Joy is the essence of early childhood, and I have the great fortune of swimming in it three full days a week with nine three- to five-year olds and 70+ grandmas and grandpas in an assisted living facility.
As I was thinking about this topic, I realized that I know what joy feels like but defining it with words is not so easy for me. I looked up the definition online…”a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” That is an adequate definition, but joy can be so much more than that. Here are some synonyms: delight, treat, thrill, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture, and joie de vivre. They say the native peoples of the North have many words for snow (which is simplistic and not fully accurate), but maybe we caregivers need many many words for joy. Joy/happiness is different from joy/thrill or joy/rapture! And, what about joy experienced alone versus joy experienced in the company of another?
I have noticed that, for me, joy seems to increase exponentially when it is experienced and shared in the company of others. It becomes a burst of energy that is a salve for the soul, and perhaps lifts us all up in some way. Come to think of it, I do believe that this is what fuels me and lifts me through out the day so that I may be my very best with these people, young and old, who are counting on me.
Two recent examples of joy shared with others at Magnolia Blossom come to mind. First, depending on the weather, we spend the first one to two hours of our day outside. (During the warmer months, we have been known to stay out all day. Oh, joy/exhilaration!) On one particular day, a preschool graduate, was spending the day with us. He pulled a hay bale over to a tree that he had been climbing, but his 3-year-old friend could not begin to climb himself, but wanted to so badly. We have a rule that you have to be able to get yourself in the tree on your own if you want to climb it. Well, the graduate was boosting his friend up into the tree via the hay bale. The look of determination and joy/delight on their faces was palpable. (I turned a blind eye to our rule, by the way.) When the graduate’s young friend made it into the crook of the tree and saw the play yard from this vantage point for the first time, the look on his face was pure unadulterated joy/euphoria, bliss. He was absolutely shining and the three adults who happened to be standing by got a big jolt of it, too. It filled my tank for the rest of the day and makes me smile, still.
Every morning after our play outside, we walk through the halls and look for grandmas and grandpas to greet:
Good morning to you,
And sweet be thy day.
May angels surround you,
Their silent watch keep.
Good day, good day,
Good day, good day.
While we are singing, I imagine angels surrounding the elders. I imagine the children as a wave of joy and love streaming through the halls. This is truly what they are! One day, we approached Grandma Louise in the dementia unit. She was moving slowly down the hall with her walker, head down. We circled around her and sang our morning song to her. Her eyes got misty, she smiled, and she put her hand on her heart. She was visibly moved with joy/delight and gratitude. In fact, for me, joy and gratitude are inextricable. This moment reminded me how very important these children are to the grandmas and grandpas and how important my work is there. In fact, a visiting adult son told us that the songs that we bring to the dementia unit are the highlight of his mother’s day. The children bring her joy/gladness.
How blessed we all are to see the world through our children’s eyes, and to experience joy, in all its forms, in the simplest things. It sure makes me more joyful, and I am so thankful.
Marguerite Aichele-Smith is the lead teacher and owner at Magnolia Blossom Preschool at Harvest Homes in Portland, Oregon. She took the LifeWays training with her dear LifeWays sisters in Boulder in 2010/2011. Her life has been all the sweeter since.