Monday, October 21, 2013

October, 2011 Down Syndrome Awareness Month... Day 11

(Day 10 either wasn't written or was lost... quite typical.)

Just Josh…

(The amazing, compassionate and wonderfully gifted kindergarten teacher)
Stephanie Morneault led into today’s post with her comment yesterday. She and I (and many others) worked hard that year. We didn't want Josh labeled before he had a chance to prove himself. We wanted... just Josh... just another eager 6 y/o with a runny nose and a huge need to learn the rules.

But this post isn’t about kindergarten. It’s about a girl. A very special girl. She’s not special in the way that
Josh is special. She doesn’t have Down Syndrome or any other special needs that I’m aware of (although, ALL children have their very own special needs, in my opinion). She just has a very special heart. Her heart is very good. Her name is Riley.

Josh and Riley met in kindergarten. They had an instant connection. One day at drop-off, I watched them together for quite a while. They were sitting quietly at a table, working together. Riley was ever so patiently writing letters and numbers and encouraging Josh to copy hers. If he didn't do it correctly, she'd try and try again. She even did some hand over hand.

There were 12 or so other loud kindergartners playing around them, as it was not quiet time, or work time. But, they didn't hear or care... they were busy building a friendship. My eyes welled as I looked at his amazing, compassionate, wonderfully talented teacher. Her eyes were welling too. She said something to the affect… “it’s just what they do”.

I think my most favorite memory of Riley tho (and I have many) took place one evening at a baseball game. With 4 kids playing ball, we spend a LOT of time at the little league field. Riley was there…

Josh was swinging and a couple of ‘big kids’ were swinging beside him. They were teasing him, asking him questions that they knew he couldn’t answer… and then laughing at his words (or lack thereof). I heard the whole thing, waiting for my time to step in and give those boys a piece of my mind. But, I didn’t have to. Riley was there.

She went right up one side of those big kids and down the other. She told them they were mean and they should know better. She told them they shouldn’t pick on people and that he had Down Syndrome and couldn’t talk very well. Then she said it… “he’s just Josh and he’s my friend”.

We did it... Mrs. Morneault and I (and many others). We succeeded in helping others to see him as "just Josh". Riley saw it. Those boys learned it (and have been super sweet to Josh ever since, by the way).

Riley's mom has since told me that Riley isn't at all concerned about the prom in the years to come... because she has Josh and they will go together. Now, I don't expect Riley to escort Josh to the prom, nor do I expect her to be around every corner... but I do know they have something special. Something that this mother's heart cherishes... a friendship.

I must add, Josh has made many wonderful and lasting friendships at school. I would like to name them one by one and I do NOT want to hurt any feelings by not doing that. So many of them are special... he really does have a fabulous class. One of the teachers told me once "they own him". I didn't quite know what that meant at the time, but I'm coming to realize as time flies by that... they DO own him. They encourage him, stand up for him, help him, include him and yes... get just as frustrated with him as they do with their other friends.

After all... he's 'just Josh'. 

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