Friday, December 31, 2010

Similar to a simile

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Trying to describe the temperature of the hot tub water, Grant said: "It's as hot as a hotter hot tub."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bring back my bling

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Pulling on his sister's jewelry, Grant said: "Look, I found a necklace, with a baby attached."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Don't stare at my cheeks

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Did you know cheeks keep food from falling out of your mouth?"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Excuse me?

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"Do penguins fart? I didn't see anything come out during the movie."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Spider-Man: Superhero, loverboy

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"I wonder why Spider-Man goes like this, and to say, 'I love you,' you go like this, too."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Father flavor

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Visiting family across the country, mom asked Grant if he wanted to talk to dad on the phone. Grant asked, "What kind of dad?"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sugar babies

Jackson, 6, and Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Jackson: Can we have candy?

Mom: No, you've already had too much. It's going to make your tummy hurt.

Jackson: That's OK. My tummy already hurts.

Mom: More candy might make you throw up.

Grant: I would be so mad at my candy.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Dad: Grant, what's "gratitude"?
Grant: It's like a rat. Like "ratitude." Except it starts with a G, like me.

What cops sing to holiday shoplifters

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"I want to sing Police Navidad."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I could do it with one finger tied behind my back

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Jackson tried to close the window in the dining room, but he couldn't quite do it. He asked Mom to help. "Wow," he said, "you did it with one hand." Then he thought for a minute and said, "I bet Dad could do it with one finger."

The case of the expanding shoes

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Apparently making a case that he needs a new pair, Grant said: "These shoes are getting too big for me."

Thou shalt think about doing the following ...

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
In a prayer, Grant said: "Please bless that some people will keep the commandments a little bit."

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Matthew, 4, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Looking at this picture of Jesus and a little boy, Matthew said, "Maybe the squirrel wants to come, too."

Your way, right away, at Booger King

Daniel, 3, Marquette, Michigan
While driving by Burger King, his little sister said, "We don't eat buggos!" Daniel was quick to clarify: "The buggos that we eat are different from the buggos in our nose."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bald is beautiful

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Grant could easily identify the baby Jesus in a nativity set "because he doesn't have any girl hair."

Super fly weight?

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Jackson, who weighs less than 45 pounds, said: "If I were a boxer, I don't think I would make very much money."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A curious case

Matthew, 4, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Over lunch, Matthew said, "When I was 19, I was a scientist . . . I'm older than you guys . . . When we have birthdays, we get smaller."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rookie cards, coupons, Thanksgiving

My 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card by Donruss is worth $11. I’ve had it since I was a kid. The last time I was at my parents’ house, they thrust on me my whole collection of cards, which they had been storing for me since high school. About 10,000 cards — an embarrassing quantity, I know.

The full collection is now on the top shelf of my closet in my bedroom. Some boxes contain sets of every major leaguer in a given year; I collected them one by one, trading duplicates with friends on the school bus and with my brothers in our basement, checking off each card on the list until the set of 800 was complete for the year.

But I wasn’t the one who happened upon the Griffey card this time. The other day, my wife was flipping through a binder full of plastic sheet protectors, each of which contained nine cards protected in perfect condition. These were the cards I had set aside. They had graduated from the boxes and into the plastic pages.

She searched an Internet database to determine how much each card was worth and adhered a yellow Post-It note to the sheet to identify the cards that were worth more than a few bucks.

An Alex Rodriguez Classic Four Sport card from his college days: $12. A Manny Ramirez rookie card: $11. Most of them were worth more like a quarter or less.

The unspoken tension here is that I have agreed to sell the cards. She wants the specialized sheet protectors to organize her coupon clippings, and these pages are the perfect size. It’s time to either buy more sheet protectors, or face the fact that these cards aren’t really going up in value anyway, and they’re taking up a lot of space in the closet.

I shouldn’t hesitate. Buying more sheet protectors wouldn’t cost much, but it’s still wasting money, and who can afford to do that? Besides, if I sell some cards, I could use it for Christmas presents or some other worthy cause.

But I do hesitate. In fact, I whine quietly and unattractively to myself: I wish my wife didn’t have to clip coupons. I wish I could not only keep my cards, but buy more — maybe even start collecting them again with my two sons. And while I’m at it, I wish we didn’t always have to debate for 10 minutes whether we could afford to eat out, or whether we should keep paying for TV.

I know I’m not the only one who has had a pity party like this. It’s pity-party season in Palm Coast because of the impending holidays and all the costs associated with travel and shopping.

But that attitude is poisonous, especially when we consider the families who are truly in need. The antidote to selfishness — and what inevitably inspires us to give and serve — is thanksgiving.

At church, we sometimes sing the song, “Count Your Blessings.” I hope everyone will take time today, on Thanksgiving, to do the same. The act of counting my blessings helps me to remember the simple things I usually overlook when I’m too busy indulging in that ever-present human emotion to long for something better.

I am thankful I have a car that works. I am thankful I have a roof over my head. I’m thankful that when I turn on my faucet, water comes pouring out in abundance. I’m thankful that when I sit down for dinner, my table is spread, my plate is full, my healthy children bow their heads as I offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

NOTE: This column first appeared in The Palm Coast Observer.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

All-natural A/C

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Upon being discovered shirtless in his bed, Grant said, "It helps keep the hot away."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

That might necessitate an entire rack

Dean, 6, Santa Monica, California
"Today for Veterans Day, I'm going to celebrate by making guns for my whole family."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's full of stars

Dean, 6, and Max, 3, Santa Monica, California
Max: We need to find Reed's balloon.
Mom: Oh it's way up high by now.
Dean: Did it go to space?
Mom: It would pop before it got to space.
Dean: Why would it pop in space?
Max: Because there's pokey stars!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rite of passage is icing on the cake

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
At breakfast, the family congratulated Elizabeth on turning 1. Grant protested: "She's not 1 yet! She has to eat the cake to turn 1!"

Judge me by my size, do you?

Scott, 1, Atlanta, Georgia

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Covering all the bases ... and the hoops

Max, 3, Santa Monica, California
Max set up a soccer ball on the teeball tee, and, baseball glove in hand, said: "Mom, wanna play basketball with me?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dad rules!

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"I think the Dad is the king of the house. And the Mom is the servant who tells the other servants what to do."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nutrition fictions

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Reading the label, Jackson said, "Diet root beer has 70 migraines of sodium."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Jamison Walker, the short, stocky man with the shiny pate, is in a Sunday School class on the Old Testament. He’s just the student, but he can’t help himself. Every Sunday, the 35-year-old raises his hand and waits to be called on, then speaks for paragraphs, using complex sentence structures without uttering a single “um” or “uh,” as he offers his interpretation of the words of the prophet Isaiah — insights from years of personal study.

As his enthusiasm for the poetry of Isaiah increases, so does the volume of his voice, and the walls reverberate in the chapel at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Bunnell.

In his navy blue suit, he’s not a preacher, but it seems like he could be. He has a kind of confidence and self-awareness that some might interpret as arrogance, stemming in large part from his overflowing vocabulary, which he’s not afraid to use. But he also has a self-deprecating sense of humor, quipping that he tries not to be too ostentatious with his circumlocutions.

I’ve gone to church with Jamie for several months, and it took me most of that time to become acquainted with him; I guess I’ve been reserved, still getting to know people in the congregation, even after living here for about 10 months. The first time I said more than “hello” to him was a few months ago — I felt compelled to, after I heard him perform.

I don’t remember the title of the song, but I remember thinking that I’d heard it before, and I wasn’t a fan of it. But when he sang the piece, holding nothing back, his tenor voice so rich and powerful, I knew I was witnessing a master at work, a rare alloy of intense training and God-given talent.

If you have never heard Jamison Walker sing, you need to go to the concert at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, at Palm Coast United Methodist Church. It may be your last chance. The classically trained opera singer will soon go to boot camp, and eventually, the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School.

‘He’s singing like a god’

Alana Fitzgerald, who is still Walker’s accompanist, saw it early. The Flagler Palm Coast High School music teacher cast Walker in “The Sound of Music” when he was in middle school.

“He was more interested in skateboards, but even then you could tell he was a special talent,” she says. “He was charismatic. … Almost anybody can sing, but they don’t touch your heart. You could teach them forever and they would never have that.”

Walker moved from musical theater to opera while he was still in high school, after he watched a PBS recording of Luciano Pavarotti singing in Hyde Park, London.

He’s singing like a god, Walker thought. How can I do that?

He decided he would become a famous tenor. The best in the world.

He studied. He auditioned and attended summer workshops all around the state, earning superior ratings everywhere he went, including at the Florida Vocal Association. There, he met Joy Davidson, a famous mezzo-soprano, who recruited him to study at the New World School of the Arts Opera Conservatory, in Miami.

He was on his way.

Discipline of a drill sergeant

But the school wasn’t what he had hoped. It wasn’t accredited, and his instructors sometimes misused his voice, giving him the wrong songs, or taxing his voice too much. His range decreased.

One day, after two years at the New School, he was sitting in the hallway in the music building, bored stiff, until he listened to the second-most important recording in his life. This time, it was soprano Birgit Nielsson singing the final scene to “Salome” in 1972, at the Metropolitan Opera House.

After her piercing high note to close the performance, the audience answered with a deep, visceral ovation. His dream was rejuvenated.

With his classroom education stalling, Walker decided to look elsewhere. On top of his assigned coursework, Walker reached out to a famous tenor, Rockwell Blake, and corresponded with him several times. Blake recommended he find a 19th-century book called “The Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing.” It was out of print, but he found Vol. 2 and got to work.

Without telling his professors, Walker then began on an intensive study of the “Cessa di piu resistere,” which Blake himself reintroduced to Rossini’s famous opera, “The Barber of Seville,” in 1988, at the Met. It was regarded as the most difficult comic piece for a tenor because of its coloratura, or extensive runs and trills.

“There’s a phrase in it that is a page-and-a-half long, and it takes 28 seconds to do it in one breath,” Walker told me last week over breakfast at a restaurant. He tapped his finger on the table like a metronome, his eyes shining, and quietly demonstrated the trills as a server walked by.

“It’s really hard,” he said, almost apologetically. “Most people can’t do it. Physically, it’s beyond most voices’ ability to move.”

At 20 years old, Walker worked on the piece in his spare time. His roommate went away for the summer, leaving Walker all alone. Every day, after work and class, he went to his apartment and listened and sang to the same piece, over and over again. He spent five hours per day for the full summer. He didn’t stop. In all, he worked on the piece for six months until he perfected it, hitting every nearly imperceptible note, and adding the dynamics — the touch — that most tenors overlook in such technical pieces. He compared his performances in his apartment to the recordings of the professionals, and he knew he was as good, or better. More steel to the sound.

A ladder to nowhere

During this same period of growth as a singer, Walker also made big changes personally. Alana Fitzgerald invited him back home to Flagler County to teach a master class at FPC. While he was teaching, a high school senior walked in late — right in front of him — as he was teaching.

“I thought that was a little brassy, so I asked her out, and she said yes,” Walker said. Within a few months, Kristi had graduated high school, and they were married.

The years started to move more quickly for Walker. He and Kristi had children. He had to work long hours to support his family, and he wasn’t about to abandon them and spend the family’s money on trips to New York for auditions. After the New School’s accreditation woes, Walker left the opera conservatory with 160 credits and no degree, and he entered the Army.

There, he gained a reputation as a singer once again. He sang the national anthem in every possible setting — about 50 times in two years — before his superior officers encouraged him to take an honorable discharge and pursue his dream.

He followed their advice, but, with a family to feed, it wasn’t so simple. He still couldn’t afford to travel to auditions in New York or Europe, and that was the only way to land the roles at opera houses that would pay as much as $20,000 per performance.

Instead, he worked as an accountant at Florida Hospital Flagler for a year or two.

Then, in the middle of the housing boom about six years ago, Walker got a job using a spray gun to paint home interiors. He would keep one ear phone in, the other dangling, and, covered in white paint from head to toe except for an oval on his face where the painter’s mask had protected his mouth and nose, he touched up the corners of walls and ceilings with a paint brush. On a ladder, alone in a carpetless, echo chamber of a new house in Palm Coast, far from the bright lights of the world stage, Walker’s soaring tenor voice resonated in the freshly painted walls, as he put on a concert of the great opera music — for no one.

The recruit

A professor at Stetson University talked him into coming back to school and starting over on his education. Into the next two years, he crammed four years of classes and got all As. Then he got his master’s degree at Florida State University, while supporting himself by teaching voice lessons.

What next? Walker debated pursuing a Ph.D. in music, but the jobs were drying up all around the country.

If fame and money were distributed based on merit, Walker wouldn’t be faced with this decision: Should he risk his family’s future and chase the dream, or re-enter the Army and let it go?

Without any other options to speak of, Walker walked into the Army recruiting office and said he wanted to become an officer. The age limit was 35 to begin Officer Candidate School, and he had a few years left before it was too late. He felt it was his last best chance to make a career for himself.

But by this time, Walker weighed 300 pounds. The recruiting officer didn’t do much recruiting.

“He laughed me to scorn,” Walker recalled. “I was way fat. I needed to change.”

He needed to lose 120 pounds — a nearly impossible task for most people. But this is the man who studied an obscure, centuries-old aria for six months. He already had the discipline of a drill sergeant.

He borrowed a workout program from a friend and got to work. Routines that should have taken one hour took two. He was so out of shape he had to lay on the floor for 15 minutes in between sets to recover. As he panted and considered the months that lie ahead — the strict dieting, the aches and lonely routines — he must have thought about giving up.

But in one year, he lost that 120 pounds.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically,” Walker said. As I sat at the table across from him at breakfast, Walker showed me a picture of himself when he had weighed 300 pounds. He said he keeps it in his wallet as a reminder when he’s tempted to eat junk food.

‘I never once doubted his talent’

The difference between Walker and the opera singers who make a living on stage may come down to one word: exposure. He was never able to scrape together enough money to fully chase his dream. A couple of years ago, he was prepared to sing at an inexpensive competition in Georgia. It was a minor prize, but one he could win, and one that might attract some attention. He was ready to leave.

Then his car broke down.

The repairs had to come first. He never made it to Georgia.

After another concert locally, two women with great wealth approached him and told him they wanted to support him. How much would it take to send you to New York and Europe to audition at the great opera houses for a year? they asked.

Walker was skeptical at first, but they assured him they were serious. He spent three weeks preparing a line-by-line budget to pay for everything from his family’s rent while he was away to his meals on the road. He came back to the ladies, and with the report: It would cost about $100,000. That’s it? they said. They told him they’d talk to their husbands about it.

Walker got his hopes up. Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to go back to the Army after all.

Weeks later, the ladies said they’d reconsidered. The economy was too bad, and they didn’t feel they could spare the cash after all.

Kristi said her husband was devastated. But only for a moment. He picked himself back up and continued with his plans.

“I never once doubted his talent or ability,” Kristi wrote in a recent e-mail. “It is incredibly difficult and disheartening to watch his dream of singing slip away as he steps towards a new journey. I know that his decision for the military will be more stable for us as a family and our future. For all his hard work in music, the constant knockdowns, his perseverance … I am eternally grateful, and for this he will always be a hero to me.”

The music

Walker tries not to dwell on what might have been. With his last concert in Palm Coast coming up, he’s focused on one thing: the music. That’s what he’s always taught his voice students.

“Ultimately, we learn the technique and we study so that when we stand on stage, nobody ever knows we did that stuff — they just feel,” Walker said. “People give up their time and money to come to a concert so they can get out of their own reality and into the reality that I fabricate. And if I do my job, it will be a short evening, but it will be filled with memories that will last a long time.”

Walker’s story is not over. It still may be that someone — a patron of the arts, perhaps — will discover him and give him a chance to sing for a living. And somewhere in the outpouring of emotion Nov. 5 at the concert, and wherever he is in the world as he pursues his future career, there will be a nearly imperceptible longing underscoring the notes he sings — a steel that will reveal to all who are listening that the dream is still alive, in one form or another, just as it was when he was 20, belting out that 28-second run of trills alone in his apartment.

He can’t help himself.

The story first appeared in The Palm Coast Observer.
See Jamison Walker's YouTube page to listen for yourself.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I vant to suck your blood

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
On the suggestion that he should put his jack-o-lantern outside for Halloween, Grant said, "That way the mosquitoes will get scared!"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

That's how the cookie crumbles

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
After giving his mom a half-eaten cookie, Jackson said, "I took some bites so you didn't have to eat the whole thing."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A green, leafy substance... Basil? Parsley?

Abbey, 8, Fort Collins, Colorado
While watching the TV show, COPS, Abbey said the man was being arrested because he had "marinara" in the car.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Heckuva job

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
After his baby sister slept through the night for the first time, Jackson said, "She did such a good job, I'm going to make her an umbrella."

Friday, October 22, 2010

What Daddy does and doesn't like

Anna, 5, Marquette, Michigan
Overhearing her parents talk about breastfeeding, Anna said, "Mama, that's a privacy spot. Daddy doesn't want to hear about it."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thankings for sharing

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"It borings me out when I have to sit there and wait."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trouble sleeping?

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"This is another way to make your bed: you curl your blanket up like a nest, and then you can put your head down and snore quietly to yourself."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Orange you glad I didn't quit my day job?

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Grant: Knock knock.
Dad: Who's there?
Grant: Banana.
Dad: Banana who?
Grant: Knock knock.
Dad: Who's there?
Grant: Banana.
Dad: Banana who?
Grant: Knock knock.
Dad: Who's there?
Grant: Orange.
Dad: Orange who?
Grant: Oh. Oops. I forgot to say, "Banana."

Still cool: Truth and Beauty

I wandered into Hollingsworth Gallery the other day. You should, too.

You may be lucky enough to meet an unassuming, mostly bald guy who will introduce himself as Bill. He won’t tell you the William Brant Gallery at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design is named after him. He probably won’t mention he was an art professor for 40 years, or that now he is a mentor to young painters in Palm Coast.

Brant’s work is on display through Tuesday, Nov. 2, at the latest exhibit at Hollingsworth Gallery, located at City Marketplace.

He calls himself a colorist, coming from the tradition of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse.

“There are two kinds of colors in painting,” he says. “If you paint the grass green and the trees brown and green and the house the color it’s supposed to be, it’s called local color. In normal, realistic painting, that’s what’s used. There’s another kind of color called subjective color. It comes out of your head or out of your heart.”

Brant and I sat on folding chairs in front of his artwork on the back wall of the gallery, and we were soon joined by Hollingsworth owner and curator J.J. Graham. He’s a young man with a mop of brown hair and the body language of a surfer dude.

“Color is a stimulant — one of the few that won’t rot your teeth or land you jail,” Graham says.

Pointing to “In Your Face,” Brant says first of all he hopes it’s something pleasing to look at. Second, it’s a political commentary.

“Social discourse today has lost its civility,” Brant says. “From road rage to abortion to black to white, to religious issues — there is no longer a polite, civil discourse to these things. There is a position I have and a position you have, and we’re not talking to each other, but at each other. It’s a confrontation, not a conversation.”

And the form — the way the components of the painting are executed — is meant to convey that message. The pink space may represent the tumultuous airwaves between the two arguing faces.

Brant picked bright, bold, simple colors because they’re childlike on one hand, but also because “this painting is all about contrast,” he says. “It’s one raw color coming right against the next one.”

Brant used oil paints on canvas, but he didn’t just use a brush — he also used tape to keep the edges of the shapes as sharp as possible. Again, that emphasizes the contrast.

Graham says painting is a form of alchemy. It’s just paint and canvas, but there is a unique, intangible element created in the hands of the artist with each new artwork.

“Being fortunate enough to live around it, I can see that art has an effect on my mood,” Graham says. “It elevates me, helps me to think. … Sit there, and then let me take all that work out of here, and see how empty it feels. You see? The art is giving you something. It can hold a room together.”

As I left the gallery, I couldn’t help thinking Graham and Brant are engaged in something significant — maybe more significant than the work going at the Palm Coast city offices. I’m not discounting the hard work of all the employees who help build this city, but the serious artists next door are also building the city in a different way. They’re reminding us that truth and beauty are still relevant and cool, still worthy of meditation in a busy world.

Note: This column was first published in The Palm Coast Observer.

See more at Hollingsworth Gallery.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No phone necessary

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"If you call 911 really loud, it goes all the way to the fire station."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Smooth, dead criminal

Carter, 5, Kennewick, Washington
Upon hearing a song by the King of Pop, Carter said, "Of all the people who are dead, Michael Jackson is probably the best. And dinosaurs. Except they can't sing."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Solemn Homecoming

Sgt. Richard Estudillo was recalled from Afghanistan for his father's final days.

He figured the Red Cross message was for someone else.

Before it came, just before 1400 hours on Tuesday, Sept. 21, Gunnery Sgt. Richard Grant Estudillo was studying a model of the terrain that surrounded his office in Helmond Province, Afghanistan.

“We were getting ready to do one more disruption,” Estudillo recalls. “The mission was to establish a stronger foothold and eliminate the IED threat, to free up movement for the battalion.”

He’s partly deaf in one ear, and he thought he heard it wrong. Then he opened the note. His father was in critical condition at the Stuart F. Meyer Hospice House, in Palm Coast. He had just days to live.

Estudillo, 36, has been a soldier longer than he was a civilian, having enlisted at 17, when he was still in high school in California.

“I’ve seen it so many times,” he says. “You just hope it’s not you. No one wants to leave their brothers in arms, or, obviously, have a family member pass or get hurt.”

But, as is the policy, Estudillo was immediately relieved of his duties. Someone else would have to follow through with making sure the ammunition was prepared, the spare fuel and other provisions ready for the troops. And someone else would have to drive the lead vehicle.

“I always take point,” Estudillo says. “My VIC (vehicle) is always the one with the mine roller, an IED deterrent. It’s an attachment — a trailer, about 20 feet long in front of the VIC, and about as wide as the lane. … My VIC is the one that’s going to get hit with an IED. If any anyone is going down, I’d rather it be me.”

But not on that day. His orders were to wait for the next plane back to the U.S. In the meantime, one of the locals gave the troops a tip that an IED was planted in the road, and a crew was sent out to investigate. Sure enough, they were able to execute a controlled detonation. Based on the size of the crater, it was determined to be the largest IED — 80 pounds — found in the region in the last two or three years.

After a few days of travel, Estudillo met up with five of his seven siblings, as well as his mother, Gail, in the Stuart F. Meyer Hospice House. Having traveled from all around the country, they gathered around their father’s bed and recalled some of the highlights of the life of their father, who has suffered two strokes and kidney complications.

The room bore an American flag, as well as other red-white-and-blue decorations. The staff at the hospice house also baked a cake for the family. And jazz music played in the background.

Enrique Estudillo, who grew up in the Philippines and was a union electrical contractor in San Francisco, was also a jazz musician, having played bass guitar in churches and other places, including the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colo., where the movie, “The Shining,” was filmed. He also played many times in Palm Coast after he and Gail moved here eight years ago. Their son, Joshua, played drums.

Raquel Estudillo, the youngest sibling, traveled from New Jersey to be with the family. She stood close to her father and said, “It was a really good fight. He really pushed himself.”

Enrique Estudillo died late on the night of Monday, Oct. 4. He was 66.

Richard Estudillo reflected on his mission in Afghanistan and the IED explosion.

“That would have been a catastrophic kill to my VIC, along the route I was supposed to take,” he says. “It’s not a glorious way to come home, but I also see this as my father saved my life. … My father taught us to live life to the fullest. It’s 50-50: You never know when it’s going to be your last day.”

NOTE: This story first appeared in The Palm Coast Observer.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Goes down easy

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Reading a cereal box, Jackson said, "The fiber in oatmeal helps reduce casserole!"

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A brief history of time

Carter, 5, Kennewick, Washington
Carter gave another child a history lesson, illustrated with playdough: "And this was in the '80s and '70s, when there were only police officers and dinosaurs. It was Jurassic. And Jurassic Park is scary."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beware the STAR WARS nerd

Note: This video has been viewed more than 19 million times on YouTube. Yowsers.

Growth spurt

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
As Jackson was sweeping the driveway, a neighbor told him he looks like he's getting bigger. "What are you, about 7 feet tall now?" the neighbor said. Jackson said quietly to his dad, "It's funny that he thinks I'm 7 feet tall when I'm only 6 feet."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Walking for Breezy

Six-year-old Breezy Shiflett wants to be a veterinarian some day. For now, at her home in the E-Section, she keeps an eye on the wildlife in the backyard.

“Squirrel!” she says, pointing to a bushy tail scurrying across the lanai. “Mostly, I’m at school when he comes. I’m lucky today.”

You would never know by looking at her, or by listening to her describe how she likes losing teeth because the tooth fairy once gave her 10 bucks, but Breezy is lucky every day to be alive. She has cystic fibrosis, a genetic, chronic illness that creates a mucous buildup in the lungs. As a result, the lungs can become clogged and the pancreas can be hampered in its ability to digest food. There is no known cure. Life expectancy is 37 years.

Her mother, Jessica Bear, persistently took her to doctors until they had correctly diagnosed her at 4 years old and put her on medication and other treatments.

Bear also led the effort to start a local, annual Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis, which took place Friday, Sept. 24, at Town Center. Bear said about 200 people showed up, which was a tremendous turnout even country.

“That’s my talent — watching animals,” says Breezy, wearing purple flip-flops and purple pants. “Guess what? I have a pet swimming frog. … The main thing we see sometimes is golf balls on the other side of the lake. I picked two of them up and put them in my jewelry box. Because there was room for them.”

Breezy takes three pills with every meal, and her medicine routine changes frequently, as she battles different infections. She also takes nebulizers and inhalers. Every day or two, for about 20 minutes, she wears a special vest that fills with air and then vibrates her chest to loosen the mucous. She takes another pill to help her cough it up. Physical activity helps, and so Breezy is also on the cheer squad for the Imagine School Lions.

“But I’m a Georgia Bulldogs fan,” she says. She inherited the passion for the University of Georgia from her father, Nate Shiflett. “And I do not the like the Florida Gators,” she says. “My main thing that I really like is dogs. And I do not like alligators, because they kill dogs.”

“Breezy” is a nickname; her real name is Brianna, but when she was younger, long before she was diagnosed, her parents called her “Wheezy Breezy,” because she always seemed to have a raspy voice. She also didn’t gain weight, weighing just 23 pounds at 4 years old. Thanks to the treatments, Breezy is now approaching the 50th percentile, which has been one of Bear’s goals. Bear continues to do whatever is necessary for treatments (the vest cost $16,000), and she keeps close to friends in online, cystic fibrosis groups. She finds strength in the support she has received from people like Marie Butler, of Imagine School, who helped round up about 100 people for the Great Strides Walk. And Bear convinces herself that 37 is just a number — an average.

“Many people with (cystic fibrosis) reach their mid-20s and have living lung transplants or donor transplants,” she says. “You lose people who are a lot younger than that, but then there are some of them out there who are 60 years old.”

And at the same time that she cares for Breezy, Bear also leans on her.

“Having spirit means you have a positive attitude, and doing your best,” Breezy says. “That’s our rules in class. To have, like, a smile on your face.”

Almost 90% of the money raised through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation results in real research taking place — that’s one of the best rates of any charity, according to Jessica Bear, Breezy’s mother. Bear is helping to raise money through Dec. 31. To donate, visit and click on the “Great Strides” button.

Photos courtesy of Innovative Eyes Photography.
This story first appeared in The Palm Coast Observer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do it yourself

Abbey, 4, Fort Collins, Colorado
While playing Wiffle Ball in the backyard, Abbey said, “Mom, I did it! I hit a Home Depot!"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Vested interest

I don’t want to sound like a scaredy cat, but when everyone around me — big guys from U.S. Marshals, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Tri-County Narcotics Task Force, Jacksonville Police, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office — was strapping on bulletproof vests and stuffing every pocket with tasers and pistols, I have to admit I felt like I had made a mistake. I had no one to blame but myself for accepting the offer to ride along during the largest drug bust in the county since last November. We were in the P-Section serving one of almost two-dozen warrants Thursday, Sept. 16, to break up the Script Club, a loosely organized group of traffickers, sellers and users of Oxycodone.

“Watch out,” said Sgt. Chris Sepe.

I ducked and spun around.

“No, I just need to close the door,” he said.

He pulled down the hatch to his SUV.

OK. We walked along the sleepy, Palm Coast street. Sunlight glinted in the pine needles high overhead, and the sun hadn’t heated up the air yet. It could have been any morning, anywhere in suburbia, except for the guns and the battering-ram canister being toted by one of the U.S. Marshals.

Sepe, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 17 years, said I should wait at the end of the driveway rather than approach the door. No problem, I thought. Between this plastic mailbox and my four-inch writing pad for a shield, I’m sure I’ll be safe.

The law enforcement officers spread out, surrounding the home. They had a tip from a neighbor saying the suspect, Sherri Le, was home and must be hiding out inside. I had my doubts, because an old copy of a certain free community newspaper lay yellowing in the driveway. Surely even drug dealers wouldn’t let a perfectly good copy of The Palm Coast Observer go to waste, I thought.

Then, the knocking started. They knocked on the windows and on the doors. Then they pounded: Thud, thud, thud echoed through the street. A little old lady on the corner stood and watched, and I smile awkwardly in her direction.

“U.S. Marshals! We have a warrant for your arrest! We’re about to breach the door! You have three seconds!”

Nothing. A half-dozen crows flew back and forth through the trees a few blocks away. Creepy, right?

Then, the pounding really began, as the officers rammed the door repeatedly until the deadbolt gave way. Sepe motioned for me to stay put while the rest entered the house. Yessir. I’ll just be keeping an eye on this mailbox and warding off any brave elderly folks.

In they went, but still nothing. A minute or two later, the same routine was repeated, with the knocking, the pounding and the shouted warnings: “We’re about to breach the door! You have three seconds!” This time, they rammed in a bedroom door.

Handcuffed, a young woman in jeans and pink T-shirt was led out a few minutes later, a cigarette dangling from her lips. As I snapped a few pictures, she muttered to an officer: “Glad to see you invited everybody.”

According to Sepe, when they entered Le’s bedroom, she was sitting in a relaxed pose on her bed, a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other. Sepe said based on her body language, she seemed to be asking, “What’s up, boys?” Apparently, the pain killers she has allegedly been dealing have a mellowing effect and aren’t likely to incite violence.

As she was led to the car, Le said she hadn’t answered the door because she didn’t know who was knocking. Hmm. To me, the shouts and the battering ram would have given it away, but I have little experience running (or chilling out) from the law. As she was getting in the car, Le complained no one had read her rights.

I asked Sepe about that while we were driving back to the Emergency Operations Center, where a mobile command center had been set up for processing the 15 suspects who were booked in jail that day.

“We only have to say we’re here executing a lawful warrant,” he said, “We don’t have to read Miranda until we’re questioning her.”

“Well, that’s not how they do it in the movies,” I said.

“And in ‘CSI,’ they get DNA back in 24 hours,” Sepe said, referring to the crime-solving show. “That’s why TV is killing us.”

Sepe was right: This drug bust was nothing like the busts in prime time. First of all, on TV they always kick in the door — no battering rams. Second, the suspects’ faces are always digitally smeared. Third, there usually isn’t a reporter hiding behind the mailbox, furiously composing his will. Next time, I’ll bring my own vest.

Note: This was first published Sept. 23 in The Palm Coast Observer.

Grant and the amazing, technicolor dream plaid

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Pointing to his plaid shirt, Grant said, "This is my fancy gown, because it has so many colors."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saucy suggestion

Abbey, 6, Fort Collins, Colorado
Wanting to be a big girl, Abbey ordered her spaghetti by herself at Olive Garden. “Yes, please, I will have spaghetti," she said. "But can you please make it naked?”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Come to think of it, so does school ...

Hannah, 6, Marquette, Michigan
"I don't like to make my bed. It waste-ez my play time."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Check, please

Girl, 8, and Boy, 6, New Jersey
Big sister: You should always love your mommy because she takes care of you, she cooks for you, she's nice to you, she feeds you...
Little brother: (matter-of-factly) No, that's a waitress.

Friday, September 17, 2010

From the King Grant Version

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Pretending to read the Bible, Grant said, "Jesus said to be nice to be people. Don't punch them in the face. Don't throw your friends out the window."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

That comes later, like facial hair

Jacob, 6, Fort Collins, Colorado
About his baby brother, Jacob said, "Mom, I know Josh is a baby. Know why? Cause he hasn't grown a neck yet."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wildlife appreciation 101

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"When a bird dies on the road, it's big and dead. But when a car runs over it, it's flat. Except for the head."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm lovin' this typo

Erin, 4, Redding, Connecticut
"Why is there a big 'M' outside Nickdonald’s?”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fuzzy memories

Jacob, 6, Fort Collins, Colorado
While watching the show, “Cops,” one night, Jacob yelled out, “Ma! Look! That guy is blind!” His mother looked up to see the arrested individual’s face blurred out for privacy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Farming 101

Jack, 3, Albuquerque, New Mexico
After his father brought home a delicious watermelon and bragged about his talents in picking good ones, Jack said, "I know how to pick a watermelon." His father asked how, and Jack replied, "I use two hands."

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's bird! It's a plane! It's a baby astronaut!

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
When asked where his baby sister was, Grant said, "I think she jumped into outer space."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The world of Pooh

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
After sacrament meeting on Sunday, Grant went to the bathroom and said, "Sometimes, when I flush the toilet, it sounds like Tigger bouncing over the church."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Give us this day our favorite chairs

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
In a prayer at the dinner table, Jackson said, "... and please bless that Grant will get out of my chair."

Friday, September 3, 2010

(This shouldn't have to be a rule): Put underwear on immediately after bath time

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
As heard from the other side of the house, Jackson yelled at his younger brother: "Hey! Stop following me if you're naked!"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mama knows best ... especially compared to Papa

Kate, 5, Marquette, Michigan
Kate was sick on the couch when she called for Mama. Papa responded to the call by hurrying over to her. "Can I get something for you Kate?" he asked. "Yes," she said, "you can get Mama."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do you know anyone else named Batman?

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
When his brother told Grant he was looking for a Batman toy, Grant responded, "Batman who?"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thanks for the vote of confidence

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Are we going to stay living here until Dad loses his job?"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A shortcut to pure handsomeness

Max, 3, Santa Monica, California
"Mommy, my hair is bigger. I need a shortcut."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

First-day-of-school salute

It fell on me to wake the two cherubs for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 23. Jackson, 6, and Grant, 4, were snug in their beds and not interested. I tried the gentle tap first. Then, the blanket removal. Finally, the ultimate trick that fools every kid: “Jackson, Grant, wake up! It’s Christmas!”

With his eyes still closed, Jackson said, “No, it isn’t.”

“It’s better than Christmas,” I said. “It’s —”

“It’s worse,” Jackson said.

“I think it’s better,” said Grant, who was trying to be brave on his first day of voluntary pre-kindergarten.

After breakfast, my wife, Hailey, spritzed the boys’ heads with a spray bottle to corral the cowlicks before the boys swung their enormous Lightning McQueen packs on their backs.

On the ride to Grant’s VPK class at Indian Trails Middle School, I thought back to my first day of kindergarten. I was so nervous that while I was riding the bus to school, I made a plan to bawl in my mother’s arms as soon as I got home and convince her not to ever send me again.

To prevent that kind of crisis for Grant, I role-played with him the day before, walking him into the kitchen and pretending to drop him off at school, reassuring him that his mom would be back later to pick him up.

When we entered his Indian Trails classroom, he hung up his backpack and said hello to his new teachers. I stepped back into the hallway and waved goodbye. His face went pale, his bottom lip starting to tremble. I hesitated and waved again, then walked down the hallway. Again, I turned back, watching the shaft of light from his classroom, half expecting him to come running out for one last hug. Part of me wished he would.

I worried about Grant all day. I was planning to go home for lunch, but a meeting went long. I was planning to come home just before dinner, but another meeting kept me away. When I finally saw him just before 8 p.m., I asked how it went.

He grinned and saluted me, his hand on his forehead. “You know what that means?” he asked. “It means, ‘Good.’”

The first day of school wasn’t so traumatic after all. But I doubt I would have made it without those rehearsals in the kitchen.

This column first appeared in The Palm Coast Observer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting the most out of your education

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Dad: How was your first day of school?
Jackson: I went to P.E. I just sat there, doing nothing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Of brevity and hunger

Matthew, 4, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Matthew, thinking ahead after the evening family prayer: "If we need to say a prayer at breakfast and we're late, I'll say the prayer. ... I say SHORT prayers."

Well, how would YOU describe it?

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
While getting dressed in the morning, Grant said, "It's an underweary day."

Friday, August 20, 2010

The more, the merrier

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"If I had four feet, I would need four shoes. If I had five hands, I could eat five foods."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If it walks like a chicken nugget ...

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
As we were driving through town, Grant said from his car seat, "I just saw a tree that looked like a chicken. Not a food chicken, a real one."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Funny talk, Part 2

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Speaking of his 9-month-old sister, Jackson said, "I wonder what language Ellie will speak when she's 3 years old."

Listen: He's talking funny talk

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
After his dad read him a children's book in Spanish, Grant said, "I thought this was made out of real words."

Monday, August 16, 2010

A word for the church-clothes-making gnomes

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"I wish the people that made church clothes would start making church shorts."

Notes from the African safari, part 3

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Mom: Does anyone want some cantaloupe?
Grant: No! That's an animal!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I'm a lumberjack, and I'm OK

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Dad, if they ever chop down trees to make paper, maybe we could join in. And I could get a kid axe."

On second thought...

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
When his mom told him she'd miss him around the house when he went back to school, Jackson said, "Yeah, then you'll have to do all the work."

Let's just practice, instead

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"I wish I was 73 years old so I could catch the ball better."

Friday, August 13, 2010

That's one fast baby

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Watching his 9-month-old sister scoot across the living room, Jackson said, "She can crawl like a bullet!"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Anatomy lesson, part 2

Nathan, 6, Idaho Falls, Idaho
After his younger brother accused him of punching him in the stomach, Nathan defended himself by saying, "Whatever. You punched me in my axe!"

Dad followed the storming Nathan downstairs to learn more. Nathan pointed to his hip and stated, “I have an axe. It’s actually my axel.” When Dad still didn’t get it, Nathan said, “You know, for cars.”

Hiccups 101, part 1

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Whenever you hiccup, a little bit of protein comes out of your mouth. I guess."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

So, you like them?

Matthew, 4, Idaho Falls, Idaho
When a single, hard boiled egg was placed in his bowl rather than the usual cereal for breakfast, Matthew exclaimed, "Dad, this is like egg FEAST!"

You can never be too sure

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Jackson asked for the van keys, and then walked through the kitchen and back to the garage. When he came back, he said, "I locked the van doors so that if anyone cuts a hole in our garage door, no one can steal our van."

I get that all the time

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
First thing in the morning, Grant came out of his bedroom and said, "I heard some typing, and I thought it was a raccoon robot. But it was you."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jackson the Jeweler

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Dad: You know what? My wedding ring broke in half.
Jackson: I can make you a new one out of cardboard, if you like.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yes. And it's also still 90 degrees.

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
As we crossed the Florida line heading north, Jackson asked, "Is it 2010 in Georgia, too?"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Driven to succeed

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Screwing a lid on a peanut butter jar, Grant said, "See? I can steer it on."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Zoom zoom

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Instead of saying he wanted to zip up a suitcase, Grant said he wanted to "zoom it up." And what kind of nuts did he eat for lunch? "Mustachios."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It's all downhill from here

Dylan, 3, Vernon, Connecticut
When asked by his mother what he wants to do when he grows up, Dylan said, "I'm gonna go to work and work hard all day, come home and be tired. I think that's it."

And so we could have tails

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
"I wish we were tigers, so we could hunt at night."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Just don't repeat that to your mother

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Girl bees do all the work. But for humans, boys do all the work. Weird."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sharing strategy

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Upon learning that his 4-year-old brother, Grant, still had $20 of birthday money, Jackson said, "Do you want to buy a game? We could split it. You could buy one $10 game for me, and one $10 game for you!"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Teddy bears are known for that

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Speaking of his teddy bear, Jackson said, "Sometimes Ted wakes up, asks me an easy math problem and then goes back to sleep."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Trust me, it's around here somewhere. Just give me the cash.

Dean, 6, Santa Monica, California

Dear Tooth Faree, I Lost my tooth. It olredee fell out. Love, Dean.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Going on 16

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"OK, I get it: We're like, your slaves, and we have to do whatever you say, right?" Later, he said, "I'll help you weed, but I'll take several water breaks and several bathroom breaks."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Great survival skills

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"I haven't drunk water in six days, and I'm still alive."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Waste not, oink not

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"I only want one piece of sausage so as not waste so many pigs."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When a hug is in order

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
A few minutes after going to bed, Grant emerged from his room and, almost in tears, said to his mom and dad, "I miss you when I go to sleep."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Girls like it when you compliment their hair

Dean, 5, Santa Monica, California
"Mommy, let me tell you a joke: Your hair is made of meat."

Monday, July 19, 2010

What happens when we sleep

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Speaking of his 6-year-old brother, Grant said, "Why does Jackson always get bigger than me when he sleeps a lot of times?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Did you get all that?

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
In his prayer, Jackson said, "Bless that in August, it will get a little bit colder, and then the next month, bless that it will get a little bit warmer. The next month, don't change the weather."

How about a nice glass of juice?

Hayley, 8, Idaho Falls, Idaho
"I don't want to drink mysterious liquid that comes from a blister."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You used my own words against me... !

Nathan, 6, Idaho Falls
Dad: "I'm tired."
Nathan: "Hi, Tired. I'm Nathan." (smiling, satisfied with himself) "I played the joke back on you."

Friday, July 16, 2010

A good day starts with easy breathing

Hayley, 8, Idaho Falls, Idaho
When she was 3 and living in Kansas, Hayley was asked by her aunt if she was having a good day. "Yeah," Hayley said. "I don't have the hiccups."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You're officially old when you've wanted something for more than one year

Grant, 4, Palm Coast, Florida
Grant turned 4 today, July 14. After he opened a present, he cheered and said, "I've wanted this for years!"
Later, he said, "I've never been 4 in my whole life."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What I mean is, no.

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Dad: Are you dressed yet?
Grant: Almost. But not too-most.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Slipped my mind...

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Dad: What happened to this?!?
Grant: I forgot to not break it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I think you mean FREEZE Tag

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
"Do you want to play Tease Tag? It's when you tag someone and then you say, 'You are a tee-tee!'"

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We, robot

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
He wrote the following on a piece of paper and hung it on the refrigerator: "If are famly waorks tugethr, we will look like a giunt robot."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's called a toll booth

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
"Why do we go to a house and pay money sometimes?"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

No parenting without representation!

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
After a lesson on how the colonies signed the Declaration of Independence to become the United States, Jackson found a practical way to celebrate the holiday.
He said, "Do you think we should rule ourselves on Independence Day? Like I can do whatever I want?"

All the world's a DVR

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Dad, it's great that you paused your work and you don't have to resume until Tuesday."

Friday, July 2, 2010

First things first

Eliza, 2, Longmont, Colorado
Eliza asked why her mom was cooking.
Mom: Because your tummy needs some dinner.
Eliza: No! No! Not tummy. Mouf need food.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Crafty kid

Jackson, 6, and Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Speaking of Grant's imaginary friend, Jackson said, "You should make him out of pipe cleaners. That way Mom knows he's real."
Grant: "Yeah! We can make him hitting himself in the face with eggs!"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Well, what's the point of a belly button, then?

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Did Ellie puke up apples and blueberries out of her mouth or out of her belly button?"

Friday, June 25, 2010

A vision of the afterlife

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
"What some people do is be statues when they die. If you're not a statue then you just be dead all the time."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Advertising that works

Grant, 3, and Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Grant: I really want a Toy Story shirt. You know why?
Dad: Why?
Grant: Because I saw it on TV.
Dad: Oh...
Jackson: It's roll-back time at Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Then my compass wouldn't work!

Dean, 5, Santa Monica, California
In a prayer, he said, "Bless that the planets will be safe from asteroids and that the earth won't lose its magnetic field."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who's in that movie, anyway?

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
"Let's go to the moo-thee feater and watch The Hairy Dinosaur."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cart sickness

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Jackson said he didn't want to read in the car, because he'd get car sick. Instead, he'd bring the book with him when Mom took the boys to Wal-Mart, and he could read it there.
Grant: But then you'll get cart sick!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Have an ordinary Father’s Day

Fatherhood is mythical and spiritual and hilarious and heartbreaking. Being a father is heavy. Sometimes I expect my time with my children to feel extraordinary, and then it just isn’t.

It’s a lot of telling them not to pick up that bowl of Cheerios, and then telling them not to shake it. Then it’s a lot of telling them to pick up the Cheerios, every last one of them, because I’m sure not going to clean it up when you did it on purpose. It’s a lot of reminding yourself that when you were 3 years old, you didn’t know how to pick up a floor full of Cheerios, either, and you spent most of the time crying and then forgetting all about it and lying on the carpet and eating a few of them here and there.

The other day, my family and I went out to dinner to celebrate my son finishing kindergarten. It was supposed to be an extraordinary time, where we could make memories …

Grant: I want pizza!

Grant is 3. He thinks the waitress can only hear him if he cups his hands around his mouth and yells.

Hailey: Shhh!

That’s my wife sitting across from me in the booth. Jackson, 6, is the man of the hour. He hands me a crayon.

Jackson: Want to play tic-tac-toe?
Grant: I need some salt.
Brian: Sure.
Jackson: You can have the orange crayon.
Grant: (licking his finger) I like salt.
Brian: (taking the salt shaker away) Stop!

It’s times like these that try fathers’ souls. “Do not lick the salt shaker” is not something anyone should have to say in life.

Jackson: Bendy straws!
Grant: What is this?
Hailey: Sprite.

Grant takes a sip and grimaces.

Brian: Don’t you like it?
Grant: (gasping) Yes.
Brian: Why are you making that face, then?
Grant: I almost don’t like it.

The waitress brings a bottle of ketchup, and Jackson snatches it out of her hands.

Jackson: Look what she gave me! She is nicer than any store I’ve ever been to.
Hailey: It’s not a store, and you can’t keep the ketchup.
Grant: I am Buzz Lightyear.

Now comes the semi-serious husband-wife discussion while the children are occupied with their food.

Hailey: When we get back, remind me to make muffins.
Brian: OK.

Enough of that. Back to the kids.

Grant: Dad, you know what? If a turtle bites off a leg of a salamander, it grows a new one.

Hailey helps the boys learn about a new animal every day.

Grant: But Dad, a salamander can survive a bite to the head.
Brian: How does it grow back its head?
Jackson: The brain. That’s right inside where the bones cover.

I nod, swallowing a piece of pork, and push aside a bone.

Jackson: What is that bone from?
Brian: A pig.
Jackson: Eww.
Hailey: You’ve eaten a pig before.
Jackson: (frowning) I’ve never had a single piece of pig.
Hailey: You’ve had ham.

This sounds like a great teaching opportunity. Son, we’re all part of the circle of life, and one animal gives its life for —

Jackson: Why does it say 57 on the bottle?

but he has already moved on to reading condiment labels.

Brian: 57 varieties. Heinz. See?
Grant: (wiping his mouth, then holding up a napkin) Whose is this?
Hailey: It’s yours.
Grant: Why?
Hailey: Because you used it.

We’ve been in the restaurant for about 30 minutes, and I’m just starting to feel relaxed. Meanwhile, the boys are losing all sense of public etiquette. When I was 3, I tell you what, I never crawled underneath a table at a restaurant …

Jackson: (returning from underneath the table after fighting with Grant) I won.
Grant: (panting) Tie. We both won. I got 5, you got 30.
Jackson: Good. I won.
Grant: Who got 30 lost.
Jackson: In normal games, whoever gets the most, wins.

It was time to go home. In the parking lot, I reflected on this outing to celebrate Jackson completing his first year of school. There was nothing extraordinary about it. On paper, it was pretty disappointing. And yet, I realized that the boys had no expectation for anything extraordinary or memorable — just the opposite. The boys needed this whole experience to feel ordinary, to know that stress-free family time was the rule, not the exception. They needed to feel safe and important. Their bellies needed to feel full, and they needed to know that their parents loved each other and loved them.

This is on my mind often, but particularly because Father’s Day is just around the corner. I hope it’s a memorable day for all you fathers out there — memorable and ordinary.

This column was originally published Thursday, June 17, in The Palm Coast Observer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My father, my servant

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Dad, can you go get the mail, since you're not doing anything in particular?"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dog to replace child

Kate, 5, Marquette, Michigan
Mom: Kate, what am I going to do when you go to kindergarten?
Kate: (matter-of-factly) Get a dog or something!
Mom: What would I do with a dog?
Kate: I don’t know, play with it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Get back in bed!

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Supposed to be in bed asleep, Grant emerged from the playroom with a stuffed dog. He said to his mother, "Look, he has a big nose like you!"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Game suspended after one pitch

Jackson, 6, and Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
were playing pretend baseball, with an imaginary ball and an imaginary bat. Jackson threw the first pitch and said, "Strike!" Grant disagreed. They argued. They fought. Finally, Grant quit the game, and he said his imaginary friend quit, too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I recognized you by your underwear

Nathan, 6, Idaho Falls, Idaho
His dad found Nathan hiding under some blankets, refusing to get out of bed. He pretended to be confused, calling Nathan by a different name, until finally he jumped out and said, "No! I'm NATHAN! Who else would wear underwear like THESE?"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Plus or minus a few letters

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
His older brother was playing with a calculator, and Grant wanted a turn. He started whining: "I want to play with that escalator!"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Praying by the word

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
I asked Jackson to pray for a family I know, and he declined. He said, "That would be three sentences. I only pray two sentences."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Surprise me

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
To celebrate finishing kindergarten, Jackson had an idea. "Maybe you can make banners out of paper and cloth and hang them in my room at night," he said, "and when I wake up, I can surprised about what you've done."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Buggy feet

Nathan, 6, Idaho Falls, Idaho
His mother, seeing him upside-down in a chair, asked, "Nathan, what are you trying to do, get as much blood to your head as possible?"
Nathan said, "Then my feet would get empty, and they would get all buggy!" He explained that he meant his feet would then have the sensation of little bugs crawling all over them, as when a limb "falls asleep."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Good guy, bad guy... any super power will do

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Dad: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Grant: A bad guy.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My mother, my servant

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
"Mom, did you obey what I said last night and polish my trophy?"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Only the bad parts

Madeline, 2, Seattle, Washington

"Mom, does mac & cheese turn into poop?"

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Reflecting on the use of time

I slumped onto the couch after a long day and closed my eyes for a pseudo-nap before dinner. I heard some troubling news earlier in the day, and I needed to think. It was “my time.” Then, my 3-year-old son, Grant, tiptoed up to me and started chattering. I listened with half an ear, try to give him an idea I was listening. I’ll make it up to him later with some quality time, I thought. But as his words filtered through, I realized I was going about it all wrong.

A death

I received an e-mail from a friend in Bradenton, just north of Sarasota, letting me know a homeless man I knew well had been found dead Sunday, May 25, in his wheelchair, outside a Chinese restaurant. He was 57 years old.

I first met this man when he materialized at the same church I attended when I lived in Bradenton several years ago. I was looking for a writing project, and he needed a ride to a temporary job, so I interviewed him as I took him to work every day. I learned that before he became homeless, he was making $100,000 per year as a computer programmer in Washington, D.C. He was married and owned a large home.

Then things fell apart. He had been sober and bright-eyed for a period, and then he fell victim to his old demons: alcohol, paranoia, delusions.

Alms for the poor

A year passed, and I was about to move to attend graduate school. It was late summer 2006. I was driving home from the store, and there he was, curb-squatting under a fluorescent street lamp several blocks from church. My brain told me to keep driving, but my nagging conscience steered me to the empty parking lot.

We talked quietly on the curb near the cave of a bank drive thru, reminiscing about dinners we had eaten in my apartment, and he ribbed about the enormity of my son’s toy collection.

It was getting late, and I knew my wife would be worried. I didn’t have much cash — five bucks — and I was hesitant to give it to him, knowing he’d probably just use it to buy more rotgut vodka. Still, I slipped him the five. He took it, and then grasped my hand for some time. He wept.

“Thank you,” he said. “Not for this” — and he waved the money — “this won’t help, really. But just the fact that you cared enough to give it to me.”

A scrap of paper

I left Florida to attend graduate school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Thanks to a grant and another temporary job of my own, I was able to fly back twice to continue interviews and keep up the writing project. I sat with him and recorded story after story from his life in 2007. I didn’t know then that it would be the last time I would ever see him.

I’ve thought about him many times since, particularly about the scrap of paper he carried in his wallet. The paper was folded several times, and all that was written on it was a list of names: Brian, Hailey, Jackson, Grant. My name and the names of my wife and children. Somehow, it seemed, it gave him some comfort to know that, on the other side of the country, someone was thinking about him.

But that thought gave me little comfort when I heard he died. Why couldn’t I have made one more trip to see him? I had moved to Florida again and even drove through Bradenton one day on a business meeting. But how to find him? He had no phone number, and he could be anywhere. I didn’t take the time.

Now, it’s too late.

‘My time,’ revisited

I say all this not by way of confession, but because I know that many who are reading this can relate. You can remember a day that began like any other day, with cold cereal. You answered your phone, managed your e-mail inbox, and then you heard the news that someone you cared about had died. You ate lunch. You drove to your next appointment and sat through your next meeting with a blank look on your face.

All of this was on my mind when Grant interrupted “my time.”

I sat up. I pulled him onto my lap and asked him more questions. It didn’t matter what he said, I only wanted him to keep talking — to fill my time.

Someday, Grant will be gone when I get home from work. He’ll be at baseball practice or a friend’s house. He’ll be at a college diner, or he’ll be leaving his own office, with his own wife, his own children squealing at the sounds of his keys jingling as he opens the front door. I may have a lot of time with Grant, or I may have a little — I just don’t know.

So I kept him talking. And he told me he was scared. In our church, a child can choose to be baptized by immersion at 8 years old. He’s 3, but he said he’s scared to go under the water. I held him and told him it was OK to be scared.

I asked him what else he was scared of. Big dogs, he said. He looked down.

It’s OK, I said. I’m scared of big dogs, too.

He doesn’t know it, but I’m scared of a lot of things. I’m scared of bad health, of death, and mostly, of the thought that any one I loved would ever die thinking he was alone.

This column first appeared in The Palm Coast Observer on Thursday, June 3, 2010.

Potato poll

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
At dinner, Jackson said, "Let's take a vote whether these mashed potatoes are amazing or spectacular."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Trouble on the horizon with this one

Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida
Grandma sent him a book about superheroes. He called her back and said Wonder Woman was practically naked.

Grandma: Oh, I'm sorry.
Grant: It's OK. I like naked.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Is the dinosaur invited?

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
We went to Orlando and saw a life-size replica of a dinosaur skeleton. Jackson was amazed. When we got home, he said, "I'm going to eat vanilla pudding to celebrate the bone structure of a dinosaur."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Are you sure it wasn't your brother?

Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida
Jackson's younger brother has an imaginary friend, and apparently, he isn't always nice. Speaking of that friend, Jackson said angrily, "He reached his hand out and bashed me in the booty!"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Check out this blog, too

This is a departure from what I normally post but, I recently found a website with funny kid quotes from church. Here are a few samples:

Girl speaking about her mother on Mother's Day: She's not afraid to be the bad guy and tie Annie to her high chair to stop her from biting everybody.

Front page of a sacrament meeting program: "Motherhood--A Scared and Holy Calling" -Boyd K. Packer

Sharing time leader: When we are being disobedient, the Holy Ghost is not always with us... 5-year-old interrupting: Yeah, cause he's tattling to God about what we did!

Check out the blog, Overheard In The Ward.