Academic Leigh Speaking

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

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.


Helping Each Other and Hunkering Down November 9, 2016

Filed under: Politics — leighj @ 3:31 pm

I’d been waiting until after the election to get back to blogging about my usual stuff. Of course, I’d been assuming that Hillary Clinton would win, and that “Getting Back to it” would be “getting back to normal.” I’m not sure what normal means now.

I haven’t been able to eat since this morning. I just have a roiling nausea that threatens to erupt in bile. I’ve lost my voice (literally). I recognize other women wearing sunglasses, even though it’s raining, because we’re making an effort to not burst into tears from a sympathetic face. It’s not working.

I’m already tired from my own choices to have kids and to work full time. I’m newly exhausted by the work ahead of us. I know we who care can do it, but I didn’t want to have to work this hard. We have to work to protect those who are vulnerable. We have to use our privilege (whatever it is, education, wealth, time, identity) not to advance ourselves, but to make sure we can help others.

When America was “Great” so the narrative goes, white people were in charge and everything told them they deserved their place and that others were less than. There have always been allies who think the body politic can’t be great when the greatness is based on entitlement to others’ labor, families, lives. Women have helped each other end pregnancies that they can’t cope with; women have protected each other from sexual and racial violence (see my research on the California women in the face of Anglo invasion); the Underground Railroad existed; men and women rode buses, blocked entrances, and sat at restaurant counters; women have taken up the picket lines when men were arrested; Catholic priests and Chicana activists worked together to smuggle refugees from Central America to safety. I had hoped we had reached a point where we could agree that blanket social goods could be valuable. I was wrong.

In Harry Potter, the Wizarding community has to cast protective charms on Muggle neighbors (non-magical people). These spells are done in the hope of using their privilege (as under attack as it might be) to keep their neighbors safe from the dark elements. Throughout our history as a nation, people have sacrificed their own material and social interests to ensure that others can have a chance to have human dignity. We are here again.


Politics in the Little City October 22, 2015

Filed under: In My Neighborhood,Politics — leighj @ 12:15 pm

The political arena is heating up in the little city. There are local elections for school board and city council. Our neighbor is very involved, so we’ve heard more about it than we would usually hear. We currently have four yard signs up, and we answer a lot of questions about them from the boys, who are very interested in the election. (They also think we’re voting for our neighbor, who is not running, but otherwise, they seem to have a good understanding of the process.)

The issue at hand for city council is the building of mixed-use developments in the city. One side is anti-development because they argue that the developments add too many children to the schools. Never mind that the single family homes actually have more kids and contribute fewer dollars per kid to the schools than the mixed-use developments. I think what bugs me most about this rhetoric is that nobody wants to address a couple of central ideas that are implied by the rhetoric. One, the very idea that the condos add too many kids that will tax the school system is racist, anti-immigrant, and classist. It suggests that teeming families will overrun the size of the apartment to take advantage of the schools here. Two, there is the idea that large families can afford the condos and want to live in them. Most of the condos are luxury condos that have one or two bedrooms and 500-1000 square feet. Unless people plan on turning the closets into bedrooms (a real possibility?), these spaces are not set up for families. They are set up for retirees, couples with one (maybe two) children, and young people with one roommate. But they’re exorbitantly expensive. I think the rub is that the people who believe that the new mixed use developments are contributing a lot of kids to the schools mistakenly believe that the housing units are affordable housing for families. Here’s news: affordable housing is nearly nonexistent in this town. Hypocrisy is rampant.

The other side is pro-growth to sustain the economic commitments of the city. I don’t think they really address my concerns, which is the lack of affordable housing, and as a corollary the destruction of small single family homes in favor of not mixed use developments, but mansions that take up the entire lot.

The school board election has a lot more candidates and is more muddled. We have picked our candidates for this, but the school board election has involved a lot of personalities and conflicts between them. It’s entertaining, but mostly because candidates who claim to base all their work on date keep misrepresenting the data to the public. That’s bizarre.

I’m pretty frustrated with the overt sexism and misogyny toward two of the candidates. They’ve been tagged by an anonymous someone as “mommy candidates” in a disparaging way, despite the fact that nearly every other candidate, man or woman, also touts their children as evidence they should be elected. The two women have been called gossipy and accused of running whisper-campaigns. It’s pretty evident that the critics hate the fact that women dare to call for change. The other women running are aligned with the people making the sexist comments, so I’m sure the people making the comments would point to them as evidence that they don’t have a problem with women. In that case, I say, then stop using these women’s gender to undermine their credentials.

I’m going to go vote in person absentee this week.


The Hard Conversations January 28, 2015

Filed under: Events,Family Life,Growing up,Politics,School for Boys — leighj @ 12:57 pm

I’ve said before that being a parent is increasingly taxing my ability to explain the quandaries of physics, biology, and abstract math. There are also questions of civics and equality to address, but I tend to do better with those.

In the last few weeks, we’ve had conversations about vaccines, the end of the world, taking care of our things, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more. Seamus wants to know what diseases he’s “not going to get” because he’s had the shots. And then he wanted to know what, specifically, each of those diseases would do to your body. After we discussed how Hepatitis attacks your liver (and answered what the liver does in the body), we had to have a conversation about how viruses “attack” the body, and how the body mounts a counterattack. Why do children always want to have the conversations when I’m driving?

Later, the same day! I’m laying on the couch reading, and Seamus comes over to cup my face and ask very seriously, “Will there still be people alive when the world ends?” Well that was a doozy. He thinks all the time, and his questions only give us a small glimpse into what he’s thinking about.

Gilbert requires a whole different arsenal. We’ve had long conversations (which we continue to reinforce) about the differences between tearing things up and wearing things out. There’s another category of keeping things nice, but G is completely incapable of acting in that vein, so we’re just trying to focus on what he can differentiate between.

With Porter, we’re trying to convince him to try new foods and try to crawl, but he’s not very interested in changing his routine at the moment.

The MLK, Jr. conversation went well this year. I feel like we’re finally building a base to talk to the boys about race, equality, fairness, and difference without being afraid of going too far above their heads. We’ve spent some time on the idea that the color of skin (peach, pink, brown, really dark brown) is one thing, whereas race that was (is) used to discriminate in unfair ways is a category that has something to do with how one looks, but that looks are by no means everything to do with race. This will be a life long conversation.


Talking to Kids about Race September 30, 2014

Parenting is full of the hard stuff. I’ve been niggling with this for a while, but it appeared to me last night that I really need to start consciously and clearly talking to the kids about race. We’ve talked about it a little before, noting that while some of our friends have different color skin, we all laugh, get hurt, and have fun the same way. I’ve been thinking about it since reading Nurture Shock a year and a half ago, and I also came across this article in Slate about our assumptions that made me recommit. One of the most important take aways from the article is that just because you live in a diverse area with friends of different ethnicities, children do not magically understand race, color, and racism.

Last night the boys were painting outside, and Seamus got some paint on his hands. He was upset, but I told him it was fine, the paint was washable and we’d wash it off. He soon embraced the paint, mixing yellow and purple gleefully until he declared that his skin was “brown like Jason’s.” I tried to talk to him a little bit about why he was saying that, but he was too caught up in his painting to pay attention. Gilbert promptly turned his hands orange. Then they went to wash the paint off before dinner, remarking that their skin was beige again. I feel like I missed an opportunity, because I wasn’t expecting to have that conversation tonight. I mentioned to my colleague that I needed ideas. I’m going to try again later with talking about MLK, as they got interested in him in their preschool class,especially that he marched on Washington. I think we’ll talk about why he marched.

One of the reasons I like my job is that I get to talk with my students about race and racism. We read theoretical and fictional texts that address racism regularly, and because our school is #2 in the region for diversity, there are always good conversations to be had. Somehow this seems like something I’ve trained for when I’m talking to my college students, but something I’m groping toward and floundering with in my house. I know it’s part of white privilege to not address race, but I think that’s what makes talking about racism important with my kids.

Our bus stop is white and Seamus’s classroom is pretty white. This town may be the least diverse in the region. Weird when just three miles away, I go to work and teach in classrooms with students from lots of different ethnic backgrounds. I’m reading Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days with my students this week, and I’m very aware of how he codes race in the novel. Some gems in what I’ve read so far: The protagonist is in West Virginia on a junket. “She departs, but not before smiling at J again. Why was she smiling like that. Some kind of overcompensation for slavery or what?” (58). In the cab, “When I heard your name, I though, Sutter, huh? Sounds like a Southern name.” J.: “Maybe my ancestors were owned down here at some point” (21).  With another (white) junketeer. Tiny: “My mother used to read me Little Black Sambo when she tucked me into bed at night. It’s a cute story underneath.” J: “You were undisturbed by the eyeholes cut out of the pillow you lay your little head on” (49). It’s a fascinating book.

Religion, death, race, babies, money, all good things to talk about with kids, but, before I’ve even had coffee, it’s hard. Lucky for us, these things come up in our daily lives so the conversation is ongoing.


Yellow Suns May 10, 2013

Last week, I took the boys to Charlottesville, while I went to Polyface Farm. It was kind of a long car trip, and without another adult in the car, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I always think it’s fine to travel with them on an airplane because I’m not actually driving the device hurtling through space at high speeds and can attend to their needs. In the car, I have to focus. I pulled some CDs to take along, including at toddler music CD and on a whim, I added The Beatles Revolver. They each picked out a book and a friend to bring along. I didn’t bring any snacks, figuring on a potty and crackers stop at some time.

Long, boring story short, they were great in the car. We had traffic and minimal whining. When The Beatles came on, they wanted to change it at first, but I told them it was my music and we were going to listen to it for a change. Then I said, “Maybe you’ll find a song you like on here too.” It wasn’t long before they figured out that Gilbert liked “Yellow Submarine” (or as they call it, number 6) and Seamus liked “Good Day, Sunshine” (number 8). It’s too bad I’m not a huge fan of “She Said” because, as number 7, it gets played a lot now too. Or at least the opening bars do. I’m pleased that they enjoy the songs. Seamus had been acting a little strange lately, moody, unhappy, cranky, etc, and I was already convinced he had childhood depression, but then when he chose “Good Day, Sunshine” for his song, I figured he was just in a 4 year old funk–no can pick that one if they’re depressed. It was pretty exciting to have a road trip with them in which they were fully entertained by their books, music, friends, and the scenery.

After I dropped them off with Nana and PopPop, I headed over to Polyface Farm, a beyond organic farm in western VA. They’re the ones featured on Food, Inc. Our tour guide, Brie, took us around and talked about the different sustainable practices they use on the farm. While I enjoyed seeing the animals and thought they were living a humane existence, I still found myself pretty glad to be a vegetarian. I was intrigued by the mobile hen house for the laying hens. The take it from field to field, following three days behind the cows so that the hens can scratch in the cow pies and eat the fly larvae before it develops. As Brie said, “On most farms you notice the smell and the flies, and this system cuts down on both of those problems.” I was kind of tired, so I wasn’t thinking particularly clearly, otherwise I would have picked up some  bacon or something as a thank you for Nana and PopPop. The farm has an open-door policy, so we could always go back. The other interesting thing is they have this big nocturnal dog whose job is to protect the fowl. He is bred and trained to kill predators, yet he loves people and hangs out whenever there’s a tour.


Groupon Guilt January 25, 2013

I’ve been troubled lately. I’ve bought some Groupons recently, mostly for yoga classes, and now I’m starting to feel really guilty about it. When it was the local Bikram hot yoga studio, and I was going with my friend Liz, and I had a very tight budget, I didn’t feel that guilty–mostly because I didn’t enjoy hot yoga that much. But then I read this article from Slate about how Groupon is not particularly good for businesses, and I thought about my own practices. And then I bought three more Groupons for various yoga studios.

Forces are colliding though. The first studio was excellent–East meets West–and the teachers were terrific. I thought, “If I decide to buy a class pass, it would definitely be here.” They are about a 10 minute drive from my house. Then I realized a Groupon was going to expire soon, so I started going to Ashtanga Yoga at Heart and Soul Yoga which in no traffic is 15 minutes away and 30 in Wednesday night at 6:30 traffic. I love it. The teacher is tough, but it’s far and expensive. Then there’s one that I haven’t started yet, but the studio is walkable from my house.

Where’s the guilt you wonder? What’s up with this downward dog navel-gazing? The point is this: I visited my friend Lindsey’s yoga studio over MLK weekend, and I realized, if I value yoga as a practice, you should make your financial commitment to the teacher/studio who speaks to me and that I value. Most yoga teachers do it as a passion project, but they invest in their experience, space, and time, and that should be compensated. So, I’m going to finish out the groupons, because I can’t bear to waste them, and I’m going to try to choose a place to be a repeat customer–for them and for me (and for Lindsey whose studio would be my everyday place if I didn’t live 700 miles away).

And the only other place I’ve bought a groupon is Target portraits, and I think they did better than I did. But the pictures were cute, and it was pretty low stakes. Again though, it makes me think that photographers are a lot like yoga teachers and need to have their work valued. Aarrgh! There is no guilt-free “deal” in sight.