It is only in these New Year greetings that my parents are true to me. You see, it’s hard for me to recall a moment when my parents have squared their shoulders towards me and spoken without poorly concealed euphemisms. I have known their loving words as exaggerated praises at family gatherings, but never directly uttered to me. I have known my parents’ affections in waking up to sticky notes left on plastic wrapped bowls. Heat this up for three minutes. There is leftover soup in the fridge. I have known their concern in sending me ad-riddled Facebook health articles. I have known their fondness as unwavering silences, with just the clinks of their chopsticks against my bowl as they drop in the most saturated piece of meat. 

What I mean is, it is only in these New Year greetings that there is a moment of transparency between us within a year of opaqueness. 

The first Tết I spent away from home, I did not think much of it. Being six hours ahead, I sent my greetings before they did, texting them the usual wishes I said every year. 

I wish for you to live a long life of one hundred years. 

I wish for you health and prosperity. 

I wish for money to flow in like a river. 

I wish for your peace and happiness. 

And to this, my parents wrote back:

Con gái ơi, our beloved daughter, 

You are so far away from us, but distance is only a measurement, is it not? Blessings are not a measurement, but an infinite fountain. There is no end to it as much as there is no start. 

Although you are an ocean away, we wish you the same as last year, and the previous year, and the year before that, and all the years that will follow. As the spring arrives, we only wish that you continue to bloom. The wrinkled and muddied petals of a lotus will shed to reveal a golden heart, like a plump egg yolk or the full moon. 

In Vietnamese, the word for poem and youth is the same, thơ. The ephemeral years of juvenile is called tuổi thơ — the age of youth, the age of poetry, the age of spring, the season that was almost your namesake. You ask why we did not name you as such and that is because spring, like its single syllable, Xuân, said swiftly with a breathless hush, is a fleeting spell. 

That is the cruelty of your name. The spring, in all its beauty, is short lived. A flower does not bloom for long. Here is a lesson for you, our daughter — the seasons are unforgiving and they will continue to pass us by, no matter how foolishly, desperately, or joyously we live. 

So we wish you this, and that is for you to laugh as much as you can, cry as tearfully as you can with each waning moon, and walk as many steps as you can, and one day you will turn around and be astonished at the distance you’ve traveled and how many seasons you have witnessed. 

Chúc mừng năm mới, bà mẹ, your dear parents. 

(We confess, is it selfish for us to covet the spring’s fast departure, so that you are one day closer to having your face cupped by our hands?)

I confess too, bà mẹ, that I have feared for my own aging, yet willed for it at the same time. Is this what it means to be an adult? 

More than ever, I have missed the tangibility of our traditions. I miss your warm and calloused hands as they tucked red envelopes into mine. I miss our ritual of feeding each other tangerines when the clock strikes twelve. There is a term for this, quấn quýt. Quýt means tangerine and quấn means to be wrapped. What this means is from the very days of you wiping the dribble off my chin to my embarrassment at being hand fed tangerine slices at my ripe age, we have been perpetually wrapped around each other. To feel the tart burst of juice on my tongue, to consume our love for each other, to have our lives intertwined like this — isn’t that the most precious thing we can have?

I realize that you have fed me more tangerines than I have to you. So I promise that next year, I will be the one to unravel the waxy shell, citrus staining my nail beds. I will be the one to separate the slices and pick off the white strings. I will be the one to gingerly hold it up to your mouths and feel the brush of your lips against my fingers. 

Bà mẹ ơi, xuân đã về. Spring has finally come home. And until spring comes around again, I will peel my own tangerine and spit out the seeds. 

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