The Clown vs. The Twirler: My Very Special Preschool Conundrum

Life lessons from the circular carpet
Lauren Zupkus

This is what happens when you Google "child clown."
This is what happens when you Google “child clown.”

If you think I’m dramatic now, just imagine a four year old version of me. I wish I could tell you that there was at least less boy drama, but nope. I had this boyfriend in preschool named Andrew, but he couldn’t read the signs for shit (like, hellooooo, do you see me sharing my cerulean crayon with anyone else buddy?!) Homeboy was such a clueless dud I had to wait until my very own birthday banger at Discovery Zone—the Chuck E. Cheese of the 90s and consequentially a soon-to-be Buzzfeed article–and literally held him down at the bottom of the slide to finally plant a kiss on him. Lauren Zupkus: making the first move since 1995.

ANYWAYS, one particularly vivid preschool meltdown was in light of our annual classroom circus. Our teachers assigned each of us a part: lion tamer, ringleader, juggler that obviously couldn’t juggle because he was three, etc. After weeks of preparation, our parents would fake sick at work to spend the afternoon watching their kid parade around a circular carpet (#WorthIt !)

Looking back, it was no surprise that my teachers gave me the part that they did. Though I don’t remember much about preschool, I do remember those two women–Miss Patty and some other generic preschool teachery name–calling me over frequently to chat. During all of our conversations, they did two things I couldn’t understand at the time, one being that they always laughed, even when I felt I wasn’t intentionally being funny. When I asked them why they were laughing, they’d say I was “bright,” which is the second thing I never understood. Bright? Like WTF Miss Patty?

Anyways, Miss Patty & Co. happily informed me I would be a clown in the upcoming circus. These poor teachers had no idea that they had just condemned me to my worst nightmare. My four year old self was not down with the clown. There was nothing amusing to me about demeaning myself with a red nose, boat shoes and a polka dot outfit with a hoola hoop sown into the waistline. Nope. Not having it. Wasn’t it obvious that I was supposed to be a twirler in this damn production ?! I dreamed of strutting around that circular carpet in my finest sequin leotard and twirling the baton in one hand while I twirled my red curls in the other. Ugh, I was so born for this, and Miss Patty just took it all away.

Like most four year old kids, I lamented to my mother the second we got home. I begged her to tell my teachers that they’d made a horrible mistake, and that this fate must be reversed before it’s too late. Although my mother has always been extremely loving, especially towards me, she’s also a brilliant child psychologist. Dr. Ellen was not about to miss out on this opportunity for me to grow as a child and learn to fight for my own battles. We spent the whole afternoon rehearsing what I would say to those tyrants when I showed up for school the next day.

The following dreaded morning, I couldn’t help but drag my patent-leather Mary Jane clad feet. You honestly forget how big of a deal everything is when you’re four years old. This shit was life or death. Next time you see a kid crying over a candy bar on the D train, remember we’ve all been there. In fact you may have been crying over a candy bar at 3 am in the beer city parking lot last weekend. So d0n’t *judge.*

It totally sucked, but I eventually worked up the courage to approach my teachers and make my demands.
“Of course you can be a twirler ! We just thought you would be a great clown because you make us laugh,” Miss Patty told me. And you bet when Circus Day finally came around I made those bank tellers and car salesman and my own mother proud to call in sick while I marched around the room, baton in hand.

In a lot of ways, this insignificant preschool memory still resonates with me. Ironically enough, I received the title of “Class Clown” in high school—only this time I didn’t try to trade it in for something else. People tell me I’m funny on a daily basis, and not only am I humbled but also proud of that. Yet, part of me still wants to be the commanding girl with the killer sequin outfit and the baton that has everybody turning heads. I don’t mind being the funny girl, so long as she’s taken seriously on occasion, and simultaneously acknowledged as capable and beautiful. I know I’m the clown. But I still want to be the twirler.

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