Pulse Admission

“Admit it,” said my friend Kevin, gesturing as if a grand proposition were forthcoming. “Admit that you like listening to The Pulse.” He was referring to SiriusXM Radio’s channel 15, The Pulse, playing “hits from the 2000s and today.”

I hedged. “Well—”

“Admit that when you’re flipping through your favorite channels, your Bridge and 70s on 7 and 80s on 8 and Classic Rewind, you also check to see what’s on The Pulse. Admit that you do it when Martin isn’t even in the car. Admit it!”

Kevin phrased the accusation exactly right. I had no grounds for denial.

“Fine,” I said. “It’s true. I check what’s on The Pulse. I like some of the songs on The Pulse. Leave me alone.”

I was out to dinner with Kevin and his wife, Stacey. We were in Baltimore attending Natural Products Expo East, a tradeshow and conference for organic and natural foods and beverages. Kevin and Stacey also have a son recovering from autism. I was telling them (1) the good news that Martin is finally taking an interest in pop culture, and (2) the bad news that this new interest means he insists on listening to The Pulse in my car, when he used to be perfectly happy with The Bridge, “mellow classic rock and ’70s folk rock.”

Ah, pity the child of older parents. Martin’s cousin Mandy was born two-and-a-half months after he was. Mandy’s mother, my sister, is 14 years younger than I am. When it comes to pop culture, I’m thinking Mandy has it a lot better than poor Martin.

Over the past year, Martin has started noticing what his peers are doing, and wanting to do the same. In the spring, when the weather warmed, I tried sending him to school without a jacket. Despite the sunshine, he insisted on wearing a jacket. Why? “Because my friends are still wearing their jackets to school.” I wrote about when Martin wanted to carry a backpack to the JCC because the kids who came from school without parents had backpacks. Martin has never seen Despicable Me, but he collects toy Minions. He’s never played Angry Birds, but he loves anything with an Angry Bird decoration.

One weekend over the summer, Martin’s classmate Jack stayed at our home. Jack, evidently, was much better versed in current music and television than Martin. Friday afternoon, as we drove from school, Jack started requesting artists and songs. Taylor Swift. Maroon 5. Duran Duran, in time-warp. At a loss, I searched the satellite stations until I found The Pulse. When we arrived home, Jack asked to watch the Disney Channel and knew just which programs he liked. Martin, whose previous television experience ranged from Rangers games to U.S. Open tennis to continuous loops of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, eagerly watched Disney Channel too. Monday morning, I drove both boys back to school. From the backseat resounded not one but two voices: “Taylor Swift! We want Taylor Swift!” Since Jack’s sojourn in neustra casa, Martin has become a connoisseur of all things Pulse and Disney Junior.

Which means that I—who previously resided happily ensconced in the 1970s and ’80s—have listened to a lot of Pulse music, too. And fine, I admit it. I have encountered songs I like. Nick Fradiani’s “Beautiful Life.” Imagine Dragons‘ “I Bet My Life.” Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’s “Cecilia and the Satellite.” I’ve even heard a few lyrics that resound with our autism journey. In “Uma Thurman,” Fall Out Boy’s frontman Patrick Stump sings, “I slept in last night’s clothes and tomorrow’s dreams // But they’re not quite what they seem.” Heck, that’s me. That’s me every day.

I guess that’s part of having a kid: catching up on pop culture. It’s a totally typical thing.

Anyway, I have to go now. Martin is exhausted and grouchy. He was up late last night, because he wanted to watch Andy Grammer on Dancing With the Stars.

We blaze the night
With all we’ve been waiting for
All this time
Reaches such great heights
Gives us just one perfect night
To say oh what a beautiful life

Oh what a beautiful life.

Nick Fradiani

Not a Special Moment

This morning I had one of those disappointments to remind me that, no matter how far we’ve come, I still have a son with autism.

Adrian had already left for work, Martin was eating breakfast, and I’d finished giving his supplements early, so I had five minutes to spare. Bouncing around my Facebook feed I saw several references to Alfonso Ribeiro doing “The Carlton” on Dancing the the Stars last night. I’m not a big DWTS watcher, but who could resist traveling back 20 years and watching The Carlton again? Hastily, I used my iPhone to Google.

The dance was as delightful as I’d imagined, and I thought, “I want to share this with Martin.” I brought my iPhone to the breakfast table and restarted the video for him. I said, “This funny dance made me happy.”

What did I expect in return? I don’t know. Maybe a laugh. Maybe a question like, “Who is that man?” so that I could talk about The Fresh Prince. Maybe just a moment, together, when we would share a kibble of amusement. Just a moment.

Instead, Martin retreated to his comfort questions, the topics on which he fixates these days:

– “Are there children in that audience?”

– “Can we go there?”

Ÿ- “Do you have to practice to be in that audience?”

Each of these questions has, somewhere in the past, an origin. For months now, Martin has wanted to attend anything that resembles a concert, however remotely. When a group comes on the car radio, he says, “Mommy, does this group play shows still?” And then, “I want to go there.” He often melts down if we cannot proceed directly to a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert, or if informed that Adele is not currently appearing in our suburb. When Nick Jonas sang God Bless America before the U.S. Open women’s final, which I was watching on television, Martin deemed the event a concert and lost his cool because I didn’t have tickets. As to whether one has to “practice to go there,” last fall Martin and I attended a community event in which a children’s band and chorus performed. Martin became distressed that he could not climb up on stage and perform too. My attempt to explain that concerts are a culmination of much practice became a fixation for Martin. Now, no matter what is denied to him, he blames “practice.” “Mommy, do you have to practice to be a pirate?” “Do you have to practice to eat food that makes your belly hurt?” “Do you have to practice to go to Arkansas and meet the Duggars?”

There was no sweet moment this morning, watching Alfonso Ribeiro dance The Carlton. As soon as the video started, so did Martin:

“Are there children in that audience?”

“Yes, Martin, I assume so. This is taken from a television program that—”

“Can we go there?”

“No. See, this is taped from a televi—”

“I want to go there.” [He was growing distressed.]

“It does look like fun! But it’s not something we can—”

“Mommy, do you have to practice to be in that audience?” [He was beginning to cry.]

“No! You don’t have to practice to be in an audience. You—”

“I’m never going to go there! Never!” [Here ensued a meltdown.]

“Martin, I was hoping to share this with you, but it’s just making you cry.” [I turned off the video. We made it less than 30 seconds.]

I shouldn’t have said that last comment; Martin is sensitive, and I don’t want to induce guilt for behavior he cannot control. But I was frustrated.

We all have our shortcomings.