On Tuesday, the morning of my 32nd birthday, I woke up in San Gabriel, in the bedroom where I stayed for the better part of my 22nd birth year.

This was because on Monday, Stephy, myself and the wee baby Shelby arrived at our home in Tustin to a yellow sky, darkened by clouds of ash and filled with the thick noxious smell of the Silverado Fire. By that point, we had seen the notifications and evacuation orders for neighboring Irvine, and while there were no evacuation orders for our home, we took a look at the map and quickly realized that we were about two blocks away from a mandatory evacuation zone. Out of an abundance of caution, we grabbed our personal items, baby necessities and everything we would need to work remotely and off to grandparents’ house we went. After a night of creating two temporary workstations in the old living room, we went to bed with baby enjoying her brand new Pack N Play, courtesy of grandma Jenny.

I woke up on my birthday in my old room. My time in that room defined my young adulthood. This was the room that I lived in for my first and second moves to California. It’s where I built my relationship with my dad’s side of the family and formed my own notions of who I wanted to be as an individual. I’ve woken up in that room a thousand times, but this time, I was with a brand new family of my own, celebrating my first birthday as a dad.

We spent the day doing our best to juggle work and the baby. This was done with me on a makeshift workstation, sitting on top of a white plastic lawn table, and Stephy, working from her laptop, sitting with the baby in an improvised couch enclosure. I don’t really know how to express my gratitude for a wife who works so hard while doing so much for the baby, often at the same time. I try to shower her with kisses, but that strategy has it’s limits. The simple fact of the matter is that what we’re tasked with is difficult.

Before this impromptu field trip (AKA evacuation) to my dad’s, Stephy and I were grappling with a couple of things. Last week was our first week without a nanny, and we were still adjusting to working from home with a baby sitting in a pen between us (Shelby naturally crawls over to Stephy’s side and tries to play, ignoring me). Questions arose around getting a bigger place for the baby to run around in, or navigating child-care for the foreseeable future. And lingering questions can be stressful.

It turned out that a little 13,000 acre fire helped to put some things in perspective for us. Mainly, it helped us to appreciate our home—the shelter it provides and the opportunity it affords us to be a family together. We came back to Tustin yesterday, after a day spent in San Gabriel and we were relieved to be in our home, and suddenly empowered by the ease of functioning in our own space that we’ve crafted to fit our needs.

The place in San Gabriel was my home for many years, and the family there will always be my family. But I’m building a new home and a new family. Or rather, a continuation of the family. A franchisee, so to speak.

During one of Stephy’s work meetings on my birthday in San Gabriel, I took the baby out for a walk. We ended up over at grandpa’s (my grandpa) with my dad (Shelby’s grandpa) and Jenny. Four generations of Liu’s were gathered in a room and a family history that stretched across centuries and continents could be found huddled around the tiny baby sitting on my shoulders.

It was clear that my role in the family had changed. A baton grandpa Liu passed onto my father had wordlessly passed to me. Within it lies the legacy of our family’s past, the weight of responsibility to my ensure a comfortable present for Stephy and Shelby, and the imperative to forge a better future Shelby and the world she will come to inhabit.

Usually, on my birthday, I try to reflect on myself and write something that sums up the themes that pervade my life at that moment in time. It is fitting then that my birthday this year was immersed in my family, from the 100+ year old patriarch to the 10 month old that actually rules over me. While I can selfishly indulge by eating my cake (and I do) and dreaming dreams of Nobel Prizes in Literature AND Peace, it is fitting that my first birthday as a dad would have me reflect on my family and not just myself. I mean, after all, it’s hard to navel gaze when the world is literally on fire.

The Evacuation Squad

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