Sunday, February 9, 2014

Josie Up!

I’ve been stuck in middle school for decades! It is my job as a school counselor to help students through the daily challenges the world of middle school provides. It is a job I love and yet if truth be told, I often learn far more from my students than they learn from me.
One of those students was Josie. When Josie arrived at school I was worried for her. By all middle school standards Josie was a student who could have easily been a target for all the teasing, taunting and bullying the world of middle school offers, and yet she wasn’t.  Josie was small in stature, looking more like a fourth grader than a seventh grader. She had unruly wildly curly frizzy hair that looked liked she’d cut it herself with playschool scissors, 80’s style glasses and had speech challenges that left her words extremely difficult to understand. Her wardrobe and hygiene issues were a reflection more of her family economic challenges than a lack of care. However, in spite of her small stature and significant situational challenges, Josie’s spirit soared high.
Josie was a lover of story and each time I came to her class or she saw me in the hall she’d hug me,  smile up at me and say, “Tell me a story.” Some days Josie would arrive at my office, knock on the door, grab a photo of my mom and dad and say, “Tell me another story about them.”
One day as she left my office she approached a group of teachers standing in the hall. She walked right into the middle of their conversation, smiled and looked up at them with her hand outstretched and said, “I need a pencil.” However, as a result of her speech difficulty her words were initially incomprehensible to the teachers. They just stared at her while she stood perfectly still with her hand out. She didn’t repeat herself; she just waited. 
Kristie is the teacher all the students love. She’s creative and kind and as she looked into that smiling face, Josie’s words finally unscrambled in her brain and she quickly offered Josie a pencil. Josie smiled, nodded a thank you and continued down the hallway to her class.
Kristie is sometimes too kind and the ADD brain we share often gets us in trouble and there are times that Kristie finds herself bullied by those around her. So as I walked up to Kristie and she asked, “Who was that?” I quickly answered, “That was Josie. She knows how to get what she needs. Perhaps Kristie, we need to learn how to ‘Josie Up!’ sometimes.”  We laughed and “Josie Up!” became our mantra for overcoming the challenges our middle school world, ADD brain and daily life offer us. So when either of us was called to the principal’s office we’d look to each other and say “Josie Up Girl!”
As much as Josie loved to hear stories of my parents, my dad – a retired teacher, loved to hear stories of Josie. One day when I was with him in the rehab hospital as he was struggling through the process of gaining strength to get back home, he looked up at me with pain filled eyes, smiled and said, “I’d better Josie Up!”  He did and we got him home.

Three weeks after we got dad home, he died quietly surrounded by his family who adored him. He was freed from the pain in his body and my heart was broken. As I returned to school I wondered how I was going to get through each day and I wondered how I would ever tell Josie that my dad was gone.
When I returned to school I discovered that Josie had moved far away. She wouldn’t be there to smile at me and ask for a story. How would I get through the tough days ahead without Josie’s smile and spunk? And then I heard that ever-present, strong voice of my father whispering in my head, “Josie Up! Girl . . . you’ll be just fine.”
Sometimes life is hard and we just have to “Josie Up!”
(c) February 2014 Martha Reed Johnson
(stay tuned and see what happens when Josie meets Willie Claflin)