Autism, humor, motherhood, parenting, thoughts

Clowns and Anxiety: Panic at the Circus

Okay, I can’t stand clowns. I hate them. So you know how much I love my kids? I love my kids enough to make going to the circus every summer a tradition. A tradition!!!

I willingly put myself in clownsway every year so that my children can go to the circus AND hopefully NOT have a fear of clowns.

But you know what’s worse than a tent full of clowns? Having a panic attack in a tent full if clowns!

Looking back at the situation there were a lot of rookie mistakes that I made. A. Lot. Next year’s circus will be better… I hope.

So there we are under the big top. We’re at Circus Smirkus, an amazing circus comprised completely of teenagers. It’s pretty remarkable. But seating can be a little tight and tonight is no different.

My son and I are wedged on the very end of the row up against a big metal wall of rods. The only way out of the isle during the show? To either scream fire or shove my butt into countless strangers faces while trying desperately not to step on their toes or fall down the entire bleacher myself. See? This seating choice was a colossal mistake with my son and two year old daughter.

Wait, until you see how much of a mistake it was…

So we are about twenty minutes into the show. I’m doing okay with the clown to human ratio infront of me, but it’s hot. It feels like the tent might be triple digits and my son is wearing pants. See? Mistake number 2.

He’s on my lap and he’s having a hard time concentrating. He’s hot and he’s cramped.

He asks when this will be over.

He’s not enjoying the circus at all.

I tell him intermission will be soon. He does an amazing job of holding out until intermission and like a bullet from a gun takes off across the lawn outside the tent, jumping and frolicking like a newly born deer.

“This is my circus act!” He says with a big grin!

He’s liking the circus more than I thought.

But then intermission ends and it’s time to get back under that big blue and white pressure cooker again.

Okay, he’s hating where he’s sitting, that’s clear. Who wouldn’t? But there is a great place for kids to sit right down in front of the ring. Maybe this can still work.

My daughter opts out, too many strangers. My husband takes her back out to the lawn as her attention span has dwindled any how. But my son wants to try sitting ring side with the other kids.

This is a huge success. In the world of spectrum parents, your child wanting to interact with another child, is a big deal. Right now my son wants to sit right in the middle of a bunch of ‘um. Amazing.

So I get him settled and then look up. Every seat is taken again. Every seat except my lone seat next to the metal rod wall.


Here’s what goes through a parent’s mind when their child is on the spectrum and you leave him to play with other kids:

“How long do I have before another child simply asks him a question and he screams at them or worse, hits them? How long do I have before he smashes his body into another child because he wants the stimulus of their bodies colliding? How long do I have? How long?”

I was thinking all of these things from my over heated perch wedged on the end of that row.

What if he has a meltdown? I’m not going to be able to get to him. There are twenty five people between me and the isle. Twenty five strangers who don’t know my situation and will no doubt be at least a little perturbed by my rear end and feet taking over there circus experience.

I’m going to have to inconvience people if something happens. That thought, to me, is more terrifying than any clown could ever be.

So the second act starts, I try my best to tell myself that I need to be doing this. Cutting the apron strings slightly. But the social modeling? Who’s going to help him with it if he gets stuck?

People that bemoan “helicopter parents”, sometimes there are reasons for it that you are unaware of. Sometimes the “helicopterness” has been trained into us by professionals from our child’s toddlerhood.

So, there are clowns shooting water at each other, I’m watching my son.

There are people doing flips from fifty feet in the air, I’m watching my son.

There could be a twelve story pyramid of poodles with batons caught on fire on their mouths in front of us, I’m watching my son.

A circus attendant comes over for the second time to tell my son to sit on his butt and not his knees. She touches his shoulder and suddenly the moment I’ve been waiting for or dreading happens.

But my amazing son, doesn’t hit or scream, he simply stands up right in the middle of all of those kids and starts calling my name. A huge win!

I stand. For a moment, a moment I’m not proud of, I freeze.

I’m going to have to make 25 people upset to get to my son. This has been a fear of mine since before I can remember, before clowns even, inconveniencing other people.

But you know what? I froze for 30 seconds, a record for me, before I began shoving my sweaty butt infront of every single one of those faces.

I got the stink eye from more than one person in that isle, but in that moment, I didn’t care. My son needed me and that was all I cared about.

He met me at the end of the isle and that pressure and anxiety flew the minute I had him in my arms.

We joined his sister and father out in the lawn. The remainder of the circus was spent running around, watching them start to take the tent down and gaining back sanity.

I faced two fears under the big top. Clowns and the fact that sometimes other people are just have be inconvenienced by my parenting. My husband and I are trying to raise two human beings, no easy task and occasionally society is going to have to be ticked off slightly so that we can do it the way we want to do it.

And if you are ever at the circus with two small children, never pick the end seat next to the wall. Or if you do, at least make your butt entertaining as you shove past people on your way out.




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