Mother-in-love

For Addie B. Merritt

January 9, 1932-September 1, 2016

Addie B. Merritt (7).jpgWhen I used to tell people that I lived with my mother-in-law, on purpose, that my wife and I intentionally bought this house because it would accommodate my mother-in-law, people acted like I was crazy. Or they would claim that I was some kind of generous saint for permitting my mother-in-law to live in my home. Mothers-in-law get a bad rap; there’s a lot of cultural baggage attached to this role. How many of you have heard a mother-in-law joke? And the term itself–mother-in-law: it sounds so clinical, so impersonal.

What the critics and naysayers didn’t know or understand was that living with my mother-in-law was not a burden, and that I wasn’t some kind of saint for wanting to do it. And while I do confess that it took me awhile to warm up to the idea when Constance initially suggested it years ago, I learned to embrace this new reconfiguration of our family unit. The truth is that I got along much better with my mother-in-law better than I did my own mother.

When I first met Addie on a Thanksgiving visit to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 2008, I couldn’t have imagined the relationship we would have someday. I wasn’t really sure if she was going to like me or not at first. We went to dinner at Bonanza the night I arrived in Pine Bluff. Addie wanted the banana pudding from the buffet so I rushed to dish her up a serving, ever eager to please and be likable. She found my offering to be lacking in Nilla Wafers, however, and sent her granddaughter Holiday to get her a proper serving. I really thought I had made sure to get sufficient cookies in the helping I got for her, but apparently not, and I was a little crushed to have had my efforts rejected. However, by the time I left Pine Bluff, I felt like she must have liked me pretty well, because she gave me $20 for gas money for the road trip home and advised me not to pick up any hitchhikers.

One another Thanksgiving visit–I don’t remember when–she said that I was a good cook for a white girl, or something to that effect, which I rightly interpreted as high praise. And a few years ago, when Constance and I were contemplating whether to attend the Miller family reunion with Addie, I expressed some concerns. Having experienced rejection before due to my relationship with Constance, I was worried that the Millers might not accept me as a valid family member. Addie’s response: “They’ve seen white people before.” As in: it didn’t occur to her that the Millers wouldn’t accept me, her daughter’s wife. She assumed that my concern was about race.

I may not hAddie B. Merritt (15).jpgave looked like I belonged to Constance and Addie’s family, but the little family unit we formed when we all started living together is one of the most special things that’s ever happened to me in my life. Our home is on Grinstead Drive, and when we all moved in in February of 2015, I liked to think of our little trio as the Grinstead Girls. The Grinstead Girls enjoyed doing lots of things together–watching General Hospital and Judge Judy, trips to McDonald’s after doctor’s visits, trips to Walmart so Addie could procure vast amounts of cough drops and Werther’s Originals, ordering pizza on Friday nights, playing spades, or visiting my family in northern Kentucky an hour and a half away from Louisville. She delighted in becoming Grandma to our two cats, and our younger cat, Gertie, became her best and special friend. Gertie now had three laps to sit in, but she always chose Grandma’s first. When Addie moved in, she said, “I’ll make you a deal: I’ll wash the dishes and mop the floor, but I’m done cooking.” And so it was. We enjoyed lots of good meals together, her favorite being the baked mac and cheese Constance makes with two different kinds of cheese and bacon bits. Addie also liked my chili. As far was she was concerned, we didn’t make those meals often enough.

I work as a college librarian and I have the freedom and flexibility that comes from being a tenured faculty member. Addie always liked to say, “Maria has a good job.”  And when I took leave from that good job in order to be home to help care for Addie, she said, “That’s the best news ever.” I thought it was the best news, too, because nothing is more important than family. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts Addie had to offer, one of the greatest gifts I received through knowing her and living with her and being a part of her family. And getting to live with her in the last year and a half of her life, and getting to care for her in her final days, were gifts, too. When it was clear that Addie was declining, that she was on her way out of this world, I was afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t brave enough to handle the challenges of caring for a person who was dying, of witnessing those final days and final moments. But I found courage in the act of just doing it, in the act of caregiving. I found courage in the wise words of George MacDonald, a 19th century Scottish author and minister: “What God may hereafter require of you, you must not give yourself the least trouble about. Everything He gives you to do, you must do as well as ever you can, and that is the best possible preparation for what He may want you to do next. If people would but do what they have to do, they would always find themselves ready for what came next.”Addie B. Merritt (25).JPG

I can’t even imagine what’s happening next, or how to be ready for what is coming next. Constance and I are missing one member of the Grinstead Girls, and our home feels lonely and empty. I know, though, that all we have to do is live in the now, to rejoice in the life Addie lived and in the gifts we received from knowing and loving her, and we will be prepared for whatever comes next. Addie was more than a mother-in-law to me. She was my mother-in-love.

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References for KLA LIRT Keynote

Affleck, M. (1996). Burnout among bibliographic instruction librarians. Library & Information Science Research, 18(2), 165-183.

“Association of College and Research Libraries Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators”, American Library Association, July 26, 2007. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/profstandards

Becker, K. (1993). The characteristics of bibliographic instruction in relation to the causes and symptoms of burnout. RQ, 32(3), 346-358.

Detmering, R., Johnson, A. M., Sproles, C., McClellan, S., & Linares, R. H. (2015). Library instruction and information literacy 2014. Reference Services Review, 43(4), 533-642.

Elmborg, J. K. (2011). Libraries as the spaces between us: Recognizing and valuing the third space. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 50(4), 338-350.

Goldberg, N. (1986). Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within. Boston: Shambhala.

“Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers”, American Library Association, September 29, 2008. http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesbehavioral

Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Kimberlé Crenshaw Discusses “Intersectional Feminism.” Retrieved July 13, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROwquxC_Gxc 

Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2(2), 99.

Maslach, C. (1978). The client role in staff burn-out. Journal of Social Issues, 34(4), 111-124.

Sheesley, D. F. (2001). Burnout and the academic teaching librarian: An examination of the problem and suggested solutions. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 27(6), 447.

Reflections on Minnesota Library Association ARLD Day

I recently had the great pleasure of participating in the Minnesota Library Association (MLA) Academic and Research Library Division (ARLD) Day on April 28 and 29, 2016.

On April 28, I facilitated a half-day pre-conference workshop called “From Cynicism to Empowerment: How Librarians Who Teach Can Resist Burnout.” In this workshop, I guided participants through a series of activities that helped identify causes of burnout and possible remedies for specific situations. I also emphasized the necessity of self-care as a way of equipping oneself to deal with the particular factors contributing to burnout.

On the 29th, I delivered the keynote talk, “Critical Pedagogy and Academic Libraries: Empowering Learners to Change the World,” in which I outlined the various theoretical underpinnings of critical pedagogy, identified how it has come into conversation with academic libraries, and described implications for library instruction, the reference desk, and other key elements that govern how an academic library functions.

And then later in the day, I presented a breakout session, “Transforming Learners, Transforming Teachers: How Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction Can Energize Your Teaching and Your Students.” In this session, I provided a snapshot overview of what makes feminist pedagogy specifically feminist, and then guided participants in an activity that helped them identify how feminist pedagogy might help them rethink their library instruction practice.

I had a lot going on! Leading the workshop was an immensely satisfying and rewarding experience, and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with other academic librarians about a topic that seems to resonate deeply with many of us. The keynote was also an enjoyable–if initially nerve-wracking!–chance to invite academic librarians to consider the possibilities of orienting library services, programs, and collections toward social justice. And the feminist pedagogy session was an exciting opportunity to focus specifically on a key area of critical pedagogy that I have found to be profoundly meaningful.

As I reflect on my experience at MLA ARLD Day, I can see how all of the material I presented overlaps, even though I didn’t realize this at first. There are, of course, clear and obvious connections between my critical pedagogy keynote and my feminist pedagogy breakout session. But I can see now that even my burnout workshop is connected to my other presentations, and here is how: the throughline that undergirds most of my work is my insistence on care, compassion, and the affirmation of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. This is what motivates my pedagogy, my deep need to honor the human interaction with learners, to humanize what is so often a dehumanizing experience.

And this preoccupation with humanizing teaching and learning and the library also informs my approach to identifying causes of burnout and figuring out ways of dealing with it. I emphasize the importance of self-care–or, in other words, advocating for yourself and doing the stuff that feeds you–not as a panacea, but instead because I believe it is necessary to feed yourself before you can feed others. When you nourish yourself (by saying no, by learning to be assertive, by accepting the things we cannot change, by going for 30-minute daily walks, by…whatever), I think you are working toward empowerment to bring about change in the structural, societal, and cultural inequities that contribute to burnout to begin with. I believe that we become burned out in the workplace, in part, because our work culture sees you as a worker first and a human second, and maybe only sometimes. By caring for yourself, you reclaim your personhood, and then you can help bring about social change, just as critical and feminist pedagogy seeks to bring about social change through the teaching and learning experience.

I am grateful to MLA ARLD for providing me the chance to talk to other librarians about these topics. It felt energizing, humbling, and exciting to take these thoughts, thoughts that often exist mostly in my head, and usher them into the world via the caring, receptive, and engaging space created by this conference.

Maria T. Accardi is the award-winning author of Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction. She is also co-editor of Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods. She currently serves as the Coordinator of Instruction and Reference at Indiana University Southeast, a regional campus in the IU system, located in New Albany, Indiana. Accardi holds a BA in English from Northern Kentucky University, an MA in English from the University of Louisville, and an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh. Her primary research and practical interests include library instruction and critical pedagogy. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can reach her at maria at mariataccardi.com.

Current Projects:

The Feminist Desk: Concepts, Critiques, and Conversations

Academic Library Instruction Burnout