The story of how after a month of constant disruption, we regained control of our lives and got back to normal.
A month ago our lives were disrupted from the Woolsey Fire, travel and sickness. We had to rely on each other, our families and strangers to pull through and regain normalcy. While we were fortunate, many were not so lucky. Here is our account of what it’s like to escape a natural disaster and how we got our toddler to readjust to normalcy when we returned.
When the fire broke out I had a bunch of moms and kids from our Temple over for a big play date. My house was trashed with toys, crumbs and an impressive amount of stray clothing as the kids all went upstairs and disrobed before coming downstairs naked declaring it a naked party. 3 year olds, amirite?
One of the moms suddenly looks up from her phone and says something like “omg you guys my area is in voluntary evacuation from a fire!” Voluntary evacuation means you’re advised to go, but if you choose to stay you’re likely safe. Mandatory Evacuation means law enforcement believes there is a direct threat to your safety AND/OR they need to secure the area and have complete access to the area to fight the fire. As the sun is setting that night I see a big ball of a cloud of smoke rising above the mountain in my backyard. All the moms and their semi clothed children depart and I think I can speak for all of us at the time when I say we all thought the fire would be over by the morning.
The next morning while the air still smelled fine, I could see two large plumes over the mountains in two locations. I decided to keep #TheHandful home from school that morning, concerned we would be shifted to Mandatory Evacuation and I’d have to deal with chaos at the school. That would be my last intelligent decision throughout this process. From here on out I existed in a zombie state of disbelief alternating watching the news and watching the smoke plumes in the backyard expand. Somehow I knew to keep her home with me, but lacked the foresight to begin packing.
At this time, the 101 is closed at our exit. I begin to relentlessly text Baby Daddy (who is at work) with fire updates, which we were receiving via Twitter from LA County Fire, following the hashtag #WoolseyFire. There was a TON of misinformation and rumors flying around on local Facebook groups so it was extremely difficult to verify truth from rumor. My uncle is a producer for KTLA and I did not change the channel. They were a reliable source for tracking the movement of the fire. As more areas around us starting getting Mandatory Evac orders, our little pocket was considered safe. Until, it wasn’t.
Baby Daddy gets home from work and I tell him we need to start looking for a hotel. While our area was still not Mandatory Evac, we were surrounded by Mandatory Evac orders and the fire was 0% contained. In our backyard we could see the smoke growing and growing and then GLOWING. Planes flew over our house and disappeared into the dark smoke. These planes flew so low you could see the pilots. At this point we put a suitcase in the middle of the hallway upstairs and start putting in the VIP papers and the stuff #TheHandful can’t live without (sound machine, sleeping snuggle toy etc.). No hotels in the area can take us.
At this point I go from chill to worried. The whole time we were putting stuff in this suitcase I had a sense of disbelief like at any moment they’d lift orders and we wouldn’t have to leave. Computers, cords, cell phone chargers, jewelry and two pictures of our family that are not digital: Plop! In the bag. At this point I see via Twitter we are officially Mandatory Evac. Anticipating traffic and chaos and seeing the glowing clouds continuing to grow, I actually shout “Everyone in the car, NOW!”
We still have nowhere to go. As I look out our backyard before we leave, I see the smoke appears to have rolled up the hill and it’s glowing from the bottom a bright orange. If we had evacuated earlier we would have been able to been more strategic in our packing. Instead all of us had three days worth of clothing and few toiletries.
We take two cars so Baby Daddy can still get to work in the morning as his office is in West Hollywood and far from the flames. My car had no gas in it. Classic evacuation error. Keep your car gassed up during an emergency. We had to hit up a gas station ASAP which took us by a hill engulfed in flames near our Temple. It looked like something from Game of Thrones. I pick up the phone and start screaming at Baby Daddy that we should’ve left hours ago. Blaming him for my feelings. However, he doesn’t have time for my shit because he is trying to get us a hotel room. At this point State Farm steps up and helps us get a hotel room in West Hollywood at The Chamberlain who was literally the ONE hotel in the area that did not raise their rates. Can you believe you’re fleeing for your life from a fire and a hotel has the balls to raise rates to north of $700 a night. Disgusting.
We get to the hotel and immediately Baby Daddy realizes he left his computer at the house. Y’all we are SO LUCKY he did. He RUSHES back to Calabasas. When he gets there he is stopped by the Sheriff as he attempts to re-enter our neighborhood. The Sheriff tells him he has 10 minutes to grab what he can and then he can’t come back. He came home to see we left many windows open and we didn’t feed our fish. He closed all of our windows which was the single most important thing he did because all of our stuff would’ve been ruined by smoke if he did not. Then he went to the backyard and sprayed our house and the yard with water to reduce the dryness that was in the air and contributing to fire food. By turning off the air he saved our house from additional smoke damage. He dropped multi day feeding pellets in our fish tanks and then he locked up and took this final picture before he left.
I’d like to point out here how fortunate we are. I know of families who had to sleep in their cars, some with their pets and kids all crammed into the vehicle. I know of families who lost their entire homes. People died. We had insurance and the means to sustain ourselves throughout this ordeal something many families did not have. We are so grateful to Richard Lonnie at State Farm Insurance who stayed on the phone with us and talked us through how to proceed during rapidly deteriorating circumstances. Between him and the hospitality of our hotel The Chamberlain we felt and were protected in such a chaotic time.
We spent four days in the hotel, during which the air quality in West Hollywood was no longer good. We wore N95 masks anytime we had to go outdoors to reduce the chances of inhaling all the particles in the air. It was Monday that I realized we might not be going back home before our Thanksgiving trip to Chicago. We were supposed to fly out on Saturday. Baby Daddy called the airlines and it turns out our change fee was only going to be like $25. Now we had a decision to make. We were out of clothes because we naively thought we would be back in our house in a day, two max. Calabasas was still under Mandatory Evac and the fire was still 0% contained. #TheHandful has been stuck in a one bedroom hotel room, barely allowed outside due to air quality.
After going back and forth about our options, we decided that #TheHandful and I should change our tickets and fly to Chicago on Tuesday – with just the clothes on our backs. We evacuated in pajamas and I packed mostly sweat pants for us because at the time we fled I thought we were going to come back with time to get Chicago clothes. I was glad I evacuated in my basketball sneakers and highly recommend sneakers as an evacuation shoe. I just also wish I packed anything else. However if you’re going to have one shoe a sneaker is your best bet.
Baby Daddy stayed behind in the hotel room because he had to keep going to work. During his stay he had to keep changing rooms as the hotel had to accommodate existing reservations while juggling #WoolseyFire evacuees. I cannot say enough good things about this hotel, they even put chocolate chip cookie trays in our rooms to raise everyone’s spirits a little.
My Mother-in-Law met us at the airport with winter coats and warm clothes. She had clothes, bathing products and food ready for us. She even got me a leopard crop top sweatshirt and a faux fur scarf to make it feel like I packed them myself! I could rest a little easier knowing #TheHandful was in a familiar place, she could breathe safe air and even though she was missing school with her friends, she would at least be with her young cousins and her Gaga. She even took us to get our nails done after I said jokingly “ugh and I even missed my pre-thanksgiving manicure” in a Valley Girl accent. She turned the morale of the situation around. We are so thankful for her.
Meanwhile back in California, Baby Daddy was not allowed back into our home until Friday evening. I AM SO GLAD WE FLED TO CHICAGO. I would’ve lost my mind with my 3 year old in that one bedroom hotel not being able to take her outside but Baby Daddy still leaving every day for work.
My girl is very brave and usually very chill. This fire rattled her. She needed to sleep with me every night because she was concerned the fire could come get her while she slept. This was another hard thing for me personally because I did not like seeing her in distress and I do not sleep well with anyone next to me.
When Baby Daddy was finally allowed back home he packed a suitcase of my stuff and #TheHandful’s stuff so that when he arrived in time for Thanksgiving we felt a little less displaced having some of our own stuff back. It was a return to normalcy to have the whole family together for a typical Goldman Thanksgiving.
When we finally got home home, Baby Daddy had to immediately fly to London to be a speaker on a huge panel at this super cool international TV conference. Our plan was to meet him there a few days later and get to see him speak and then go see the sights.
Buuuuut … #TheHandful is out of sorts now that we’re home, from the routine changes etc. She insists on sleeping with me that night even though we are home. She takes to complaining of a tummy ache multiple times during the night so I have to keep checking on her. Well. I should have known better because my girl is no liar. At about 1 am two days before we are supposed to leave for London she wakes up covered in puke. Cue the horrible mom guilt for not believing her. I clean her up and bring her to bed with me. She wakes up in the morning and seems fine. I chalk it up to travel stress and poor diet. We go to gymnastics and she has a great workout but looks very pale. That night she begs to sleep in my bed and I give in because I feel so awful about the night before.
The sun rises and she declares (like she does every time she sleeps with me) “The sun is awake so I am awake!” and pops up to open my shutters. She then grabs her stomach and goes “I have to puke Mommy”. Calmly walks herself to the toilet and pukes. I’m like omg what a calm puker. She repeated this every 45 minutes for 12 hours. By hour 12 I call the pediatrician who has me monitor her for dehydration. Throughout this process I’ve been updating Baby Daddy and it’s starting to become clear she can’t fly like this. I can’t put her on an international flight puking every 45 minutes.
She sleeps next to me and does not make it through the night without vomiting and in the morning has diarrhea. We speed to the pediatrician and get there 1 minute before they open. They quarantine us in a private room to reduce the spread of whatever we have. Then the doc comes in and confirms she is in no state to fly, prescribes Zofran for her and tons of pedialyte. London cancelled. Captain Zofran does her job and my girl is finally able to keep ice cubes and small sips of water down. Slowly my girl rebuilds her strength. By the time Baby Daddy returns home she is skinny and still a little tired but at least hungry and keeping food down.
After all of this chaos, the total time spent out of our normal routine wound up being about a month. My girl basically endured a month of disruption and sickness. While she was physically ready to be back in her bed at night, she was afraid to sleep on her own. It was confusing at first to experience the constant meltdowns because when we were on the road and in the throes of the chaos she was so chill. No tantrums, happy to roll with all punches. When we got home she had trouble going to bed and staying asleep and she had trouble with her emotions after school which was out of the ordinary.
Evacuating a fire is nothing like other natural disasters. You get barely any notice and the consequences are far reaching. My knowledge of early childhood development came in handy for parenting in the moment as we had to keep adjusting our plans and disrupting her routine. I knew routine was paramount to keeping her mentally resilient and so while we were in the hotel and then in Chicago, we did everything we could to keep her bedtime routine as identical to her home routine as possible. We recognized that there were factors that were outside of our control and worked to manipulate the situations we could control. We knew missing school was going to be the hardest thing for her outside of the general stress of not being able to go home. She’s an only child and so her schoolmates are extremely important to her. We made sure to set up activities for her in Chicago where she would be with other little kids or her cousins to put a band-aid on that.
When we returned it took over a week to get her adjusted to our normal night time routine. Every single night she complained that the room was too dark for her and that the fire was going to come again. This is when I had to get tough and adopt a non negotiation policy with my little bed time terrorist. As much as the mama bear in me wanted to cuddle her and tell her she can sleep with me because she’s scared, I know that if I don’t stick to the routine perfectly we are going to go down a slippery slope of her needing to sleep with me every night. Baby Daddy and I alternated re-tucking her in every time she woke up demanding to sleep with me. After about two weeks we returned to normal sleep habits.
It was also different after school. But here I didn’t take the hardline. While she was able to behave IN school, once school got out I had Meltdown Mary on my hands. At about the time the sleep regulated her moods chilled out too. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. I chose to respond to her meltdowns by asking her to use her words to tell me what is frustrating her (frustration = our number one cause of meltdown around here) and then ask if she needs a hug or her own space to find her words. She always asks for a hug. So we did lots of hugging those two weeks.
Now that we’re back and in the swing of things, I’ve been taking a TON of yoga to practice some #selfcare.
I hope you walk away from this post with this takeaway: start packing and planning EARLY for a disaster to avoid the last minute scramble. We were so lucky and you don’t want your safety or your ability to evacuate to come down to luck.
And, if you takeaway two things, allow your family to react in various ways during a crisis, recovery can take time and everyone needs compassion.