Wide-eyed wonder and unmitigated fear seem to be the two reactions children have to the world about them. A few years ago, I decided that for gifts throughout the year, I would give my nieces and nephews experiences instead of toys. Take them places they wouldn’t normally go, and share knowledge and fun along the way. In 2004, when my niece was four, I took her to the circus, the big one, three rings, cotton candy, sno-cones, and clowns, let us not forget the clowns. She was four and I was forty, and neither of us had ever been to a circus. We went alone, just the two of us. If you haven’t been to a circus lately, let me explain the pre-game show for you. The clowns all stand around the edge of the arena, and if you have purchased a program, they will autograph it for you.
At forty years old, the prospect of visiting the clowns was high on my list, but my four year old counterpart…well let’s say she was less than excited. Ultimately a very kind, very patient, and very funny clown approached slowly. He towered over both of us at a height of six foot four but my niece, who clung to my arm, stood her ground. As he approached, he shrunk , speaking to her, crouching as he came. When finally he reached us, he was duck-walking at her height. With a glance at me, he produced a daisy from behind his back and held it out to her. She took it cautiously and buried herself in my side. The clown, Dean, told her simply, “If you want to come say hi to me, I’ll be right over here.” After he left, we sat while she gathered her courage, she asked if we could go see Dean again. He acted delighted to see her and she held out her program. Dean signed with a flourish and held out his hand. My niece shook it tentatively and grabbed her book. There was a strange sense of awe in her eyes as she looked first at the signature, then back at Dean. When we turned to find our seats, another little girl was hiding behind her mom. My niece held out the daisy to the girl and told her to go see Dean. “He’s nice,” she said.