Children fear clowns. I know this, because I was once a child and I hated them. Their grotesque grins always seemed to imply the threat “Get happy or else Clowny-Clown will eat your frowny-frown”. Does my coulrophobia (aka fear of freakin’ clowns) in any way influence the way I parent my equally-coulrofreakin’ 4 year old daughter? Absolutely. Do I take preventative measures to protect her frowny-frown from the clowny-clowns? Heck, no! And I blame my father.
My dad is what is known in the clinical psychological community as “a sick puppy.” He caught wind of my coulrofreak (which I shared with my siblings) when all three of us totally lost it, during a fun outing to the movies. The movie in question was the beloved family classic “Poltergeist”, a heart-warming tale of children fighting for their very souls against unspeakable evil. A lot of people remember that movie as the one where the little girl is somehow eaten by her TV. To us, it will always be the one where the boy is nearly strangled by a hideous clown doll with arms resembling candy cane anacondas. I remember the screams. I also remember my dad’s laughter.
After the “Poltergeist” incident, my sister removed the stained glass clown face decoration that hung in our kitchen window. Its carnivorous grin loomed over the view of our back yard like a satanic sun. It clearly had to go. But the clown face itself was the least of our worries.
It couldn’t have been gone for more than a few hours before Dad exhumed that sun catcher from its hiding place at the bottom of the junk drawer. And what did he do with it? Nothing. He simply waited for us to notice it missing from the drawer, wonder where it went, and slowly come unglued. In the week that followed, the clown face went on a grand tour of terror. It was found under my brother’s pillow, in my notebook, shuffled into a stack of comic books, and swinging from the toilet handle - meeting with much freak out fanfare.
My daughter doesn’t need “Poltergeist” or a satanic sun catcher to convince her that clowns are loathsome creatures. She’s always hated them; they are her natural enemies. When confronted with one, she clings to me with white-knuckled fists, but the ancient layers of sick-puppy-inflicted scar tissue armoring my heart is impenetrable. She does not understand this yet, but we simply cannot let the clowns win. We do not avoid clown encounters. We even deliberately sought out and infiltrated the clown-infested hell known as Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin. “Suck it up, kid! It’s us against the clowns,” I tell her as I untangle my hair from her fingers and toes.
We’re making progress, though. During a recent outing to a local ice cream shop, we were broadsided by the presence of a hateful clown. Mabel spotted him right away, in the banquet room, making balloon animals for crying children. “The party’s over there,” Mabel said, gesturing as if to push the banquet room into the Atlantic Ocean, “I don’t want that guy over here.” Despite several reassurances, Mabel remained wide-eyed and sullen. She somehow made herself smaller, nestling into the shadow of my partner Kate. After the clown was gone and the danger passed, Mabel ordered the Clown Sundae—an ice cream effigy, complete with pointy waffle cone hat– and brilliantly ate the clowny-clown with her proverbial frowny-frown. “I ate the clown,” she said, laughing.
Once her nerve is good and strong, we’re going to go shopping for a clown-face sun catcher to hide in Grandpa’s Christmas present. Because we cannot let the clowns win.
Photo by Amanda Hirsch.