Academic Leigh Speaking

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

School’s Out and Summer Has Arrived! June 26, 2017

The boys were excited to be done with their school year, even though they’d had lots of fun in the last week(s) of school. It’s a little adjustment around the house to have them home. Mostly I notice the noise and the interruptions to when I’m doing stuff that has to be done, like making breakfast, doing dishes, changing the laundry. We’ve been encouraging Seamus and Gilbert to pitch in, especially if they want something from us. They’ve taken to going outside to play to get out of doing the work. Not too often, but occasionally. However, there’s also small chores to do outside, so we’ve got them coming and going! The other biggest challenge is Porter. He’s used to having a lot of attention and conversely, quiet independent playtime. With the older boys home, someone is always around to play with, but someone is also likely to take away a toy you’re enjoying, or sit on the couch cushion you were using. That will even out and he’ll miss them when they go to camp or back to school, but it is an adjustment period. Porter is excited for his own school adventure, and a few days ago, we peeked in the window of his preschool room. He was thrilled to see a little kitchen, and a firetruck, and lots of books.

Last Day of School!

I committed to getting to the pool every day it’s been sunny and we don’t have other plans in stone. I’ve done pretty well with this, and I think it means that Gilbert doesn’t need lessons this year, because he’s getting better just being in the pool and practicing on his own. They never want to get out, even when they’re blue! Porter asks to go swimming all the time, and Harlan is a fool for water. Do not turn your back on him in the vicinity of the pool: he heads straight for the water…usually via the stairs.

School’s out, swim all day!

And I have set up the kiddie pool for the backyard.

It’s a hit! Round two.

Having Porter and Harlan this summer is a big contributor to my sense of memory and doing it all over again. We’ve watched an old video where Gilbert gets upset with Seamus for taking something from him and says, “NO SAMEOUS” and today, Harlan took something from Porter, and Porter said, “NO SAMEOUS!” with the same intonation. Tonight, we watched the end of Cars, maybe in preparation to go see Cars 3, but maybe not. After it was over, Porter cried a bit and climbed on my lap. He said, “I’m not sleepy at all!” and then he laid his head on me and sighed. Then he laid over on the couch, yawned and rubbed his eyes and repeated his mantra. I wish I had a video of that I could show him in the future! It was endearing, even it was a little frustrating, since he still needed to go to bed right away.

Harlan said “No” today. It was inevitable. He also can get out of (both!) of the backyard gates, so extra patrolling is required. We’ve had the girl next door babysit him and Porter together and tomorrow, she’s doing Harlan by himself, so here’s hoping he gets his fill of attention. We’ve used babysitting so far to do individual projects with the older kids. Patrick and Gilbert went to the auto store and then changed the oil. Seamus and I walked to the library with me watching him navigate. He’s been begging to walk places by himself. Seamus is dying for the independence of a 12 year old, but we’re still working on judgement, problem solving, and attention to detail. It is fascinating how the desire for independence manifests in each of the ages we have at home right now, and how it will change with each child’s wishes and needs.

Since school let out, we’ve gone swimming, had playdates, gone to a party, had friends join us for dinner, played in the backyard, signed up for summer reading, prepped and stored CSA bounty for our trip, and gone for a nature walk at Huntley Meadows. At the wetlands, we saw a nice array of wildlife and especially animals that are featured in the Franklin the Turtle books. Porter loved it, even though Gilbert kept taunting him that he wouldn’t see any bears. In the wild we did see a heron, turtles (painted and snapping), beaver dams, a frog, some geese and goslings, tadpoles, dragonflies, some orioles, and hawks. They were enthralled.

Porter walked the whole way.


Visit From Friends June 21, 2017

We were so excited to see our friends from Albuquerque, who now live in California, that we got all discombobulated and got our schedule messed up. It worked out fine though, in the end, and I hope that they got a good balance of time to explore DC with their kids and time to hang out with us. We recommended some things, but this is always hard for us because the things we like aren’t things that you’d go back to California and say that you did (we saw some boats and airplanes!). Doesn’t really have a ring to it. Anyway, we settled on having a picnic at Haines Point, where there were several families having family reunions, but we staked out a picnic table and enjoyed the beautiful weather, the river, sailboats, planes landing, helicopters circling, and the kids playing. The older boys found a game of soccer with the kids at the family reunion, and they all had a great time.

Saturday evening was a little complicated by Seamus having a sleepover, but it worked out. He had a fun time with his friends and Gilbert got to have the little brother of Seamus’s friend over for a sleepover here. They played, ate, watched Robin Hood, and actually went to sleep by 8:30. Seamus had stayed up later, and he was pretty tired on Sunday. We made him lay down and read for the afternoon.

On Sunday, we did a nice Father’s Day lunch at home with Grandude and Grandma, and then we had a fun time hosting our friends for dinner. We were even able to have a fire and make s’mores. The kids found we’ll of energy that surprised us, and they went to bed later than I will admit here. We planned to do a picnic and a visit to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum the next day, so the older boys skipped school. They looked around at the museum for a while, but then got tired and wanted to see an IMAX. I loved that we just did what the kids could handle, and we all got our needs meet. We are already strategizing for a visit to California!

It is so hard to get a decent shot of four kids! This clearly isn’t it!

Porter took a rain check on the IMAX.

After we were home, Seamus asked if he’d missed anything in the IMAX because he’d let his eyes shut just for a second…There were lots of tears when our friends departed.


Things We’re Looking Forward to This Summer June 17, 2017

Filed under: DC Exploration,Events,Family Life,Holidays,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 3:26 pm

This post will probably come off as really annoying, so sorry in advance. Don’t read it if you’re not someone who likes to gleefully gloss over the potential pitfalls. I simply cannot wait for the kids to be out of school and for us to start the summer. So forgive me (and ignore the hypocrisy) in a few weeks when I’m ready for them to go back! In no particular order:

I’m looking forward to so many things. I don’t know if eight weeks will really be enough:

  1. Travel plans (Cape Cod, Southeast, Jersey Shore, Virginia)
  2. Visits from friends
  3. The water parks and exploring our immediate areas
  4. Reading for fun (I think I have more stacked up than I can do)
  5. Writing two articles (maybe three, if I can eek it out)
  6. Watching the kids grow and learn (the pool is a huge marker of success so far–I set a goal to swim every day it’s not raining, and that we’re here. We haven’t quite made that, but we’ve been close.)
  7. Yoga
  8. The CSA and the garden
  9. Getting out on the bikes with the kids. This year the two younger boys fit on the seats on the adult bikes, and the older boys are proficient on their own bikes.
  10. Our neighbor babysitting the kids some

I guess you could say I’m caught between two wonderful tensions of being home for the comforts and delights that home promises and being away for the excitement and adventure that vacation promises.

The older boys want to swim and travel. They want to see grandparents and friends. They especially want to do things like go bowling, play mini-golf, have a baseball game with friends, eat ice cream, and get their summer reading prizes. They even are looking forward to the reading and listening to books on tape.

Porter wants to swim and play. He dreams of going to his friend Max’s basement. He also is ready to go to school. The other day, he came across Gilbert’s unattended backpack and put it on. He proceeded to have a whole dialogue with himself about going to school.

I’m not sure Harlan knows what summer means, but he’s pretty excited about the pool and being outside every minute he can be. Patrick has some wonderful professional things in the works, but those are his story to tell.


All I’ve Got These Days is a Quick Update September 28, 2016

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 4:26 pm
  1. Porter is talking a lot more. Naturally, I think it’s really cute. He says “No fair!” with no idea what that means. He’s just echoing his brothers. He says: Uh oh, naughty toe! New disc! (he doesn’t know what that means either, but in the car it leads to a lot of kerfuffle and excitement) Apple crisp! Butter! (for peanut butter)
  2. He can answer questions now. Where’s Gilbert? Me to Patrick. Porter, listening in, “Outside.”
  3. Harlan loves to smile at people. He waits until you’re talking to him, and then he kills you with a smile.

Work is busy, but mostly rewarding. Patrick is busy with work too.

  1. I tried to watch the debate on Monday. I watched about 20 minutes, and then I gave up, read for class, and followed along on Twitter. I was inspired by the debate to go buy some Hillary merchandise. I hope it’s better than the John Kerry shirt I bought back in the day that had two different sized sleeves.
  2. I really enjoyed reading Demetria Martinez’s Confessions of a Berlitz Tape Chicana. It filled in a lot of gaps for me on this piece of research I’m working on.
  3. I’m officially headed to Houston for a conference in February. I’m a bit sad because I’d really like to go to the conference in New York in April (an awesome speaker is slated) but I just cannot do more than one conference a semester. Getting old.
  4. I agreed to be a supporting room parent for Gilbert’s class. I just want to make the musical costumes again. Should be fun (or make me crazy).

We went to NJ for Irish weekend and a last time at the shore. We checked out the secret beach to great effect. Seamus loves the water and will go in even if it means he’s going to freeze. Gilbert loves collecting shells. Porter liked running on the beach, and Harlan went to sleep in the Ergo. Patrick and I enjoyed the scenery and sunshine.

On the ferry!

On the ferry!

We had fun riding the rides. The boardwalk is so pleasant when it’s not 98 degrees! We got on the ferry home, and it was fun, but the kids were tired enough to be a bit cranky. Still, we made it and that’s what matters.


Lucky Boys September 4, 2016

Filed under: Family Life,Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 9:57 am

Finding four leaf clovers is a thing that comes easily to me and has since I was little. When talking with someone, or walking, I can look down, see one, pick it, and keep going. This usually prompts a, “How do you do that?” I’ve been trying to get the boys trained to find them too.

A few days ago, we came across a mutated patch of clover in which about one in four was a four leaf, and one in 20 was a five leaf. I encouraged them to look, and at first they didn’t want to, since when I’ve made them look before it was hard. This time though, they started having fun finding them.

Gilbert shows his lucky clovers.

Gilbert shows his lucky clovers.

Seamus only wants the five leaf clovers.

Seamus only wants the five leaf clovers.

Maybe they’ll get into it now!


Passport for Fairfax County Parks Discovery August 31, 2016

Adventures at the parks.

Adventures at the parks.

Seamus and Gilbert picked up a passport for the Fairfax County parks a few weeks ago, and we’ve been going to the different parks to see what there was to see. The passport definitely achieved its goal to get people checking out new parks they’ve never been to before. If you go: Many of the visitors centers are closed on Tuedsay, even though the park is open.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center: A fun park! It has two easy hiking trails, blazed orange and blue/gray. The orange trail has animal prints to guess at certain points, and the blue/gray trail crosses a little stream. The visitor center is big with lots to play with/touch. It was a little crowded in there the day we visited, but the trails were almost empty. Nice little suburban park.

Huntley Meadows: We’ve been there many times. The visitor center closes early on weekends. However, the boardwalk is a ton of fun for a hike. Lots of birds, turtles, and beavers.

Riverbend: We like this park because you can hike through to Great Falls Park without paying the parking fee at Great Falls. They rent canoes and kayaks here. Lots of close to the river hiking and interesting bird sightings. On our trip we saw a huge caterpillar, lots of spiders and daddy long legs, and ducks. A very productive nature walk, in which we learned about clearing spider webs, rock scrambles, and water buoys.

Frying Pan Farm: I trekked there with my four boys and a friend, the same age as Gilbert. I got a lot of looks. This was really neat, and not particularly well advertised. Lots of animals, the 4-H barns, a country store. The old farmhouse and kitchen was terrific. We took a wagon ride, and Porter was a little afraid of the animals, but he liked them from the safety of the wagon. The pigs made the boys nervous, after listening to the terror of the hogs in Old Yeller, they didn’t want anything to do with them!

Wagon Ride

Wagon Ride

Lake Fairfax: We’ve camped here, been to the skate park, and seen a band in the amphitheater. On this visit we saw the marina, geese, and playground.

Hidden Pond: Seamus’s class had a field trip here earlier this year. The pond has a lot of scum on it, but it also lives up to the name. There are turtles and ducks easily spotted. A couple of nice hiking trails. Porter liked the visitor’s center, which had a copperhead, several different turtles, fish, and motion sensor water fountains. There’s also a nice playground at the park.

Green Spring Gardens: A surprisingly fun place with ponds, plants, and a cool greenhouse.

Ellanor Lawrence Park: I am so happy we went here because I got to see a friend I haven’t seen in a year, but. I should have worn the Ergo despite the heat. I tried the stroller, but the trails were too bumpy. The redeeming part for the boys was wading in the creek. And hearing the story of my friend being trapped in a sleeping bag. Also my friend announced, “Hey, my mom got married here!” which was awesome!

The Prize!

Both Seamus and Gilbert received a terrific prize pack with coupons for mini golf, wagon rides, carousel rides, camping, swimming, boats rentals, and more. They are all to use at the parks in the future.

This is one of the most spontaneous and fun things we decided to do this summer. Right on, Fairfax County!


Some Photo Evidence of Our Summer August 23, 2016

Filed under: Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation,Uncategorized — leighj @ 6:36 am
Porter encounters the bears at the Cape May zoo.

Porter encounters the bears at the Cape May zoo.

Seamus and Gilbert play a video game at the restaurant. They've been begging to do it again ever since.

Seamus and Gilbert play a video game at the restaurant. They’ve been begging to do it again ever since.

Seamus and I make pickles.

Seamus and I make pickles.

Porter and Gilbert in the kiddie pool.

Porter and Gilbert in the kiddie pool.

Seamus, Gilbert, and I ride Rip Tide!

Seamus, Gilbert, and I ride Rip Tide!

Gilbert and Patrick ride the lighthouse ride.

Gilbert and Patrick ride the lighthouse ride.

Gilbert jumps at the Lego fair.

Gilbert jumps at the Lego fair.

Porter needs a haircut.

Porter needs a haircut.

Seamus holds Harlan.

Seamus holds Harlan.