Hi. I’m Mrs. Seymour the library media specialist at Islip High School Library! Welcome!
Virtual Parenting in the Time of COVID-19
So, I began my Monday not in my school library but at home in front of my computer. Gathering sources, fielding questions, managing our social media presence. It’s going to ‘interesting’ to say the very least. Over the weekend our County Executive ordered Long Island (NY) schools closed beginning Monday, March 16, 2020. Soon NYC schools would shutter, too. New York is currently a hot spot for the novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19.
Parents of school age children have been posting all week – memes, anecdotes, suggestions, and more. Unlike other parents, my children are grown and all four have completed their university degrees. I do not have to balance home schooled education and my job. I’m grateful for this and thought, ‘Okay, this should be easy…or smooth…or not too bad. I can handle this.’ Well, I realized very quickly that whether your children are all sheltering with you or without, it’s going to be a challenge. Did my surety tempt the Fates?
Virtual parenting. I’m a virtual parent. I have four children in three different states; one of these states is another hot spot (CA) and at the time on the verge of shutting down. So, on Monday, March 16 I watched my son get married on a Facebook. Speaking with him over the weekend, it was clear the wedding as originally planned for April was no longer an option. There was time for me to fly out to LA and make it to the wedding. I struggled with this decision. I wanted to be there, but what if I brought the virus with me? So instead, I logged into the Facebook watch group and grabbed some tissues.
Fortunately, the joy of welcoming a new member to our family outweighed my melancholy of watching remotely. I thought, “I got through today, I can handle anything.” Here’s a recommendation: Don’t tempt the Fates. Tuesday morning my immunocompromised daughter calls to tell me she has been tested for COVID19; she had symptoms, tested negative for flu and is in the high-risk category. Again, I had to parent remotely weighing whether I should bring her home and potentially infect others living in my house. Should I drive into Brooklyn and bring her food even though she had food and I Amazoned other supplies. Each day we spoke, multiple times a day just to be sure she was doing okay. By Saturday we got the confirmation she tested positive.
One week down…
Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Seymour!
It’s often said the two certainties in life are death and taxes. So, as we approach April 15, Tax Day, I wanted to reflect on death, finances and organization. That’s right, not my usual topic for this blog. As many of you know, my husband passed away this summer. He had suffered a brain bleed and multiple complications starting the summer prior. During this experience I learned (the hard way) how unprepared we were for life’s complications and the inevitable – death and taxes. In the subsequent months, I’ve also learned I’m not alone in this experience. Many of my colleagues were intrigued to hear my responses to their queries and quips. Upon speaking with one colleague, she said she was fine if she needed to speak with the insurance company because she had a health care proxy designating her. Another said it would be fine because she’s a spouse. No, sorry that’s not correct. Sometimes you can get someone to talk to you if you sob and beg, but most of the time not. I needed to fill out a specific health care form (yearly) to have conversations about my husband’s bills (even though I hold the insurance).
I’ve been asked by numerous colleagues and friends to write or present about this topic. I’m flatter, but I am not an expert, nor qualified to impart estate planning advice, so please don’t use this information below as such. This post is not intended as a guide of what to do, but rather a guide to start asking questions. It’s not intended to ‘scare’ you, its goal is to make you think (and potentially act when necessary). I figure if I can make a difference in your life, then that’s all the difference in the world. Because my colleagues and readers, you are the world to me.
“I was planning on doing that this summer…”
Be that as it may, life may have other plans for you. Get thee to an attorney as soon as possible. In New York, a spouse inherits without a will but there could be glitches so better safe than sorry. Other states may have other rules – so again, consult an attorney. The Will is what most of us focus on as ‘the’ necessary legal document. However, you’ll discover there are several other considerations as we continue with this list.
Power of Attorney (POA)
The often overlooked POA is critical when trying to get anything done on behalf of your spouse or loved one. No, the phone company, credit card nor bank does not have to talk to you if you’re not on the account. I didn’t realize how many bills and services were in my husband’s name. I had one person at Verzion help me suspend my husband’s phone line as he wasn’t able to use it and it was one more bill to pay. Other than that, I couldn’t get anything done. Over the course of the year I had to handle my husband’s medical practice, banking, transfer car titles and more. POA gives the receiver as much or as limited ‘power’ as you decide. This should be discussed with an attorney (and possibly a marriage counselor!). POA helps out in times when a person cannot handle their own affairs, as in the case of disability or unconsciousness.
Who’s your Beneficiary?
You know those life insurance forms you filled out over a decade ago when you were first hired? Who did you name as beneficiary? Don’t know? Think you know? Well, you should double check. It might be your ex! Start with your employer and/or union provided life insurance plans, then your own purchased plans and update your forms at your financial institution accounts (I.e. Morgan Stanley, e-Trade, etc.). These funds go directly to the named beneficiary, no will necessary.
He/She died. Now what?
Aside from curling up in a fetal position and crying, you’ll have plenty of things to do.
Get a list of what to do when a spouse dies. There are many checklists online – I used a combination of two different ones. You will need all your legal documents, accounts and documents organized. Ask family members or friends to help. It’s too overwhelming to accomplish solo. Prioritize the list and tackle a little bit at a time.
Practice self-care. You want to focus on your family and tackle items on the never-ending checklist but remember take care of yourself the best you can even though it is probably the hardest task you’ll face. Btw – it’s okay to flip out. Really. A week after my husband death I boarded a plane for Hawaii. I couldn’t stand being in our house, so I decided to visit my newest (one month old) niece on Oahu 12 hours away. Babies have a way of breathing new life in us.
Oh, and by the way, you know all that stuff I mentioned above? The Will, the POA, your beneficiaries. Rinse and repeat. You’ll have to re-do all of them.
PS – making a list of every account username and password cannot be stressed enough. Do it now!
“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry” –W.B. Yeats
Along with numerous schools throughout the country, next month students at Islip High School will celebrate National Poetry Month. On Friday, April 12 we will use the library all day to highlight and celebrate poems, poets, and poetry. Hands-on activities such as magnetic poetry, Post-A-Poem, Spine Poetry and Blackout Poetry, in addition to poetry recital will round out the gathering. We’ll also have a passive display of novels in verse.
One way to make your Poetry celebration unique, is to include poems highlighting social justice.
Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (edited by Gail Bush) is an excellent choice. This anthology includes “over 50 works of poetry by 20th century writers on issues related to social justice in American society.” Use with middle school and high school classes.
Here are some helpful resources related to this title:
Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice Book Group Discussion Guide
Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice Teacher’s Guide
Interested in additional books? Take a look at Sylvia Vardell’ “Classroom Connections: Poetry and Social Justice” from Book Links.
Or, try using The Poetry Foundation’s Collection – “Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment” where students can explore “why poetry is necessary and sought after in moments of political crisis.”
Make connections through poetry by creating found poems. “In this activity, students analyze and interpret historical, primary source content, then synthesize the information, making personal connections with history as they retell it from their own perspective. The activity provides an opportunity for students to creatively share their historical understanding with an authentic audience.
While writing original poetry can be daunting to students, this activity uses a “found poetry” strategy. Using rich primary source texts, students select words that allow them to retell the historical content in poetic form.”
“To create a found poem, students select words, phrases, lines, and sentences from one or more written documents and combine them into a poem. Raw material for found poems can be selected from newspaper articles, speeches, diaries, advertisements, letters, food menus, brochures, short stories, manuscripts of plays, shopping lists, and even other poems.” Additional information can be found in this pdf. This activity is similar to blackout poetry.
So as you plan your National Poetry Month celebrations and activities, consider including social justice as a theme.
It started off a few months ago with an English teacher looking for research project ideas for 10th grade students having read Elie Wiesel’s Night and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Not sure which title to choose, we sat down to discuss many options during our collaborative sessions. After brainstorming multiple topics, we realized we wanted to focus on the positive, on hope, instead of the negative elements and characters within each title. So, we combined aspects of the two books and decided on the topic of being an upstander in the face of prejudice, even when facing bodily harm or death. This fit the character of Atticus Finch and elements of the holocaust. Both books espouse themes of Good vs Evil, particularly the coexistence of good and evil within a community. Both novels look at racism and prejudice and while it would have been equally relevant to focus on those themes, we decided to use Atticus as an example of upstander while finding about more about upstanders during the holocaust. To examine, perhaps, the inherent goodness or evil in people and standing up even in the face of harm or death. With this theme we could discuss and analyze both books.
Students had a pre-conceived notion of upstanders during the holocaust. Many were subsequently shocked to hear Oskar Schindler described thusly, “A hedonist and gambler by nature, Schindler soon adopted a profligate lifestyle, carousing into the small hours of the night, hobnobbing with high ranking SS-officers, and philandering with beautiful Polish women” while researching on the Yad Vashem website. We had great conversations. Most of us agreed he was an upstander, but we probably wouldn’t want to be married to him! There’s often a dichotomy to people’s behavior. You don’t have to be perfect or a model citizen. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to be an upstander. It isn’t all or nothing. You don’t have to help hundreds, for “He who saves a single life, saves the world entire.” Many of our researched upstanders helped one family or one child and that was enough of a difference. I shared a story to our students regarding my father-in-law’s service during the WWII. He was a fighter pilot shot down over occupied France. It was through the efforts of the French Underground who helped him survive and reach allied forces. Their efforts increased his ability to return home to the states where subsequently my husband was born. From their our marriage and four children. This is My world entire and upstanders who risked their lives made it happen.
“Scholars have attempted to trace the characteristics that these Righteous share and to identify who was more likely to extend help to the Jews or to a persecuted person.” “By comparing and contrasting rescuers and bystanders during the Holocaust, they pointed out that those who intervened were distinguished by characteristics such as empathy and a sense of connection to others.”
I feel strongly that our students’ coursework and daily school-life need infusions of both empathy and connectedness.
I have been moved by this project, learning alongside students as we discover the hundreds of men and women who risked all to stand up to injustice. I encourage you to examine and explore these websites https://www.yadvashem.org/righteous/stories.html or https://jfr.org/rescuer-stories/ and learn more about righteous upstanders.
Many of us school librarians have off for Presidents’ Week.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC. As with so many other vacations, I found a library to visit. Shocking right? This is my second military library. My first was the library at Quantico (VA).
Whether I’m traveling nationally or internationally, exploring local libraries will always be a favorite activity. I usually sign up for preconference library tours. My favorites have been organized by SLJ Summit and IASL (a tour of public and school libraries in Long Beach, CA).
Four years ago this week, my husband and I traveled to Ireland. I chose our hotel in Dublin based on the fact it was across the street from the National Library. Of course we visited the Long Room and Book of Kells at Trinity College. We even talked our way into day passes into the college library. And in my opinion, no trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Beatty Library.
We learn so much from visiting each other’s libraries – programming, displays, furniture set up and more. During my visit to Lejeune, I spotted signage advertising sewing in their makerspace; it was positioned in the 600s near the DDC for sewing. Brilliant idea! Meet the patrons where they are.
I hope you have a restful and productive week off; a week filled with new ideas and new experiences to share.
Our staff book club is reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It has sparked numerous conversations!
Beginning a new year always seems to inspire a fresh start. You try something new, lose weight, tidy up your abode. This year Netflix’s new series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, has encouraged even more people to tackle their accumulation of ‘stuff’.
As my readers know, most of my posts focus on helping others, alleviating suffering or upcycling. So, this post is no different. I wish to share with you how I am riding myself of years of collecting and providing others with options as well. Let’s face it, we can’t all just throw our stuff out; our garbage dumps are full enough! There’s quite a few programming ideas here too. Your library makerspace/programming may be able to capitalize on the KonMari craze and score some wonderful assets. Here are a few ways you can help others and yourself:
- Donate to thrift shops or consider selling your items to local consignment shops. I’ve used an online consignment shop, ThredUp, to sell my good quality, still usable items. They take clothing, shoes, handbags, scarves and costume jewelry.
- Cotton t-shirts can become dog toys for an animal shelter or rescue group.
- Bras. Let’s face it we’ve all purchased a bra or two (or more) that looked and felt fine in the store for the five minutes we had it on in the dressing room. Now what to do with it after we discovered the painful truth. Donate to Free the Girls, or another upcycler/recycler organization.
- I found some socks leftover that I’ll make into catnip toys.
- Donate to Friends of the Library at your public library or a local group collecting books. We have the Book Fairies nearby.
- We host an annual Read to Feed book sale. We gather used books and sell them students and staff for a nominal fee in our school library. All proceeds go to Heifer International, an organization striving to end world hunger.
- Upcycle for crafts. Blackout poetry. Using die cuts (I.e. Ellison) cut out letters for library displays. Decoupage. I written about sustainability and also have a LibGuide on upcycling various household objects.
- Over the course of tidying up, I’ve shredded quite a bit of paper. We use the shreds to supplement our pet rabbit, Gin’s, habitat.
- Non-sensitive paper items can be put in the recycle bin. Help the world!
- While going through my make-up draw I found several eyelash/eybrow items. Wash these up and send them to Wands for Wildlife.
- Fun programming idea: Turn that draw full of takeout chopsticks into Harry Potter wands!
- Towels can go to your local animal shelter.
- Turn pillowcases into Little Dresses for Africa. Our animal shelter will take pillowcases – they use them to capture and collect snakes!
- My husband passed away this summer, so this is a difficult category for me. I’ve offered my children various items. One son has my husband’s stethoscope, and another has his art easel. I believe these sentimental items will ‘spark joy’ in their homes.
- I can’t seem to part with my husband’s favorite shirts, so I believe I’ll have teddy bears made from the fabric. I’ll give these bears to future grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews. Since I can’t sew well, I’ll turn to Etsy for this.
- If you’re looking for memorial ideas, take a look at my Grief and Bereavement LibGuide.
- Every year I go to ALA Annual and some years, MidWinter. While there, I always buy a conference t-shirt. I don’t actually wear t-shirts (ever), but they take up an entire drawer of space. So, I’ve decided to make them into a quilt using Project Repat, one of many online quilting services. Now I’ll have a needed blanket for my guest room and it will ‘spark joy’ remembering all the conferences, people and places.
When handling your items there are three categories: throw away, keep, relocate. Try to upcycle as much as you can when throwing away. And don’t forget to thank each item!
‘Tis the season to be jolly…
True but not for everyone. Students and staff members who are grieving are most likely struggling to come to terms with their loss and the holidays with its fond memories can be exceptionally difficult. My husband, Alan, passed away this summer, only a few weeks after the anniversary of his initial brain bleed. These past three months have been a whirlwind of emotions. Grief and bereavement can be overwhelming – a journey with many ups and downs. This struggle challenges the mourner to his or her very core on an average day. So how do we address the needs of our students and staff during the holidays? I’ve been thinking about this – a lot.
When old traditions become too difficult to bear, perhaps it may be time for new traditions. Last month was the first time in 29 years that I did not spend Thanksgiving at my father-in-law’s house, instead we drove to Pennsylvania for a change of scenery. During our meal we gave thanks and remembered those no longer with us by lighting Four Candles. This new tradition is one that we’ll keep through many holidays and family celebrations. As our family celebrates Hanukkah this week, adding a few more candles to light won’t pose a problem. But I’ve been feeling that we should be doing more in remembrance during the long holiday season. And since misery loves company, I’ve organized a holiday grief program at our high school open to students and staff: Crafting Your Grief through the Holidays.
Many of the crafts involve remembrance – a memory ornament, a memory box, a memory jar and the like. I love the memory ornaments but as we have never had a Christmas tree or ‘Hanukkah bush’ it has taken an effort to explain to my children that just because I buy a tree doesn’t mean we’re converting! Our memory tree will hold the newly made ornaments, made from my husband’s shirts, and when we are all together during the holiday, we will plant the tree in the back yard. This is our first year without my husband, so we’ll see how it goes. As for the craft program scheduled next week, I’ll let you know how it turned out.
*Caveat: I consulted with our mental health professionals within our building and have attended an 8-week grief support group. Please use caution when implementing a grief program. A keepsake ornament does not replace my dead husband or make me feel better or happy. I’d prefer to hold my husband, not an ornament. Our students, too, feel a range of emotions about the loss of their parent, grandparent or other loved one. Also, there needs to be a familial discussion as to what items can be upcycled (i.e. cut up and permanently damaged). I will be writing an online article on “how-to” implement a grief program in your school at anytime of the year. When it’s complete and uploaded, I’ll add a link here.
In loving memory of Dr. Alan Jay Seymour (11/10/60 – 8/28/18)
It’s been a long day and perhaps more accurately, a long year. August 11, 2017 my life changed. I had been having a great summer of travel for professional learning first attending ALA Annual in Chicago followed by the NYLA-SSL Leadership Institute at Cornell (NY), then on to Long Beach (CA) for IASL and visit with our son. I was in California when I received the life altering phone call. “Is this Mrs. Seymour?” Dread upon hearing the words ‘brain bleed’ and ‘lifesaving measures’ while giving consent for intubation for mechanical ventilation in order for my husband to be transported to a higher-level care facility by helicopter. The flight back to NY is long under good circumstances; this trip was the longest of my life. I felt like I aged ten years upon disembarking and the night wasn’t over. In reality, my – no our – new life was just beginning.
A life of ICUs, hospitals, rehabs, angiograms, EVDs, craniotomies (one to remove his occipital bone, the other to remove his AVM), tracheotomy, PEGs, EKGs, EEGs, CSF leak, VP Shunt, a blood transfusion, aspiration pneumonia, acute pancreatitis and the list goes on. Did you know patients are no longer called ‘John Doe’ but a series of other monikers, as in my husband’s case – ‘Critical Rhode Island’. We drove through that state once in the ‘90s.
Today was an emotional day for me and at times I found it hard to pull myself together. There has been much stress and anguish over the past year. And while my life changed, it changed in many good ways. You may find this hard to believe but let me explain.
We went from a two-income household to just my salary. That’s not a positive! Especially with all the medical bills. But I learned to look at every expenditure in a new light and realized there were many unnecessary household services and expenses. I’ve learned to no longer embrace wastefulness and have become more fiscally disciplined. I’ve even learned all about the federal income tax schedules and various deductions. I have become an advocate and mentor amongst my friends and colleagues to get legal paperwork in order – Usernames, passwords, wills and the often-overlooked Power of Attorney. As a spouse I can assure you, you can’t talk to anyone or get anything done without a POA. I also learned to budget my limited time and to say ‘no’. I should have taken Diana Rendina’s advice earlier and embraced the power of slowing down sooner. I am now more selective and productive with my time and energy.
I’ve become physical therapist, occupational therapist as well as speech therapist. I can manage a feeding tube, Yankauer, catheter, and know a whole lot about pulmonary toileting (love that term.) None of these skills I learned in library school. But I have learned I can empathize more with my students and families who arrive with assorted medical issues. I have used my extensive training and background in medical libraries to understand exams, diagnoses and other interventions. I am grateful for this knowledge and that I had to opportunity to meet and fall in love with my husband over thirty years ago at Cabrini Medical Center Medical Library – he a medical student, me a library assistant.
The power of friendship is a healing salve. I’m very grateful for anyone who feeds me as it is evident I can not live on tea, wine and chocolate. Well, maybe tea. I am very grateful to the Lit Wits (a drinking club with a reading problem). This group of librarians allowed me to feel ‘normal’ again, if only for a few hours at a time. I am surrounding myself with family and friends – it doesn’t get any better. I have embraced Gratitude as my OneWord2108 and reflect on this word daily.
Last week I flew to Houston to work with Fort Bend ISD librarians. I rented a car and handled Texas highways (with a few U-turns and ‘re-routing routes’). This was out of my comfort zone but I did it. Some days I don’t recognize the new me. While my confidence is enhanced, I still go through bouts of sadness and loneliness. It’s okay to be sad. As teachers we arrive at school with emotional baggage, too – divorce, new house, illness and other stressors. But we need to help ourselves so we can see to the social emotional health and wellbeing of our students. We need put on our oxygen mask on first. I know I need to continue working on this, but I have embraced a new mindset for healing – positive affirmations, relaxation and healing music and a routine mani/pedi. We all have moments when healing breaths where we breathe in gently through the nose and out through the mouth (aka smell the flowers, blow out the candles) are beneficial, if not essential.
During this past year I’ve amped up our stress related library programs and plan to implement new ones for students and staff. For instance, Habro’s companion pets that I wrote about previously. I spotted a companion cat at Clements High School Library (FBISD) and got great feedback.
I have a new point of view when it comes to disabilities. It is frustrating trying to get my husband’s wheelchair into tiny elevators and narrow hallways in medical buildings. It might be handicap accessible on paper, but walk a mile in my shoes! I look at my school, library and really all facilities and programs with a new lens. I hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. As for assistive devices:
- I love any writing or drawing implement in triangular shape. It’s just easier to hold. I’ll be adding this to my makerspace.
- I’m thinking there maybe a place for Alexa in the library as it has proved helpful in a nursing facility setting.
- Don’t ban plastic straws. Just don’t take them if you don’t need them. Many people, my husband included, have swallowing issues. Once an item is labelled an assistive device, the price goes up. Having a disability is expensive enough.
It has been a year now and my husband is still not home yet. It’s going to take a while longer, but I know
I am strong
I am brave
I’ve got this
My eyes misted over with tears of joy for you finally arrived. I held you in my arms, first in a warm maternal embrace, then up high for the world to get a glimpse at you…
While writing Maker with a Cause, I often likened the process to pregnancy.
Months 1-2: Waiting to confirm, “Am I really pregnant?” “Are they going to offer me a contract?”
Month 3: Yippee! I’m so excited. “What shall we name her?” There’s so many things to pick out.
Months 4-5: Wow, I’m gaining quite a bit of weight… (Sitting at a computer day after day, noshing on pretzels and other goodies will do that to you.)
Month 6-7: Trying to convince myself this WILL be worth it.
Month 8: Ugh, I’ve got to go out and buy more clothes, nothing fits.
Month 9: When is this going to be over!!!!
Labor: Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Smell the flowers, blow out the candles. “Seriously, more copy edits???” “Get it OUT!”
Delivery: “Awww, isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve laid your eyes on?” “I’m so proud!” “Look what I created.”
Well, in honesty, I didn’t create this book on my own. There were so many encouraging family, friends and colleagues along the way. First, and most of all, my husband, Alan for whom the book is dedicated. He is the most supportive, awesome-est husband ever. He schlepped with me to Anaheim, CA to attend a service learning conference. Made me countless cups of tea – the only thing to calm me and keep me focused. And, even while a patient in the neurosurgical ICU with a cerebellar brain bleed/AVM, his first words to me were to encourage me to finish the book when my only thought was – I hope he makes it through the weekend.
As a mom, I am habitually proud of my children. This past year the roles were reversed as our children, Joseph, Joshua, Jacob and Hannah, were my cheer squad. My sisters managed my husband’s office while I focused on him and finishing edits. (Hint: never trust hospital Wi-Fi.) My niece, Kelly, was my go-to proofreader. Even though she has a full-time job with a commute and a 3-year-old, she managed to find time to help me.
Early on when I had no clue how to read a book contract, Heather Moorefield-Lang and Diana Rendina both came to my rescue patiently answering the most generic questions. Thank you! I am grateful for public libraries for that is where I wrote most of the book. Grateful for the peace and quiet and no eating rules. (Gained too much weight snacking at home!) And grateful for countless librarians and educators across the country who shared stories with me, kept me focused and most of all encouraged me.
At work I am grateful to Heidi Stevens, our FACS teacher, who helped me with many of the sewing projects. Rita Dockswell, who reminded me I know how to crochet. Most of all, it was my principal, Mike Mosca, who let me ‘do my thing’ day in and day out. This level of support allowed me to collaborate with so many to empower our teens to make a world of difference through our MakerCare program.
I hope you’ll love my new arrival as much as I do.