Bubbles rise like weightless worlds, each one a shimmering rainbow. It’s February in Northern California and my mom’s backyard is full of quiet drifters: papery seed pods, cherry blossoms, dandelion fluff. In the slow exhale of a barely-there breeze they hang suspended, and for a moment—the cars speeding down a nearby road, the washing machine chugging away inside, the barking of a neighborhood dog—all the normal things that signal everyday life seem to fade until there’s only this backyard, this delicate air.
Clap! My daughter doesn’t care about momentary transcendence. She’s three and in the business of smashing things. She has bubble demolition down to a science—no poking or waving for her—just the hands-together slap, the soap spray, the absence of a bubble where a bubble was before.
I blow and watch her baby body run and feel the familiar longing to make her understand. She knows bits and pieces. My mommy has cancer she’ll say to a fellow 3-year-old on a play date, and the other 3-year-old will nod sagely as though she knows what that means and they’ll both return to their puzzle.
It’s not death I want her to comprehend, but its daily consequences. The bubbles, the petals, the falling seeds—all the specifics of this particular afternoon in this particular backyard: I want her to get their delicate transience, how quickly they’ll pass, shift, end.
Of course, the point of that, according to mystics and $20 wall hangings from Cost Plus, is to live in the now. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, but today is a gift. That is why they call it the present. Sure, it’s from Kung Fu Panda, but it’s never held more truth, as cells gone haywire build sticky fortresses up and down my lymphatic system. My doctor likens them to wasps’ nests. So far they’ve been erected on my kidneys, my lungs, the back of my heart.
And that ever-present now is where my daughter already lives, slapping bubbles in a linen dress covered in sunflowers, her golden hair a mess of static and seed pods. She’s three. She’s not like I have been, phone in hand, scrolling through status updates as her dad reads bedtime stories, lost in worries about money or work or three (three!) extra pounds of weight as lilacs bloom and the air erupts into the smell of springtime, which, here, is jasmine. She doesn’t need endings to be present. That’s only me.
So I blow like the Spongebob Squarepants solution is bottomless and she claps dozens, maybe hundreds, into sudsy oblivion. And I hold out my hand and an orb floats down. For just a second it molds itself to my palm and I’m holding it, delicate as a butterfly, fleeting as a life. And I don’t slap it, I stay completely motionless, but still it wobbles, then pops, and I sit there with my empty hand outstretched.