Mr. Peacock introduces me to Barb. Well, it isn’t really an introduction. He points at her and says, “she’s the school drug dealer.”
As an educational clown, I get to meet today’s youth on their turf. I am allowed – and sometimes invited– into their space.
I view it as a great privilege to be able to connect with them. To see the world through their eyes.
After all, most middle school kids and high school kids wouldn’t choose to hang out or share their stories with a 43-year-old mom-of-three. But when I’m dressed as an educational clown, that’s exactly what happens.
These kids are super-connected and have access to tons of information but that doesn’t make them any brainier about real-life. These students must navigate through stresses and worries, immense pressures, depression and anxiety, drugs, violence, nervousness, cockiness, independence and dependence.
So, when an educational clown – or, a group of educational clowns – pops in for a day at school, the colorful idiocy that I/we bring is welcomed by even the shiest and toughest of these kids.
These kids have stories that are still forming but who they are today is central to knowing who they may be tomorrow.
This is the next generation.
As such, I’ve chosen to write The Kids: Educational Clowning Series.
My first mini-portrait is of Barb, a high school student in Israel.
Barb Mr. Peacock, a 10th-grade narcissist, introduces me to Barb. Well, it isn’t really an introduction. He points at her and says, “she’s the school drug dealer.”
Barb is less than amused. She gives him that look. The look that says, “what a child.”
Barb’s first words to me are, “don’t believe anything he says.” She leans towards me to whisper her defense in my ear. Barb holds herself strong even though she seems annoyed by how she has just been described to a stranger, a stranger dressed as a clown with a rubber red nose. She speaks. Then walks away. --- At the back of the high school, the rebellious kids gather by a ping-pong table, which is not used for the paddle-and-ball game. They gather here to smoke cigarettes, talk about drugs, probably do drugs, and talk about alcohol and sex. They are teenagers, after all. This is their island to unload their stresses. When an educational clown saunters into their midst, the reactions are varied. While Mr. Peacock is full of big talk, Barb sits off to the side quietly. Still, her presence is felt. She sits on a rock, smoking or playing on her mobile phone. She has long hair. She has big glasses. Actually, her glasses are so big that in any other situation she’d be labelled a nerd. But she has a “don’t mess with me” halo.
She looks tough at first glance. Maybe second glance, too. My clown sees her as a girl in need of a bear hug. But I don’t hug her. I smile at her from a distance. She half smiles back.
I see Barb at recess breaks. She’s always in the same area, at the back of the school. Sometimes she’ll huddle with other teens in a cranny between the buildings. The cranny is the unofficial under-age smoking area. It is hidden from the security cameras trained on the ping-pong table area.
She doesn’t speak to me but she always makes eye contact. She always gives me a half smile. And I smile back. A big, goofy smile. Sometimes I’ll wave, too. I know I embarrass her. But I can also see that she finds it amusing.
On my last day at the school, I take a walk around the school courtyard to say goodbye to my “friends.”
I find Barb sitting on the rock, near the ping-pong table. She’s alone.
I walk up to tell her I’m leaving, moving on to a new school. It’s one of the first full conversations we have. She’s disappointed to hear that my fellow clowns-in-training and I are moving on. I still want to give her that bear hug but I don’t. I have no idea about her backstory but her eyes tell that it is not an easy one.
She surprises me when she says she’s saddened that we’re leaving. I tell her that I am really happy that I got to meet her. We trade smiles. Then she turns to me and says, “You’re doing a real mitzvah (good deed). You really are.”
Also in this series: Ciara, the "regular high school" student