“The house next door caught on fire.”

That was the first message my wife sent me about the fire. She was home waiting for an outdoor patio furniture delivery. We’d been remodeling the back-yard and rear part of our house for about six months, and it was conveniently all finishing up in time for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party.

My parents were on the freeway headed to their hotel, the cake was ordered, and bags of party favors were piled up at the bottom of our staircase. The kids were in school and camp. My daughter had just started pre-school that week.

I could type for three hours about what has happened since that text was sent. While it was the house next door, the fire fighters had to enter our house with hoses and a chainsaw to cut a hole in the wall and fight the fire from my daughter’s upstairs bedroom.

Homes in San Francisco are built up against each other which makes fighting fires a little tricky. While the fire started next door, given the architecture of the two buildings it was inaccessible from that property. So they opened up our walls and sent a lot of smoke and water back into our home.

I’ve obliquely referenced some of it in short tweets and a few friends know the story, but the short of it is: it’s bad. Our insurance company thinks it’s going to be about three to four months before everything is back to normal. All our stuff is being hauled away to be cleaned or thrown out. I’ve slept in four different beds in less than a week.

There have been crews of every sort through our house and every day there’s a new team of people who specialize in something. There’s a team removing the water from the floors, another team cleaning all the clothes and textiles, another hauling away furniture, a fire investigator, a lead and asbestos testing lab, the insurance adjuster.

My daughter is three so she can still (mostly) roll with whatever we’re doing, but my son is seven and he just wants to go home and hang out in his room with his fish and books. Teachers and camp counselors ask us about the fire and I try to be careful about what I say in front of him because he definitely doesn’t want us talking about it to them.

Work has been very understanding. I feel guilty as hell about not being there, especially when a friend has taken over something I needed to be doing this week.

On the scale of tragedy it’s really not that bad. Nobody in our family was hurt. My wife saw the smoke and called 911 before anyone, which our insurance adjuster says is the reason our whole top floor didn’t get wiped out. My daughter still got to have her Paw Patrol cake. The insurance company (Farmer’s!) has been doing an amazing job at reassuring us it is all going to get taken care of and so far it appears that way. I can’t imagine our premium will ever total the amount it’s going to take to get us back to where we were.

On the scale of tragedies it’s hard not to feel like we actually did okay. This is hard but not impossible. My wife and I make a good team. Our daughter seems to think this is just another thing we’re doing. So my biggest concern is that my son gets through this okay and I know that’s going to take some work.

But I am just happy to have my family together at night reading books before bed—wherever that may be.

A photo posted by Andre Torrez (@torrez) on

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My daughter woke up at 6:00am calling for her mom. We take turns getting up with the kids on the weekend, so I got out of bed, found my glasses and shuffled over to her room.

“Good morning, Lucia,” I whispered. “No mom!” “Mom is sleeping. We have to be quiet so she can sleep.” “No peepee!!”

She will, every morning, swear that she does not have pee in her diaper and we should just go downstairs and start eating Cheerios. She will get very upset if I suggest we should change her diaper and she will tell me over and over that she does not have any pee and I’m wasting my time by looking. We do this every morning.

Of course she always has some pee and once I’ve stood her on the ground and showed her she does, she lets me put her on the changing table.

While on the table she says “Cheerios with Mark?” It sounds like “chee-ro wi-uh-mak?” but I know what she’s asking.

“Yes, Lucia, you can eat Cheerios with Mark.”

“Oh cool.” She picked this phrase up from one of us. She knows it means she’s pleased with an answer she was looking for.

By this time my son has wandered in. His hair is long and he never combs it. He curls up into her soft rocking chair while I finish cleaning her up. He’s only seven but he seems like a teenager—at least the sort of teenager I was.

“Mark Cheerios?”

Mark agrees with her and turns over in the chair. Unlike a teenager he hasn’t learned he can just go back to bed and sleep more.

We make our way downstairs where Lucia makes a bee-line for where we keep the bowls and cereal.

“Lucia eat Cheerios. Mark eat Cheerios. Mark eat Cheerios with Lucia.” She’s that younger sister looking up to her brother. She wants to do the same things he does and she copies whatever he does and wants. He’s a good big-brother and looks after her, but sometimes it annoys him and he lets her know.

As I pour her bowl I realize Mark is not in the kitchen. He’s gone to the room with the TV and has started playing a video game demo we’d started downloading last night. He’d been really excited to find it, but the two hour download time put it on the other side of his bedtime. So now he’s opened it up and is exploring.

I sit Lucia down with her bowl and walk over to check on Mark. He’s not hungry (of course) and wants to stay on the couch for a bit with the blanket wrapped around himself and the TV headphones strapped on his head. The fan on the PS4 and the click of the controller are the only sounds in the room.

I walk back to the dining table to find Lucia sitting, in the dark of 6:10am, at her bowl still full of cereal. She hasn’t eaten any.

“No Mark?” “No, Mark isn’t going to eat breakfast yet.”

The tiny look of disappointment that flashes across her face is quickly replaced by the realization she has a bowl of Cheerios in front of her. She’s happy.

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