It was just one little sentence. Twenty words, more or less.
Such a tiny thing, we didn't even notice it.
"The holder of a residence visa must obtain a foreign national identity card within one month of his or her entry into Spain."
Surely we must have seen these words. One of us must have read them at some point, perhaps more than once?
What were we thinking about, as we skimmed right over them?
What were we juggling, as we ignored that sentence completely?
After all of the long months of work Señor Aventura and I put into the process of getting approved for our non-lucrative residence visa... multiple four hour drives in traffic to Los Angeles from San Diego to meet with officials at the Spanish Consulate... the certificates we had to get apostilled by the FBI verifying that no, we have no criminal record; yes, we are legally married... and yes, the children are ours. Fingerprinting. A sea of forms to fill out. After the health certificate appointments, the passport photo appointments; the never-ending stream of appointments!!! Wouldn't you have thought that at least one of us would have noticed that sentence on the consulate website?
Unfortunately, we did not read it though until September 13th, 2016... around 3pm Spanish time.
I arrived in Spain with Soccer Dude and Little Angel on July 27th. My husband joined us on August 3rd with The Scientist. It's now the middle of September.
It's a simple math problem. When you add it all up, x = > one month. We have all been here now, officially, around six weeks.
We got empadronamiento papers... although not for the kids. We bought a car. We found an apartment. We vacationed in Italy and France. We attended a ton of school meetings. We essentially lived at IKEA for the better part of a week, purchased school uniforms and supplies, and our kids began their school year. We met up with friends (old and new), had a few doctor's appointments, bought a sea of groceries, did endless laundry, hiked and swam and looked into taking classes in Spain. Señor Aventura discovered new and beautiful bicycle routes.
We set up a life!
We didn't register within 30 days.
Key movie music here - the tricky, dramatic kind that sends your heart racing during a suspenseful moment in the film. Because that's exactly what my heart does every time I let myself think about this... it races and sometimes even skips beats.
When I finally read the one tricky little sentence that could change our entire European adventure, I quickly took a photo of the screen with my cell phone and sent it to my husband who was out trying to get a replacement for our car battery that had just died.
"We missed the deadline to register for our Tarjeta!!! I think the kids and I have missed it!!!"
It's hard to know whether this is going to be a big deal. After all, Señor Aventura is properly registered and due to receive his Tarjeta. His card is in the mail, on the way from Madrid. He is now legal... we are his dependents. Could this be enough?
"Just explain what happened," consoled my mother when I tried to describe the problem to her over WhatsApp. "Just tell them the truth, that you thought you had 90 days to register your visa. You didn't see the deadline on the Internet. I'm sure they will be reasonable."
"You don't understand what it's like here," I sighed. "I wish it was that easy. Many things are "estricto y de acuerdo con la ley" here. (Strict and according to the law.) Especially if you are un extranjero... a foreigner. When they say to be on time, you need to be on time."
My voice wobbled a little. "Mom, I don't know what we will do if they won't give us the foreign identity cards. Without them, our visa will expire on November 8th and legally we will have to come home to figure it out. The kids will miss part of their school year. We'll have to leave the new apartment!"
Go home. Go home? Back to California? After just a few months?
What about our grand adventure? The adventure of a lifetime!
"WHAT???!!!??? Go back? No! I don't want to go back. Not yet!" exclaimed The Scientist when I met the school bus. "Mom, we just got here! I made another new friend at school today! I do NOT want to go home, yet. I'm sure this will all be okay."
"Hmmmm...." added his little brother thoughtfully. "I don't really want to go home either, Mom. The only silver lining would be if I could get to see my best friend Mini-Muller. Maybe we could go see Mini-Muller in California, get the visa problem fixed, and then come right back?"
"Mommmiiieeeee! I can't go back to California!" whined Little Angel. "I made a best friend today! She and I are BEST friends. I need to stay! Besides, I took my first Chinese class today. I want to learn Chinese!"
"Why am I the only one not making friends yet?" added Soccer Dude sadly, casually changing the subject. "The Scientist and Little Angel both have best friends here. Why can't I meet anybody?"
We walked home a bit dejectedly.
Once I'd given the kids some snacks at our apartment, I called the Spanish Consulate in L.A.
"Why didn't you register your visas during your first 30 days?" asked the lady on the phone. "We state clearly that you must do so, right on our website!"
"We were confused! The date on the visa in our passport says November 8th, so we thought we had until then!"
"I'm sorry. There isn't anything we can do for you from here while you are in Spain," she said. "If you were in Los Angeles we could help you, but in Spain, you will have to go to see the local police. You will have to explain and plead your case. They will decide. I can't guarantee you anything."
"It's like," she added, her voice softening, "Immigration, here in the United States. You show up with your papers, and the immigration officials decide whether or not they will accept them. You will have to see if the police in Barcelona are willing to accept your papers a little late."
I nodded, although of course she could not see me nodding at her over the phone.
"I understand. Can you tell me what is the worst case scenario, if they say no? Will we have to go back to Los Angeles to work this out with you?"
"Yes, that would be the worst case," she agreed. "In a worst case you would come back to Los Angeles and we would help to resubmit the application.
"But that could take weeks!!!" argued Señor Aventura when I recounted our conversation for him later. "The kids can't miss weeks of school."
"I know," I agreed. "But we can't stay here illegally either."
So... as they say... when the going gets tough, the tough get going!!!
Since Tuesday, Señor Aventura and I have been powerhouse of activity getting ready for our upcoming TIE appointments. (Those are the appointments where the local police will either accept our papers and approve us for official residency status, or they will reject us because we did not apply in time.)
To prepare, we have visited multiple police stations, the U.S. Consulate of Barcelona, a translator's office and two Ajuntamento de Barcelona offices. We want to make sure that all of our papers are in perfect order by the time of our first TIE meeting this coming week.
It's hard to follow this process without actually seeing it with your own eyes, so I've been taking pictures of Señor Aventura in our appointments along the way.
After picking up our translated documents, we headed down to the Ajuntamento de Barcelona in the Old City. We raced there to learn that they only see people who have made appointments (cita previa). A kind employee told us where to go to get our business done without having a prior appointment. Gracias!!!
These Catalan words (below) are stamped into the marble floor of the Ajuntamento de Barcelona office located in Placa Sant Miquel. It translates to "Wait your turn." Government business is serious business here, and they aren't messing around.
So... we are waiting.
It feels like we've been waiting for such a long time.
Señor Aventura and I dreamed up this yearlong European adventure back in 2004... we thought and talked about it throughout twelve years, a wedding, three children, a death and a renewal of vows.
We finally set our path into full motion one year ago in September.
Yet as we've discovered, it definitely isn't as simple as saying, "Let's move to Spain!" Nothing ever is.
Step by step, day by day over the past year, we built this together. We slowly brought our dreams into reality.
Even now that we've been here for six weeks, we are not yet assured of our future.
So it's with a prayer, and perhaps a four leaf clover and pinch of salt thrown over the shoulder, that we will try to be patient and wait these last few days for a final answer.
Will the Barcelona police grant tarjetas for the children and I, so that the five of us can finally become legal, official residents of Spain?
With luck, in two weeks we will know at last.