Waiting on Judgement

I walked into my kitchen and heard the tail end of my husband and my son’s conversation. “You should withhold judgement. You do not know what someone’s intentions are,” my husband was telling my son. With my husband’s words I was brought back to the moment when I first learned about withholding judgment. I do not always withhold immediate judgment, but I try to remind myself of this childhood memory in order to give others the benefit of the doubt.

It was a dark December evening. There was frost covering almost every surface outside. My cousin and I were bundled up in out warmest coats as we sat in the backseat of my mother’s car. I was about five or six years old. My cousin was about two or three. As my mother drove, her sister sat in the passenger seat. We were headed to the convenience store so my aunt could buy milk and some other odds and ends she needed for her home. When we reached the brightly lit parking lot my aunt dashed out and ran against the frigid air to make her purchases leaving my mother, myself, and my cousin Daniel, to remain warm in the car.

She emerged from the store with a large paper bag in one arm and she held a gallon of milk in her other hand. The freezing air whipped through the car when she opened the passenger side door. She hurriedly placed the bag in the car and leaped in and closed the car door. A shiver ran through her body as she shook off the early bitter winter cold air.

As soon as my mother drove off a car honked their horn at us. My mother is not a patient person and she honked her horn longer and louder, as she whispered under her breath. She turned to my aunt and says in Spanish, ‘Is there anything wrong with the way I am driving? People can be such jerks.” My aunt defended her sister’s driving abilities and we made our way through town.

The familiar streets of my town looked eerie in the darkness. The once friendly buildings now seemed to loom over us as we drove by. As she passed through the streets there was more honking, which made the journey back to my aunt’s house hair-raising. My mother and her sister were not ones to back down from a presumed injustice. Therefore, as a car passed by and yet again we heard another loud honk, my aunt rolled down her window and screamed out-I can now only imagine the profanities.

The tension rose in the car. My mother and aunt were in full defense mode. They continued speaking in their native tongue at a much louder volume and much higher pitch, talking about how the people in this town must be crazy, and did they not notice they had children in the car to protect. The more we drove, the more frenzied they seemed to become.

We finally reached the traffic light right near my aunt’s home. I was so relieved that this ride was almost over. Then, out of nowhere, a car pulled right next to my aunt’s side of the car. Once again there was a honk, as the man rolled down his window. Furious, my aunt rolls down her window and shouts, “What do you want!?”

“You have a gallon of milk on the roof of your car.” the man says. The light turned green and he drove off.

My aunt flung her door open and frozen to the roof of the car was that gallon of milk she bought just a few moments ago. She pulled it loose and brought it into the car laughing. My mother began to laugh with her. By the time she drove the 20 feet to my aunt’s driveway, the both of them were laughing so hard they had tears rolling down their cheeks.

“All that time we thought people were being jerks and they just wanted to tell us I forgot my milk on the car. I didn’t even thank the guy who told us. I guess that makes us jerks.” My aunt replied as she was catching her breath, which just sent them into another fit of laugher.

We dropped off my aunt and cousin and made it home. My mother and I relayed the story to my father. He also laughed at the evening events then said, “You can’t always judge someone actions. It helps if you stop and listen.”

Simple Things

‘We have to stop at the grocery store for Abuela. Remember everyone needs to wear a mask and it has to stay on,” I tell my seven year old daughter. Her face lights up as soon as she hears ‘stop at the grocery store.’

“Yes! I haven’t been to any store since winter. Can I wear my unicorn mask? Can we leave now? When are we leaving?,” my daughter replies all in one breath.

I have been helping my mother since she had her surgery a few weeks ago. Today I needed to get her extra groceries that her food delivery service missed. After receiving the call from my mother I began to feel a little overwhelmed by the feeling of being torn between maintaining two homes, and annoyed at the delivery service for not getting the order correct. Since my husband was busy working on home projects with my son, and my daughter has a way of finding trouble when she gets bored, my only choice was to bring her with me to the store. My daughter, W, was thrilled to get the opportunity to be a helper today.

On the way to the food store we reviewed the correct way to wear a mask and how to remain socially distant. W’s eyes were wide with the prospect of walking through the aisles once again. She kept asking what we were buying, and she began counting each item on her small thin fingers. “Well, that is not that much stuff, but I am SO happy I’m going.”

When we arrived at the parking lot we slipped on our masks. I looked down at her and in typical W style her purple unicorn mask matched her lavender shirt, and her lavender shirt matched her pastel checkered Vans. W took my hand as I walked and she skipped to the store entrance. We went early and the food store was almost empty. W stopped as soon as we got through the door and slowly looked around the store, as if she was looking at a beautiful piece of art. She took a deep breath through her mask and said, “I have missed this. Remember when I didn’t want to come the store? I didn’t know I’d miss it so much.”

We made our way down the few aisles we needed. Sometimes backtracking so we could stay consistent with the one-way arrows. Each item we collected seemed like a treasure to W. She delicately placed each one in our small cart. She happily pushed her treasures to the checkout to finalize her adventure. I could not see her entire face while we were in the store, but I could see the delight in her eyes. After watching her, it reminded me how important it is to appreciate the little things in life. The past few months so much has changed, but we can find simple pleasures in everyday life. I suddenly was in an almost giddy mood not unlike W.

As we walked to our car W looks up at me and says, “Wasn’t that great!?”

“Yes, it was. And Thanks for helping me today.”

W takes off her mask so I can see her smile and I do the same. It was just a little thing, but it meant so much to me.

A Bag and a Visit

“Mom, what’s this?” I hear as my son enters my room. I look down and he is carrying a simple black bag. I recognize the bag immediately. It is a medium sized bag with a long strap. It is about the same shape as a bicycle messenger would carry. I gently take the bag from my son. As I touch it I remember the last time I used it to carry items that were so important to us then. “There is an unused diaper in it, and a bunch of papers. What the heck was it doing in my closet?” My almost eleven old continues.

“This was your diaper bag that we used when you went to the doctor.” I responded while keeping my eyes on the bag.

We moved into this home two years ago and the past few days my children and I have been cleaning out our bedrooms closets. It is something we try to do every summer. I do not remember putting the bag into my son’s closet two years ago and I do not know how we missed it last year.

I start going through the bag and begin to look through what was left behind in it. Suddenly, I am visiting another version of myself. The ‘new mother-self’. The terrified woman that looked like she was holding it together. She felt so proud but mostly intimidated by the title of “mother.”

Before all my baby’s medical information was put on a digital portal, we needed to bring a small light blue booklet that our doctor would fill out at each appointment. It held the record of his growth as well as his vaccinations. I had forgotten it once when we went in for one of our son’s check ups and I felt like a failure. My husband came up with idea of the doctor diaper bag. This way we would always have what we needed. I remember putting a small notebook in it where I would write questions I had for the medical staff. As a first time parent of an infant that started his life in the NICU, I was anxious and aimed to be on top of everything. As our son grew, I would also keep the receipts of each visit as documentation. Those receipts helped give me more confidence that I was doing right by the little human that was in my care.

With each zipper I unzipped and paper I touched, it reminded me of that new mother I used to be. How challenging I felt it was, and the feeling I had to do everything perfectly-the feeling that my son’s destiny depended on how flawless I was as a mother. I still try my best as a parent, but I have grown to realize that my children are their own person. I am here to guide them, and I am going to make mistakes. Plus, mistakes have been a wonderful way for me to grow as a parent. My mistakes also help remind me that my kids need to make mistakes to also learn. As my eyes continue to look through the papers, I wish I could tell my new mom-self this, but I know she would not listen. I also know it is better that I learned what I have learned with time. I continue to need to learn.

I reached in deeper into the bag and I was so surprised how familiar the feel of the diaper was in my hand. It had been in there since the bag’s last outing nine years ago, my son’s two year check up. The following year there was no need for diapers and everything went digital, therefore the bag was no longer needed. I finally look at my son. It is getting harder to see the baby in his face. His dark eyes looked lovingly at me, as his long mahogany colored bangs fall over his forehead. He is no longer that bald baby that did not need his first haircut until he was speaking in full sentences. My son had a knowing smile as if he came on that journey with me. Without explanation I throw my arms around him and pull him in tight for a hug. He giggles and hugs me as if he is glad I am back here in the present where I belong.

Waiting

Empty busyness occupies my time,

Avoiding the clock’s face.

I do not let the questions in my mind try to find anwers.

My mind’s created responses may not be the truth and will only frighten more than reality.

I remember a time when I could walk in and help, with no fear or restrictions.

What once was routine now comes with unknown dangers.

Now I must wait by the phone, hoping I hear what I wish for.

My only gateway to her in her hospital bed.

Waiting to hear she is safe and out of harms way.

As the phone shakes the table I lift it and a voice pours into my ear,

I feel the relief fill my body.

Then a sudden realization that the first wait is now complete, but there is more waiting to come.

Just a Click

My heart felt conflicted as I grabbed my computer on Saturday morning. There was just one more task I had to complete. One more and and my summer break officially would begin. A feeling of relief came over me as the thought of distance learning ending, followed be a feeling of dread. I know my students would no longer be popping up on my computer screen filling my head with their questions and filling my ears with their stories and thoughts.

I slowly opened my computer and I stared at the screen. I longed for my students faces to appear. Over the past three months the only time I truly felt like a teacher was when my screen was filled with numerous squares that had children’s faces in them so that I could exchange ideas with my students. We talked about books, their writing, their pets and current events. I often left those virtual meetings feeling lighter and our conversations gave me purpose.

I began to open my Google Classroom and I scrolled through my list of students. I took a moment to read each of their names. Usually on the last day of school when I enter my classroom after the students leave for the summer, the silence that greets me is deafening. I have been teaching almost 20 years and it always takes me by surprise. However, this year I ran my eyes down a list of names and emails knowing I have to be the one to delete them from my Google Classroom. My last lifeline to my students this year-the thing that held us together when we could not be physically together.

I sat there for awhile not wanting to be the one to exit them from me this way. I rationalized that they are my students forever, even though I would not be their teacher next year. This thought did not comfort me. I moved my mouse to the button that read ‘remove.’ Then in one click they were gone…but not forgotten.

Our Book?

One evening after finally getting my own two children to bed I picked up my phone to check my work email. I quickly looked through the names of the senders before I decided which one I wanted to open first. I recognized a name I don’t often see in my inbox. A student from last year. I was fortunate to have her in my class in third grade, and again in fifth grade. She was a student you would not forget, even if you just had her once. She is now a middle schooler and I miss having her in my classroom.

Excitedly I opened the email. She has written a few times to keep in touch, also sending me a few stories she had written. I expected this email would be the same but I was wrong. She started by saying, “Did you know that other classes read The Thief of Always last year?” I did know. It went with our last unit of study in reading in fifth grade, fantasy. She went on to say that other students were talking about the conversations they had in class about the characters, themes, and symbolism. It was her favorite read aloud of the year, and it was also for many others. The students were continuing to have discussions about the book comparing it to the book they were reading now.

I was taken aback. At first, I was worried she thought I lead her to believe that our class was the only class that read this book. I reread the email and it wasn’t disappointment that she felt, she was surprised that so many had similar experiences in their fifth grade classrooms last spring. She just wanted me to know that many students cherished that time during read aloud.

I smiled to myself and thought how grateful I was that our district of fifth grade teachers gave that to our students. That our students carry those conversations and the love of books with them when they leave us and move onto middle school. Often times when they go to sixth grade I am left wondering if I served my students well. Did I teach them what they would need for the next step? On this particular evening, I was made aware that we all did.

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.

Bliss

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.