Always a Hero

Every Friday I treat myself to a cup of coffee from a local bagel shop in my town. I love walking in at my normal time of 6:30 am because of the people I see there. A lot of the times there are teachers just like me getting their celebratory Friday caffeine for their commute into work. There are also many towns people picking up their coffee and breakfast for the long day ahead. I love this bagel shop. I feel at home there and enjoying starting my day with all the other customers that jingle the bell above the door.

This past Friday as I was getting my coffee I noticed a man in his late 60’s pouring his 20 ounce cup up to the brim. I raised my head to say good morning when I saw he was wearing a cap that stated, ‘Vietnam Vet.’ I recognized this cap immediately. My father wears the same hat everywhere he goes. The man reminded me of my father in his blue collar attire. Right down to his beard, light blue uniform jacket, and perfectly worn work boots.

Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was almost like a family secret that my dad served in Vietnam. He would of never worn a hat displaying his past. Even though my father is a decorated soldier, that earned the bronze star, we just did not talk about it. I remember my father telling me it was a different time and many people did not agree with the war, and because he went when he was drafted they were not too happy with him. When I asked how he earned his many medals that I would hold in my hand, he simply would reply, “It’s not important.” During that time I did witness how Vietnam vets were portrayed in TV and movies. It was not always flattering. Unlike, how the soldiers from the ‘Greatest Generation’ were viewed as heroes for fighting in WWII.

Now that my father wears his cap, I have seen people walk across a room to thank him for his service. I watch how humble he is when he replies, “You’re welcome,” or “It was nothing. Just serving my country.” I try to return that recognition to anyone I see wearing a similar hat. After I said good morning to the man at the coffee counter I added, “Thank you for your service. My father is also a Vietnam vet.”

The man looks up and says, “Oh yeah. When was he there?”

“I think it was 1969 to 1971.”

He gives me a half smile, “Those were the same years I was there. But I was no hero. I just was a med tech working in a hospital. I never did anything your dad probably did.”

This surprised me. My father was in a military hospital during the war. It was for malaria, however in resent years he has shared the horrors he witnessed while he recovered from his illness. The devastating wounds and brutality that the soldiers suffered due to the battles they were in. Standing right in front of me was a man that was there with those soldiers, helping them heal. He must of been around 20 years old at the time. He was only just coming out of his childhood years. His innocence must of been shattered.

He started toward the door. As his hand touched the handle I felt an almost frantic need to say something. I blurted out, “You are a hero. You always were.” He stopped in his tracks, he bowed his head, and raised his hand holding the small white paper bag that contained his breakfast to acknowledge my words. Then the bell chimed and he walked out the door.



Fear captures my boy taking his hope,

At times he cannot find the light,

Overthinking his every move,

Every thought.

Wanting to control his doubt, but worry steers him in other directions.

But he is a fighter.

He finds his stride, overcoming one fear at a time.

He stares out the car window, pondering about his achievements,

His voice reaches me through my own thoughts.

“I am proud of myself today.”

I hear the delight in his tone.

I watch as a smile takes over his face.

I sense his peace.

And because of this, I am encapsulated by bliss.

A Letter to My New Students

Dear Class of 2019-2020,

I have so many thoughts as I sit here now writing this letter to you. I really don’t know where to begin. I bet some of you can relate to that during Writer’s Workshop. I am human too and get stuck sometimes. At this moment we haven’t met yet, but will soon. I am excited to be your new teacher. This is not just lip service, I love teaching. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have tried to imagine other professions yet I always come back to being an educator.

I have to admit, I am also nervous. I always am at the start of the school year. I have all these goals and ideas I want to share and experience with you. I hope I will be able to accomplish them. I worry you will not enjoy our time together. I even worry if you will like me. I know that seems silly that a grown up that has taught as long as I have would worry about that, but I do. Sometimes these type of thoughts keep me up at night.

I also wish I am the teacher that you need at this moment in your life. The most important thing to me is to build a relationship with you. I want the best for you. My dream is for you to have the best education you deserve under me. I am a planner and I have lots of plans for the year. I look forward on going on this journey with you. I want to have respect between us and have open communication. With that, we need trust which is the bedrock to a healthy relationship.

I know at times it may seem I am pushing you or asking you to try something that you may feel you cannot do. You might think I am mean, not understanding, or driven by work production. It may seem that way but when I do, please remember it is because I believe in you when you may not believe in yourself. I hope you will trust me enough to push your thinking, your ideas, and abilities. I want you to share them with the world. I really want to learn from you and I know the world is a better place because you are here.

I truly feel privileged to be your teacher this year. We don’t know each other yet but I am lucky you are about to come into my life. I look forward to building a relationship with each one of you and learning with you. I hope we can accept each other as we are and have a fantastic 2019-2020 school year.

Your teacher,

Mrs. D’Alessandro

Double Digits

Smiling faces. A single candle in a chocolate soufflé. My son looks around the table in the restaurant his uncle made reservations for this special day as we sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ He looks pleasantly amused, but a bit awkward. He does not like to be the center of attention and the setting of the five star restaurant is a little outside his comfort level.

It was such a different setting than it was ten years ago. It was a cold operating room where I longed to hear his first cries. It took a moment, but he weakly let the world know he arrived. He spent time in the NICU. It nearly broke my heart to know I couldn’t hold my baby whenever I wanted-the baby that I hoped for but had to wait years for until the day I could call myself a mother.

I remember a nurse coming in to my hospital room while I was crying about him being ill. She came close to me and said, “This is just one part of his story. In ten years his story will have so much more, and ten years after that, and ten after that and so on. Just remember that you are lucky to be a part his story and he is luck to part of yours. On his tenth birthday have a celebration about his life, and both of you eat whatever you want.” I smiled through tears back at her. It was a nice thought, however I couldn’t appreciate her words until years later.

Thanks to my son’s uncle, my son and I did have a celebration. Yes, it was his tenth birthday, but it was also the tenth anniversary of me being a mom. My son and I got to eat at an upscale restaurant. He was allowed to drink soda from a fancy glass. We ate what we wanted, filet mignon and chocolate soufflé. We enjoyed our time with family. It was just one part of our story, and I am ever so grateful everyday for our stories to be intertwined.

Summer Teeth

Last summer my then five year old was thrilled to learn from her dentist that one of front teeth was slightly loose. She bounced out of the dentist’s chair exclaiming, “I have a wiggly tooth!” As she skipped to the car her eyes danced at the thought of losing a tooth. She proceeded to list all the children she knew that had lost a tooth. Her admiration for these peers could be heard in her voice. Her name was finally going to be on this list.

Weeks turned into months and months turned into a year and her tooth never fell out. Even once in a while she would have me test the wiggliness of the tooth. To her delight the determined tooth was getting looser, but it held on. She continued to wait until the day she would hold her tooth in her hand.

That day did come. We were visiting family in New Hampshire, and while playing with her cousins she fell off a chair. In an attempt to get up quickly she bumped her mouth on the leg of the chair. She held her hand to her lips and when she opened them her tooth fell in her palm. A celebration soon ensued. Then later that day in the heat of a water balloon fight she came running over to show me another tooth dangling from her gum. It too came out moments later. Two teeth in one day. My family and I thought it must be a record. My daughter felt very accomplished.

When we got home a few days later she lost two more teeth. That made four teeth in a week. My daughter was thrilled, but as her mom I felt a bit of nostalgia of watching those teeth come in when she was a baby. I was watching Willow’s gappy smile and my nine year old son must have felt that I was time traveling. He looks at me and said, “Willow has summer teeth.” I gave him an inquisitive look. He sighed and replied, “You know, some are there and some are not.” Summer teeth.” I turned to look over at Willow’s smile again. I could not have said it better myself.

Belly Buddies

The sun came down on my son, Caiden, and his friend A as they were playing catch with a football. Both still in the swimsuits after an evening swim, running through the yard. Every few throws one boy would chase the other and wrap their arms around him in an attempt to tackle him to the ground. They would crumble onto the grass giggling, then they would get up and do it all over again. I watched as they bodies turned into silhouettes as the stars made their appearance one by one. I loved their play, their laughter and their friendship of over ten years.

According to Caiden he has known A even before they were born. I can see why he believes this. A’s mother K and have been friends years before they were born. K and I were expecting both our boys around the same time. A is K’s fourth and Caiden is my first. K took me under her wing and welcomed me into motherhood. She gave me sage advice about what was ahead in my journey as a parent. Once a week during my pregnancy I would meet at K’s house with two other pregnant experienced mothers and we talked and listened, and learned belly dancing from K. It was a magical time and for that I will always be grateful to K.

In early July of 2009 A was born. He was a few weeks early, but beautiful and strong. He had a full mane of hair and the sweetest plump cheeks a child could have. I remember holding him for the first time in K’s backyard. I was over nine months along and I laid him across my very large belly and supported his legs and head with my arms. The moment I did, the little one still inside of me kicked upwards as to remind A he was still in there. I laughed as I saw A’s sleeping eyes open slightly from his soon to be friend. I remember telling Caiden this story when he was about four years old and he looked up at me and said, “That’s why A and me are ‘belly buddies.” A term he uses to this day.

Caiden was late and came six weeks later in August. He looked the total opposite than A. Still beautiful in his own way. He had little to no hair, big black eyes that seemed never to close, and a long lean body. However, Caiden’s and A’s souls were destined to come to Earth around the same time. The look of joy in each of their eyes when they see each other, their laughter over silly things, and the happiness of just being with each other warms my heart. They don’t see each other often, but when they do it is as if time hadn’t passed. For that I am internally grateful.

Coming Home

She was away for two weeks. During that time I worried if she was eating, getting enough sleep, and making friends. We did get updates, but it made me miss her more. Finally, today she came home.

I was waiting in the living room watching our street for her arrival. She was supposed to be home at 10:00 a.m., but of course she was late. Only ten minutes. Those ten minutes felt like an eternity. Every time the wind ruffled a bush or a leaf flew through the air I would jump up with excitement only to be disappointed by the normalcies of everyday occurrences.

I decided to keep myself busy with household chores. I went to tidy up the playroom when I saw the black SUV approaching our house. I dropped the toys I meant to put away in their dollhouse and rushed out the door. I got to the driveway just as the back hatch opened. To my surprise she wasn’t wearing a leash. She leaped out of the vehicle and galloped around the front yard. I could tell right away that her two weeks at doggie training camp was working.

Molly, our German Shepherd, was running to and fro, reclaiming her yard. I watched in amazement at her grace, her pink tongue with its black birthmark dangling from her mouth, and her sharp eyes scanning her domain. I could feel the freedom she felt of not being weighed down by a human holding her leash. I was so overjoyed to have her back that I had to remind myself to greet Molly’s trainer. When I did Molly ran over to me and paused just long enough for me to scratch her back before something else in the grass sparked her attention. The trainer and I stood there watching and exchanging small talk.

I could not believe how much I missed her. The dog I did not want. The dog which took my husband four years to convinced me to get. However, there I was watching her trampling through my flowerbed feeling so much love and relief that she was finally home.

Never in One Place

My husband and I were sitting at the beach on Nantucket. It was just the two of us. We took a quick vacation without our children to celebrate our anniversary. I tried as much as I could to take in the sound of the crashing waves, feel the warm sand under my feet, and be mesmerized by the blueness of the July midday sky. I kept looking around at all the families with children, and all I could think about were my two at home with their grandparents.

I wondered if they would enjoy this beach. Just then a seal popped her head out of the water just five feet from shore. I heard the children squeal in delight and point at their discovery. I jumped to my feet to get a better look. The seal seemed to smile and watch the children with an understanding look. She stayed there with her shiny black head above the waves for a few moments just observing. Her big black eyes scanning the sand. It reminded me of the way my German Shepherd, Molly, looks at my children when they play loudly. Molly has a look of curiosity and amusement before she either leaps in to join the fun, or leaves the room.

My husband and I settled back down in our seats and I turned to him and said, “Willow and Caiden would of loved to see that. They love seals. I’m sorry they missed it.”

Jim smiled at me and replied, “I know. I was wondering if you wanted to move further down the beach. There are less families there. We’d have more room.”

I told him perhaps in a little bit. My attention turned to the empty lifeguard chair behind us. Every year our school collects pictures of students and staff reading. I just began the book The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon. My teammate recommended it to me and I thought my time away would be a great time to read it. I tapped Jim and said, “Take a picture of me reading this book in the lifeguard chair for my school.”

He jokingly rolls his eyes and asked, “Do you ever stop thinking about being a teacher?” I over dramatically act offended, shoved my phone in his hand and started walking toward the chair.

As I was posing with the book in my hands, I realized even when I am away from my own children or in between classes in the summer, I am always a mother and always a teacher. They are more than titles that I was given, they are who I am-at home or when I am away.

Too Many Words

I crept up the stairs in the darkness. I yearned for a peek at my sleeping children. I love to watch them sleep. No matter how busy, loud, or chaotic the day is I can always find calmness when looking at the peaceful faces of my dreaming children. I quietly wandered in my nine year old son’s room first. I could just make out the Star Wars themed bed cover in the shadows from the moon. My eyes scanned up expecting to see a sleeping boy, but instead I saw a wide-eyed child staring up at the ceiling.

“Why are you still up?” I questioned. My mommy self kicked in. His first day of camp was tomorrow and I wanted him to be rested and ready for the day.

He sighed deeply and in a agonized tone he replied, “Too many words are in my head. I don’t know if I will ever write them all down.” He then rolled over dramatically taking his pillow with him to cover his head. Before he went to bed I forced him to stop writing, because it was already an hour past his bed time. I have to admit, it is an interesting issue to have -stopping your kid from writing. I admire his tenacity but a growing boy needs sleep. Right? This is an internal argument I have with myself every night. I smiled to myself and kissed him good night and told him that the words would still be there in the morning. Maybe they would be different words, but his words would always be there for him.

My son has always enjoyed writing. This summer he has been independently writing everyday. Stories and poems about his observations and memories. He is a writer. However, he does not enjoy reading. On a daily basis my husband and I have to remind him to take a break from writing and read for a bit. He gets frustrated with us and with the attitude of a tween he says, “You just don’t understand me. I HAVE to write, I don’t NEED to read. Geez.” Before I can explain the importance of reading he is walking away, avoiding my insight.

A few afternoons later, after convincing my reluctant reader to read I went to go check on him. When I walked into his room he was laying on the floor staring off into space, the book Wishtree by Katherine Applegate resting on the floor still in his hand. I tried not to appear annoyed as I went over to him to pluck him out of his day dream. As I approached he lifted his head and said softly, “I was just thinking how Katherine Applegate uses simple words and puts them together and it makes it so special. I want to try it. I was thinking how I can write a poem that way.” Then I was asked to leave so he could get back to the book. As a teacher I have seen the impact of using mentor texts. As a mom, seeing my son discover a mentor text for himself is undeniably one of the most precious moments I have had as a parent.

The Dead End

As a child learning to read, I loved looking for words I could recognize everywhere I went. One summer day while my mother drove around town in our 1975 forest green Plymouth Duster, I spotted a sign. It felt like I was detaching my sweaty leg from the dark plastic seats to lean out the window to get a better look. It was the late 1970’s so a small child of five didn’t need a booster seat, not even a seatbelt. I let the air rush past me as I looked at the green street sign and right underneath it was a yellow sign. I made out the words and spoke out ‘Dead End.’

I was shocked by the words I just read. The the only time I heard the word dead at the time was when my family spoke about my great-grandfather who had died the winter before. I loved my great-grandfather. He always made me feel like I was his favorite. I felt his smile was only for me. All I knew as a five year old about death was that I was not ever going to see him again, which was a sad and scary feeling. I learned from that experience that ‘dead’ meant forever, it made people sad, and it left a whole in your soul that nothing could ever fill.

In horror and shock I immediately asked my mother why the sign said ‘Dead End.’ My mother replied, ” It means that the street doesn’t lead to another street. It just ends. Some people call it a cul-de-sac. Your dad and I would love to live on a street like that because there would not be a lot of cars driving and you could play in the street.” My mind starting racing. My mother made ‘Dead End’ sound so good, but why did it have such an awful name. This was yet another time that adults and their words made life so confusing.

A year ago my husband and I bought a house on a ‘Dead End.’ I remember distinctly that the realtor called it a cul-de-sac, which did sound so much more appealing. Our house sits right in the middle of the circle. At times, it feels like the whole street belongs to us. I feel the cul-de-sac assisted my son, eight at the time, learn to ride a bike in three says. This year, he rides with confidence up and down our street.

This June it was my six year old daughter’s turn to learn to ride a bike. Willow learned to ride in two days. She has always been more of a daredevil than her brother. She now whips up and down the street after her brother. I can see the feeling of freedom in her eyes. However, this year we have gotten to know most of our neighbors. When they see us out riding they join us. Children from three years to 17 become a two wheeling gang. The parents usually stand in the cul-de-sac, watching the young ones and offer stories and advice. It is a time of community on this small street of just eleven houses.

One evening when we could not go outside to ride our bikes, both my children were upset. My son said disappointedly, “We’re going to miss tonight’s party at the dead end. That’s where everything starts.” I smiled to myself when he said this remembering my five year old’s self misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘Dead End.” He is so right. Our dead end is the beginning. The beginning of neighborhood fun, the beginning of learning to be more independent, and the beginning of us building family memories that will last forever.