Errol Milner Clifford 2006-2009

Errol Milner Clifford was born with a significant heart defect and a cognitive disability that prevented him from walking or talking. As we grieved the child we had anticipated, Errol’s full-bodied smile and irrepressible laugh turned our sorrow into joy, and taught us that many of the best things in life are unexpected. Inspired by Errol’s delightful spirit, friends, family, and neighbors rallied to support our family’s significant emotional, physical, and financial needs, through countless acts of selfless generosity. When Errol’s courageous heart finally failed him on December 23, 2009 we were left numb with grief. In these dark hours we listen hopefully for the echoes of Errol’s brilliant laugh. This blog is the story (starting from present and working back to Errol's birth) of the life and times of the amazing Errol Clifford.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Laughing out loud

One day, Errol may talk. For now, at 14 months, there are no words, but there is plenty of laughter. Today was an especially uproarious day: Mama's songs, Errol's bouncer (think baby, not bar), and his favorite dinner (lima beans and sorrel - go figure), made him shake with laughter. Errol's happiness is audible and ubiquitous. I write Errol's story because Errol can't, and although he has no words (yet), Errol's smile tells you all you need to know.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Errol's Favorites

Errol is a happy kid. There's just a few things that Errol doesn't like: shots, poopy diapers (who does), the Bush administration's foreign policy (he thinks it's wreckless).
Errol likes most things, but there are a few things he really loves (his hooting lets you know). Here's a couple of his all time favorites (in no particular order).

His hand (mostly to look at, but also for the occasional snack)
The dog (Frenchie licks him all over-he loves it)
His brother, Owen
Daddy Singing!
Flourescent lights (go figure)
School (hoot! hoot!)
Zen buddhism (not really)
The game where we put a towel over his head (it sounds horrible, but he really likes it) and then sing "Where is Errol?" and then pull the towel away to reveal a smiling boy
Sitting up (he's getting so strong)
Eating (Peas!)
His grandparents
His pinwheel (he loves it!)
His teachers
The wind on his face (the fan is his favorite substitute)
His other hand
His uncles, aunts, and cousins

Errol and Owen

Errol and Owen adore each other. Owen is so gentle and sweet with his little brother, and Errol can just about stop looking at his hand long enough to smile for his big brother. What could be so fascinating about that hand, Errol? Someone asked if Errol sucks his thumb, I said, "No, he eats his hand." And judging by the amount of time his entire hand spends in his mouth, it certainly must be yummy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Children's Center

What if every child were lucky enough to have a school like the Children's Center? They would all be known, challenged, helped, hugged, cheered on, cried over, laughed with, and loved. Errol's school is like an extension of our home. He is cared for by his teachers/aunties Anne, Audrey, and Paula, who treat him like their own child (Errol reciprocates, and treats them like family). The warmth spills beyond the classroom, and we feel love from everyone we encounter, from the amazing principal, Mike, to the wonderful curriculum coordinator, Carol. We feel like the luckiest parents in the world to have our son at the Children's Center. I have worked my whole life in schools (some of them truly remarkable), yet I have never been in a place as magical as the Children's Center. Every time I walk into Errol's school I feel such hope, optimism, and love that I get teary eyed. Errol loves it as much as I do, and (unlike me) he starts to hoot whenever we pull in to the parking lot at the Children's Center (does he see it, smell it, hear it? We don't know). If every child were lucky enough to have a school like Errol's, what a wonderful world this would be.

Owen holding Errol

Owen loves Errol and Errol loves Owen. They are very lucky to have each other, and we are lucky to have them in our lives. Owen is a wonderful big brother. Sometimes we spend a lot of time and energy on Errol, but does Owen complain? No. Does he file suit in federal district court? Yes, but it's just a phase. In fact, Owen is a wonderful big brother who dotes on his little brother, "Earl". He sings to Errol (Ring of Fire), kisses (not bites) and holds him (with both hands). So far, no gunfire has broken out, and the cease fire seems to be holding.

Errol's New Cousin

Errol’s aunt Anna and uncle Peter just had a baby; Errol’s cousin, Silas. When I met Silas he was three days old. It’s a huge privilege to be with someone so new to the world, and I held him for a long time. As I held Silas, I couldn’t help but remember Errol’s first days. We were in the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) awaiting his first open heart surgery (day five). We were nervous as a cat, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed. But we had it easy. Errol was stuck full of tubes (sometimes five or six at once), covered with heart monitors, catheterized, with a breathing tube down his throat, and having his blood drawn every couple of hours, all in a room full of constant lights and alarms.

Silas was the healthy baby I had expected Errol to be. In many ways he was already more well developed than Errol; his muscle tone on day three wasn’t much different from Errol’s on day 441. Sometimes I get jealous and I just want Errol to be normal. I don’t know how he feels about it. I’ll ask him some day. I can’t imagine what he’ll say.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nowhere Man

Errol spends a lot of time looking at his hand (try it some time, there are worse things to look at). He holds his hand at arm’s length (it would be hard to hold it elsewhere) and stares and stares (he could do this for hours). What does he see? What is he after? Where does he go? When Errol looks at his hand he is gone from us, is somewhere else, nowhere else, in another world. When Errol leaves us he is not sad, not happy, just blank.

Boom! And then suddenly, for no apparent reason Errol snaps back into our world, recognizes us, a huge grin crosses his face, he is happy, he is one of us.

I mostly think of Errol as just Errol. Our son, Owen’s brother, Lucy, Joe, Dean, and Fred’s grandson, Anne, Paula, and Audrey’s student, the boy everyone wants to hold, the kid with the amazing hair (did you bleach your baby’s hair??? They really ask. We didn’t). But other times I snap into the realization that my son is retarded, damaged, alien, special, and I get sad that Errol leaves us for a place we don’t understand and can’t visit. Then I get mad that I can’t connect with my son, that my own flesh and blood seems more different from me than my dogs. But what you gonna’ do? There’s no guarantees in life (and besides, I lost the receipt). And then I stop thinking, and see the little boy lying there, my sweet and beautiful son, my Errol, and I start singing to him, or telling him stories, reading him books (I know, he can’t read, but I love Philp Roth), coaxing him back. And as long as he is with us, we are both happy.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Happiest person in the room

The goal of life is to get older, which will, of course, eventually kill you. There's just no winning. But there is a way to slow down the inevitable, and that is to live in the moment, which is right where Errol is. Some times I think that Errol's in on the world's biggest secret, which, I guess, is why Errol is usually the happiest person in the room. See for yourself.