Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy "Tet"!

We wake up this morning to a gray sky and wet sidewalks running through the park. Wonderfully, it's after 7 a.m., now that the girl has settled into sleeping right up until--or even past--sunrise. This development is rather new, and I'm beginning to look forward to the day when my eyes no longer burn when I blink.

Today is "Tet" or New Year, probably the most important holiday in Vietnam. The year is new (roughly) according to the Chinese calendar, which begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice. It's a pretty loud day across Asia--fireworks for days and much, much eating--but we intend to observe it with the usual amount of house noise. The girl, now nine months, has learned to make this sound where she sings a note and then wobbles the back of her hand in her mouth to make it go up and down. She gets a kick out of it, and it does trigger smiles around the room. The boy has his own chorus of sounds, though most of them are quirky statements and performances. Yesterday, he looked out our big windows and sighed, "I don't see Poland." This is completely understandable, of course; Poland is rather far away. We can't even see Brooklyn, in fact, what with all the recent apartment buildings being thrown up around our neighborhood. Oh, yes, and his babysitter is Polish.

This Tet brings in the year of the dog--my year. Supposedly dogs embody loyalty, stubbornness, and honesty, and they're known to keep secrets. Tradition has it (I think) that when a year of your sign arrives your year reverses--that is, if you've just come off a bad year, you're due for success. I consider this good news since we've just come through a hard year, an unfair year, a year seemingly eager to teach us the surprisingly many ways in which we can't quite have what we want. That said, our girl did arrive all big and true in 2005, breaking through what my family (and especially the women who have married into it) call "The Curse of Boys." Child after child, all male--my brother and his wife have three--but somehow our little one made it through.

We head out for a walk and eventually to the grocery store. My wife makes pho for the Big Events such as Tet and the Fall of Saigon, and the boy loves it. Not long after he left the jar and the bottle behind, he would eat as much pho as you would put in front of him. He still goes through two bowls, even on the days when he decides that eating really is optional and realizes what kind of rise he can get out of daddy when he leaves his plate full. Anyway, we have this double stroller called a Phil & Ted, and the kids ride together bunk-bed style. The girl usually rides on the bottom, but these days the boy wants to walk, which means she gets to ride up top, all smiles and kicking legs. The groceries have to go below.

Back home, we realize that somehow the sliver of ginger didn't make it, so the boy and I decide to head back out to a small local grocery. We need ginger, and now the boy informs us that we need Tet treats as well. He's been interested in this book about Tet that we gave him for Christmas (ironic, I suppose), in which mice go to the market for good things to eat during the fireworks. He's decided that this day's treat should be a "Thomas the Tank Engine Cake," but I tell him that however wonderful that might be, we'll be lucky to find one of those delicious but pre-packaged cakes in the cardboard box with the little teasing cellophane window. We put on his yellow slicker and his boots, anticipating some swell puddles. Outside, the water hasn't pooled like we thought it would, but the walk still does us both some good. I open the door for him, and he gives me a "Thank you, daddy." He shows me the tomatoes ("you squeeze, squeeze, squeeze them to make pizza pie"), wants me to smell the limes. They have ginger but no cakes to speak of, so we settle for a soft mango.

Back home, the warm house itself smells good enough to eat. The girl is already working through some rice noodles, my wife is busy over the broth steaming on the stove. She ladles it over the glassy white noodles flecked with cilantro and onion. We all sit. We each work to the bottom of a bowl, then another, the girl can't get enough of the noodles she picks up herself. The soup loosens me, and the year ahead begins to seem like it might have room for us. This will be a year of change--the girl will walk and talk, the boy will likely start school, and our careers, such as they are, may take on radically new shapes. The year, if only for a meal, truly seems new.

Happy Tet!