Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Breaking the ice October 5, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Food,Friends and Relatives,Uncategorized — leighj @ 9:18 am

Whew. I haven’t written in a while. Currently there are items in every room of the house that need something. For instance, in the living room, there is a new toilet; in Porter and Harlan’s room, there is a large tub of camping equipment.

Love the old timey press. Collected the apples from under the tree.

There’s a huge number of apples in the kitchen. We made cider!

Seamus has played in more soccer games. Porter loves school. Gilbert reads a lot and helps out with chores. Harlan is wonderful but exhausting, especially with all the stuff out of place in the house.

I’m waiting for the plumber, typing on my phone, trying to figure out how to do it all today. Probably not possible.

More later.


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.


Birmingham Day Three August 3, 2017

We’re trying not to do too many things we could do at home, but I have been to Trader Joe’s and now, Whole Foods (mostly so Porter could go to the bathroom!). We realize that we are East Coast suburban annoying people when we stop at WF for a bathroom rather than McDonalds. To be fair, I needed to buy diapers…

Anyway, day three in Birmingham found us looking for something to do in the early morning before the other things we wanted to see opened. Traffic in Birmingham is special. By that I mean horrible, but once you get where you want to be, nothing is crowded or unpleasant. Parking is super easy, and there’s so much space for people to move around in–which is not the case in DC! We did the botanical garden in the morning because we like native plants and Japanese gardens. The Birmingham gardens are free, have bench swings strategically placed at beautiful intervals, and offers lots of shade. We enjoyed that the kids could wander (as long as they stayed on the path) and talk in their normal tones of voice without bothering anyone. We spent a lovely hour in the gardens.

A more manageable Vulcan.

Vulcan is the guardian of the city. We’ve thought about going up there, but I don’t know if we’ll make it. I think if we had one more day in the city, we’d do Vulcan and Sloss, but we’ve run out of time for those things.


All the kids love koi fish, and these were some big ones!

After the gardens, we were ready for a snack (I’ve been getting snacks at the grocery and hiding them until 9:30 or 10:00 am–it’s working pretty well). I had tentatively thought we might go to Peanut Depot, where you can see peanut roasters and learn about the goobers. There wasn’t much going on there this morning, so we met the owner and he toured us around the roasting area. I learned how they salt peanuts, how they harvest peanuts, and how the roaster works. It takes about 90 minutes to roast 100 pounds of peanuts. Seamus enjoyed connecting his knowledge of George Washington Carver. Gilbert loved the roaster and tasting the peanuts. Porter was a little scared of the roasting drum, and Harlan enjoyed his taste of peanut.

Railroad Park

We decided to visit Railroad park next to the Negro Southern Baseball League museum. These barrier cones were part of a playground, and the kids were busy playing Piston Cup from the Cars movie for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Patrick and I ate peanuts, watched the train tracks, and talked. I love a city park that encourages imaginative play!

We did check out the baseball museum, but I think it would be better for slightly older children. It was neat to see the old gloves, bats, and catcher’s masks, but everything was behind glass and text heavy. Worth a quick stop, though!

Seamus and Gilbert wanted to go back to the McWane Science Center, so Patrick took them back while Harlan and Porter napped. This blog brought to you by IMAX! Haha.

From the other day at the Berger Motorsports Museum. Who’s in the sidecar?

He isn’t really in the sidecar. Patrick said it was cool to see the old JetSkis, but that it’s not a great place to take children after they’ve been touching everything at the science museum since they can’t touch anything there!

Birmingham has been a wonderful place for a family vacation. Its spaciousness makes it nice for even really little kids to have fun, and for parents to be less stressed.

Today, we’re off to Waynesville, NC, via Chattanooga, TN, where we’ll see the starting point of the Trail of Tears. I’ve been researching Asheville, and we’re hoping to see the drum circle, do some hiking, and drink a beer at one of the kid-friendly breweries!


Cape Cod Fishing and Beaching July 2, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Growing up,Summer Vacation,Travel,Uncategorized — leighj @ 1:01 pm

Yesterday, after the younger boys woke from restorative naps, we headed out for the beach. Now, it took us 10 minutes of looking for sunscreen before we left, but when we got there, the clouds rolled in and a squall blew up. No need for sunscreen. But no need to leave! It blew over, and we spent an hour hanging out at the (cold) beach. Seamus swam out and jumped off the dock over and over, even in the rain, and amongst the 15 kids shaking, jumping, and pushing around the dock. He same until he was literally blue and we wrapped him in a towel and put him in the car to wait. Harlan hated the rain, so I ran him to the car, dried him off, and buckled him in. Then, when it blew over, we got him back out, much to his delight, and let him play. He kept trying to wallow in the sand.

Diggin’ it!

Gilbert also got cold and needed to go sit in the car in a towel. Finally, only Porter was left standing. Fresh from his nap, he did NOT want to leave the beach. I cajoled and convinced, and I had him moving toward the sand washer until he discovered the sandcastle on the edge of the beach. I had to get him in a football hold to drag him away (not kicking and screaming, but indignant). Note to self: Do not go to the beach in the afternoon without a bathing suit on. I was so glad I’d worn mine yesterday. I’m always going to get wet trying to help the kids. If had been even a little warmer, I would have jumped off the dock too. Maybe I should have. Carpe diem and all.

The older boys were sent to bed to get in PJs and read at 6:40 last night. They were crashed out at 7:15. Of course, everyone was up and at it at 5:15. Baths all around this morning, and then we went out on a fishing boat. Seamus and I rode in the bow and we got lots of spray, but we loved it! Laughing like loons, we high-fived. Porter had good “sea legs” and Gilbert loved the activities on the boat.

We set a crab pot, did some ocean fishing (caught sea robins, sea bass, and scup; somebody on the boat caught a sand shark!), tossed the crabs overboard, and swabbed the deck.

Seamus and his first of three catches!

Porter with Dory!

After Seamus caught a fish, I went over to see if I could help Gilbert, but he wandered over to Seamus, so I helped Porter catch two sea bass. The teenager helping encouraged him to name the fish (Nemo) and touch the scales and maybe give it a kiss? NO! Haha. We threw it back and then he wanted to catch Dory too; with relief, I was able to oblige him. Then I got one more on the line and called Gilbert over to reel it in. As he was reeling, it got away! Tragedy.

But just when he was bummed out, they hauled in the crab pot, and he got to throw some overboard.

AAHHH! Spider Crabs!

Fun times! Now, Gilbert and Patrick are kayaking, Seamus is playing pool by himself, and the younger boys are getting much needed naps. I think we’ve set a record though, of fewer than 3 tantrums a day on this trip. Usually their nerves and moods are frayed quickly, but we’ve done better. I guess it’s a by-product of getting older and more capable.


´╗┐The Last Time May 29, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — leighj @ 6:19 pm


Here’s the last time (I think) that I’ll hold one of my sleeping babies on my lap. Harlan was cranky before we flew away on Wednesday, and I was holding and rocking him, and he fell asleep on my lap. I asked my mom to document the last time. With so many of my friends, we lament that we never know when it’s the last time one of our babies does something. Like, Porter says Harlan (not Harnin) now, and I didn’t note when he was able to make that change. On the other hand, I vividly remember the last time Gilbert dirtied a diaper. Life is gradual, until it isn’t.

These reflections are more poignant since my grandfather’s funeral and burial last week. I had been planning on seeing him and my brother this summer, so the “last time” hadn’t really entered into my head. The funeral was special, with my family spending some quality time together. Porter and Harlan were delightful little creatures, and we gave him a good sendoff. As I reflect, though, I can tell you that the food ordered for the post-funeral lunch brought back a slew of memories. It was Louden Square, and I didn’t even need to know that to tell from the taste.

The only other thing that occurs to me is the Rolling Stones song “The Last Time”–“I told you once and I told you twice, but you never listen to my advice; it could be the last time, I don’t know.” Some last times I’m looking forward to–the last diaper; the last time out; the last tantrum. But some things I’ll be sad to let go–the last kid sitting in a box; the last tooth lost; the last family vacation…I’m sure there are more…What were you sad to see go?


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!


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!