Academic Leigh Speaking

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

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!


Richmond and beyond  March 3, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — leighj @ 8:04 pm

We took a day trip to Richmond last weekend. The science museum there was so much fun. A huge plus was that it isn’t crowded, so the visitors get a chance to really interact and spend time with the exhibits. We all loved it, as there was plenty to keep all ages occupied. 

We had lunch at Station 2, which was delicious but had service hiccups. It was an old fire station. The kids really worked to behave. Then we went over to check out the river. Since we were last in Richmond, there is a full pedestrian bridge across the James river. We’ll have to do more of that next time. 

At home, we had an exciting week. Harlan took his first steps. At work, I had an immensely stressful and difficult week, and subsequently, I’m thrilled it’s Spring Break!


Pictures to Support Recent Posts February 21, 2017

I wasn’t able to put up pictures from our weekend away, so here they are.

The children’s museum was educational, if a little overstimulating in places.

"Scares me!"--Porter

“Scares me!”–Porter

They had a space where children could pretend to be a dentist and work on a patient.

They had a space where children could pretend to be a dentist and work on a patient.

Porter and Harlan both loved the train exhibit.

Porter and Harlan both loved the train exhibit.

We put on a puppet show! Porter loved the theater part of the children's museum.

We put on a puppet show! Porter loved the theater part of the children’s museum.

The colored dots were pleasingly psychedelic.

The colored dots were pleasingly psychedelic.

Gilbert rocked the goggles.

Gilbert rocked the goggles.

Skiing with cousins is more fun!

Skiing with cousins is more fun!

The weather has been so warm, this may be our only good winter picture this year!

The weather has been so warm, this may be our only good winter picture this year!


Women’s March and Other Things January 19, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — leighj @ 7:00 am
  • Last night, we took in the Marymount Women’s Basketball game. The kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and it was especially fun to see Porter clapping at appropriate moments, and Harlan clapping at inappropriate moments. It got a little rowdy, but it was generally.
  • I told a friend I was torn about going to the Women’s March, and she was distressed with the thought that perhaps I was ideologically torn. I’m not ideologically torn at all! I like the progressive platform. I’m torn because I’d need to take Harlan with me, and the last time I went to a march, I didn’t have any kids, but we got tired of standing around and tried to get off the march route, but the police and security wouldn’t let us peel away from the crowd. I don’t want to be stuck downtown if Harlan is squirrelly. I’m still thinking I’ll probably go.
  • I’m enjoying reading for classes, and I’m making an effort to get myself geared back up for my writing goals. However, because I’m only on campus limited times each day, I’m also enjoying signing up to volunteer at the kids’ schools. Gilbert’s class has their read with a parent week coming up, and I do like to go in an have the kids read with me. Tomorrow, I’m going to Seamus’s class as the mystery reader. Every semester, I think, if I can get a few of my students (who wouldn’t normally) to commit to choosing to read for fun and interest, I will feel like I’ve met some tangental goals.
  • Porter meets George Mason.

    Porter meets George Mason. We played hooky on Thursday last week and went downtown to see monuments. It was so much fun.


  • Porter rode in the stroller until he saw all these geese. He needed to check them out!

    Porter rode in the stroller until he saw all these geese. He needed to check them out!


  • They've really begun to enjoy playing together. (Except when they don't!)

    They’ve really begun to enjoy playing together. (Except when they don’t!)


  • Just swinging in the snow! It was nice it snowed one day, but I'm not sure we're going to get any more.

    Just swinging in the snow! It was nice it snowed one day, but I’m not sure we’re going to get any more.


  • We went out for a family hike to Mason Neck. Patrick said, "Weren't we just here?" I said, "Yeah. Three years ago."

    We went out for a family hike to Mason Neck. Patrick said, “Weren’t we just here?” I said, “Yeah. Three years ago.”


Clean Spaces January 11, 2017

I cleaned my office on Friday last week, and we’ve been keeping the house a bit neater (when possible–the kids are pretty good at messifying it). It is nice to have some open space–makes it easier to think. However, I find that I’m not quite ready for work as I’m now wandering about wondering what I should do.

A long time ago, I wrote about using KonMari methods to tidy our space. We didn’t do full bore tidying, but we did a lot of work around the house, especially with regard to clothes, papers, toys, and books. I am pleased with our efforts on nights like last night when cleaning the house up just meant returning everything to the bins they had been in! Last night, Gilbert was the biggest helper in cleaning up the common space. I think it was because he and I had been silly instead of antagonistic earlier in the evening. (It involved singing Andrea Bocelli’s (Time to Say Goodbye) with the words, “Gilbert doesn’t want to get dressed but if he doesn’t it will be “Time to GO TO TIME OUT” sit in the kitchen for hours, now he’ll go brush his teeth, get all clean, comb his hair… etc.) Pretty hilarious, except Porter got upset and wanted Gilbert to actually go to time out.

And, per the new recommendations, we gave Harlan some peanut butter. I want to say that nothing happened, but that would be untrue. He grinned, and clapped, and squealed, and demanded more peanut butter! It is the best thing he has ever tasted! (Friends with a young baby were laughing with us that it’s funny with babies because this is the first time in their lives that they have ever tasted a food, so it’s novel and exciting–I’m not describing the feeling well.)

Ok, the most fun thing that happened recently was snow:

Porter's snow bibs!

Porter’s snow bibs!

Harlan practices standing without holding on!

Harlan practices standing without holding on!