After I dropped my oldest off at kindergarten today, I took my two little girls on a quick trip to the grocery store to buy a couple of last minute items. As you can probably expect, there is really no such thing as a “quick trip” to the grocery store with an infant and a two year old.
I started pushing the cart with the baby, and Goosie, my two year old, was running ahead of me, squealing at each item we passed by. Within the matter of about thirty seconds, she was filled with excitement over a Hallmark card, a coloring book, pineapples, and tampons. She really doesn’t discriminate much when it comes to grabbing things off the shelves.
We were at the store for nearly half an hour for a trip that could have been completed in under five minutes. But I didn’t mind. I enjoyed watching her enjoying her world. Watching her excitement. Watching her uninhibited display of joy.
And like most experiences of this nature, it made me both happy and sad. Happy over having the privilege of experiencing her childish joy first hand, and sad to know that it won’t last forever. Bittersweet is something I’ve come to know quite well since becoming a mom.
Finally we made it to the cash register and we paid for our items. (I let her get the coloring book, but made her put the card, pineapple, and tampons back.) And we walked to the car.
On the way home I started thinking about the joy I had witnessed. As adults, I think we put away emotions like that all too quickly, labeling them purview of youth. Most people would reject the idea of happiness as being the end goal in life, and we put so many more things ahead of it, some of them necessary and some of them not so necessary.
But I started to question those decisions. I started to wonder if joy was something much more important than I had ever realized because I started to wonder if true and pure joy was the result of wise mental choices rather than the hedonistic pursuit we often label it as.
For one, to experience joy means to live in the moment. Children do that. They have no choice. Their grey matter hasn’t evolved to the point of being able to look too far into the future. But we have that ability. We try to predict outcomes. We try to manipulate outcomes. We try to guess fate and probability and likelihood.
And at the same time, we live in the past, drudging up hurts, holding on to grudges, regretting decisions. Again, children don’t have many capabilities in that department; their past is much more limited, and depending upon their age, much of it is lost forever to that place where pre-verbal memories go to live out our days.
But while both of those are important for cultivating joy, I think what is most important is that children aren’t afraid of or inhibited from following what will fulfill them. How many times do we get ourselves bogged down in minutiae in order to cultivate an outward appearance of success? I think we all go about this in different ways, whether it is in following wealth or a certain lifestyle or trying to portray a certain image that doesn’t really make us happy in the end.
Kids follow what matters to them. They want their parents. They want their siblings and their friends. They want good food to eat; they want enjoyable things to occupy their time. They want to learn. They want to grow. They want to explore. They want to find kindness and compassion, and toddlers are hardwired to be helpful. They state what they feel. They don’t care if their decisions or their priorities are unpopular.
They simply are.
And of course, some of these traits have to be toned down as we enter adulthood, but most of them could carry on their full strength if we would just allow them to. If we would just force ourselves out of our minds and all of our perceived injustices and insufficiencies. If we stopped looking at all we believe we lack and instead look at what we have.
Of course, no adult is going to run up to tampons on a store shelf and start squealing with joy. But if we opened our eyes to all that is around us and start living in the moment and living for what really matters to us, I think we would find many more reasons to squeal.
There’s a whole world of lessons that I learn from my children, but this one... this lesson of joy... is perhaps the loudest in my ear. The lesson of joy is one that is best taught by those who know it best, and to find them all we have to do is look down at the little body we’re tripping over as we hurry on to complete our next task.
Amanda Knapp is a stay at home mom to her three little girls. She writes about motherhood and her observations on life on her blog, Indisposable Mama.