One Woman's Story on Finding Opportunity in The Most Trying Times
May 16, 2019 .8 min read
A challenge doesn’t mean you stand down; it’s an opportunity to see what you’re made of
Even during the toughest of times, Leslie Dalis always knew the best thing she could do for herself and her family, was to
Put a smile on and fall into line.
Throughout her years, Leslie faced many trials and tribulations, but she always saw it as an opportunity to dig deep and use the strength and courage she always knew she had.
In her time, Leslie dealt with two divorces, a stillborn and the realization that one of her children could be facing multiple life-threatening conditions. But with those trying moments, also came many many beautiful experiences and memories. Leslie was blessed with three beautiful children, a phenomenal career and a fantastic support system that always kept her humbled but optimistic about her present and future.
A Stellar Educational Background
To say Leslie Dalis is a highly educated woman is a complete understatement. Leslie holds two bachelor’s degrees from Hofstra University as well as a masters in Math, Science, and Technology, with Distinction and has received a Professional Diploma in Educational Administration from Long Island University. In addition to that, she has various certifications to support each move she had made up the education career ladder.
Her First Marriage
Upon graduating from Hofstra University in 1982, Leslie was married to her first husband, who was a real estate developer. Right around this time, Leslie saw an opening in the art department for the private school she wanted to work, so that’s when she began her career in teaching, as an art teacher.
Leslie was married to her first husband for almost ten years and had two children towards the end of their marriage. Her first child, Jesse, was just around four years old when the marriage came to an end and her second child, Sydney, was roughly 18 months old.
An Amicable Split
Before calling it quits, both Leslie and her husband did everything they could to save the marriage. However, with the significant age gap, almost a ten-year difference, they realized that their core values were no longer aligned.
At this point, Leslie was working for a private school and knew that especially during this time, she needed to make the switch to the public sector if she wanted a career that could support her through her new life as a single parent. So she made the switch to the Great Neck Public School District.
During any times of self-doubt or just sadness, Leslie always managed to refocus her energy to prevent herself from sinking. And with a great support system, filled with many friends and family, she was able to keep her spirits up and centered.
Despite the fact that the marriage was no longer a mutual fit, Leslie always believed that their children should never be neglected of their father. With that, Leslie and her now ex-husband were fortunate enough to have an amicable divorce and were able to do something very unusual for the time, share residential custody of the children; it was the talk of the town.
Furthering Her Education
When Leslie made the switch to the Great Neck Public School District, she was hired without holding a masters degree. To continue working as a teacher in the public sector, a masters degree was required to keep certification and to increase pay further, so that’s what Leslie did.
Leslie was always mechanical, so it was only natural that when she went to complete her masters, she received a masters in Math, Science, and Technology and had the honor of being a part of the first graduating class at Hofstra in that program. And her thesis? Rocketry at the elementary level, which allowed her to run experiments with her students on how to launch rockets.
At this point in her career, Leslie was teaching in the 4th-grade classroom, was a single parent and was also going to night school to further her education.
Never Forgetting The Children
While Leslie took on the world, she never wanted her children to feel neglected. And while personal days were not something she could take so freely, Leslie always made sure that if she couldn’t attend a presentation or school event, that she made the best treats possible for her children and their classmates. So, if her children were giving a presentation on Africa, you best believe she made the biggest darn cake resembling the biggest continent on the planet and loaded it with Animal Crackers and any treat a kid could adore.
There’s a difference between stress and having a hectic life,
Leslie says. She was able to pull herself out of a situation that wasn’t right for her and her family and made a transition in her career that allowed her to tap into skills she always knew she had but couldn’t quite get to with her former career path. So, with a clean palette, she could start fresh.
You make what you want of it
After all, the
best revenge in life is to be happy.
But Leslie does believe that when you get divorced, that’s when you truly find out who you’re real friends are. She even states that at times, it was harder to find the right social group rather than a date. Some of her married friends went silent on her but the ones that stayed true, well, they’re still friends today.
Finding Love Again
Leslie did, however, manage to find love again. As she finished her masters, she met her second husband and got engaged. A major selling point for her was how amazing he was with the children. Mind you; when they were dating, it took Leslie quite some time to make that introduction happen. And when it finally did happen, he met the children in a large group setting over Passover.
Leslie graduated on a Friday and married that Sunday.
Extending The Family
During her second marriage, Leslie got pregnant. Her children were very excited, but around seven months into Leslie’s pregnancy, she found out her baby was stillborn. When she found out, she called the school psychiatrist and asked that they check on her children. It turns out, her eldest, Jesse, took it the hardest. Jesse believed that God was punishing the family because he didn’t like the name they had chosen and was going to call the baby by a different name. Jesse was just around eight years old at the time.
When Leslie got pregnant the second time around, she decided to wait to tell the children. She waited till she was about seven months pregnant, right around the time she found out her previous pregnancy was stillborn.
So, how did the children take the news? They were ecstatic! And Jesse, in particular, was even more thrilled because when he found out that they were having a girl, that meant he could still be the only prince in the family.
A Child With Special Needs
But shortly after Leslie gave birth to Mia, she knew something was different. She knew she wasn’t developing the way her other two had been. At 11 months of age, Mia wasn’t sitting up while her other two had been walking right around this time.
This is where the marriage started to take a turn as Leslie, and her husband had different opinions on their daughter’s development.
Leslie arranged for early intervention for Mia, a system of services, provided by the state, that helps babies and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. Early intervention was able to help Mia learn the necessary skills that typically develop during the first three years of life, such as:
physical (reaching, rolling, crawling, and walking);
cognitive (thinking, learning, solving problems);
communication (talking, listening, understanding);
social/emotional (playing, feeling secure and happy); and
self-help (eating, dressing).
Open Heart Surgery
And when the family finally thought the worst was over, hours before Jesse’s Bat Mitzvah, Leslie found out that Mia had a 2.5 cm hole in her heart. Leslie would have never found out if she hadn’t taken Mia along with her to Sydney’s doctor’s appointment. Mia had the sniffles, so Leslie decided last minute to take her along to get checked out. That’s when the doctor urged her to get an echo test – a test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to take pictures of the heart, immediately.
Ten days later, Mia was having open heart surgery.
Eight hours of surgery later, Leslie vividly remembers Mia being the only child talking in the ICU – that was a moment where she realized how grateful and fortunate she was, despite her marriage starting to have issues around this time.
Dealing with a Child with Special Needs
But it wasn’t over yet.
Mia has HFA (high-functioning autism). So when Mia attended school, she was severely bullied for being different. And when the situation wasn’t handled appropriately by the school she was attending, Leslie took matters into her own hands.
She gave the school two options:
Get sued and pay for the school of their choosing or,
Bypass a lawsuit and foot the bill for the school of their choosing.
The school went with option two and attended all the interviews required by each potential school.
And while Leslie was pretty tough and fought for every possible accommodation she could get for her daughter; she was also extremely appreciative of the efforts made by everyone who helped. Leslie always made sure to take the time to write personal notes to the superintendent about each person who helped her daughter get the best accommodations possible when it came to making school a comfortable and pleasant experience.
But when it finally came time to make the transition to a new school in Queens, her daughter struggled due to her developing anxiety. Getting Mia to school on a daily basis was challenging, but Leslie knew her daughter was in the best care possible. She had trust in the process. But, of course, the challenges she faced regularly was a true testament to her inner strength.
What Do You Do with the Memories?
That strength allowed her to file for divorce after twenty years of marriage to her second husband. With the marriage no longer serving her the way she would have hoped for, she knew it was a decision she had to make.
With a divorce, it’s hard to decide what to do with the memories, where to put them
That’s one of the toughest parts about divorce. It’s something she struggles with today and knows it’s something her children are learning to deal with.
But post-divorce, everyone is adjusting just fine.
Mia graduated from school in January 2019 and to celebrate, Leslie threw her a fantastic party filled with all the people that played a significant role in getting Mia to where she is today – that totaled to 85 people including teachers, doctors, friends, and family.
Mia did have major ankle surgery in February of 2019 but is recovering well. She is also working with a program called ACCES and may ultimately decide to go to college in the future.
Sydney went on to the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated with a dual degree in Journalism and Dance, and certification in Technology, Arts & Media. Upon graduating, she moved back to New York City to join a boutique digital agency and in 2016, Sydney joined forces with Taylor Rohwedder to launch their own company, Wimze.
Jesse made the move out west to California and is working for one of Apple’s advertising departments. Even though Jesse isn’t on the same coast as Leslie, Sydney, and Mia, he is in constant contact and flies home for family events and holidays and plays a very active role in the family.
Today, Leslie is a very well respected teacher of STEM, a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. What that means is that instead of teaching the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.
In addition to that, Leslie is focusing on opening up her own program, focusing on the gifted/talented and just purchased a new home.
No matter the challenge, Leslie has never once stood down nor did she lose her focus. And while she rose to the top, she always stayed humbled and grateful. Maybe it was genetics, maybe it was just personal character, but it was never in her nature to do otherwise. Where Leslie is today is a true testament to her strength and her happiness. When it comes to a challenge, as Leslie would say:
You make what you want of it
The best revenge in life is to be happy
Ande has made it her mission to break down the emotional, behavioral and societal barriers that stand between women and strong financial foundations.
She's widely recognized as a driving force in the financial community, having risen to the top of the primarily male-dominated insurance world as the former head of a multi-million-dollar fintech company and a VP at Penn Mutual.
Ande launched myWorth to inspire a financial awakening among women who are eager to take control of their financial journeys. Her first book will be published in October 2019.