I recently ran again across the term sprezzatura, which in its original sense (a la Castiglione) has fake-y connotations. But the definition suggested by the context had more to do with doing something difficult, doing it well, and making it look easy. Wiktionary calls sprezzatura “The art of doing a difficult task so gracefully, that it looks effortless.” You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Unto each woman are her own difficulties, and each difficulty presents the opportunity to respond with grace or to, well, throw a tantrum.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I muster the troops for church. The church behavior situation had reached a fairly manageable point. Then we moved. Then we had another baby. Since then, I’ve been referring to my church attendance as “worship wars,” “the Sunday circus,” etc. We’ve discussed this here before; you know how it is. As the action rages and ebbs, there are glimpses of victory, but the skirmishes continue.
So: I can stumble into the narthex looking as dragged-out and desperate as I sometimes feel by that early juncture of a Sunday morn, or I can smile and ask that first-time mom, with genuine interest, how her baby is doing. Likewise, I can allow my frustration during the service to be broadcast loud in exasperated posture, or I can arrange the children and strategize the in-church guidance to be as minimally distracting as possible under the circumstances. (I know; sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control. Recently, I hauled out a two-year-old who was repeating, none too quietly all the way down the center aisle, “Don’t ‘pank me! Don’t ‘pank me!”)
When you hear a flawless performance, you know that it was preceded by hours of practice and thousands of wrong notes. When you behold the work of a Renaissance master, you know that beneath the familiar masterpiece are the scratches of a dozen sketches. When you encounter an elegant argument or a worthy poem, you know that for every extant line, at least twice as many were discarded.
As it is in the other arts, so it is in the art of childrearing. For every manner that’s remembered at Grandma’s house, for every instance of good behavior in the grocery store, even for every time that they remember to put their clothes in the hamper—in short for every occasion on which they fail to act like the fallen little creatures that they are—there’s a backstory of blood, sweat, and tears.
Taking large quantities* of young children to church by oneself is difficult. Everyone already knows that. What everyone doesn’t already know is that there’s also deep joy (sometimes immediate, sometimes eventual, sometimes ultimate) in taking large quantities of children to church. And of having large quantities of children, in general. There’s a masterpiece in the works—a majesty well-concealed in these small unruly people, who are after all no mere mortals. Right now the melody is marred by many a wrong note, and the portrait is lost in the scribbles. But one day—oh, one Day!—the glory of this humble and humbling endeavor will be revealed. And it will be dazzling.
*I know, I know—with only four, I’m an amateur. But I keenly feel what we often say hereabouts in bemused bewilderment: “There are just so many of them…”