Our last trip to the US was cra-zay. I barely even have the energy to tell the story. We decided to go to Northern California to visit my parents during the February school vacation. (In case you’re wondering, kids in French schools have a two-week vacation every six weeks and eight weeks off in the summer.) I was beyond thrilled when my sister-in-law, Krystal, said she could fly up from SoCal with our niece, Savannah, and nephew, Austin, to spend a few days with us in Sonoma. My brother was playing it by ear because of work but was going to try and make it too. My mom had been saying for months that she wanted to see all of her grandkids together and now it was finally going to happen! I suddenly decided this trip would be the perfect time for family portraits. I researched photographers, found one I really liked, and scheduled a shoot for the Sunday after we arrived. That would be six days after Mom’s chemo infusion and usually she’s feeling well enough by then to leave the house, so I confirmed with her that it would be okay and booked.
Exactly one week before we left, Rocky came down with the flu. He stayed home from school Wednesday through Friday and was finally feeling better by the end of the weekend. Then I got hit Monday. Hard. Our flight to San Francisco was on Wednesday morning. By then my fever, aches and chills had morphed into a chest cold. I brought my cough syrup, throat lozenges and tissues and hoped for the best. We were flying WOW Air again (of course, because it’s crazy cheap) and the morning of our trip we found out we were being bumped to a later flight because ours was overbooked. I was a little worried about our connection in Iceland. When we got to the airport I was really worried. Our flight was delayed even more and when we arrived at the gate we learned that the computer system was down. We had already waited 90 minutes to check in our suitcase and as we waited in line to board the plane, we heard some passengers screaming at the gate agents. Apparently they had been stuck in Paris for days, flights were full and they were fed up. As we walked from the jet bridge to the plane, I looked back and thought, “Phew. I’m really glad we’re not in that position.”
We sat down in our seats and were soon told there was a boarding issue so we would be delayed even more. A male flight attendant with dark hair and a scruffy beard walked slowly down the aisle with a passenger manifest in his hand asking every single person to confirm his or her name and seat number. Really? This was the most efficient way to do things? Two hours later we finally took off. During the flight I started feeling worse and worse. My head was throbbing. When I wasn’t interacting with the kids, I closed my eyes and visualized myself powering through the next 8-hour leg of the trip. I wasn’t looking forward to it but the desire to get to our family in Cali as soon as possible overrode any discomfort. As we were about to touch down in Keflavik, the WOW crew casually announced that everyone had missed their connecting flights. Wow. We would have to stay in Iceland for the night.
It took a long time at the Keflavik airport to figure out what was happening. We were eventually given hotel vouchers and told a shuttle bus was waiting to take us to our hotel. It was so cold outside. My lungs were burning, my nose kept running, and I was exhausted and nauseated. We waited on the bus with the door open until everyone boarded. We finally got to our hotel in the small town of Keflavik around 9 pm. We were supposed to be given dinner but were informed the local pizza place had already closed for the night. I wasn’t hungry anyway. We got the boys in bed and then I collapsed into my own and had a fitful night of sleep as Jonas was sawing logs all night. (For my friends whose first language is not English, sawing logs = snoring.) I hoped and prayed I would feel better the next day and we would get to California ASAP without any issues.
Thursday morning we received a text message that there wasn’t an available flight for us until Friday afternoon. Krystal, Savannah and Austin were arriving in Sonoma soon and would only be there until Monday morning. Argh! We were going to miss two days with them! I was upset, but didn’t have the fight in me to call the airline because my fever was back, my whole body ached and I literally could not get out of bed. Jonas took care of the kids all day and worked at night. (He really is incredible.) I was told the boys had snowball fights, saw an Icelandic volcano from far away and apparently everyone loved the local indoor pool with water slides until Rocky slipped and hit his head really hard on one of the slides. That night he threw up in bed and we were afraid he had a concussion. The next day at the airport he had a fever so I knew it was a flu. I was almost over mine but still really struggling.
I was so relieved to finally leave Iceland. There was a slight delay again on WOW and we thought we were going to have to land in Edmonton to refuel but for some reason they flew straight through to San Francisco. At one point on the plane I went to the bathroom and I was shocked when I looked in the mirror. I looked pale, pasty and sickly. My nose was red and raw from blowing it over and over again and the skin on my face was so dry, I noticed tiny cuts on it. Our family photo shoot was in two days and obviously I was not ready for my close-up. I didn’t care. I just wanted us all healthy and together.
We landed, collected our luggage and rental car and then drove to our Airbnb in Petaluma, which was a cute little cottage on an olive farm. It was almost dinner time. I watched TV with R&R while Jonas went grocery shopping. Rocky’s fever was fading but I knew he could still be contagious the next day. As a rule, I make sure my kiddos are fever-free for 24 hours before we see anyone. My mom’s immune system is already weak and we did NOT want to risk getting her sick. I felt terrible doing this because of course we wanted to see everyone, but I told my family we’d have to postpone getting together until Sunday – Krystal, Savannah and Austin’s last day in Sonoma. Again I prayed that my family would heal and we could spend quality time with everyone.
Saturday was a nice day of rest at the olive farm. We explored the grounds and the boys jumped around on the trampoline. When Sunday rolled around, we were all feeling better. I drove to a place called Great Cuts in the morning to get the boys’ hair cut before our photo shoot. Rocky coughed once and the stylist said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m not going to be able to cut your son’s hair. He’s sick and there’s a flu going around. I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” I was stunned and disappointed. I was sure it was just a lingering cough (he’d had it for over a week now), but I understood her worry. We got back in the car and I started thinking. If the stylist refused to cut Rocky’s hair, should we even be around my mom? We had already missed four days with my family and today was the last day we could see Krystal, Savannah and Austin. The pressure was on. How could Rocky possibly still be sick? And why wasn’t God answering my prayers?!
I drove home to pick up some cough medicine for Rock. Jonas was home working. He was really behind from taking care of the kids. The boys stayed in the car while I ran in the house to get the medicine. I told Jonas what happened at Great Cuts and how I was worried about getting my mom sick and also stressed and disappointed about missing out on time with the family. He hugged me and said, “Here, let me say a quick prayer.” He did and I suddenly felt anger bubbling up inside of me. At the end of the prayer I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to change anything. I have been BEGGING God for days to heal our family. I don’t understand what’s going on!” Let me preface this by saying I was not in the best state of mind. We’d been dealing with illnesses for 11 days now, we were all jet lagged, Jonas’ snoring was waking me up, on average, 6-7 times a night and the stress I felt to make the most of our short time here with family plus not get them sick was intense. Oh, and I was PMSing.
I started driving towards Sonoma because I didn’t know where else to go. I felt confused, helpless and totally upset. What were we going to do? I prayed and told God how angry and frustrated I was. The boys and I drove down Watmaugh Road, closer and closer to Sonoma. We passed cows, tin barns, vineyards and mustard fields. I still didn’t know what we were going to do. As we approached Fifth Street, I glanced to my right and saw a small creek lined with trees. The curvy stream framed by lush grass sparkled in the morning light. The whole scene was incredibly peaceful. I thought about my name, which means “creek,” and I started crying.
Moments before I had told God, “I’m sick of us being sick, and I’m sick of my mom being sick too! I am so angry right now!” I was tired of it all. And it was as if God responded to me in that moment, setting up this scene, drawing my attention to it, and saying, “Don’t worry, I will give you rest.” I had no idea how that was possible, but I wiped my tears and drove on to my parents’ house. When we arrived, my sister was out front with her dog Benny. She said Mom and Dad were napping and that Krystal was at a nearby playground with the kids. We hopped out of the car and all walked to the playground. I saw my niece Savannah in the distance. Her white blonde hair shone in the sunlight. She screamed, “Rocky!” and ran straight over to give him a hug. She enthusiastically said, “Hi Rhône,” and hugged him too. Krystal and baby Austin were sitting on a bench. Hilary and I joined them while the bigger cousins played. As I sat with my sisters chatting and laughing, I exhaled and realized this was the most relaxed I had felt in weeks. I was glad I turned left at the creek and came here.
We let the kids play at the park for a bit then took them back to my parents’ house so they could finally all spend some time together. I held my breath as I hugged my mom. (I still had a stuffy nose and didn’t want to pass on any germs.) She didn’t seem worried about getting sick and put me at ease right away. Mom played board games with the kids while I ran to CVS to buy some hair clippers. When I got back, I shaved the sides of Rhône’s hair and cut a little off the top. I contemplated giving Rocky a haircut too, but I had never cut curly hair before and didn’t want to mess it up, so I left his wild locks untouched. It was time to drive back to our place in Petaluma, where we’d be taking our family photos. Once home, I used the clippers to clean up the sides of Jonas’ hair and quickly got myself dressed and made up. Showcase.
The family showed up just in time, a few minutes before the photographer arrived. (Oh, my brother couldn’t make it because he ended up getting sick. Go figure.) It was really cold outside – colder than we had anticipated – so our photo shoot was short and sweet. We took a few photos inside an old greenhouse on the property, a handful on the steps of the main house, some quick snaps in the olive grove and then we were done. We spent the rest of the day together playing games and various musical instruments in the cottage, then headed back to my parents’ for Mexican takeout. We couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon and evening.
I am so glad we had that little reprieve because the rest of the trip was overshadowed by illness. As a result, we basically saw my parents 3 half-days instead of the 8 days we planned on. Rhône caught the flu and I got hit AGAIN and almost went to the Emergency Room. I’ll spare you all the details. Two positives to note are that my mom and dad did not catch this nasty flu (I consider that a miracle!) and our boys got to spend a special afternoon at the toy shop with Grandma and Grandpa before they flew to Florida with Jonas to see their other grandparents.
I stayed behind in California a couple more days in hopes of helping out my parents in whatever way possible but they ended up nursing me back to health instead! I was so grateful for that time of rest and peace, and of course I enjoyed every minute with my family.
By the last day of my trip, I was feeling well enough to do a girls’ day out with my mom. We went to Cornerstone Gardens, which is a beautiful outdoor space in Sonoma surrounded by shops and cafes. We browsed in stores, smelled the sweet orange blossoms in the orangerie and explored the rest of the gardens, which we practically had to ourselves. Mom and I talked about everything, from her travels in Europe in ‘68 to what’s happening today. At one point, we stopped to gaze at a sculptural piece featuring wire mesh clouds. We marveled over the prismatic crystals swaying in the wind and the real clouds, puffy and moody, skimming the mountains in the distance.
It was at that moment I realized this was the calm after the storm. The rainbow – actually several mini rainbows – after the rain. Days before I was overwhelmed by stress, illness and exhaustion. Now I felt so happy and at peace. This moment was special, and one I’ll never forget, because it reminded me of one of the many things I love about my mom. She has always helped me see the rainbows in life.