Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Porter Says and Harlan Says August 19, 2017

Filed under: Fourth Baby,Growing up,Kid comparisons,Uncategorized — leighj @ 8:21 am

All of my boys have had weird pronunciations of S, P, or F. Gilbert said F as S (It’s Sunny, instead of It’s funny!). Seamus said F as P, (Plip Plops for Flip Flops, Oppice for Office, Wapple for Waffle, you get the idea). Porter has put his own twist on it! He says Sp as F (spinner as finner, space as face, spit as fit).

Porter also quotes from our Song and Story CDs constantly. He loves Monsters, Inc and Finding Nemo stories. Not the movies. For movies he likes Lady but not the Tramp and the doggie movie (101 Dalmations).

Harlan says some new words regularly: Bye bye, cheese, doggie, more, MINE!, shoes, night night, water (ba ba), poo poo (when he wants to go sit on the potty)

He also tests every boundary imaginable.


More Sundries, and Harlan is 15 months old June 16, 2017

Again, nothing momentous, but still some fun things.

  • Harlan is fifteen months, and to celebrate, he joined the 15th percentile on weight and the 80th on head. So he’s carrying a big brain on a little body. He has 15 (or so) words to share: more, uh-oh, hat, bus, ball, byebye, hi, hello, shoe, dada, mama, nunu, up, thank you, (something that means water, but the sound is hard to render in letters). He climbed up on the freezer and the table recently. He also took all the books off my shelves in my office, so I’d say he right on target to cause a rumpus. He also has taken to wanting to play with the hand-held vacuum.

    He’s into everything! So curious, but such a delight.

    Helping to make pancakes! Hey, when you’re up at 5:45, might as well make somebody happy.

  • Porter built a Duplo house and he told my parents on facetime that the people were playing outside. Oops, it’s raining now; they’re going in. When he realized Patrick was outside mowing the grass, he put his shoes on and ran out to mow the lawnmower too! Porter loves his friends (not that he has a lot of them!), but every time he has a playdate or people are coming over, he draws a picture for one of his friends and presents it with much fanfare. His big thing is wheels.

    Gilbert used to do this too!

  • The garden is growing. I’m a little bit obsessed with my garden. I look online to see why my plants are behaving in certain ways, and at night, I go out to tend to them, offering water, compost, a loving touch. So far we’ve had 10 green beans, about 10 snow peas, radishes, mustard greens, cilantro, Swiss chard, and basil. I’m looking forward to more, but honestly, stuff doesn’t make it into the house half the time! Our CSA has started, and since we reduced the size of our share this year, we are feeling much better about the produce and our ability to use it. We had delicious bok choy, lettuce, sorrel, onions, and garlic scapes. We still need to use kale and eggs, but that’s manageable.

    Squash, tomatoes, chives, Swiss chard. Love the garden.

  • We have a saying around her: “TWO BABIES ON ME!” which is kind of an SOS. It means you’ve sat down on the floor and been attacked by Porter and Harlan, and now, you’re in a pickle and can’t get up. Seamus found himself in this predicament the other day, and Gilbert, who would usually run to join the fray, sat serenely by himself, reading his book, ignoring the commotion. I have been waiting for this day.


    Is he feeling okay?

  • Our friends from Albuquerque who live in California now are arriving today. We can’t wait to see them. We looked at pictures of our families from 6-7 years ago, and the kids were babies! So were we.
  • I worked on two crafty projects recently. The Lego cake mold (which I will not be posting pictures of) and a tie dye project. We’ll see if I post pics. The Lego cake was hilarious. I bought the mold and make a cake. Then I iced it and let the kids decorate it. A sugar bomb! However, it was hilarious, and Patrick encouraged me to share some pictures and tell our friends I was thinking of going pro with the cake decorating business. That would have been a cruel joke to see what their faces looked like in trying to deal with the news. It’s especially funny, because we went to visit some friends, and she had actually done a beautiful job on her son’s birthday cake. My cake looked like a five year old had done it, and I can’t even blame the kids that much.
  • Speaking of, this should probably be it’s own post, but my friends were talking about opting out of taking on so many activities and travel and social engagements. After we visited with them, we opted out of our evening plans for several reasons, the most persuasive of which was that poor little Porter was just exhausted and could not find it in himself to be happy. Often you feel like a slave to the baby, but a two year old requires special attention too.

Summer is just around the corner! I’m so excited.


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!


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.


The Quest for a Harry Potter Book in NOVA August 4, 2016

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Kid comparisons,Totally Me — leighj @ 6:13 am

Spoiler Alert: I am now the proud owner of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But it took a while to get it. I have never lived in a place where things like books sold out. What’s up with this megalopolis? When we were at the cabin at Bryce, my friend was remarking on how much she enjoyed the lake because it wasn’t too crowded. I agree, and dream of a community Easter egg hunt where the kids can go out and come back…and go out again. We did get that in Charlottesville one year.

So the book. It came out on Sunday, and I didn’t think much about it. Looking back, we should have just stopped at the Walmart in Woodstock, and I would have had one that day. Monday, Seamus and Gilbert and I ran some errands (mostly to prep their school supplies), and then we went to a little indy bookstore to get the book. Sold out until mid-week! I tried two grocery stores, but no dice. Patrick suggested the very fancy Walmart in Tyson’s. I had to take S&G to Lego build, so we went to Barnes and Noble in the mall. No HP8, but it was absolutely intriguing to be in a big bookstore again. I haven’t been in one in so long! To see multiple copies of the same book, all crisp and new. Rows and rows. It smelled like reading. I love the library, and we go all the time, but a bookstore is a very different experience. I almost got something, but I didn’t want to get distracted from my quest.

After Lego build, I checked in to see how Patrick was faring with P&H at home. Everybody sleeping, so we ventured on out to Walmart. I had considered ordering the book through Amazon, but I got hung up on the free shipping/pay for shipping, and wanting to read the book right away. Patrick suggested I buy it on Kindle, but that’s sacrilegious for Harry Potter. (Now, reading it, I definitely wouldn’t want to have it electronically. Form matters.)

And this is how I abandoned my principles and bought something at Walmart for the first time in ages. They had a least fifty copies. I will say, going into Walmart with S&G, it was very easy to say no to their constant requests for stuff while I’m shopping.* I didn’t plan on buying anything else at Walmart, and didn’t. I’m sure the corporate giant feels terrible about that.

*Oh wow. One of my parents mentioned something about Gilbert laying the ask on at the right time. I have noticed this since they left. Going anywhere with him is a constant exercise in can I have, oooh, I like this, can we get one of these, we really need this, etc…and he’s excited about whatever it is. Seamus asks differently, like “What are Dippin Dots? Someday can we have some?” It is exhausting to have Gilbert’s constant requests, but I feel like since I have to shop with them right now (summer), I can tune him out a little, and model buying choices and needs v wants.



Fun Challenge: Can you tell the kids apart? July 9, 2016

Filed under: Kid comparisons — leighj @ 6:11 am

DSC_0010IMG_1171 IMG_1324DSC_0009


Who’s who??


Self-Fulfilling Prophecies April 4, 2016

We had visitors this weekend who reminded me of the power of talking about your children in front of them. They were sharing about a mother who they know who maintained that her child “only eats pouches” and “won’t eat anything else” and they were wondering if this had now become the child’s thing–where she believed it of herself. She’s Porter’s age, and immediately I remembered that I’d been saying things like, “Porter’s having a hard time with Harlan” and “Porter’s been fussed at” where he could probably hear me! I resolved to change my tune post-haste.

A few days ago, I was talking on the phone, and I shared with someone what a big helper Gilbert had been with taking out the trash for me. Gilbert was nearby, and I knew he was listening, and that’s a big reason I said it. Later, after I was off the phone, Gilbert sotto-voice said, “I heard what you said about me, and I liked it.” So funny. But he has been trying (most of the time) to be more helpful. We also had been of the school, if he’s hungry he’ll eat, and no need to offer other food. Lately though, he’d been skipping dinner completely and eating in the morning. So we changed tactics a bit, and told him, “You have to eat it all, and we’ll sit here with you as long as it takes.” The couple of times we’ve resorted to this, he does eat, so we know he’s a little hungry. But maybe he thinks of himself as our “bad eater.” Who knows.

Back to Porter. It seemed like he felt pretty betrayed yesterday when Patrick was doing a lot of Harlan holding. After all, Patrick is Porter’s person. He spends the most time with Porter, and does pretty much all the things Porter loves best. Goes outside, takes him to the park, puts him in the bike seat, feeds him, and more. Last night, I said, “Porter is such a good brother to Harlan,” and then asked Porter if he’d like to sit on the couch next to me and hold Harlan. He was so excited. He climbed up, held the baby, and patted him gently on the head. I narrated some of it, but that was kind of foolish, but I’m going to keep trying to reinforce to him that we think his default is “good brother-friend to the baby” and “generally good boy” (sometimes other adjectives–hard-working, helpful, funny) not “somehow deficient child now that the baby is here.” We’ll see how it goes.

This isn’t really a revelation–it’s basic Siblings without Rivalry 101, but I had forgotten to keep it at the front of my mind.

In other news, Porter had an art class this morning where they mixed shaving cream with glue to make paint. He loved mixing and painting, and he was very focused on his work. Gilbert was a little jealous that Porter had an art class this morning; moreover, he wanted to make sure that Porter brought his artwork home, so Gilbert could look at it, and then under his breath, “add to it.” I have no idea.

Seamus is funny about his needs. He loves games and competition and math, but when under stress, Seamus will go into the backyard and kick his soccer ball, or hit the wiffle ball for hours. He has a tremendous amount of physical energy that seems unaccounted for. I’m glad we have a backyard for him to use. Sometimes the house is just too full for him.