Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Birmingham With Kids July 31, 2017

We got up at 6:15 (yes, life with children is not for those who like to sleep in) for a dynamite breakfast at the Residence Inn Birmingham Inverness. Seriously: oatmeal with lots of fixin’s, croissants and brie, breakfast burritos, and tons of fruit. We didn’t even touch the waffles yet. It was only mildly discouraging to have them get in the car at 8:15 and say, “I’m hungry” which in our house is often code for “I’m bored.” I said, “get back in that breakfast room then!” and we all laughed.

Our first day in Birmingham was meticulously planned and replanned by me. We were to go to Kelly Ingram Park, view the 16th Street Baptist Church, and walk on part of the Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Then we’d go to the Negro Southern Leagues Museum, view Railroad Park, and stop by the Sloss Ironworks Factory Historical Site. Finally, we’d end the morning with lunch (pizza and Avondale Brews) at Post Office Pies. HAHAHAHAHA! Can you see the flaw(s) in the plan?

Actually it started off really well: Kelly Ingram Park is inspiring, moving, and engaging for children. I mentioned the other day that the kids had listened to the excellent Christopher Paul Curtis’s book The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, which tells the story of that charged summer of selective buying (because boycotts were illegal), children skipping school to protest so their parents wouldn’t be fired from their jobs, dogs and water cannons fired at children, and ultimately a bombing at the church that killed four young girls. As we toured through the park, Seamus was very knowledgeable about the history, and the statues really came alive for him. He also has a You Choose book about the Civil Rights Movement that has been educational, and Gilbert has a book about Ruby Bridges that has helped him understand the history as well. They asked a lot of questions and really thought about the space and history for an hour. One of their questions was, “What happened if a white family had an African American child?” We talked about it, but it shows how they’d been thinking about segregation.

“I Ain’t Afraid”

These dogs were terrifying.

We decided to continue on, about 9:30 am. Well, as we were driving, we discovered that the Negro Southern Leagues Museum didn’t open until 11:00, which didn’t work for us. The Sloss Museum wasn’t open on Monday! We were busting everywhere! But we kept our cool and decided to go to the McWane Science Center. It was a great mulligan. (Thank goodness, because the trip planner was about to be in the doghouse.)

McWane totally lived up to its reputation as a fantastic place to go with kids. The older boys loved all the pulleys and mechanical advantage demonstrations. Porter and Harlan got a kick out of Itty Bitty Magic City, building with foam blocks, and bubbles. We were all able to enjoy the small aquarium with coral reef fish and Alabama swamp recreations. Enormous catfish! The touch tank with sharks and rays was also a hit. We mostly stayed together, but we split up for about 40 minutes so the younger boys could do the toddler area and the older boys could see the dinosaurs. We are almost ready to go back! But there’s so much more to see and do!

Exploring fulcrums and mechanical advantage. Gilbert was able to “beat” Seamus, Porter, and me!

The perspective room.

Harlan loved this contraption.

So with much of our morning scrapped and revised, we did manage to hang on to our lunch plans. Post Office Pies was in a hipster area, and while it was hilarious to seek out the hipsters, the beer and pizza did not disappoint. It was a perfect, casual, order at the counter, but nice seating and atmosphere for a lunch with kids. Now, I’m enjoying some quiet in the room (and trying to plan our next two day–checking opening hours!) while the younger boys sleep. Patrick, Seamus, and Gilbert are off checking out the motorcycle museum and racetrack. They’re under orders to take pictures!

Tentative plans tomorrow: day trip to Montgomery for the Rosa Parks memorial, MLK’s parsonage, Freedom Riders Museum, and Fort Tolouse Creek Indian Mounds (too ambitious?). And on Thursday, we aim for the things we missed today.

Takeaways:

  1. We did do some preparation to contextualize what we’d see on this trip, and it’s paying off with Seamus and Gilbert. They’re able to use the knowledge they have from the past to add ideas and perspective to what they’re seeing. I’d say that’s a must for future trips in order to get real educational value.
  2. Snacks are necessary. I’d sort of gotten lazy, but the kids do need a refill every couple of hours, even if I don’t. Also, when travelling in the South, or anywhere you might be outside and warm, pack water bottles.
  3. Spontaneity and flexibility will take you far, but don’t be afraid to bag a spontaneous plan if it’s not working. The covered bridge was cool and worth a detour; the spray park wasn’t (so we didn’t stay).
  4. The kids might impress you with their stamina or insights. That’s something that surprises me at every turn. I love seeing this world, and occasionally I’m irritated that I can’t read every plaque or walk the whole trail because they’re done, but then they ask a question or make a comment about something I did not notice, and I realize that they are teaching me too.