Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A special first day of school

cha gio, yummySpeaking of back-to-school stuff, this year was special for The Boy. He's back at the Montessori school he went half-days to last year, so starting school itself wasn't that big of a deal. Showing off at school—now that's something completely different.

Ong Ngoai and Ba Ngoai (my lovely wife's parents) came out for a last-second visit. My wife found herself with four tickets to the women's final at the U.S. Open, and they seemed like a logical choice to fill the other seats. My wife's father (who we call "Ong Ngoai" or "grandfather" in Vietnamese) taught his four kids to play and to love tennis. They hadn't been out to visit us in a while, and they'd never been to a professional sporting event—and Arthur Ashe stadium is arguably the best place to watch a match. (For the record: I certainly wouldn't turn down tickets to Wimbledon or the French Open, should anyone want to give me some.)

The women's final was okay, as far as the tennis goes (Henin cruising to the trophy), but the night was beautiful. Before we took our seats, we caught a little of the wheelchair doubles final match underway on one of the grounds courts, and it was startlingly good and fast. We snapped photographs with giant rackets and with the fountains cycling. We rode the escalators up to our seats—which were good, right on the net—and looked quietly over the spectacle of it all. And it was hat night, which meant that we each received powdery blue baseball hats promoting tennis and JP Morgan Chase. We saw Carol King perform a few numbers and then retire to a box where she sat next to James Taylor (and in front of Kristin Davis). We watched the Marine honor guard unfurl an American flag that exactly matched the dimensions of the court itself. There were fireworks. And Donald Trump. The Empire State Building was even lit tennis-ball yellow for the night.

Though Q and The Boy didn't get to take in the tennis with us (we didn't get home until nearly midnight), they did get the benefits of having the grandparents visit. They brought a suitcase full of toys and thick, glossy car books from all sorts of dealerships (a great free present idea for the younger car lover, by the way). Each time they came back from somewhere they brought more things that light up and make noise and do the same to the kids.

And we ate. A lot. Ong Ngoai and Ba Ngoai love to go to Chinatown, which means bowls and bowls of Vietnamese soups with noodles. The Boy also discovered cha gio or Vietnamese spring rolls, and ate so many that we lost count. Q, for her part, tried nuoc mam—the fermented fish sauce—and kept trying it until we could see the fish painted on the bottom of the little bowl. Ba Ngoai noted how funny it was that she liked nuoc mam so much; it tends to be an acquired taste (but then again Q does like to suck on slices of lemon and lime). Then there was the food that Ba Ngoai made at home for us all. We bought fish at the local farmer's market that Saturday, and she turned it into canh chua, a sour and spicy fish soup with pineapple that The Boy likes. Then mi, or egg noodles, with snow peas and other vegetables that Q devoured with the skill and speed of a competitive eater.

After the tennis and Chinatown and toys and dinners and Chinatown, Ong Ngoai and Ba Ngoai left on the Monday right before 9/11. Their flight back to the other coast didn't leave until that evening, so they accompanied The Boy to his first day of school. Since he was a veteran there, his teacher let Ong Ngoai and Ba Ngoai past the locked fire door into his classroom. I wasn't there, but I heard how he beamed as he showed them the red couch for reading, the various trays of sorting work, the humble tubs where the students wash their plates and cups themselves after snack.

That's probably the best way to begin school—proud of the fact that it's yours.

No comments: