We have a bedtime routine, which Emma because she loves routines, helps us implement.
“Okay Em, time to brush teeth!” One of us will tell her.
“Mommy come,” Emma often replies.
“I’m right behind you, Em,” I tell her.
Once in the bathroom she’ll walk us through the steps of teeth brushing. “First, floss,” she will remind me, grabbing the floss from me. “Now brush,” she’ll say making little brushing noises in a sing-songy voice.
“Wait, you have to go slower Em. You have to get all your teeth,” I’ll remind her.
“Now fluoride!” Emma will say, swishing the fluoride around in her mouth dramatically, before spitting it out into the sink.
“Okay, now pee,” I will say.
“Already did pee,” Emma said, last night when I reminded her to.
“Oh. Okay. Let’s get into bed then.” Most evenings I read to Emma before going to bed. We’ve gone through dozens of short non-fiction books ranging in topics as diverse as the first moon landing to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. We’ve read about wild life in Northern America, we’ve studied carnivorous plants, we’ve learned about General Washington’s love of dogs, we’ve studied the works of daVinci, Degas, Renoir and O’Keefe.
Then one evening Emma said, “Alice?”
“You mean Alice in Wonderland?” I asked.
“Yes,” Emma said burrowing down beneath the covers.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Well, okay.” I found Alice in Wonderland on my ipad, downloaded it and within minutes was reading to her about Alice falling down the rabbit hole. When we finished Alice we moved on to The Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy and her haphazard group arrive in the Emerald City, Emma seemed less interested. “Do you want me to keep reading?” I asked.
“Yes,” Emma said. She always answers yes to that question. But in less than a minute she was asleep.
Then the other night, Richard put her to bed and I heard music playing so I poked my head into her bedroom. “What are you guys listening to?”
“Lullabies, Alycea,” Emma told me.
The oh so talented Alycea Ench made Emma a CD of lullabies for Emma’s last birthday. Alycea sings like an angel, her voice is about as beautiful as any I’ve ever heard and she also happens to play the guitar beautifully. There are only a few vocalists I am moved to tears by when listening to them sing and Alycea is one of them.
So for the past week and a half Emma has chosen to listen to Alycea sing before going to sleep.
As Em and I lay in bed together last night, listening to Alycea I thought about how happy Emma is when left to her own devices. Her median state is one of tranquility. When she was a baby we use to describe her as being in her own hippy dippy acid trippy little world. She was just so happy all the time. (That this should have been our first tip that something was “off” is an interesting comment on what we believe is “good”.) As I lay next to Emma contemplating all of this, Alycea began to sing the John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy, written for his son, Sean. Except Alycea changed the words to “Beautiful Girl.” In Alycea’s version the song ends with – “Beautiful girl, Darling, Darling, Darling Emma.” (I can’t even write this without feeling a little weepy.)
But every night, Emma jumps out of bed when she hears the first “Darling” and turns the music off.
“Wait Em. Let’s wait and hear the last part,” I protested.
“No. Music all done,” Emma said firmly, while removing the CD.
So I began to sing the last words – “Darling Emma.”
But Emma clamped her hand over my mouth and said sternly, “Mommy no! Be quiet!”
Now one could interpret this to mean that my voice in no way able to reproduce the ethereal beauty of Alycea’s and that in comparison Emma simply cannot tolerate it or one can try to muddle one’s way through the puzzle of why those last few words Emma cannot listen to. It reminds me of my favorite book written on autism, by Clara Claiborne Park called Exiting Nirvana My Daughter’s Life With Autism. Her daughter explains to her, when she’s much older and more verbal that certain things were intolerable to her because they were “too good.” I wondered for a moment whether these last few words in Emma’s lullaby are “too good” and so Emma can’t hear them.
Until Emma can tell me, this question will be filed under – questions to ask Emma – along with all the others.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and to hear her sing Que Sera, Sera with Alycea, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com
Emma wearing another “pretty dress”.