This guest blog is by Allison Walmark, mother of Ethan Walmark who is 8 years old and on the autism spectrum.
When we were told that Ethan qualified for special services at 16 months of age, my husband and I weren’t necessarily surprised, but we weren’t necessarily shocked, either. Although he hit all the crucial “milestones” early, we noticed at 12 months of age that when our other friend’s children were able to clap, point and jump, Ethan was not.
On the other hand, we couldn’t help but notice that Ethan was far and above his peers in musical sophistication and maturity. Regardless of musical genre, Ethan’s attention focused singularly on what he heard. As an infant, when Ethan became cranky or tired or needed a diaper change, sanity and calm was but one “on button” away; “Musical crack” I called it. No matter what he was doing at that moment, music, the universal language, spoke to him in ways I did not.
So… “Yada, yada, yada” (a la “Seinfeld)… Ethan turns eight on September 6, is considered a piano prodigy — he can play +250 songs from memory — and has eclectic musical tastes. (How many eight year olds or adults for that matter could seamlessly segue from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” into Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag?”
After mastering the complete catalogues of some of the greats, Ethan turned his musical attention to none other than fellow Fairfield County, Connecticut denizen John Mayer. In short order, Ethan committed John’s songs to memory and played them effortlessly on the piano. Oddly enough, I took tremendous delight when Ethan turned to me one day and proclaimed, “Mom, your body is a wonderland!” (It’s not.) And, after thousands of hours and thousands of dollars spent on speech therapy, I wasn’t in a position to object when he sang John’s lyrics that asked, “Who says I can’t get stoned?”
Day and night turned into one big John Mayer love-fest. Ethan was hooked (in a non-creepy, call-the-cops kind of way). Fortunately, I am blessed that my son found his passion and proclivity for music so early in life. He, in turn, is dually blessed with a mother like me, who is too stupid and too naïve to think I can’t make the impossible happen for my children (it’s a gift and a curse, really…), and the support of Autism Speaks, an organization which believes in the hopes and dreams and possibilities of all children and their families on the autism spectrum.
After the umpteenth time of Ethan saying he wanted to meet John Mayer, I got the “bright” idea to use social media to my advantage, and have Ethan send a video request — complete with puppy eyes and a John Mayer medley — to John about the possibility of an Autism Speaks benefit concert or meet and greet.
Full disclosure: My family raises money each year for the Westchester County, NY/Fairfield County, CT Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. For the past three years, Ethan has performed before the 15,000 attendees at this event, so those at the Autism Speaks organization, all the way up to Mr. and Mrs. Wright (Bob and Suzanne, respectively and respectfully) are well aware of Ethan’s talent. Still, it came as a complete surprise to receive a call from Michael Rosen at Autism Speaks to say that he had managed to have Ethan, along with my husband, daughter and myself, meet John Mayer at one of his concerts! The smile on Ethan’s face when I told him he would meet his idol was priceless.
As excited as Ethan was to meet John, my husband and I were just as nervous about what Ethan would say; we had to prep Ethan with our version of the “Honey Do” list… things he could say and do when he met John, and things he could not say and do when he met John. When the big day finally arrived, we were taken to a backstage location where Ethan would finally meet John Mayer! When we got backstage, there were ten or so other people also scheduled to meet John. After five minutes, John walked out (as tall, dark and handsome as you would imagine), and despite all the other people, made a bee-line for Ethan and said in front of everyone, “Hey, I know you! You’re the internet sensation!” (Aside from Ethan’s video message to John, a video of Ethan playing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” went viral last year and received over 1.5 million hits.) Ethan smiled and laughed; tears formed in my eyes. John was kind enough to speak with Ethan and our family for a few minutes, at which point Ethan asked John if he could read him a letter he wrote all by himself:
Thank you so much for meeting me today. I am so excited. You are my favorite musician. I love all of your songs. When I grow up I want to write songs and sing just like you and date hot chicks with big boobies.
Your friend, Ethan.
Now, it was John’s turn to laugh! He told Ethan how much he loved his letter, and that he was going to keep it and show it to all his friends, who in turn, would find it hysterical as well. (I’ll take a stab in the dark and say that it’s the “hot chicks with big boobies” part he found funny, not the favorite musician part.)
Finally, it was time to take a photo with John, and wouldn’t you know it, Ethan and I both jockeyed to stand next to him. (Of course this was Ethan’s night, but I did have my hair cut and colored, bought a new outfit, and had a little Botox touch up for good measure. There was no way my kid — autism or not — was going to block me from John Mayer. Besides, Ethan had already taken some photos of just he and John, so… I “won” that little battle.) As we turned to walk away, John said to Ethan, “I almost forgot! This is for you,” as he reached into his front pocket, pulled out a guitar pick, and handed it to Ethan. Nicest. Guy. Ever.
With the show about to start, we said our goodbyes, and Ethan called out, “Have a great show!” (The show itself was phenomenal, as we found ourselves directly behind John’s brother Ben.)
From start to finish, the evening was magical, thanks to John Mayer, John’s management team, Autism Speaks and an almost eight-year-old child with autism. “The Story of Ethan” as I call it, replete with milestones, miracles and memories, just got its newest chapter which I’ve entitled, “The Day John Mayer Met Ethan Walmark.”
Check out a photo diary of the Walmark family meeting John Mayer here.