I recently started my “encore” career with the Clown Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. It took less than a day to reconnect with the joy I get from doing this work, and it came from a little boy speaking words I could not understand.
Dr. Dazzle and I entered the playroom on one of the surgical floors, where a child-life specialist was working a jigsaw puzzle with a small boy who was in a cast from the waist down.
As we got closer he looked at us and started pointing toward me. He was babbling words I heard as “Bubba New Whale! Bubba New Whale!”
None of us knew what he was saying. In fact, we couldn’t even figure out what language he was speaking. But every so often, he’d look up from his puzzle and exclaim, “Bubba New Whale!”
When his Dad came into the room, the boy’s face lit up and he told him that I was “Bubba New Whale.”
The suspense was killing me, so I asked the father what language the boy was speaking. It was Arabic. Was being a “Bubba New Whale” a good thing or a bad rap? The Dad’s reply, with a little giggle in his voice, was simple: “Santa Claus.”
I am humbled and honored to do this job!
Shall I play for you?
By the end my first month as a clown at Boston Children’s Hospital, I had learned a few things. One is that soap bubbles are magic. The other is that when I sing and play my guitar, parents sometimes cry!
This discovery came to me one day as I was strumming a lullaby for a baby in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The baby’s mother broke down and sobbed. A week later, again while singing in the ICU, another mother started bawling. I was getting a complex. Was it my rotten broken baritone voice? No, actually, it wasn’t. It was the whole package: My size “38” clown shoes, red nose, garish trousers, and white coat with epaulets fashioned from upholstery fringe and rhinestones. Not to mention my guitar. (I make quite a fashion statement, I can assure you).
As a clown in the rooms of critically ill children, I was able to give these parents a huge gift: permission to cry. I always made sure to allow them to compose themselves before I left the room.
One day, I was finishing my clown rounds in the ICU when I met one of the crying mothers walking the hall with her baby. She introduced herself as the one who “lost it” and assured me she wasn’t going to do it again. So I started playing and singing, and guess what? This time the baby cried!