Our time in Sonoma was a bit of a blur, but there are two things I’ll never forget: the look of pure joy on my kids’ faces as they spent time with their grandparents and the day Jonas and I went on a double date with my sister and her boyfriend (now ex-), Ian. My parents have a membership at Lasseter Family Winery, owned by John Lasseter of Pixar films, and they made an appointment for us to do a wine tasting there. I was so excited to finally do something fun and forget about the whole visa mess.
During the wine tasting, Jonas, Hilary, Ian and I learned about the process of grafting vines. As we strolled the grounds of Lasseter, we decided to reenact that process in the vineyards using our bodies to represent the vines. Jonas and I took a turn intertwining our arms and legs and then we encouraged Hilary and Ian to do something really awesome. We hoped to see a Dirty Dancing-style lift, but as anyone who has tried this knows, it’s much harder than it looks. It was hilarious watching them try though. On the car ride home we were still giggling about grafting fails. We did not want the fun to stop so we decided to play a practical joke on my dad. (For the record, Jonas said he would have no part in this and he did not.)
When we got home, Hilary and I told my dad that while posing for grafting photos in the vineyards, Hilly and Ian accidentally fell over and knocked down a section of vines. We added that the people at Lasseter were going to assess the damage and contact him later. Mind you, mature vines in Sonoma cost thousands of dollars. “It was crazy,” I said. “They fell backwards and the vines just snapped.” Our performance was perfect. My dad turned and silently left the room while Hilary and I stared at each other with wide eyes and tried not to laugh. Jonas said, “Stop it. You have to tell him.” We started cracking up and he came back in the room and asked, “Are you kidding me?!”
Sonoma was lovely as always, but truth be told, most of our moments there were laced with stress because we only had only seven days left to secure a 1-year lease before our French Consulate appointment in Miami. Things were not looking good. Apartment inventory in Paris was low and we were competing with all the college kids about to go back to school. On top of this, we were having an issue finding what I thought would be a safe, suitable apartment for our two wild boys. So many places had crazy staircases – steep, spiral, no railing, you name it – and I could just imagine Rhône or Rocky slipping down or falling off of one, or literally launching themselves from a dangerous height and ending up in the hospital!
Was I a little paranoid? Maybe. As soon as I saw something that looked remotely life-threatening, I said no and moved on. Same for other furnished apartments that looked dirty and cluttered. That left us with very few places and most landlords weren’t even interested in talking to us until we arrived. The days passed and we were getting desperate. I asked a friend who owns a home in Brittany if we could say we were renting the basement apartment in his house and then as soon as we found a place in Paris, we’d send him a notarized letter canceling our lease with him. It was our last day in Sonoma and Jonas and I were at a playground with the boys when I got his response. He emailed and said he was so sorry but he didn’t feel comfortable signing an official document saying that. I cried quietly in the middle of the Sonoma Square. I felt hopeless, sad, exhausted, embarrassed for putting my friend in an uncomfortable position and crazy for still trying to pursue all this.
We packed up our stuff again, said goodbye to loved ones again and took the red-eye to Orlando. Jonas’ mom and dad welcomed us with open arms. It was now the day before our Consulate appointment and we still had no apartment lined up. As I sat on JoAnn and Tom’s living room floor playing with the boys, I broke down and cried again. “I don’t know what to do,” I told my mother-in-law. “Is this God’s way of saying we’re not supposed to go?” She consoled me, reminded me that everything was in His hands and said that if things didn’t work out, we’d have a place to stay for as long as we needed. That was a huge relief, but after all the change and chaos the past couple months, we were really longing to be settled. And of course my heart was set on Paris. We’d already bought our plane tickets, traveler’s insurance, a year’s worth of health insurance…we just needed that lease.
It was late afternoon now. Miami was 4½ hours away and Jonas and I needed to leave soon if we wanted to check into a hotel and get a good night’s sleep before our appointment the next day. But we didn’t have a lease, so why would we even go? We started looking up other French Consulates because the next appointment in Miami was over a month away. Houston didn’t require school registration but they did need a criminal background check along with the lease, and you were supposed to have an address in Texas. We were simultaneously emailing the Houston Consulate to ask questions and looking up appointment dates and flights. The clock was ticking.
I don’t know exactly how it started but Jonas and I got into a huge fight. We couldn’t agree on whether to try the Consulate in Houston in a week (which seemed like a logistical nightmare to me) or drive to Miami immediately and give it a shot. We had applications in on two apartments in Paris and there was a miniscule chance we could get approval for one by morning. “Let’s just GO,” I said angrily. I quickly threw together a bag of clothes, paying more attention to the documents we needed to bring. We packed up the car, hugged and kissed our kids goodbye (they’d be in very good hands with JoAnn and Tom) and we were off.
Jonas and I didn’t speak the first two hours of the drive. Drake was singing on the radio, “It’s hard to do these things alone. Just hold on we’re going home. Ho-o-o-ome.” That was enough to make me lose it. With one hand on the steering wheel I wiped the tears off my face. Where was home going to be for us? And when would I stop crying? This was getting ridiculous! Shortly afterwards I apologized to Jonas for whatever rude thing I’d said during our argument and we made up. We stopped and had a delightful dinner at Cracker Barrel, gassed up the car and continued the drive down south.
Maybe this France thing wouldn’t work out, but looking on the bright side, we were about to spend two nights in Miami without kids! While Jonas drove, I texted with my good friend Jalaine who I’ve known since first grade. She sent me one of her favorite songs by Hillary Scott & The Scott Family called “Thy Will” that encouraged her during difficult times. And when I say difficult times, I mean heartbreakingly difficult times. Her husband Steve passed away suddenly when their three girls were very young. She experienced crushing loss and the most challenging of circumstances, and here I was stressing about a move to France!
Jalaine supported and uplifted me with empathy, as is her way, and she gave me the gift of perspective. As I listened to the song and read her encouraging words, the old ocular floodgates opened once more. Some of those tears were tears of joy because I have such a beautiful, wise, caring and loving friend. I’m so happy to have her in my life! She is remarried to a wonderful man (also named Steve!) and raising her daughters to be as lovely, strong and compassionate as she is.
The next morning Jonas and I got up early so we could make a hundred or so copies before our appointment. The 1-year lease we thought might come through did not. We said a prayer and went to the appointment anyway. Things kicked off with a Consulate security guard asking why our kids weren’t with us. The website clearly said children under 6 did not need to be present, but this very stern, full-figured black woman with long, shiny ebony spiral curls spilling out of her official French Consulate cap insisted they did. She told us we should go get them immediately or we’d have to make a new appointment. My heart was pounding. There was no way we could drive back and get our children now! She went and verified with her supervisor, clicked her tongue, came back to us, and said, “Never mind.” I exhaled deeply. I imagine that panicky feeling from before was similar to what my dad felt when we played our little joke on him. Sorry Dad!
We nervously submitted our paperwork and were surprised when the guy behind the desk trashed half of our documents. He literally crushed the papers into balls and threw them in the garbage saying, “You don’t need this.” Um, our kids could have drawn pictures on the blank sides of those papers. We got to the lease part and Jonas explained, “We’re working on it. We’re very close to securing one, but it’s a holiday weekend in France and many people are on vacation.” The gentleman processing our paperwork was surprisingly chilled out. He replied, “Just email me the lease when you have it.” We submitted everything else, walked out of the office silently and took the long elevator ride to the bottom floor of the building. The Florida heat slapped us in the face as we walked outside. “What just happened?” I asked. Jonas was in shock too. “I don’t know,” he said.
Five days later Jonas got a notification on his phone that our passports were en route to us. We still hadn’t found an apartment or emailed the Consulate so what did this mean? It was one of two things: Either we spent $500 in visa fees to be quickly rejected or they were letting us through even without the lease. It was the latter.