Dressed in tutus and sparkly tiaras, the little ones waited, noses pressed hard against the glass, feet covered in leather slippers, and pink tights hugging little legs.
They waited for their dreams to become a reality—to see a real ballerina right in front of them, spinning and leaping high into the air, toes stretched and pointed, legs extended in a graceful arabesque.
They waited for their dreams to become a reality—to see a real ballerina right in front of them.
Steeped in anticipation for weeks, the adventure to Meet the Ballerinas was just as exciting for parents as it was for children. Moms couldn’t keep the grins off their faces as they came into the theater’s rehearsal studio, remembering themselves as little girls holding their ballerina baby dolls tightly as they fell asleep—dreaming of stage lights and arms full of flowers, bowing before an adoring audience. And then the big reveal came—in all of it’s almost-too-good-to-be-true glory.
The ballerinas and princes of the nation’s most prestigious ballet company entered the rehearsal studio.
But much to the surprise of the children, the ballet dancers were not dressed in glittery costumes and perfectly applied makeup. No, they were in exercise clothes—ready to work hard, to sweat, and to push themselves to the furthest point possible. They were there to work on their craft and prepare for their upcoming performance of the Sleeping Beauty ballet.
The dancers smiled kindly and waved at the wide-eyed children who stared at them, grinning widely behind the studio windows. But the dancers’ demeanor remained focused, serious.
There was work to be done—the work of creating art.
There is a wonderful scene in a novel I love. The book is called I Have Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. It follows a community of Impressionist painters in Paris in the early 1900s. In the book, one of the up-and-coming Impressionist painters, Mary Cassatt, was looking at a masterpiece of a ballet dancer painted by a fellow famous painter, Edgar Degas. Without thinking, Mary commented,
Your ballerina is perfect. You painted this and made it look so—I don’t know—effortless!
Degas responded in horror. He was mortified by her comment, which was seemingly benign to her.
Don’t say stupid things! It’s not effortless. Art is work! Do you know how I agonized over that piece? Do you know what I suffered to see it come into reality? It’s not effortless. No. Art is never effortless.
So much of early parenting is consumed by the negativity of how hard it is to get sleep, how challenging it is to find time for ourselves, how frustrating it is to constantly be touched and needed. On social media, very few parents seem to celebrate the beauty of the early childhood parenting years: the moments that take our breath away and make our hearts a little tender, the moments that maybe even leave a sentimental sob in our throats. Rather, many parent’s comments drip with disdain at the difficulty of their behind-the-scenes moments in the early years of parenting. Moms look with longing at the older moms who made it through, the ones whose children are now grown and have turned out successfully. Meanwhile, we are still deep in potty training and nose-wiping.
We had over 100 moms, dads and children participate in the Meet the Ballerinas adventure. We as parents wanted the children to learn a life lesson here. We wanted them to see a different side of the art of ballet: not just glitz and glamour of the end product, but the sweat and work the ballet dancers put in. The children needed to see firsthand that these great dancers didn’t get to be the most prestigious ballerinas in the nation without a great deal of effort—even pain.
But the ballerinas hold fast to the knowledge that there will be a time when they take the stage and show their masterpiece to the world. And so they smile now—not just then, but now—in the midst of taping up their gnarled toes and putting on their sweaty rehearsal clothes. They know what’s to come, and so they smile.
There is so much joy to be found in the work of parenting. We can’t compare our behind-the-scenes now to someone else’s highlights reel. Nothing worth having is easily gained, not for parents, not for kids, not even for ballerinas!
What we can do is measure our days in smiles and giggles, in hugs and kisses, in taking time out of the busyness of life to make epic memories with our children.
At the end of our adventure, the ballet company invited all of our Adventure Clubs families to join them inside the studio for a performance of Act IV from the ballet. The kids were sitting right in front of the dancers, exposed to the sheer talent and total beauty of their art.
Walking out, I asked my daughter, age six, what she saw, what she learned. She was quiet for a moment, her little tiara sparkling in the afternoon sun. Finally, she broke her thoughtful reverie and said, “Mom. Being a ballerina is hard work. But at the end of all that hard work, the ballerinas made something really, really beautiful!”
That’s right, darling. That’s right. I thought, drinking in that priceless moment and taking her hand in mine. Life lesson accomplished—for her and for me.
Parenting is art.
And Degas, you captured it perfectly: Art is never effortless. But it is beautiful.