“Mom! Why do you keep singing when I’ve told you not to?!” After more than a decade of being soothed by the sound of my voice – often falling asleep mid-song – our 13-year-old son now complains whenever he hears me sing.
I get it. The typically-developing side of him is bothered simply because he’s supposed to be bothered by me. He’s in middle school. It’s required. At the same time, his spot on the autism spectrum has gifted him with near-perfect pitch (or at least the ability to recognize the lack of it in others), so my casual, imperfect singing triggers a sensory issue for him.
At first he was just critiquing me when I sang the “goodnight song” I’ve been singing to him and his younger brother since they were infants.
“Mom, why are you changing pitch?”
“You changed keys again.”
“Mom, it should sound like this . . .” Then he’d actually sing along with me, singing louder in places when he heard me stray off key – a shift so subtle my ear doesn’t pick it up, but his definitely does.
A few times, I let his comments frustrate me and he definitely frustrated his little brother, who still asks me to sing multiple songs at bedtime. Always my ally, my husband would defend me from our little heckler, pointing out that he and I were both theatre majors, with vocal training and experience singing on stage, so if we didn’t hear a pitch change, he was just being picky. But, honestly, my feelings were never hurt. I know our oldest is just stating a fact (as he sees/hears it) and he probably assumes I can make the necessary corrections (and, believe me, I try!). Now, however, we’ve reached the point where he doesn’t want me to sing at all – around the house, in the car, anywhere or anytime.
Sometimes I comply; it’s no big deal. Other times I channel Ethel Merman and give him a one-woman show; after all, I am a younger sister and the instinct to tease never goes away. Today, I decided to explain something to him.
Our boys know that depression runs in our family – they’ve experienced it in our home and even felt it themselves. So, I shared with them my memory of my first serious bout with depression. I was in college, making the half-hour drive from campus to see my parents, and singing along with the radio when I realized this was the first time I’d sung out loud in months. I knew the last semester had been rough. I looked back and thought about all the obligations and friendships and favorite things I’d dropped or ignored, but hadn’t realized how sad I was until I stopped being sad and started singing again.
Then and now, that’s still the tell-tale sign for how I’m feeling. “So, you want to hear me sing,” I told our oldest. “Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. I guess so,” he said. “But can you sing on-key?”