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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Errol Blossoms

Errol is feeling a whole lot better now. Thanks for sending the love out to the universe for the little man!

A lot of you have been thinking about Errol a lot lately. Here is a video we took a few weeks ago.

A lot of people feel sad for us since Errol is disabled. The white flakes on the ground in the video look like snow, but they are actually beautiful cherry blossoms.

An Update on Errol's Health

We went to see Errol’s pediatrician, Susan Hunsinger (Amazing!!! Brilliant! Compassionate!) last Friday and she diagnosed a return of pinkeye, and a new case of the croup. She gave him more steroid injections (bye-bye baseball career) for his croup and new meds for his eyes. Poor Errol. And through all of his sickness, exams, drops in the eye, and shots in the thigh, he doesn’t complain nearly as much as I do.

Despite the new meds Errol wasn’t getting better. And then Errol woke up early Tuesday morning in a pool of his own blood. He’s been in a lot of pain lately, hasn’t wanted to eat much, and has been drooling and grinding his teeth a whole lot. So we went back to the doctor on Tuesday about that blood and Errol was diagnosed with an ulcer in his esophagus (which accounts for the discomfort and the blood). So we’re on new meds (an antacid and an ulcer coating medicine) that will make him feel better, and we are going to Greensboro on Friday to see a gastro-intestinal doctor (yes, the esophagus is gastro-intestinal – who’d a thunk it!) 

The G-I doctor wants to go in and scope the ulcer, but that requires a procedure with local anesthetic administered through an IV and any time Errol gets on an IV it’s bad news, infections, and a stay in the hospital. We are trying to weigh the costs and benefits of the procedure. Errol and Owen don’t like the idea either.

The new medicines (added to his Coumadin, aspirin, Zantac, and vitamins) are making Errol feel better, but his brother Owen is, understandably, nervous.

Last night I asked Owen how he was feeling, and he said, 

“I’m nervous, Daddy.”

I asked him what he was nervous about,

“Errol going to the hospital.”

I told Owen that it wasn’t going to be a long hospital stay like last time and asked him what would make him feel better.

“I’m going to make Errol a book, Daddy.”

Last night Owen made an I Love Errol book. He wrote loving words and drew beautiful pictures on a few pages of paper and then stapled the book together.

Owen loves Mama and Daddy and Errol, Owen wrote, over a picture of the whole family together in our house.

It’s a long road, and nobody wants Errol to get well more than Owen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gold Medal!

Errol and Owen go to a wonderful school with great teachers who really care about kids. Sometimes the teachers give me mean looks as I walk past their classrooms in the morning.

Owen is really competitive and the best way to get him to do something is to challenge him.

“I’m going to get to the car first, Owen.”

“No you’re not, Daddy!”

We compete for gold medals in tooth brushing, car entering, and just about everything else we do.

“Owen, I’m going to brush my teeth before you!

“No! I’m going to win, Daddy!”

 Owen wins the gold in every event, and Errol just laughs.

But why do those teachers give me mean looks?

Errol rode horses yesterday at Riverwood and I got to go with him (photos and video coming soon!) 

The Little Man looked sharp as he rode Fritz (German horse?) across the wind-swept plains (riding ring). I remember how excited we got when Errol first flipped from his belly to his back, and here he is, at age three, riding a horse (winning the Derby!)

I took Owen to school this morning. We dropped Errol with his new teachers, Ms. Jennifer and Ms. Paula and raced off to Owen’s class. Errol was in first place as he rounded the bend but I was breathing down his neck. Just like every morning we raced past classrooms and up the ramp towards Owen’s classroom.

 “I’m going to beat you, Owen!” I yelled as I raced behind him.

 “Don’t beat me, Daddy.” Owen said.

The special education teachers heard our yells.

“I’m going to beat you again, Owen!!!”

“Don’t beat me, Daddy!” Owen pleaded

The teachers shook their heads.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Growing Up

One of the cruelties of teaching is that my students stay the same age and I keep getting older and older. When I first started teaching, my students were 18 and I was 25, now my students are still 18 and I am 40. At this rate I’m going to lap them.

At home, too, I keep growing older, and Errol pretty much stays the same. Although he’s officially “3”, Errol is developmentally about 8 or 9 months old. (We shop in the kids section for clothes, and the newborn section for toys.) And at his rate of developmental growth, I think we’ll always have a child in the house.

There are many wonderful things about children (they love to play, they are full of wonder, and they work for cheap wages), but most of the time, you do hope they grow up. And even though Errol’s brother Owen has hit a marvelous age (at 5 ½ Owen is sweet, innocent, independent, excited, and sober enough to drive Daddy home from the bar) we can’t wait to meet the wonderful adult Owen.

People talk about the freedom they will have when their kids leave the nest, but we don’t anticipate ever having that freedom. Owen has already lived one third of his childhood years with us, and before we know it he will go off to college, join the military, or take a job in the circus. Errol bird will most likely live his whole life with us. And although it’s hard having a permanent and extra-large baby (diapers!!!!!!!), Errol is one of the great joys of our lives (uh-oh!!!!!!!) and we hope he will be with us for a long, long time. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Today is a special day to celebrate family and love.

Of all the people Errol loves, there is one most dear to his heart: Madeline Albright. (Happy Mothers’ Day, Madame Secretary!) Wait a sec!

Of all the people Errol loves, there is one who truly is most dear to his heart: Mama.

Want to know why?

No Mama. No Errol.           

And there’s more…

Day and night, dawn and dusk, 9:47 a.m. and 3:22 p.m. on the dot, winter solstice and vernal equinox, ebb tide and flow tide, Peaches and Herb; Mama is everything for Errol…

Mama is sweet and kind.

Mama is fun.

Mama cooks all his food (before).

Mama changes his diapers (after).

Mama brushes Errol’s teeth (during).¿During?

Mama has high expectations of Errol.

Mama is patient.

Mama tickles Errol and laughs with him.

Mama cleans up the urine because she forgot to put his diaper on first.

Mama sacrifices.

Mama moves the runner to third.

Mama bathes Errol.

Mama takes Errol to the doctor.

Mama bathes the doctor.

The doctor bathes Mama.

The doctor’s wife gets jealous and does yoga.

It doesn’t work.

Errol bathes the doctor’s wife.

Mama worries about Errol.

Mama is gentle.

Mama stays in the hospital with Errol…for six weeks…twice.

Mama knows what questions to ask.

Mama asks them…and asks them again.

Mama keeps Errol alive.

Mama is relentless in getting Errol the things he needs.

Mama works her ass off to pay for Errol’s medical bills.

Mama is proud of Errol.

Mama knows everything about Errol.

Mama notices all of Errol’s improvements.

Mama celebrates all of Errol’s little victories.

Mama reads to Errol.

Mama builds a block tower for Errol, Errol knocks it down, she builds it back, he knocks it down, she builds it back, he knocks it down. Errol loves it. He wants more. Mama builds it back, he knocks it down…

Mama stays up late for Errol, she gets up early for Errol, she does both together.

Mama is a beast.

Mama is fun.

Mama loves Errol.

Errol loves Mama.

Friday, May 08, 2009


We always know when Errol is sick because he stops being in a good mood. It’s not that he is bad, or cries, it’s just that there is more space between smiles. Apart from the 50-day suspension from Major League Baseball, Errol is smiling, laughing, and feeling a whole lot better now. His pink eye has been defeated, his ear is disinfected, his steroids are knocking back his aspiration, and he has a barium swallow study (that’s not a bird, and believe me, you don’t want to swallow barium!) in a few weeks to determine how to stop the aspiration. We are thrilled to have the real Errol back in good humor and health. Now about those Los Angeles Dodgers…

Major League Scandal


LOS ANGELES - - Errol Clifford joined a growing lineup of All-Stars linked to drugs yesterday, when he was banished for 50 games by a sport that cannot shake free from scandal.


Clifford, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was suspended by Major League Baseball, adding a further stamp to what will always be known as the Steroids Era.


Clifford, age 3, ranked 17th on the career home-run list with 533, became the most prominent baseball player to be penalized for drugs. His ban came three months after Alex Rodriguez admitted using steroids, and at a time when Barry Bonds is under federal indictment and Roger Clemens is accused of lying to Congress about his own steroid use.


And that prompted yet another apology from another ballplayer. Clifford, 3, told the Dodgers and fans he was sorry for the problem. "Uh-oh!" he said to a packed news conference.


Thursday, May 07, 2009


“Every person should carry in one pocket a slip of paper reading ‘I am but dust and ashes’ and in the other, a slip of paper reading 'For me the world was made.'”  
- The Talmud

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Smokin' Penguins Part II

Since yesterday, I’ve learned a little more than I want to know about how nebulizers work. I’ve also realized that the tube that carries the steam from the penguin doesn’t attach to the penguin’s belly button (as I had naively been led to believe) it actually attaches more to the penguin groin area (do penguins have groins?) Although a steaming penguin groin is a little easier to believe than a steaming penguin belly button, it’s a lot less appetizing. Steaming penguins (great band name, by the way) are supposed to distract a kid from the fact that there is an Old-Faithful sized gusher of steam heading his way. Good luck with that. Errol isn’t the smartest kid in the world, but the penguin nebulizer didn’t fool him for a second.

I’ve also learned that what the nebulizer shoots into my son is not pure love (as I had naively been led to believe) but actually steroids. The steroids are steamed and then inhaled into his lungs. I won’t tell you what it looks like (because you shouldn’t know) but suffice to say, I hope the cops don’t come to the door as we are “hitting the penguin!” I’m not sure if the steroids are working, but Errol’s cough is better, he’s hitting .327 with 32 home runs,
and he’s suddenly grown a full beard, 

which helps to explain why both the Boston Red Sox and the Taliban called yesterday.

The bottom line is that the medicines are working, Errol is improving, and he should return to his normal school and baseball routine soon. We’re thrilled with Errol’s recovery, but the feelings that Errol’s sickness have excavated have been bad ones, and the thoughts of this summer’s surgery have been scary ones.

Here is a little Nebulizer questionnaire. If you scroll down you’ll see the interactive version of this poll to your right.

What would be the best nebulizer camouflage?

  • You mean it’s not a penguin?
  • Nuclear reactor cooling towers have smoke coming out of them so if you shaped the nebulizer like a cooling tower, a child wouldn’t know it was really a nebulizer
  • Condoleezza Rice 

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Smokin' Penguins Part I

Errol’s Cinco de Mayo started with a wonderful mid-morning horseback ride, but went downhill from there. When Cary picked Errol up from school this afternoon his teacher was concerned about his eye and his cough. Cary was too, and she drove Errol right over to Doctor Hunsinger who diagnosed him with pink eye, and an ear infection. She’s also concerned about his aspiration, which could lead (and, in the past has led) to pneumonia.

Sure enough, Errol has been feeling pretty lousy and has had a hell of a cough for almost a week, and now we know why.  To heal our boy, the doctor gave Errol two shots, two eye drops, and one penguin nebulizer.

A nebulizer is a high tech vaporizer that fogs medicine directly into the patient’s face. It’s known more widely by its scientific name: bong. Some marketing genius came up with the brilliant idea that if you designed a nebulizer to look like a penguin, it would distract the nebulizee from the fact that he was face to face with a machine that rumbles like a jet plane and shoots jets of steam from it’s belly. Call me crazy, but if a penguin tried to froth a latte on my face, I would be pissed! Errol didn’t mind, though. Not even a single “Uh-oh!”

A double infection and incipient pneumonia is, of course, nothing for Errol.

He’s had worse. But the poor little fellow was wiped out by his many maladies and after his pilgrimage to the doctor he could barely muster the energy to laugh as I made animal noises and galloped around the room (don’t ask).

Every time Errol gets sick his mother, Owen, and I get worked into a tizzy. It's hard not to remember the horrible months spent in the hospital. Its hard to forget Errol's sweet little arms poked full of holes. I get a knot in my chest when Errol gets sick. 

Errol is asleep now (without a single coughing fit!) and we hope that his penguin has put him onto the road to recovery. We’ll keep you updated.


Errol spends part of his Saturday mornings at the Farmers’ Market helping his mother. He loves the attention he and his blonde hair get. He loves to hear and see all the customers who stop by. 

There is a vendor at the market who always takes time to visit Errol. “Hey Boy!” He greets Errol. Sometimes Errol smiles back, sometimes he just looks at his hand. Errol’s friend doesn’t seem to notice the difference. “How you doing today, boy!” Errol looks at his hand again as if he were about to discover something very profound. He may be. Although it is a pretty one-sided conversation, Errol’s buddy never seems to notice that Errol is not exactly typical. Or maybe he does.

When Errol was diagnosed with his profound developmental delay, I started seeing folks with birth defect everywhere. I wanted to go up and talk to them. I usually resisted the urge. Once, a friend went up to a woman in the grocery store and congratulated her on her pregnancy.

“When are you due?” My friend asked.

 “Five years ago!” The large woman hissed.

I didn’t want to get it wrong on aisle 5 across from the thousands of gallons of juice.

“You’re daughter is so cute. What’s her diagnosis?”


Sometimes when I’m out about town, minding my own business, I see a family with a kid who has a developmental delay and I want to run right up to the child and talk to them (because most people don’t talk to these kids) and I want to put my arms around their parents and say, “I understand. I’m one of you. Tell me everything. I’ll listen.”

I don’t usually say anything.

Every week now the old man at the Farmers’ Market comes over to Errol and talks to him. And one time after they finished talking about the old days and looking at Errol’s hand, the old man turns to Cary and says, “It’s great that you take that boy out in public.”

And what the hell do you say to that?

“Thanks, but you should see the other one. We don’t let him out.”

I mean the guy has served in at least one world war (he actually did- told Errol all about it) and comes from a very, very different time. A time when retarded people were shut in (or worse). He probably didn’t see people like Errol in his day (certainly not in WWII). He’s talking to my son.

And even though I’m annoyed by his “compliment”, and why the hell shouldn’t Errol be here!?! The man means well, and he has broken a silence that few people break. He’s acknowledged Errol and who he is. And it is good that Errol is here.

So I just smile and listen to Errol and his buddy talk.

“Well, we was pinned down by the Germans in this little town in France.”


“That artillery fire was deadly!”


“We sat in the mud for a week with nothin’ to eat but beans and rice.”


And I look for some more atypical folks in the crowd. And I’ll be ready to listen.