Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Birthday Surprise! January 28, 2018

Filed under: Friends and Relatives,Totally Me,Uncategorized — leighj @ 5:43 pm

I really enjoyed my birthday. The weather was more beautiful than I can remember having on my birthday, ever! 62 degrees, sunny, pleasant light breeze.

Friday night, we had coconut layer cake, in a reprise of my 30th birthday, of the four cakes. It was a relaxed evening, and then Saturday morning, two kids woke out of sorts, but once they had breakfast, it was a little better. I kept itching to go to the farmers’ market, since the weather was lovely and I needed to get out of the house of cranky kids. Patrick was stalling, cleaning, washing dishes, vacuuming (I haven’t mentioned our new vacuum, but our old one finally died, and this new one is much quieter–love that), and generally not getting ready fast enough to suit me. But, we were almost ready to go, when a knock came at the door.

It was our friends from Kentucky! Pat brought a letter that I’d written when I was 18 (but already in college), entrusted to him with the notation that it was to me at 38 years old. I remembered that it existed, of course, but I wasn’t expecting to get it on my birthday. What a treat! The letter was uncanny, but also reassuring in that I have memories of myself sort of being a train wreck my first semester of college (homesick, insecure, lost), but I knew myself pretty well, and I still think things are funny that I thought were funny then. I even wanted to be a professor, which I don’t remember as being the goal at the time. It was just too wild. I’m still thinking it all through.

We went to Seamus’s basketball game, by way of the park and farmers’ market. The park isn’t technically open, but it was too pretty to not play there. Seamus had a great game, and Harlan lasted through most of it. The rest of the day was quiet, finishing the summer photo book, naps, dinner, and a nature documentary.

This morning, we were invited to our friends’ house for brunch. It was yet another wonderful birthday surprise! I learned something new about LC and got a t-shirt to remind me. And, this:

How amazing!

That’s a cake! I knew my friend was talented, having seen cakes she’s done for her boys’ birthdays, but I did not expect this beautiful creation. So much fun. We had a great morning full of laughter, stories, food, and good times.

I feel lucky to have a wonderful family, friends, and space to enjoy them. Thirty-eight seems pretty good so far.


Potty Training Round Four January 23, 2018

Well, here we go again. The nice weather the last few weeks has somehow turned a switch in Harlan’s head. He was starting to try to take his diapers off when he needed to pee, or right after he would pee. He’s been good on number two since about eight months old. We didn’t do anything special there, except get him to the pot when he gave us signs he needed to go. So, we got out the padded briefs and set him up for his trial run. We moved the potty to the living room to help increase his success. And…he gets it.

I realized that we’re a little low on training pants, as we had to throw a couple of pairs away every time, and I like to have 7-10 pairs so we can run through a bunch in a day if necessary. He had a lot of accidents the first day, but he’s made rapid improvements since. On Monday, I took him to the store and he got to buy a package of training pants all new. It was strange because he seemed to understand that they were for him. I can’t remember any of the others cottoning on so fast. He clutched them to his chest, parted with them only to scan them at the self checkout, opened them in the car, and put a pair on when he got home.

The only accident of note was when I couldn’t convince him to wear a diaper to the park, so he wet himself outside the sandbox. Since Patrick wasn’t home, and I just gotten to the park with all the kids, (Sunday was a gorgeous day!), I changed out his jacket for pants:

A sporting look.

Obviously, it’s not the first time I’ve wrangled a kid.

The fine weather meant we were out on bikes, playing basketball at the park, and generally enjoying a brief reprieve from winter weather. We still suffered winter illness this week, with four of the six of us taken down by norovirus. Luckily, it was quick once it hit, even if it moved through us slowly. Seamus missed a basketball game, Porter missed school, I missed work, and Gilbert…missed breakfast. He definitely had the fastest recovery.

Fun at the Park!


Year End in Review Post December 29, 2017

Filed under: Totally Me,Uncategorized — leighj @ 8:33 pm

I used to do these (but then I couldn’t find them in my blog, so I’m not sure when I actually did them…) It looks like January 2012 is the one time I did this. I feel compelled to this year, for some reason.

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

And the first question is a doozy! We traveled as a family, on our own, which was special and memorable. I think there were a lot of things we did new, especially as the kids continue to grow and challenge us to grow in new ways. It’s fun and pretty much always new. A few highlights are dropping back into a yoga backbend, hiking with all four kids, trying out a batting cage, and arranging for my colleague to give a presentation on turtles in the boys’ classes.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

We did not make resolutions this year! We’ll probably make a few for next year. It’s interesting to see what the boys vow to do, and one year, I wrote it down and got it out occasionally.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes! There were several new babies added this year. My friend Erin had her third (a girl!–who I get to meet in a couple of days); my friend in NC had her third (a boy!–and we got to go see him this summer!); my very close friend here in town had her second and we’ve gotten lots of snuggle time with him; on the winter solstice, my friend had her first (a sweet little boy! who I got to hold almost 24 hours after he was born, which was indescribably delightful); another dear friend had a her second girl in Oregon this spring, and we’ve commiserated about babies who won’t take bottles; and another friend in Oregon had a baby in July. I may have missed someone, but I hope not. And next year, according to my Christmas card stash, I have more babies to look forward to!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Both my paternal grandfather and my paternal aunt passed away this year. My aunt just yesterday, so it was a bit of a sad tinge to the holidays. We had a nice celebration of my grandfather’s life in Lexington this May, and I got to see my aunt there, so I’m grateful for that.

5. What countries did you visit?

None this year! But last year I went to the Bahamas with Seamus and Gilbert, and they were such good traveling companions, I’m taking them to Germany in May, and the whole family will drive to Nova Scotia this summer. I’m determined to get some use out of these passports we got for the kids!

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you didn’t have in 2017?

Sleep. Research time and writing time (but I’m going to get it for sure!–sabbatical…coming up in AY 18-19). 

7. What dates from 2017 will be etched upon your memory, and why?

February 26 when my students performed a powerful and moving reading of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Harlan’s first birthday when it snowed the only big snow we got this year. Easter in New York was a magical time with the family. Late July visit to Montgomery, Alabama when the boys go to sit at MLK Jr’s desk.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?

I got tenure this year! We kept four kids alive and healthy. Patrick and I still enjoy spending time together. I recommitted to my yoga practice.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I really am trying to be more balanced as a parent–to listen and respond to the children when they are challenging. So, biggest failure is that I lost my temper more than I wanted to. Also, I had an essay I’d worked on over and over summarily rejected, and that stung my ego.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I think fewer colds than usual, so I’ll call it a win!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The dustbuster has been amazing. The kids can clean up their own messes (the other day, Seamus clipped his own nails, and then got the dustbuster and vacuumed up the mess–I thanked him and he was pleased with himself, but partly because he thought I was being sarcastic at first). I guess Patrick bought that, so it’s really more on him. I’m really happy with my Stitch Fix  which sends me clothes that will suit my post four baby body at work. I’m planning on writing more about it later, when I’ve had a few more boxes to go on for the review.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Family. The kids all reached great milestones this year, worked hard, and learned a lot. The extended family has been helpful and reliable. Our babysitter is amazing. So many of our friends have been understanding about our lack of participation in anything right now because we are just so tired at the end of the week.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The same ones that did for most of America.

14. Where did most your money go?

Boring places–like grocery store food and rent. But we did take some wonderful trips this year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The Women’s March. Skiing with the boys. Going to two Nats games as a family! Our trip through the Southeast. Going to NYC for  a conference, and taking the family. Summer reading at the library. Friends who visited us.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?

Oodelally–Porter sings it constantly as he pretends to be Robin Hood or Alan A dale.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

I think this is a stupid question.

Happier: no–I still have a lot of anxiety, so yes, I’m happy, but not markedly happier.
Thinner: weaned Harlan and went back to yoga practice, so a little, but could stand to give it another 7 lbs.
Richer: I did get a promotion, but I’m going to half pay next year, so???

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?


19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Nothing. I wanted more of everything.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

With friends and family. So much fun.

21. Did you fall in love in 2017?

Not with anybody new.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

I have gotten into Jane the Virgin–hilarious and emotional. And we started The Crown, but I haven’t watched enough to know.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No. But have deep antipathy toward many.

24. What was the best book you read?

I really enjoyed Manhattan Beach, for it’s craft and intrigue. Oh, yes, I also loved Anything is Possible, and thought New People was weird and wonderful. My favorite library summer reading was What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. I read a LOT for work this year, and feel a little googly eyed from it.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Hamilton–I know. I’m super late to the party.

26. What did you want and get?

Family time and vacations. We’ve had so much fun exploring.

27. What did you want and not get?

A time turner.

28. What was your favorite film of 2017?

Wonder Woman. It’s not the only thing I saw (even though most things were kids’ movies), but I just enjoyed it for it’s power, story, and visual.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

We got a babysitter! We did a lot of family time and I turned 37.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I don’t know.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2009?

Emerging from baby land.

32. What kept you sane?

Exercise, cooking, coffee, my friends, Patrick, sunshine, laughing at all the mess.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?

This question seems so quaint…so 2008.

34. Who did you miss?

Everyone who I didn’t get to see much.

35. Who was the best new person you met?

We have some new neighbors who are nice. I will count the people we’re going to visit in Germany because I just met them at the end of 2016 and developed a friendship with them this year. Many of my wonderful students.

36. What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Sabbatical. Research. Nova Scotia, Cape Cod, Jersey, Germany. Those are big things; I’m also looking forward to the small moments of hilarity and beauty with the kids, in quiet peace with myself, in common mind with friends, and in fellowship with family and community. I’m hoping for more compassion in the world and in our interaction with others.


Surviving Three Days in the Parenting Trenches April 5, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Totally Me,Uncategorized — leighj @ 12:14 pm

Patrick had a work conference to go to. I embarked on a long weekend of hanging out with the kids and working. Here are some tips:

  • Use the village! People really helped me out. My neighbors had us over, grandude made room for watching the kids while I was teaching, friends shuttled my kids around, a last-minute playdate eased the pressure off the whole group, and when all else failed, the teenager next door stepped up to babysit.
  • Find a low key activity to get out of the house. We went to a STEAM day at my school. It was perfect. I realize this exact thing might not be feasible (especially since I knew there would be a lot of faculty and support there), but it provided a tangible reason to get out of the house.
  • We had easy dinners that I didn’t have to wash many dishes for, and yet, there were still plenty of dishes.
  • I put the kids to bed at the regular time. Seamus was very helpful with Porter, getting him water or helping him go to the potty. He even read to him one night.
  • Gilbert and Seamus and Porter entertained themselves outside a lot. Porter was happy to nap (he’s so cute right now, saying “Play five minutes” right before nap time, so he plays, then we tell him to pick out a book, and read the book and he’s ready to nap). He likes to pull the cover over his head for naptime.

It was a sprint, but we pulled through and I’m glad for the time I got to spend with the kids. Also thankful I got to go to yoga!


Tenure! April 4, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Totally Me — leighj @ 1:46 pm

Well, it’s been busy around here. The best, most exciting news from my perspective is that I received the official word that my tenure application was approved. I’ve been drinking bubbly ever since. It is a good feeling to know that I will have a job (as long as the university stays solvent).

I have a big old file of information that supported my application, and now I guess I don’t know what to do with it. I bequeath it to the future. Things people have said:

  • Congratulations! (this is the best one)
  • Now you don’t have to write anymore! (um, I didn’t retire)
  • Now you can tell everyone where to go! (I still have to work with these people)
  • You’ll be here forever now! (I guess)
  • What a relief! (I’m not sure if what this means)
  • Let’s have some bubbly! (THIS is actually the best one!)

I’m also super happy that my colleagues who went up for promotion also got their good news.


Kentucky Visit March 12, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Friends and Relatives,Totally Me,Travel — leighj @ 3:25 pm

I took the four kids to Kentucky for a Spring Break (mine) trip. It was totally worth it. The flight out was easy with Porter by the window, Harlan and me in the middle, Gilbert on the aisle and my diaper bag helper, and Seamus across the aisle from us in his own row. The morning flight worked well because everyone was in good spirits. The return flight was a little tougher, since it overlapped with Porter’s naptime. Seamus took the window, Porter the middle, Harlan and me on the aisle and Gilbert across from us. On both flights the older boys were helpful if they were in the row with me or quiet if they were by themselves.

Activities included gardening, sewing, cooking, walking, bathing, going to the creek, chopping wood, playing at the park, learning disc golf, watching Robin Hood, going to the Simpson Co Jail (the historic one–don’t worry!), reading at the library, looking at teeth, and eating. I was happy to see my grandmother and aunt, as well as a few friends. It was a low key trip for me, but the boys had fun since the weather really cooperated.

We’re planning to go back for a much less weather pleasant trip in July. Activities will include a lot of water (I hope!). It’s been almost six months since we visited, but the boys love the farm and all the work it entails to get there. Harlan learned to say Kitty, Porter made a game of petting Snakey, Gilbert learned about wasps, and Seamus got a new brace. All exciting!


The Recovery Conference in Houston February 14, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Fourth Baby,Totally Me,Travel — leighj @ 10:55 am

The 25th Anniversary Conference for the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference was at the University of Houston last weekend. I went and took Harlan. Work conferences with kids can be a challenge, but they can also be inspiring and rewarding. We had considered taking everybody, but then we realized that their school was out last week and that it would not be good for them to miss so much, especially if there was also snow to contend with. I’m really glad we didn’t take everyone because while the U of Houston is very convenient for a conference, it’s not particularly rife with activities for the family.

The conference itself was great! There were interesting panels that sparked discussion and collaboration opportunities. I felt inspired afterward to write and work harder to get my ideas out. This is important because I’ve been struggling with feeling really dispirited lately in my scholarly work. I also got to see some friends and colleagues and we cooked up ideas for future work. It was 80 degrees on Saturday, which was fun, but also made me glad I don’t live in Houston year-round.

Harlan was a good travel companion, sleeping from take-off to landing on both flights. Thank goodness we had nonstops both ways. Travel was smooth, and I enjoyed the surgical precision of the conference (fly in and out) but I was also pretty tired when I got back. I’ve recovered from the intense travel now. We’re now ready to night wean to sleep train Harlan!