve done some specific things that have helped me cope. I won’t lay them out here specifically, since I think everyone has to find their own way on this, but I’ve found ways to express my opinions on my body, in my office, and through my wallet. If you want to know, I’m happy to talk about it the next time I see you or text with you. Mostly, it’s helped me address concerns I find most urgent and those I see as being long term entrenchments.

I’ve also continued to go to class, raise the kids, and only rant to Patrick occasionally. My students are smart people who form their own ideas from myriad inputs (I do not believe that academia brainwashes students into liberal thinking–that would give me far too much credit). Rather, if I’ve done my job (and most of the time I believe that I do), I will have contributed my expertise in critical thinking, writing, reading, and information literacy to my students. Then it’s up to them to be people who will come to their own ideas through carefully examining information they encounter.

And because I don’t want to forget this precious, fleeting time in Harlan’s life, I make a few comments. He loves to eat pretty much whatever he’s offered. He says, “Mmmm” when presented with food. He also said “Mama” the other day. I’m 100% certain of it. I think he said “more” about his food last week. He pulls up easily, and he likes to sneak down the hallway to see what the other boys are up to in their room. His favorite people are me and Patrick, but Seamus, Gilbert, and Porter run pretty close! He gives anyone who looks at him a smile, and he’s finally cut his top two teeth, so he looks goofy. Porter’s latest expression is “Oh, wow!” and I think I mentioned that he has a Knock, Knock joke he likes to tell. Gilbert is popular with his friends (and has a new obsession with Shopkins…don’t ask), and Seamus’s current obsession is making paper airplanes.


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.


Quiet Reading Time August 6, 2016

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Just Thinking — leighj @ 9:59 am

With being sick, and then Patrick unexpectedly needing to work several days this week, I’ve needed quiet time to be quiet more than ever. Some days it has been, and then there are the days when I lock Gilbert out because he’s threatening to throw a fit that will wake Porter and Harlan up.

We’re still plugging away at the reading logs (despite the fact that Gilbert lost his) for summer reading at the library. The boys are really hoping to get the coupon books that will entitle them to free snacks all over town. We’ve said they will need to fill their reading logs in order to use the books. I read an article in the Times recently about reading, especially in the age of screens. It’s also about bribing kids to read, and the problems with that–notably that bribery suggests there’s something more fun to be doing.

Our quiet reading time program has been to erase the other possibilities so that there’s really nothing else better to be doing. But the thing is, it’s not working. Gilbert and Seamus fight us on quiet reading. Seamus gives up faster, but Gilbert makes it just terrible some days. It’s almost more work to get five minutes of quiet than it’s worth. Almost.

However, the article suggests that the truest incentive with reading is the time together. So today, after a few time outs and tears, I had Gilbert sit with me and read Go Dog, Go! which he did very well. I guess there’s still more work for me to do on this front. Seamus does seem to enjoy reading quietly, but only if Gilbert is also being quiet and reading. Mostly, I just find this really difficult to understand, because given the opportunity (as a child and as an adult) I would gladly sit and read for hours.

I think I missed out with Porter on reading, and I realize we have a lot of books I was reading to Seamus and Gilbert at this age that I haven’t gotten out for Porter. Part of it’s time, but also a vicious circle. He doesn’t talk much, so I don’t read much, but then he wants to read. He loves to bring us books, even when they’re board books we’ve read a hundred times. I used to think Porter had the best shot, people to try to keep up with, a lot of individual attention, etc, but now I see that Harlan gets to read more than Porter did. We sit and read to both of them (and that’s what I did with Gilbert, while Seamus got a lot of reading as the first). I’m not convinced that it makes a huge difference though, for all that. Porter loves books. He’ll sit and look at them unprompted.

I guess my takeaway is that with all the competition for time and play, reading is hard. And then I remember that they’re still young. I could read in first grade, but I wasn’t staying up with a flashlight and pretending to be sick from school until third grade. We still have time.


Sharing my Wisdom–on Not Having Girls June 25, 2016

Filed under: Family Life,Growing up,Just Thinking,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 1:51 pm

I very much enjoy my four boys. Harlan rolled all the way over for the first time on Friday morning. It was also the day that Seamus and Gilbert got out of school for the summer. We won’t have a kindergartner again for a while! However, it made me a little sad on occasion that I don’t have any girls (and Gilbert’s right, you can do the same things with a baby brother that you can with a baby sister), until I tried to figure out what that sadness stemmed from. I think it has something to do with the idea that I have a lot of wisdom stored up from the years about being female in our society that I wanted to share. I have a suspicion though, that I’ll be able to share plenty.

On Thursday night, we played outside. Seamus and Gilbert got some jump ropes at a party and are quite taken with them. While we were running errands the other day, I decided to get them some hula hoops, since they liked the jump ropes so much. They’ve been learning jump rope rhymes in school. “Cinderella, dressed in yellow, etc…” I encouraged them to make up their own. “Cinderella, dressed in blue, went upstairs to find her shoe, how many times did the cow moo?” Or “Cinderella dressed in pink, went upstairs to find some ink. How many bottles did she think?” and so on. These rhymes are ridiculous, but they bring back my childhood vividly, and it’s fun to use them to encourage wordplay and exercise. Patrick got into it too! He was hula hooping with the best of them!

My mom’s wisdom often came from dealing with hair (and I’m seriously regretting the bangs I’ve cut). I get to help Gilbert deal with his hair (coarse, double crown, and thick). He likes to use my bobby pins to keep it off his face. Porter is entering the phase all children go through (I think), in which they want their toenails painted shiny colors. They’re just kids, learning to play with everything. It is harder because we have to make a conscious effort to introduce toys that others might consider “girl toys” but it’s even more important to read books with girls as main characters and encourage the boys to help cook, do laundry, plant in the garden, play with the baby, and more.

Gilbert thinks you have to sling it quickly around your body.

Gilbert thinks you have to sling it quickly around your body.

Seamus mid-jump.

Seamus mid-jump.

Porter watching Patrick make something.

Porter watching Patrick make something.

Harlan laughing his head off!

Harlan laughing his head off!

Going out to dinner. Seamus tie-dyed the shirt in his art class at school.

Going out to dinner. Seamus tie-dyed the shirt in his art class at school.

Porter loves to wear sunglasses!

Porter loves to wear sunglasses!