Wednesday, January 23, 2008


When we adopted our middle daughter her medical file was riddled with horrible sounding conditions, but with all the diagnosis attached, there was one missing: coulrophobia.

We first encountered this condition when she was undergoing her first of six hand surgeries at Shriner's Hospital back when she was only 3 years old. This particular hospital has an enormous rec room for the children, filled with not only toys, but basketball hoops, Foosball, air hockey, books, movies, video games and craft supplies. She especially enjoyed Thursday afternoon bingo, where she was often a big winner.

However, as we played in the room one afternoon, she suddenly stopped her play and walked up to a portrait hanging on the wall. The portrait was entitled "The Magnificent Koko." It was a portrait of a clown.

"He's ugly," she stated, her eyes wide with horror, "so ugly."

"Don't you think he's funny?" I asked, a bit suspicous about "funny" when, in truth, a portrait of a man with a painted face, red nose, and rainbow hair, staring gently at a flower, was a bit creepy. "He's a clown."

"I don't like clowns."

Now, this can be a problem when you're a kid in the hospital. Somewhere in humanity's history, someone, perhaps a clown marketer, came up with the idea that children love clowns. This particular hospital had these portraits all over the place -- Koko looking at a flower, Bonzo holding a poodle, Buttercup wiping a tear, and, of course, Puddles with his umbrella. As we walked the hospital after her surgery (pulling her in a wagon), we'd stop by various pictures and ask her opinion.

"What about this Minnie Mouse?"

"She's cute!"

"Mike from "Monsters,Inc"?"

"I like him!"

"Puddles the clown?"

"Hate him."


"Hate him."

Several weeks later, we visited the hospital again, for a check up. The nurse informed us that it was our lucky day. A troop of Shriners were making their yearly visit from Tennessee, all of them dressed as clowns. We scurried through the rest of our appointments, hoping to leave before the onslot.

Unfortunately, just as we were headed out, our daughter toddling ahead of us, in they streamed. She stopped in horror as not 1, but 25 clowns came waltzing (literally) into the rec room. She was the only child in there, so they all made a beeline (literally) for her.

"Hi there little girl," the fastest of the creatures bellowed down to her, his booming voice not in the least matching his painted face (and the stubble from his beard poking through the makeup!) "Want me to make you a balloon animal?"

"AAAAAHHHHHH!" She screamed in terror and headed toward me, informing me that we needed to sneak out the building -- immediately.

Needless to say, we don't often visit the circus.

Well, recently, we've learned that she's not the only one. Coulrophobia is quite common, in fact, so common it actually has a name! A recent study done by the University of Sheffield has confirmed what my daughter has always believed. 250 children were interviewed about clowns, and all of them (all of them!) hate clowns, and expressed a fear of them. Apparently, clowns are not the tactic to take when trying to comfort a sick child!

Not too long ago, though, my daughter shared her thoughts about clowns with me. We were walking at the park, and I found her insights very touching...

"Mom," she said, showing all her 5 years of wisdom, "I've been thinking. I think that a clown is just a person in a costume with lots of make up."

"Of course he is, honey." I replied, "Did you think he was some kind of different species or something."

"Of course I did. How can that be human?"

"Well, now that you know it's just a person, are you still scared?"

"Yes. Aren't you?"

Maybe I should be.


sandra mae said...

I was so afraid of clowns when I was little, too! I think clowns should also go in the category of mall santas and maybe even easter bunnies: why do we insist that kids need to go near (let alone sit on the laps of) scary looking non-humanish characters?!
I love reading your thoughts!

truthfinder said...

Please don't dismiss ALL clowns as evil. I'm a character clown -- that is, a clown who portrays a character such as a cute animal -- and in "clown school" we were taught to approach children properly, and to back away slowly if a little one seemed apprehensive. No one,large OR small appreciates an "in your face" aggressive clown. We were also taught that certain types of clown faces (like whiteface with lots of harsh black lines and yellow teeth) could frighten children, and we were given tips on how to avoid scaring kids. My clown, "Glory-Bee", has appeared at school programs and Vacation Bible School. To the best of my knowledge, "no children have been frightened or harmed in the production of these events".
Love your blog!

Rob A. said...

That's funny! My Mother is a clown in Missouri named Glory-Bee!