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?


It Takes Three May 20, 2017

Filed under: Childhood Memory,Family Life,Just Thinking — leighj @ 7:18 am

My grandfather died last week. My brother was with him and has been making many of the arrangements, alongside my aunt. I’ve been providing moral support from afar for my brother. My other brother has also gone to Lexington to help out. I’m going to bring Porter and Harlan with me to the funeral (leaving tomorrow). It will be nice to all be together. Seamus and Gilbert have school. I probably wouldn’t have brought them anyway, because they’ve met my grandfather, and I’d rather leave their memories of him as they are.

When my other grandfather died, I was home from college before my semester abroad, so I hadn’t gone back to campus yet. I remember getting the call at the office, and all of us going to my grandmother’s house to be there with her and celebrate his life. There were margaritas, laughter, a cat, and three generations. I think because my dad’s mother died so long ago, it feels like there isn’t as much need to support a survivor (with perhaps the exception of my brother). In this case, it seems like a moment for part of the family to come together and remember why they are a family.

My Grandmother Evelyn and me, 1980-81

“That’s me Grandfather” (I always think of the line from the Beatles Movie, Hard Day’s Night)

A few times, my parents had to be out of town, and my grandfather stayed with us while we were in high school. That went about as you’d imagine. I attempted to repent my actions the next day by going to church with my grandfather; we did go to church, but then I was in the truck for the rest of the day, while we went “one more place.” When I got back home, I knew I’d paid.


May Rolls (Reads) On May 17, 2017

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Growing up — leighj @ 11:29 am

The news. Holy Moly. I just don’t know what it’s going to take for everyone (or people in power?) to say “Enough.”

In our little corner of the world, we’re mostly fine (and I realize what a privilege that is!). I turned in grades; my yoga teacher is back in town, and I’m back to a morning practice; the weather has been bonkers, but manageable; and the kids have been pretty fun to hang out with. We’ve been planning our really busy summer, but we’re excited that we’re only missing one week of our CSA, since he’s pretty flexible about what day you can pick up in the week. I’m so excited for the summer, but I’m also hoping to get my writing done and out before the boys finish school. To that end, wish me luck.

Seamus is reading Harry Potter. I relented and said he could read books 1-4 and the supplemental books, but that he needed to wait until he’s older (4th grade) to read the others. Patrick wonders how much he understands, but from his questions to me and his answers to my quizzing him, he seems to get it. Of course, then Gilbert wants to read too, but to give him a break I told him he has to stop after book 2 until he’s in late 2nd grade. One Wednesday they set up in the yard to read. They get out of school early on Wednesdays, and usually they play outside, but I want them to get some time to calm down and read since the other boys were sleeping. On this afternoon, I sat out there with them enjoying my recent copy of The Atlantic:

What better way to enjoy the outdoors?

Of course, I’m having to share my books, and it makes me cranky if they don’t return them when they’re not reading them and if they leave them about for Harlan to tear up. I might have issues. Porter also loves to read. The other day he wanted me to read to him, but I was busy with Harlan, so I said, “You read to me.” And he tried to! It was so funny. He has a little bit of an obsessive memorizing personality, and he likes to act out stories. I don’t understand why Seamus always reads in the living room where there are a million distractions instead of in his bedroom where it’s quiet. Here he is reading when Porter came up to join him:

Loves Franklin the Turtle books!

Even though we’ve been doing a lot of reading (the semester was tough, so I indulged myself with a Bossypants re-read), we’ve also been getting outside to enjoy the weather when we can. We bought two flats of strawberries at the farmer’s market and froze 8 quarts. The rest, we ate! I started a Sticker Chart Challenge in hopes of eliminating two really annoying behaviors (one from each of S & G)–we’ll see how it goes.

Nothing like a little game of catch!

Even Harlan likes to play! Can you see the ball he threw?

I had to fill out the form for Gilbert’s teacher next year. I didn’t put on there that he could chop wood independently for hours, but I did say that he likes to work on projects outside. Harlan and Porter have been playing together. They were in Porter’s room standing on the beds and laughing their heads off the other day. Harlan is just now 14 months, and I can see how we’re entering the next phase. We’ve been here before when Seamus and Gilbert were little, and it’s bittersweet because the infant stage is so lovely, but this next stage is really fun–only marginally less exhausting!


Updates on the Family May 10, 2017

Filed under: Events,Family Life,Growing up,Outdoor Pursuits,School for Boys — leighj @ 11:50 am

My semester is winding down erratically. I had a final on Saturday and Monday and then am waiting for one on Friday. Grades for two classes are done and in, but I like to get it all wrapped up neatly. Then I have next week, when I have work on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

We went to Charlottesville to celebrate Seamus’s birthday, and we hiked up Humpback Rocks with all the kids. It was a long way up! They did great, though, and we enjoyed the beautiful (if terrifying) view.

Yah! I’m not going to fall off!

Some of us took the easy way up! 

Afterwards, we stopped at Wegman’s and bought food for a picnic lunch. Then we headed back to Nana and PopPop’s and cooled off in the lake water since it was 95 degrees in April.

Then we had an incredibly busy week in which we registered Porter for preschool at the community center (he’s super excited!), tried to wrap up the semester of teaching, went to an evening event, and planned and hosted a party for tenure. While our sanity was in question, we had a pretty low key prep for the party–our biggest worry was whether the ground would dry out a bit. The kids had a blast at the party. Harlan rode in the ergo the whole time, Porter played with the other kids his age, and Seamus and Gilbert played wiffleball in the front yard with all of the kids ages 6 and up. They were exhausted afterward, but we did manage to feed them before the party really got going. At one point, Gilbert returned to the food table for a veggie dog and bun; I asked if he wanted ketchup. He said, “No, I’m just eating this to get my calories refilled.”

Gilbert and Patrick had stashed some wood in the shed so they’d be dry wood for the fire. Smart thinking!

Seamus’s birthday continued on Monday when I took him and two friends to play minigolf. He had wanted to go bowling, but he changed his mind to minigolf when he remembered how much he enjoys playing. Three 8-year-olds are pretty easy to manage when they are involved in a fun activity. They played two rounds and loved every minute. I was worried that one of them would get upset if he was “losing” but from the get go, they agreed not to keep score. I would put up a picture, but I don’t like adding pictures of other peoples’ kids without their permission.

Porter drives the tractor.

We went to play at a friend’s house, and Porter loved getting on and off the tractor and peddling it. One of his favorite books right now is Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. The front loader on the tractor intrigued him. His other favorite books are all the Franklin the Turtle books. Seamus and Gilbert loved those too, and honestly, I don’t get tired of them. Porter is engaged in imaginative play almost all the time, and he likes to tell stories. It’s astounding to hear what’s going on in his head. Funny, most of the time, and pretty clear that we shouldn’t talk about things in front of him that we don’t want him to process, because he is actively listening and thinking.

Harlan is a backyard boy!

Harlan is a demon in the backyard! He is into everything and for the most part, I don’t mind. I just don’t like it when he gets in my garden and tries to eat the dirt. The other day, he said “bath.” Gilbert taught him to say backpack. And he consistently says Bye bye, Hi, Thank you, Dada, and More. He says ball when he feels like it, book sometimes, and water fairly consistently. He’s a motor mouth if someone will sit down and talk with him. He tried to take his shoes off when he came in the house (as is our custom!). He’s all over being part of the family. But the biggest point in his favor right now is that he’s night-weaned and sleeping through the night. I feel like a new person.

We’re rolling along. The garden is starting nicely, too!

chives, rosemary, radishes, mustard greens, and squash/cukes


Life with a 2 year old  May 2, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Food,Third Baby — leighj @ 4:45 pm

Porter: I would like a quesadilla. 

Me: You’re having noodles for dinner. (having made neither) 

Porter: I really like a quesadilla please. 

Me: Ok. 

Porter: I like it cold. 

Me: Well, I have to hear it up to melt the cheese. 

Porter: I don’t LIKE cheese. 

Me: That’s what a quesadilla is. 

Porter: No. 

five minutes later 

Porter: Nice quesadilla Mama. Thank you. 

(So easily and 50% chance of going the other way!)


Update on Harlan April 28, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Fourth Baby,Growing up — leighj @ 6:12 am

Harlan, at 13 months old, is coming along. He walks more than he crawls now, even though he still falls down. He is proficient at yelling “more!” at the table. He holds his own against all the other kids, even Gilbert. He tries to say “Thank you” because Porter gets such a positive reaction when he says it.

In the backyard, he loves the little push toys and cars. He is not a huge fan of the swing (I think he knows he’s being put in there to keep him out of the way). He likes going into the garden, and he climbs and descends the two concrete steps (I’m torn between not watching and hovering).

In the house, he’s a terrible menace with the trash and recycling. He can also reach the table and pull things off. But he loves a ball and throwing it around the room. He loves music and dancing, and he loves to watch the older boys at play. He can climb onto Seamus’s bed by himself. A bath is a real pleasure for Harlan.

When my folks were here, I took Seamus and Harlan to the hotel pool. Seamus swam like crazy, despite having played basketball and baseball all morning. Harlan LOVED the pool. I felt guilty for not taking him earlier; I also felt guilty that at Harlan’s age, Seamus was having Parent Child Swim lessons. He kicked, he splashed, he laughed, and grinned, and squealed. He let Seamus tool him around the pool. He tried to scoop water and propel himself along. When another child about his age got in the pool, he yelled “HI!” to him over and over. Sharing the joy! He had so much fun that when I accidentally let his fingers slip off mine and he dunked himself, he came up smiling and ready for more.

Here’s a little video of Harlan’s first year: (I made this one, so production values are much lower than the one Patrick made that I posted last week.)

Seamus enjoyed his birthday. He had a pancreas blowing day, but it didn’t seem to make him cranky. Rather, he enjoyed it more than usual. We are back on the no sugar bandwagon though!



Porter’s Speech April 27, 2017

Filed under: Growing up,Third Baby — leighj @ 9:29 am

I can’t believe we ever worried about Porter talking.

  • Today, he climbed into bed with us and said we were a family of blue owls.
  • His favorite song is a Spanish song, and he sings it all the time: “Manos, manos, manos, dedos, dedos, dedos, brazos, brazos, brazos, Baila baila baila!”
  • He has an active imagination with his toys. A few days ago, he told me his little dinosaur was sad and that the little dinosaur was lost. Then he went back over to the couch to resume the game.
  • He gets pronouns confused and will say things like “Harlan is playing with her car.”
  • He asks permission for everything. “Can I go outside?” “Can I have some more?” “Can I play with that?” It’s so nice to have him be polite and reserved. Unlike some brothers I know.
  • He gives compliments. Nice shoes Mama! Good soup Dada! Oh, good basketball Seamus!
  • When he’s upset, he does give us the NO! It’s mine. Let me have it.

His nonverbal communication is also strong. We’ve seen many moments lately of smiles and eye movement, but also as observed by others, “He can make the downturned mouth very effective!”