Birthdays and Clowns
People often complain about their jobs. If it’s not about the hours, or the physical demands, it’s the supervisor being mean or the coworkers acting in a toxic manner. I hear these unpleasant comments every day. I’m not impressed. The most difficult job in the world is raising a child, and we all do it with nary a whimper. Why is that?
I intend to break ourselves of that habit. I intend to loudly complain about the travails of fatherhood. In particular about the inordinate amount of time, effort, and money that we spend on arranging the birthday parties that these little stinkers take for granted. I was lucky if I got a cookie with no candles; now parents spend hundreds of dollars on elaborate entertainment. A new industry has been formed. Lots of people make a living making sure that your children won’t be bored for a couple of hours. Long ago I got one present; today they’re disappointed if there are less than twelve.
Why do we try so hard? Because other parents may be trying harder, that’s why. God forbid that our child will feel less important than little Madison down the street. We’re all into self-esteem these days (I never had any self-esteem; my parents would have probably spanked me had they sensed that I was developing any). And into outdoing our friends and neighbors. Of course.
So when my time came to celebrate my children’s birthdays I caved in. We would have a party, and there would be guests and a cake. OK; ice cream also. But we would be different. I would search high and low for some form of entertainment that departed from the game pits with cheap pizza; the skating rinks; the visiting magicians. We were Garrigas. We had to stand out.
Our daughters’ birthdays are clustered around late Fall and early Winter. When September came around I reluctantly began to pay attention to my wife’s nagging.
“What are we going to do for their birthdays?”
I’ll think of something.
“You always say that. The venues fill up quickly. We need to decide now.”
There will be no venues. We need something different.
“They don’t like your ideas. They want to be like all of the other kids. I can call the pizza place…”
We are Garrigas. There will be no pizza.
“It’s late September!”
I’ll think of something.
As it always happens when we find ourselves slowly getting painted into a corner, God had a plan. Into my exam room came Mrs. O’Reilly. A sweet, kind, intelligent woman who had been widowed a few years earlier. She was short, moderately overweight, had a head full of white hair, and liked to read Jane Austen and Dickens. The classic grandmother if there ever was one, except she had no grandchildren. This day she seemed a bit less cheerful that usual.
Talk to me.
“I’ve been through a lot. Very tough the last few months.”
Tell me about it.
She was right. Her only son had recently died of AIDS. This very devout woman had found out about his sexuality and his (at that time) untreatable illness a few months prior. Without hesitation she took him and any of his needy friends into her home. She drove to doctors and tended to his every need until the inevitable infections broke him down. She was left alone with a bunch of bills.
“But I decided that something positive had to come out of this.”
I never cease to marvel at how many people have the capacity to develop this attitude. If it had been me in that situation I’d be angry and close to being a basket case.
How are you going to do this?
“I’ve become a clown. I took several courses on humor in medicine. I decided that I’d be good at making sick people laugh. It helps the healing. I joined a clown association. I take training every week.”
I felt a mixture of pity, and compassion, and a lot of love. Then a brilliant idea came to me.
Do you do children’s parties?
“I could. I have never done them before; I usually dress up to see people in hospitals, or friends who are ill. But I’m sure that I can deal with children.”
It was all set. We had a clown for a birthday party, which is something the kids wanted. I had found a different clown, and I was helping a woman who needed to feel validated, so I got what I wanted. My wife did not get what she had hoped for.
“Are you kidding me?”
No. It will be great. You should have seen her; her life was a wreck and now she has found peace and direction.
“She’s old. She doesn’t have any experience with children. I feel bad for the poor lady, but you can help her some other way. Take her to the hospital. Bring her to your office. But children…”
She will do well. She told me that her nieces loved her clown outfit.
“Her nieces love her. Your daughter does not know her. We still have time to call this other clown who did Megan Hamilton’s party!”
I already booked my patient. And I paid her.
“How much does she charge?”
She does not. She gives everything to the Humor in Medicine people. I felt bad for her; I gave her twice the usual clown rate.
“We’re paying twice the going rate for an inexperienced…?”
This is my way of telling her to shut up and that the discussion is over. She walked away carrying the burden and sad experience of many years of trusting me, only to have to pick up the pieces later on.
I wish that I could tell you that Mrs. O’Reilly (Bubbles the clown) was a rousing success. That was not the case. Following are some of the comments that the children made to me, in a voice loud enough for anyone to hear, as Bubbles tried to gain their attention.
“Where is the clown?”
“But she’s an old lady!”
“You said there would be entertainment. Where is it?”
“This is not funny.”
Followed by the statement that is every parent’s nightmare.
I wanted to tell them that the one time that I told my father that I was bored he pulled out a two thousand page encyclopedia and ordered me to read it stem to stern; that he’d be checking on my progress. And when I tried the same comment with my mother she brought out a bucket, some soap, and a mop and asked me to wash all the floors. Not only for that Saturday, but for every Saturday for as long as I lived at home. I learned to never, ever be bored again.
Instead I took Bubbles aside, five minutes after her performance started.
It’s not working out.
“I have more material.”
The kids stood up and began to wander about the house. No audience was left.
It’s OK. I have a piñata in the garage. You can leave. Here’s another contribution for the Humor in Medicine group.
I gave her a large bill.
Thanks for coming in. I’ll see you in the office.
My daughter had lived through my unusual behaviors in the past. She did OK. The children went to the piñata (another story on that later). They did OK. My wife, that saintly woman, did not give me a look or say “I told you so.” I did not learn my lesson. Someday we’ll talk about the orange peel man.