Act One: It’s 10:00 am in an apartment on the Southside of Chicago. A family of four, mom, dad, two adopted Vietnamese four-year olds, prepares for a houseful of guests who want to celebrate Tet with them. The house has been cleaned, pho broth has been made the night before and the house smells of ginger, cinnamon, and a host of spices. Decorations are up, the tree has been readied, and it is just a matter of time before the doorbell rings.
Off stage, sobbing can be heard. We wonder how this can be, in a house full of light, energy and readiness.
Mom doesn’t speak of it yet, or directly, but she longs for her son, Declan, who cannot be at this party, or any. In a strange twist of fate, had it not been for his death, Mom and Dad might not have so firmly trodden the path to adoption. The complexities of longing for what has been lost are tied irrevocably to what has come from loss — two more lives bound with ours.
While Dad holds Mom, Gorilla Girl sweetly smiles and waves.
Gorilla Girl: Mommy, are you sad?
Mom: Yes, for now.
Gorilla Girl: We will have the party soon, and you will be happy.
Act Two: The door bell rings, and squeals of delight accompany the bounding feet that head toward the door. Old and new friends, some with adopted children from Vietnam, greet us. Several four-year olds play trains, superheroes, mailboxes, and other make-believe games in the basement while parents take a few moments to eat, talk and plan — gasp — an outing without children. The early verdicts come in regarding the pho.
AM: Wow, impressive. I had planned to make all kinds of things before the kid, but now, it seems impossible.
HT: This is really good, I didn’t know you cooked.
Mom: I’ll admit it, I am damn proud of the pho. No humility here when it comes to cooking stuff that you are allowed to char over an open flame!
Act Three: Colleagues and friends arrive with many children in tow. The house fills with the resounding cacophony that one party-goer aptly noted in her own rendition of the party. More eating, more children running, but more importantly, connections between colleagues and friends. Gorilla Girl and her classmate play hide and seek with the decorative umbrella. Monkey Man settles in to his bowl of pho with absolute delight.
JB: That is how we were meant to eat pho. It is pure ecstasy.
Act Four: As some of the children, colleagues, and friends make an exit, family members arrive, trickling in with six packs of beer, cakes, presents, more wine. We can tell that things are going to get even more interesting. The crowd settles in for the night, and story telling begins.
TM: The best was when he was leaning up against the wall so he wouldn’t fall, yelling like a preacher man, waving his fingers to the beat, calling her Ms. So-bri-ety.
Gorilla Girl reaches her limit, and she crawls under the coffee table, closes her eyes and falls fast asleep, while music is blaring, and feet are stomping.
Monkey Man sheds his pants, and joins the dance party.
Act Five: The house is quiet again. Empty wine bottles and beer bottles litter the counters. The Hell money has been burnt, and ancestors have been honored. The food is all but gone, and thanks to KDM’s efforts, the kitchen has been made less of a shambles.
Mom and dad on the couch, exhausted but more complete than when the day started.
It is funny how these things work — a day filled with joy, celebration and connection started with loss and longing. Even though longing remains, the connections that are forged when we are at our most celebratory must be at the root of our survival as a species. How else to explain the universality of traditions that gather us together to revel in today while we pay homage to what has been and look toward the New Year with expectations, good will, and promise.