I learned how to juggle out of jealousy. My brother Karl knew how to juggle but the tipping point came when my sister came home from a church function with a new talent. She could juggle! It was a stilted, hesitant beginners juggling, but she could juggle. That was two of my siblings with a talent that I wanted! Patiently, Kirsten taught me the basics she had learned and soon I was advancing to behind the back and under the leg tricks.
In college, I found a magic shop that had a juggling section and I bought myself a set of juggling clubs. On the weekends I would bike to the beach and practice with the clubs in the soft sand. Every time I missed a catch or didn’t turn fast enough the club would plop down into the sand with a quiet plunk. Occasionally, I would gather a small crowd of beach-goers who would watch and cheer me on.
When I first started teaching I threw an extra set of juggling balls into a box for my classroom. I thought maybe in moments of boredom (really in the classroom?!?! HA!) or to make some kind of connection with the kids I might use them. The balls got tossed into my desk drawer and mostly forgotten until one day, in an attempt to fill a few minutes at the end of class, I took them out.
“Hey, guys,” I called, “We finished up early, so yay you! But we still have just a few minutes. If you can chill out and sit still I’ll show you something.” With lunch looming the next period and all of their work done, it was like asking a pack rabid dogs to please stop biting my face off.
I took out the balls and started juggling. A few kids around my desk stopped talking and looked to see what I was doing.
“Check out Ms. M- guys!” John* called out his deep voice booming over the talkative students.
My 8th graders that year were a fantastic bunch. Highly personable, intelligent and funny, they liked to joke around and pull pranks. I didn’t mind throwing a joke their way either. The entire class became enraptured with my juggling. I showed them a few tricks. And they peppered me with questions.
“How’d you learn that?” Mary asked.
“At school,” I said.
“You went to Clown School?” Tommy asked his voice rising in excitement.
With a small smile, I nodded. I couldn’t help myself. He seemed so excited about the prospect that his teacher went to Clown School.
“Hey, guys! Ms. M- went to Clown School!” Tommy another boy now crowding around my desk called out.
“Why are you teaching us then?” Tony laughed, “Why aren’t you in the circus or something?”
“Well,” I said trying so very hard not to burst out laughing, “I dropped out of Clown School. You guys know how clumsy I can be when I wear heals, right?”
A few kids laughed and nodded.
“Well, I kept tripping when I wore those big shoes.” I sighed.
“You’re making that up!”
“No! Really! Have you seen clown shoes before?” I asked earnestly. “And besides, I really hated applying all that make-up! I could never get it right.” I shook my head with feigned sadness.
“That’s right,” Shauna said, “Ms. M- never wears make-up. She told me she didn’t like anything near her eyes!”
I nodded. “That’s true.”
The bell rang and kids grabbed their bags, tucked their chairs in and herded towards the door.
“You really dropped out of clown school,” Colin asked quietly as he walked out with me.
“Sure did,” I smiled at him as I ushered him out of the door.
After lunch the next class shuffled in and we got to work. About fifteen minutes into class the Colin burst into my room.
“Ms. M- you lied!” he called me out.
“What?” I asked innocently. “I didn’t lie!”
“We asked Ms. S- about what you said! You said you dropped out of Clown School! Ms. S- said they kicked you out!” He stood in the front of my class, hands on his hips, frowning at me. “Why’d you get kicked out?”
I looked at the floor for a second to regain my composure.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” I told him.
“HA!” Colin laughed. “You got kicked out of Clown School!”
It became a tradition for my co-workers to continue the story and build upon it. Each year, from that year on students would ask me about my time in Clown School and my reply was always the same.
“I don’t like to talk about it.”
But I always juggled for them when they asked.
*All student names have been changed.