Part of becoming a parent is gaining the ability to wax poetic about some pretty mundane shit – including, well, shit. Enough bleary-eyed diaper changes will make a philosopher out of anyone. Nothing, though, can compete with a bubble wand in terms of making a person ponder the fleeting nature of life. In the movie “Knocked Up,” Paul Rudd’s character describes it: “I wish I liked anything as much as my kids liked bubbles… It’s totally sad. Their smiling faces point out your inability to enjoy anything.”
It’s really true. Watching a kid chase bubbles puts us, as adults, to shame: the simplicity of the game, the intensity of the joy. I’m not sure I’d call myself unable to enjoy anything, but adults don’t tend to shriek and jump up and down very often (something to shoot for). At the same time, kids chasing bubbles are a double-whammy reminder of the passage of time. Of mortality, even.
I watched you in our garden yesterday, little girl who is bigger and toothier and smarter every day, running gleefully after generation after generation of tiny shimmering orbs that last only a moment. That’s why they drive you wild, of course. A baby will grab a toy (or a forbidden prize like a cell phone or wallet or anything sharp and dangerous), and tire of it quickly, but bubbles won’t be grabbed. They can’t be had. They burst on your fingers, leaving only a tiny soapy slick. Every new bubble that floats out of the wand is a new challenge, an unattainable goal. A few seconds, and murió la flor, the expression round these parts for the end of something, for the moment when the fat lady has sung. I can’t figure out where it came from – the flower has died – but it’s not my favorite. I don’t like endings, anyway.
When I wrote the dedication of this blog, I mentioned the coffee field in our neighborhood, the remnant of what was once an enormous plantation covering our entire sector of the city. Finca la Flor, it was called, according to a taxi driver who grew up amongst its plants and described it to me once on a ride. The last holdout. I always knew its days were numbered, given the real estate values around here; it doesn’t even look that nice, since people tend to toss their trash at the edge of the fence; but I hoped and hoped that it would stay. The other morning, as I rushed off to somewhere or other in a foul mood – can’t remember why, or where I was going – I turned the corner and found that the section of the field closest to our house had been razed. Perfect, I thought. Murió la flor. Murió Finca la Flor, y murió la flor. I don’t know for sure what’s coming, or if the rest of the plants will follow suit and give way to an enormous concrete housing development. I don’t really want to know. But it was a change, and I don’t like it.
“Will we still hear crickets at night?” I asked your dad later, like a little kid. I’ve always figured the proximity of the coffee field was the reason why our neighborhood at night is quiet and crickety in a way that reminds me of New Hampshire summers.
“Yes,” he said, grumpily (he hates crickets, which to me is like hating adorable bunny rabbits). “They’re very happy in our garden.” Then he looked thoughtful. “Really, it’s a miracle that field has lasted all this time.”
I guess it is. And I guess, as Pema Chödrön explains, “we are like children building a sand castle… we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.” Man, but that’s hard. I’m not good with detachment. I don’t like things I love to be fleeting – certainly not people, and not coffee fields, and not even bubbles. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to learn from you as you: to be a glutton for punishment, to take maximum joy in things that can’t last, to shriek every time bubbles emerge from the wand, to try and try again to catch them and to giggle, rather than frowning, when they disappear.
One evening when I was eight months pregnant, I felt like taking my belly for a walk, so you and I headed out into the dusk. I strolled to the corner and down towards the coffee field. There, on the jumbly porch of the caretaker’s run-down wooden house, sat a handful of men, feet up on the porch rail, drinking guaro by candlelight. One played a guitar and a few more sang. A dog had collapsed at their feet. It was January, so the coffee cherries were at their ripest deep-red sheen against the sea of green plants that surrounded the house. Except for Homer Simpson on one man’s shirt, the whole scene could have been fifty years ago, or a hundred.
I rested my hands on you, feeling no kicks: the short walk had lulled you into sleep. I stopped, suddenly unselfconscious, and gazed at the little tableau before me. The men on the porch saw me standing there, tall gringa and big belly, and waved so enthusiastically their candles flickered in the gloom. A stubborn acre of coffee plants murmured in the summer wind. Our fragile bubble blew skywards.