Tag Archives: autism and music

Que Sera, Sera

I’m the silent partner. On Emma’s Hope Book anyway. It’s been a long time since I posted an entry. Ariane has always been the driving (and writing) force of Emma’s Hope Book, but I’ve been completely MIA lately. I went on interferon/ribovirin treatment two months ago. I knew the side effects were going to be extreme, but it turned out to be much worse than I could have imagined – one of those cases where if the disease doesn’t kill you, the cure will. I was basically an invalid, physically and mentally. I had to quit the treatment just so I could function and it took a month before I felt well again.

Ariane did an amazing job holding down the fort while I was laid up. She does an amazing job all the time. I’m very lucky and very grateful. Frankly, it’s been a rough patch for all of us lately. “We’ll get through this,” Ariane said a few minutes ago, kissing the top of my head as she scurried back and forth, preparing for a jewelry trunk show.

“Yep,” I nodded, “we always do.”

Of course, exactly what “this” means is open to debate. I guess it means “today”, because our lives never seem to get less complicated, difficult or worrisome for any significant length of time. This is true of any family I imagine, but Emma’s autism contributes greatly to our never-ending “whack-a-mole” game.

Her progress with language, reading and writing continues at a steady pace – a daily miracle from my perspective. Yet at the same time, she has had a recurrence of her difficulties with being able to go to the bathroom, which we thought was long behind us. Two steps forward, one step back.

I finished my novel a while ago and it is being shopped around by my agent. Ariane submitted a proposal for a book about Emma and our family. Both of us are stressed, bracing ourselves and hoping for good news. The day before I went on the interferon treatment, a conflict with my business partner developed that seems irresolvable, adding to the career pressure. Obviously, I would prefer to have enough success as a writer to provide well for the family, just as Ariane would like her jewelry business and her own writing efforts to be wildly prosperous. I’m sure they will be. It’s a lot easier for me to have faith in Ariane’s talents and potential for good fortune. I come from Irish stock.

Every night for the last week Emma has gone to bed listening to a CD of lullabies recorded by the talented and lovely Alycea Ench. The first song is “Que Sera, Sera.”

The second is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I sit in bed with Emma and listen to these incredibly poignant melodies and lyrics, so full of hope and unattainable longing. Do they speak to Emma with the same desperate yearning I hear? Does she question whether she will ever have a chance to experience the normal phases of life the rest of us take for granted? Or does she just like listening to the Alycea’s lovely voice as she sings:

Que Sera, Sera

When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother, “What will I be?”

“Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?”

Here’s what she said to me:

Que Sera, Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be.

When I was young I fell in love

I asked my sweetheart, “What lies ahead?”

“Will we have rainbows day after day?”

Here’s what my sweetheart said:

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be.

Now I have children of my own

They ask their mother, “What will I be?”

“Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?”

I tell them tenderly:

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high,

There’s a land that I heard of

Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue,

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far

behind me.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

away above the chimney tops.

That’s where you’ll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Bluebirds fly.

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Why then, oh why can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow

Why, oh why can’t I?

As Ariane said yesterday in her post, unless Emma is stressed out about one of her OCD issues or unable to attain her most basic needs, she is so incredibly happy in the moment. Blissful. So I doubt very much that she questions what the future holds in store for her — any more than she wonders what lies over the rainbow. She is here. Now. It is Ariane and I that so achingly desire for her to feel and experience all the things kids her age normally go through: having friends, playing games, chattering back and forth.  And as she grows older: dating, falling in love, raising her own family.

Just trying to imagine that kind of normal life for Emma and the rest of us is almost impossible for me. As I write this, I cannot clearly picture it. Even as a fantasy, this truly lies over the rainbow. But even if I can’t visualize it, I have never lost hope that it is possible. In fact, I believe with all my heart that it will happen — someday, somehow – and our little bluebird will fly.

In the meantime, we will get through this — today. As for tomorrow? Que, Sera, Sera.

“Too Good?”

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.

“Really?”

“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”.

Emma and her Singing

“Sing Zoo Zoo Zoo with your mouth closed?”  Emma said this morning as she was getting ready for school.

“Good idea!” I said.  And then began to sing one of her favorite songs with my mouth closed.

She waited patiently until I had finished the first refrain and then said, “Emma’s turn!”

I knew, before I began singing that she meant she wanted to sing the song with her mouth closed, but since repeatedly correcting her over the years hasn’t made a dent in her continued use of “you” in place of “I” or “me,” I have begun taking her words more literally and seeing how that works.  Other than mildly irritating her, I’m not sure it’s making much of a difference.  The elusive pronoun continues to trip her up.

In addition there are words which she finds impossible to articulate.  A few of them can be found in another of her favorite songs – “Fabulous”.  Emma says – Sandy lot – or something that sounds suspiciously like that, in place of Fabulous as well as humming the word “imported” which is used repeatedly in the song, instead of making an attempt to say some version of the word.

Yesterday I tried more than a few times to have her repeat my enunciation of “imported” first by singing the lyrics “towels imported from Turkey, Turkey imported from Maine…” but when that didn’t help I tried to have her say “imported” all by itself.  I could see how hard she was trying, she watched my mouth as I said the word, she tried her best to mimic me, all to no avail and eventually wandered off into our bedroom where I could hear her singing loudly her own special version of the song, the tune utterly recognizable even as the words were not.

Richard found the lyrics of the song online and printed out several copies so each of us could review and sing along with her when she launched into yet another rousing rendition of it, which happens more than a few times over the course of a day.  Emma articulates a few lines of the song beautifully – “I want MORE!” and”Excuse Me Thank You” then lapses into her “Emmalish” – impossible for anyone to decipher.  Sometimes Emma will allow all of us to join her in singing, but often, particularly when it is her brother, Nic who is singing along she will stop abruptly and yell, “Nicky L. stop singing!”  or “Nic!  Stop talking!”

To which we respond, “No Emma.  Nic can sing too if he wants.”

“Forget it, it’s no fun now,” Nic will say as we wait for him to continue.  “She ruined it.”

Or if Nic does have the fortitude to continue, Emma will stand silently for a moment before seeking refuge in her bedroom and shutting the door.  It seemed as though it was as much a gesture of contempt for the whole unruly scene as a desire to escape the singing.  Nic usually shrugs and returns to whatever it was he was doing before the whole thing began.

I cannot hold a tune.  This is a fact I came to terms with early on in junior high school when I was contently singing along to “Angie” by the Rolling Stones and was ridiculed for my off key trilling.  My ego bruised, I was careful to hum or sing quietly under my breath or in the privacy of my own room.  Something I have continued to do ever since.  Emma however, did not inherit my tin ear.  Hers is the voice of an angel or Broadway singer, (depending on the song) as she belts out songs in decibels I didn’t know were possible.

The other week when we gathered to sing Happy Birthday, the one song anyone can sing off key with abandon, with no fear of ridicule, Emma out sang all of us put together.

“She’s  got a set of pipes on her,” Richard said, proudly when the song had come to it’s end.

“Yup.  She sure does,” we agreed.

Emma Singing

Emma loves to sing.  When she was an infant I realized she responded much better to words if they were sung to her.  So I did or tried to sing as much as I could, even though my voice is weak, Emma didn’t seem to mind.  Emma, however has a lovely voice.

The following is an audio clip of Emma singing with Alycea – our assisant – Que Sera, Sera.

Emma Singing