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Paris is effortlessly enchanting; the setting surreal. The first time I visited, I felt like I’d stumbled onto a movie lot. I wandered through the set, feeling hideously underdressed and under-classed; a poor peasant, gawking apologetically at the seamless beauty. Meanwhile, I instinctively knew, that in this setting, I was not even fit to be cast as an extra. Unless, of course, there was a role as a bag woman available? Every detail was impeccable; the warm lighting, the rich architecture, the irresistible chink of cobblestones, the heady aroma of baking pastry, the bright bursts of fresh flowers. I stopped to watch a little girl with a red scarf tied smartly around her neck hurrying to catch up with her family, while still trying to take bites out of a limp crepe; leaving a trail of sugar and butter dripping down her hand as she ran. “Lick every last drop!” I said to the sky, “You don’t want to miss anything!”

Paris SCREAMS romance; a siren call for lovers. A batman beacon in the sky. Everywhere you turn couples are tucked into each other, their fingers intertwined, their every step in sync as they walk along The River Seine, the water lazily lapping the edge of the city while sail boats sway seductively on the waves.

The Pont des Arts Bridge is one of several famous bridges in Paris. This one links the right bank of the Scein with the left bank. The first time I visited Paris, this bridge was covered with thousands of padlocks hanging like nues on the hard metal rungs, winking in the sunlight as I passed. I stopped, to get a closer look, read the sharpie initials scribbled haphazardly on locks, feel the texture of love. Supposedly, this tradition started when a Hungarian woman who had lost her lover during World War I, began fixing padlocks on bridges where they used to meet, as a way of expressing that her love for him was unbreakable. Years later the tradition was reborn in Paris, where lovers overcome with ardor, and the smell of wafting pastry would secure their own locks to the bridge, and throw the key into the river, thus locking their love together, forever.

Romantic right? Oui!

The City of Love takes great pains to keep the jaded lovers in scuba gear madly searching the mossy depths of the Seine for that damn key, underwraps.

While the concept of this ritual is romantic, it was also doomed. Because as the number of locks hanging from the bridge surged past 700,000 pounds, the weight of love grew too heavy for even the iron beams to support. In 2014, a portion of the railing of the bridge started to bend under the burden, and eventually collapsed; leading to the banning of love locks.

“What fresh hell is this?!!” young lovers demanded! Only they did it in French, so it sounded much more chic.

City workers would circulate nightly, wire cutters in hand to wrench the locks off the bridge. Initially, their efforts seemed in vain, because as soon as one lock was pried off, another was almost immediately anchored in its place. Eventually the Parisians took to placing black plastic barriers in between the metal rungs, as well as launching a full scale social media campaign and assigning designated, less populated areas for love locking.

As a side note, there are no areas designated for French Kissing in France. Apparently that’s allowed EVERYWHERE! #themoreyouknow

Seriously, that’s a lot of love. Locks were fastened to other locks in order to secure a spot. 2015 Also, Iphone cameras have come a long way since 2015 😉

Paris, and red scarfs and bright flowers and love locks were the images I was remembering the other night, when hour three of four of Operation Get Alex Unstuck had started. Alex is my oldest son, he’s brilliant and kind, sweet and autistic. Consequently, getting stuck or perseverating is something Alex is exceptionally good at. Perseverating refers to responding in the same way repetitively and can include behaviors like stemming, echolalia, obsessions and routines. Perseveration involves actions, thoughts, words, phrases and emotions. For Alex, he perseverates on things of specialized interests as well as things that have not gone the way he expected them too. If the boy is into something he is INTO something. Go ahead and ask him to name all the National Parks, and he can tell you their location, park hours, distinguishing features, the history of construction, how many people died there, what President made it a National Park and whether or not it has restaurants that serve grilled cheese sandwiches and provides showers at the campsites. It has been suggested that a lot of the groundwork for the computers we have today was laid by individuals who perseverated on computer chips.

Perseveration has its upside, but it can also be a burden. For Alex, the challenge arises when he perseverates in repetitive negative thought patterns that prevent him from getting past perceived wrongs and moving forward. His frustrations viewed through the prism of autism might seem illogical to everyone BUT Alex who sees it as perfectly rational. 

For example, Alex broke his arm when he was in the fourth grade. After it healed, the doctor took off the cast but his arm still ached, and Alex was certain it was still broken. The doctor showed him the X-ray and pointed out where the bone had healed, but Alex fixated on the empty space in between bones, the growth plates, concluding the doctor was lying, ergo all doctors are liars. This fixation lasted for YEARS. No amount of arguing, explaining, documenting, apologizing, scientific fact finding, OR electrical shock therapy (that was for me) could persuade him otherwise.

This particular perseveration road bump was a PAIN in the butt, since we deal with doctors a lot. AND we are friends with doctors. Yes, I am friends with the enemy! I’ve even been known to invite them to dinner! Luckily Alex was there to put a stop to any potentially friendly banter and easy frantanizing, by greeting them at the front door, and them,

“My mom is making apple pie. It smells amazing. Sorry. Liars aren’t allowed in this house.” (Que door slamming).

Or there was the time Alex had pneumonia complicated by asthma and refused breathing treatments, because how could we possibly trust their judgment! There is no fixing it, when he gets stuck in a cycle of perseveration. BELIEVE ME I’VE TRIED. #inallcapstried

Sadly, some of the issues he struggles with have become massive roadblocks in his life, preventing him from further movement. Think landslide size roadblocks. Think tectonic plates shifting. So we run around moving dirt from point A to point B, thinking we are making progress, only to realize he’s just been moving it back from point B to point A anyway. He’s very efficient. Furthermore, and probably the most frustrating and hardest thing to juggle, is how his landslides affect the movement of his brothers and his parents. We have all slid off the road, time and time again, mud filing our shoes as we slide, the grit of dirt slow to wash off.

On this night, I had my feet propped up against Alex’s legs as he sunk deeper and deeper into defeat on the couch. My 6’4 bred to be a linebacker son, reminded me of a toddler who had exhausted himself throwing a tantrum. His fists were still clenched in unresolved frustration, tears stained his face, the burden of anxiety, depression and autism, settled like concrete in his frame. He was undone. This was the third night in a row we had played this game; him telling me all the reasons my solutions or ideas wouldn’t work, and me, eventually turning to selective listening, robotic head nodding, and day dreams about being anywhere else but where I was.

There are rules to the game. There is order to the chaos. But, there is never a declared winner. I was so tired of the same scenery, the same moves, the same sliding across the same game board, the stupid stark black and white checkered board, the hated stage. I wanted a new game, or at least new rules, or at least to be eating chocolate while I played my designated part; folded my loosing hand again. I allowed silence to settle in the room, I stopped nodding, held the dice in my iron fist, sat catatonic while the ceiling fan spun at a predictably steady pace, my mind drifting back to that bridge and the weight of love. 

In truth, in that midnight moment, the weight of love did not feel poetic, or velvety soft like rose petals. It was not something to be pined over. The burden of love felt crushing and for just a moment I closed my eyes and sunk into the black angst of despair. I lamented that this was not the way I envisioned love! Or motherhood, or my life. Love was a rock I was chained to, pulling me down into a dark sea of hopelessness, and I could not for the life of me, catch my breath. Love was a rough rope I was tethered to, double knotted, rubbing me raw.

I closed my eyes and sighed long and deep, my shoulders drooping in sync with my breath. In the dark, I felt Alex shift uncomfortably against me, and when I looked up, he had dipped his head and was peering at me cautiously from under a tattered fringe of blond bangs.

He looked at me without ever looking at me, his eyes as wide and innocent as a doe.

And instinct kicked in. I shook my head like an etch a sketch, and looked at my little fawn, really looked at him.

And suddenly I was overcome by some long ago childhood memory from when I watched the movie Bambi for the first time. I remembered how excited Bambi had been to explore the meadow. He nearly burst from the brush, his white tail wagging, his eyes bright, his still new legs prancing with excitemnt. I remember how he shouted, “THE MEADOW!” and went to leap into the wide exapance of unexplored ground. But Bambi’s mother shouted, “Wait!” And blocked him from moving with her body. Startled, Bambi shrunk back into the shadows, afraid, while his mother explained that there were no bushes to hide behind in the meadow. That in the meadow they were vulnerable, they were at risk, they were exposed.

Bambi folded back into the foliage; hiding while his mother stepped cautiously from the thick cover of growth, her ears perked as she moved forward unprotected. Moved cautiously, deliberately, soundlessly her head sweeping from side to side, looking for danger. I remember leaving my spot on the floor, and making my way back to my mother and sitting down beside her. Like Bambi, I was afraid of the wide open space, afraid it wasn’t safe.

I know I’m not alone when I say this was not the life I thought I would have.  Every human has experienced that aha moment. Motherhood is so much work! I had no idea when I put that wheel in motion that IT NEVER STOPS TURNING. But, oh how grateful I am to be a mother. Because being a parent has grounded me.  I have been strengthened by weight of love, balanced by the ballast as I’ve learned to shift the density of attachment, so I can keep carrying the load.

In truth, there are moments when staring at the open space of the meadow, the weight of love feels unbearable, and I buck aginst the heavy yoke, hate the iron nuse.

But, then look back. See my boy there hiding behind the leaves, and accept the weight again.

And it makes me happy to know I tossed the key to our lock into the dark rolling waves on a bright, sunny day.

It made me happy to know I didn’t know where the key to release was resting; relieved that it was rusting, untouched on the smooth flesh of river rocks.

The truth is, my carpal tunnel fingers ache to type something tidy and bright. I want to paint a sunrise with my words. I want to tell you that as the sun rose, pink clouds stretching across the horizon like sweet wisps of cotton candy, that my son Alex took up his bed and walked.

But he did not.

The night ended with the game being a draw, again.

With me folding, again.

With me dropping my cards, crying uncle and asking Alex, “Do you think you can sleep now?” Again.

On those ridiculously dark night, when the weight of love is as dense and heavy as an untouched fruit cake; I’ve wondered if all the talking, listening, reasoning and reassuring makes even a chink in the armor of autism, let alone a dent in the shield. But, my ace up my sleeve is knowing I can perseverate too. In fact, love compels me to repeat something intently or redundantly, usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point. I choose to believe that the weight of love will be decisive. That the gravity of devotion is cumulative, that it all matters.

All the times I wiped noses, wiped butts, buckled boys in car seats, and stopped on the side of the road every other mile to REBUCKLE them in car seats, matter. All the hours nursing children with the stomach flu, the cracked nipples, ER visits and bouts of biting. All the landforms formed, PE clothes washed, forgotten lunches delivered. All the binkies found, Halloween costumes created, knees bandaged, and apples peeled. All the books read, boundaries set, chores enforced, and meadows checked. The sleepless nights stumbled through, the lullabies sung, the waiting in long lines for the ferris wheel. The parent teacher conferences, the scolding absorbed, the laundry washed, pancakes flipped, tempers held and crusts removed, it all counts. 

The blanket of love is knitted from the tiny threads of snowflake arms. Its almost microscopic, you can’t see the stiching, you don’t know the pattern it will take, but it acculates without knowing, little by little it grows, collecting and connecting until its big enough to cover you both; big enough to stretch across the gap between us. The weight of love can always be felt, it banks against my window, sparkling, leaves me wanting to cup the miracle,

The sparkling coverlet of devotion softens the hard ground, insulates the seeds and roots, hides the muted browns. So when I slip, like I always do, stumble, like I always will, fall down in the powdery proof of accumulation, it softens the fall. And when it’s not so painful to land, it’s easier to remember how I can flap my arms like a bird, spread these makeshift angel wings, leave my mark on the earth, surrender to the biting beauty of creation.


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