We missed the first Clown Day. But we heard all about it. We dumped Oscar with his grandparents and had a few days away – went to Melbourne, saw a Patti Smith concert, walked miles each day, drank on rooftop bars, reminded each other that we did things like this only before we had a child. It was his first school holiday break and the chance for him to go away with his grandparents and cousin and to meet some others from the extended family was far more appealing to him than anything we were doing. And just as well.
When I returned from the Melbourne getaway Oscar was non-stop talking about Clown Day. He’d put on a show at the holiday home with the grandparents and others. He’d charged everyone $2 to get in (the coins were just flat stones they had found on the beach earlier that day). He had a piece of driftwood he was using to play “air guitar” and he told a couple of jokes and stories and performed to a crowd of a dozen or so. He was nervous, he had said afterword. But it had been a triumph – and not just as far as he was concerned. We saw some video clips and photos. Our little performer was off. Flying.
So, since Easter he’s been plotting Clown Day # 2. He’s even told us there will be four clown days in total – and then that’s it. Whatever he doesn’t know about performing for a crowd he’s already learned that the key is to always leave them wanting more. After seeing Clown Day # 2 I have every confidence he’ll get two more shows under his belt with audiences flocking for both.
For weeks we tried to get an understanding of what Clown Day was, of what it would be. Would he be doing tricks? Would there be songs? Jokes? What was the format? We tried drafting a run-sheet.
Balloon animals were a must and a friend that was staying in the lead up taught herself how to make them with the help of an iPhone and a YouTube tutorial (thanks Jane!) I was drafted in at the last minute to juggle. My misspent youth had been waiting for the call-up, I taught myself to juggle as one of several distractions from University a near quarter-of-a-century ago. I can’t remember a great deal of what James Belich was prattling on about with regard to the New Zealand Land Wars, nor what Rod Alley was trying to say on the wider topic of International Policy, but how to keep three balls in the air…that was on instant dial-up; straight back in the rotation.
Poppa Tony was going to be the sidekick, Oscar’s Sideshow Bob. Actually he was named Buster. And Oscar the Clown was Buttercup. The names, some of you will have guessed, arriving on the back of a recent Toy Story fascination.
Poppa T couldn’t juggle – so that was me into the line-up. But he could wear a wig and a red nose and Oscar figured that was about all he’d need to do. Actually he was brilliant support for Oscar, singing, blowing bubbles, keeping the crowd engaged, keeping Oscar on task.
We don’t do things quietly in our house. That’s largely my fault. But for the last half-decade I’ve had a co-conspirator. The other set of grandparents were down for a visit, a couple of friends from school and daycare were invited, other friends from other walks in and of life; some friends of ours were even allowed on the list. The list then grew. And so did the preparations, the libations, and, for mum and dad at least, the anxiety.
Clown Day # 2 took place on a Sunday morning at 11am. There were nearly two dozen people in the audience. We pushed the table back, put cushions on the floor, made a makeshift stage. Katy made goodie bags and there was party food for the adults and the kids. But first there had to be a show. And despite all our attempts to plot and probe we had no idea what the show would be – or if it would happen.
The night before Oscar was zen-like, I told him he needed a good night’s sleep and it was already late. “Yes, Clown Day # 2 coming up – tomorrow!” he said. Then closed his eyes. That was that.
In the weeks leading up we kept asking what would be in the show. We kept wondering how the show would work – if it would work. We wanted to have full confidence in Oscar and Clown Day # 2 but we were also getting nervous, probably because we had created the expectation around it – party food and gift-bags for the visiting kids. We had ideas we were trying to put in his head of what a ‘show’ constituted, there needed to be movement and music but also variation. We were starting to build it up in our minds. But hearing him so calm I figured – somehow – that he had it nailed. What was a ‘clown day’ anyway? And were three and four and five year olds really going to care? A bit of music, a balloon or two, some dancing and singing, chips and lollies…they’d be happy with what they got surely.
The morning of the show he told me “I don’t want to do it – I want it cancelled. I’m not ready!” The full rollercoaster of emotions completed its triple corkscrew and double-loop.
I told him it wasn’t really an option to cancel. People were coming. If he really didn’t want to do it that was another thing – but if he was just a bit worried and nervous then that was good; “that means you care”, I told him – reaching for wisdom, settling for platitudes.
The old run-sheet was pushed to the side and he decided he was going to do some jokes, tell some stories, dance, since songs. He told me a few songs he would do. I halved that amount and loaded a playlist.
There was circus music as people took their seats. Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” was the curtain-raiser, Oscar moving from ukulele to drum-sticks for an air-drumming finale. Then it was to The LEGO Movie’s theme song, “Everything Is Awesome” as the official show-opener. He and Poppa T danced and clapped and waved the wand to produce magic bubbles, there was the joke about the pig going to the hospital (to get some oinkment, or “oink-Oink-OINKMENT” as Osc adlibbed) and a couple of knock-knock jokes too.
Songs about sticky waffles and dancing like a ninja, songs about cat parties and wobbling like jelly on a plate. More jokes and all of this in a big Performance voice. He welcomed the guests, thanked them for coming, threw to his assistant, called for his dad to do the juggling (I was pulling double-duty, providing the music cues and fades too; pressure!)
And the only thing that was almost an issue was Oscar momentarily forgetting the ‘always leave them wanting more’ mantra. His show – a full twenty minutes, maybe slightly more – had been a blur and he wanted it to keep going. No meltdown though, there was party-food and the little kids were sitting in awe, mouths wide, impressed that Buttercup in his clown-face, pyjamas and suspenders was at the helm of it all – whatever it all was!
The party carried on, as parties do. And when everyone departed – taking nothing but photos and goodie bags, leaving nothing but footprints and popcorn – Oscar sat alone in his room. He had the DVD “Sing!” on – his favourite. A film he had recently banned himself from (“I’m taking a break”). How fitting that he chose to return to it on the day of his big show, his impersonations of all of the characters, his ability to remember almost every line and to seamlessly nail the multi-part supercut of the auditions was surely his first, overt Clown Day training.
“Daddy”, he said, his eyes fading as he spoke, “is it nearly night-time?” It was 1pm. But it had been a big day for our little clown.
“I want Clown Day # 3 to happen in two weeks”, he said, rejuvenated after a half-hour dead-stare in front of the screen.
We’re going to push it out a little longer than that if we can. Until then, of course, our hearts remain swollen with pride.
Postscript: He’s currently working on Clown Days # 3-6 and tells us there’ll be Clown Days up to # 12!