Graduation Dinner

I met my oldest niece Z shortly after she was born in Chicago. It was about 18 years ago and my first visit to the Windy City. The only thing I really remember from that trip was how tiny she was. I have all these bits and pieces of her chronology in my head, but in my mind’s eye she’ll always be the happy-go-lucky two-year-old who fell over backwards from the weight of a parka I put on her. Instead of crying, she broke out in squeals of laughter.

I think unless you have children living with you, you don’t realize just how quickly time evaporates. Sixteen years vanish in a blink of an eye, and on this day I find myself at Z’s high school graduation dinner. It’s funny, I know she’s about to turn 18, but at the head of the table I still expect to see a toddler and not a young adult…with a boyfriend no less!

Her mom had organized the dinner at Crustaceans, a fusion Vietnamese restaurant in Beverly Hills because it is owned by Z’s late father’s cousin. Many of the black/white photographs on the restaurant’s walls are of Z’s paternal ancestors, tracing back to imperial roots. Dinner, attended by Z’s maternal family, is here as a nod to Z’s paternal side of the family, and we all feel Z’s dad’s (Anh Tú) spirit tonight.

For dinner we have asparagus/crab soup…

salad with VN dressing…

grilled fish with tumeric and dill (chả cá)…

bò lúc lắc (“shaking” grilled beef) …

all served with fragrant jasmine rice and garlic noodles…

It is a lovely dinner, with the adults on one end of the table reminiscing about what was and the kids on the other end laughing about what’s to come. My sister’s husband’s cousin asks her how it feels to have a child graduating from high school, and as she replies, in the moment I suddenly feel immense pride for her. When I wrote earlier that I always see Z as a little girl, it is because I have a distorted view of what is. Often when I think about my sisters, I still see us as a bunch of kids goofing around at home, even though I know we are adults with our own families. How did my big sister whom I horrified by punching her best friend’s little brother in the gut (though she always supported my decision to do this) in elementary school raise a child for 18 years…and survived it? I can barely manage to look after two cats. I’ve written before that my parents amaze me for having raised 3 kids under immense circumstances, but to see my sisters, who are my generational peers, raise kids…that’s a whole other kind of freak-out realization.

My father sees Anh Tú’s gait in the way Z strides across the floor, her straight shoulders full of confidence and reminiscent to my mother of Anh Tú’s posture. The marvel of genetics, however, is no clearer to me than in her mouth and smile, the two traits I remember most clearly about her dad. So in watching this beautiful young woman that my niece has become, we all feel the nearness of the departed.

So kids, if you see a bunch of adult relatives looking at you with tears glimmering behind their eyes, they’re not on drugs. It’s because you make them feel old. Just kidding…sortof. The truth is they wish you could stay their babies just a little longer.


  1. jelita78

    it makes u feel old, doesn’t it..
    time flies so fast.
    thanks for sharing the pics!

  2. wendy

    I know the feeling. I don’t have any kids, just 3 cats. My niece is 19yrs old and just finished her first year at USC. It’s for me to believe they are starting a new phase it life. Where does the time go?
    Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures.

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