Josie graduated from elementary school last spring and I've been meaning to write a blog post in tribute to the team of educators who enriched Josie's life immeasurably during these formative years.
I'll never forget the first day of preschool. I walked Josie into the building, left her with strangers, returned to my car in the parking lot, and bawled. When you have a child who is especially vulnerable - medically fragile, cognitively delayed, with limited communication skills - it's terrifying to entrust her to others. Had I known that day that Josie would find her way into the arms of a team of women who would love her as though she were their own child, it would have spared me so many tears.
Today, out of the blue, in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, one of those women sent me the most powerful summary of her experience working with Josie. Not only is it more eloqunet than anything I could have written, it also underscores an investment that far exceeds my daughter's educational requirements. It's an illuminating testimony to a relationship that cultivated mutual growth, respect, acceptance, and love. Ms. Kellie, thank you for this moving tribute, and thank you for allowing me to preserve and share it here.
💙💛October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month! 💙💛 Here’s a story about a little girl doing big things:After many years at home with my own children, I began feeling the nudge to jump back into education. Joining a special education team at an elementary school close to home gave me just what my teacher heart needed. Surrounded by a supportive teacher and dedicated associates, I had found my new home.Now. Meet Josephine.My new student was smart, a bit sassy, very determined, a little stubborn, absolutely adorable and well, she has Down Syndrome.My early days with Josie were met with struggles and refusals, with her favorite word being ‘no’. Her abilities far outweighed her disabilities, and oh was she smart. So smart, she knew I needed HER more than she needed ME.
How would I ever be able to reach this little girl? The more I failed, the more I wanted to stay. I quickly realized it wasn’t just what I could give HER. She gave and gave and gave. Slowly we built our trust in each other.For three years, she took me by the hand and helped ME grow. I no longer worried about following a schedule. Often I would joke that I was on ‘Josie time’. I learned to live in the moment with intentional focus. When I was with Josie, nothing else mattered. Truly.Spending my days with Josie led to me discovering things about myself.
So here it is. Here is what Josie taught me:💖 Embrace all whom you meet. Literally. Not just a quick squeeze. But with your whole being. When Josie hugs, you can feel her heart beating. And when she finally releases, you have a sense of calmness, renewal, peace.💖And when there is no one to hug? Wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. It works, trust me.💖 Dance. Even when everyone IS watching. Shake those hips!💖Enter a room with your head held high, with confidence bubbling over. You’ve got this!💖Sing. Sing loud. Even if you think you are off key. Sing.💖Be colorful. Make a statement. Every day.💖It’s okay to be obsessed with goldfish crackers and the color pink.💖It’s also okay to feel frustrated. Overwhelmed. Curious. And impatient. It’s okay to…. just be.💖When faced with something you lack interest, simply hold up your hand, state ‘Not a fan’ and then walk away.💖 When asked how you are doing, respond with ‘I am incredible!’ Look on the bright side! Life is beautiful!💖Appreciate differences. Josie doesn’t judge. We each had different qualities to bring to the friendship. I was my most confident when I was with her.💖Laugh! Until you are gasping for air! See the humor in everything.💖Remember each day you have an opportunity to shine your light and have a positive impact. Josie isn’t aware of the joy she brings. And she asks for nothing in return. So go make someone’s day better. Be like Josie.Last May, amongst so many emotions, I hesitantly approached the last day of school. Josie was a 5th grader. She graduated my school. She left. Friends, it was HARD. You see, Josie was my best friend for three years. Each morning we began our day by looking in the mirror and we’d say ‘I am beautiful.’ Sometimes we’d even say it over and over until we both felt ready to tackle the day. ‘I am beautiful!’ And she is. I am a much better person for having known her.
Returning to a new school year last August felt different. My heart was struggling. Questioning my purpose, I grabbed my belongings after what had been a challenging first week back. I pushed open the door of the building to find a very big 6th grader who, without any hesitation, ran into my arms to share that same hug I always remember. Josie came to check on all of us—to make sure WE were okay. To remind us that we can do hard things. Just like her. While she navigates 6th grade without us, the bond she shares with others is stronger than ever. And I am so grateful.
Thank you to my incredible Special Education teacher Stacy S. for first, trusting me with your treasured student and second, for all of your guidance. Another shout out to my fellow associate Jill K. Without you, I would have fallen many times. Your smiles and hugs were everything.Josie is blessed with a family who loves her, challenges her, encourages her, celebrates her. Follow Josie on Instagram @catfishwithketchup and laugh, cry, and celebrate Josie with me.Now, go give someone a BIG hug!#downsyndromeawareness#belikejosie