A thousand years ago, when I was a kid, they didn't look like that. They came in squat little semi-opaque bottles and the solution was either pink or blue. I actually remember when they "expanded" to add purple and green, and it almost felt overwhelming to have that many choices, because when you're a kid, that matters. Even though the bubbles all look...exactly the same when you blow them. Kid logic is weird.
I remember the thrill of untwisting that white cap on a brand new 39-cent bottle, and fishing out the plastic wand. Hands and bottle and anywhere else the "bubble stuff" dripped were instantly sticky. None of that mattered, as I sat on the steps, clutching my treasure. (Well, it didn't matter to me. My Gram was forever chasing me off her steps, with my sticky soap drips.)
There was an art to blowing bubbles. Dip, let drip, slowly move the wand to my pursed lips, then a controlled stream of air. The bubble would form slowly, growing in size. Sometimes, it would disengage and float away before I had deemed it big enough. Sometimes, my fresh brother would poke the bubble with his finger, leaving me glaring or shrieking as he departed the scene of the crime, so proud of being a rascal. Sometimes, the bubble wouldn't "take" and I'd find myself startled as, with an abrupt POP!, I found myself pelted with a spray of soap droplets. (You learn quickly that bubble stuff does not taste good, despite its cotton candy colors. Probably worked wonders for the effectiveness of not wanting my mouth ever washed out with soap, because yuck.)
But then there was The Bubble. The one enormous bubble that happened just right. Enormous and shivering and iridescent in the sun, as it caught a breeze, floating up and away. Sometimes, I would just stand and watch it go, until it was out of sight, fate unknown. Other times, I would chase after it as far as it survived or until I was unable to follow any further. My favorites were the ones that didn't meet some unforgiving fate--the driveway, the corner of the house, some tree branch or rosebush thorn--but would simply fade into non-existence, literally disappearing into thin air. I was always amazed at how something to fragile could last so much longer than made sense.
There were so many variations on this game. Bubble blowing could be a solo activity. It could be a sibling competition, seeing whose bubble was bigger or who could produce the most bubbles from one dip of the wand. Or we'd take turns, one of us producing bubbles, the other attempting to pop as many as we could, like some kind of living video game.
That was the great thing about being a kid during my childhood. The tools were few and inexpensive, but the imagination that was required came in droves. We made our own fun with what we had, and it was not only good enough, it was spectacular fun.
As I turned the corner in my local Target, coming face first into a display of "bubble stuff" that looks nothing like the stuff of my childhood, I thought about how complicated life gets when you leave those things behind. Minds get cluttered with the worries and burdens of being adults, and yet we were all in such a hurry to get here, to be all grown up. My mind has been heavy with a tangle of thoughts, most of which accomplish nothing at all, many of which aren't even fully formed enough to communicate, but are just enough to keep me from sleeping well, unspooling themselves nonsensically in bizarre, vivid dream fragments that interrupt my sleep, but fade like a lingering soap bubble, leaving nothing but a failure to feel rested. It was just about all I could do to resist tossing a bottle of bubbles in my cart, in a desperate attempt at retreating to the easier days of being seven, when a bottle of bubbles held the promise of a sunbathed afternoon and the peaceful silence of a quivering circle of soap solution, captured in a wand. Waiting.
And exhale, long and slow.