My toddler Budgie loves to clap. He claps whenever he sees or hears audiences cheer on TV. He claps and goes ‘Yay!’ when he hears sirens. He applauds when he sees others cheering around him. He even claps when other people are laughing. It’s the cutest thing ever. He’s the ultimate enthusiastic fan of everything, and it’s pretty much the best way of living as far as he’s concerned.
But my favorite runaway clapping moment is when he sees himself in the full-length mirror at home. He doesn’t recognize himself yet, but he gets excited to see his reflection and begins smiling and clapping. This only makes him laugh more, which leans to more laughing, which leads to more clapping…and soon he can’t contain himself and turns into a little ball of claps and laughs.
I was watching him clap and cheer with himself one morning — and getting more and more hyped and excited in the process — as I was getting ready for work. At some point I stopped and joined in, and we were both cheering and clapping at ourselves in the mirror, which REALLY got him excited. (He loves when people join in with him.) We clapped and cheered some more, ind of ad nauseum in the way that toddlers are. (“Again! Again!”)
At first it was just kind of funny, that kind of ‘Oh, how cute!’ moment you get as a parent. But as we cheered some more at ourselves in the mirror, I felt impatient, and then weirdly embarrassed. But if there is one thing I’ve learned, weird embarrassment is like my heart’s code for “Keep going, this might be good for you if you break through.”
And so I did, and then I felt something else: sheer delight. How wonderful to be celebrating everything and nothing in particular! Me and my child clapping and laughing together in the mirror was like the best self-affirmation ever, My toddler’s his own best life coach right now! Heck, he’s my best life coach! Who doesn’t want the joy and love that comes when you clap and cheer yourself on?
As we were both laughing and clapping with ourselves in the mirror, I admit: life felt really good. I felt really good, full of happy spirits and a radiant optimism that is often sadly rare for me now, even being post-post-partum depression.
In a strange way, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt such unbridled, enthusiastic joy about myself. Maybe since I was Budge’s age, actually? Sure, I’ve had some ‘Huzzah, me!’ and ‘You go, girl!’ type of moments — but those usually came as the result of accomplishment or achievement. But feeling crazy joy for simply just being alive? Just existing as a human being? I can’t remember.
So feeling rampant, runaway en-soi joy again with Budge, in this goofball everyday way, was its own odd little spiritual awakening. And it made me squeeze and hug my son in my arms just a bit longer, grateful for this small gift. Then he demanded “Down!”, threw his toothbrush in the garbage and pooped his diaper, which brought the moment pretty down-to-earth as earth gets. (Ah, life!)
Still, what was so wonderful about this moment — more than the feeling of joy itself — was experiencing it at the side of my child, and experiencing it together. This is the configuration of my spiritual reality now — most of my growth as a moral, emotional and relational (for lack of a better word) being now is likely yoked, in part, to my relationship with Budgie. Of course I will have growth and experiences outside my role as a mother — I really sure hope I do! But being a parent is where I’m feel like a novice, constantly having to adapt and shift and try new things — and then let them go when they serve their purpose. Which is kind of the definition of Zen practice, really. It requires me to live in alignment with what I say are my values, because even at a young age, little kids have a good BS meter and can sniff out hypocrisy. Raising my child is where the most room for growth lies, at least in the near foreseeable future.
It’s also where the stakes are highest and most concrete. I could never achieve mastery in the art of writing and storytelling, sorely disappoint myself and feel like a failure. I might never see Antarctica and go to my grave feeling some sadness at missing out on fulfilling a strange yet persistent longing in my heart. I can live with those losses, absences and unfulfilled wishes, even if they’d fill me melancholy. I can live with melancholy and let it make life poignant and beautiful. But failing my child in an essential, permanently damaging way would just kill me.
But hopefully — if I’m good enough — he will grow, and I will (hopefully) guide and shepherd and love and cherish him as I myself grow more in love and wisdom. (Hopefully.) And we will both cheer each other on. (Hopefully.)
Now, in the mornings when I’m done brushing his teeth, we take a moment to clap, smile and ‘Yay!’ together in the mirror. It’s a great start to the day, for me at least. Being a toddler, I’m sure he will grow bored with this little routine at some point. But for now, he loves it. He leads the way, and I follow, clapping and smiling and cheering together.