A Reminder from Sophia to Stop and Enjoy the Bubbles

By Diane Nelson September 15, 2015 08:33

Sharing the magic with Sophia

There are two realities in my life: bubbles and everything else.

“Bubbles” is the term my husband, Steve, and I use for magic, joy and all things Sofia, our first and only grandchild. Sofia was born two years ago in Switzerland, where my daughter, Gina, and her husband, Ben, are living while Gina finishes her Ph.D. at a science and technology institute.

We visit on Skype every Sunday and fly to Zurich every four or five months to get our Sofia fix. During our last trip, in April, we played with bubbles, the ones you get when you blow on a plastic wand full of soapy water.

Sofia had never seen them before. She gasped and pointed when Steve blew on the wand, releasing a flock of bubbles in the air, lit in rainbow colors by a shaft of afternoon light. She reached high above her head and spun slowly in circles, trying to catch the bubbles as they floated down.

It was magical, like all things Sofia.

Watching Sofia explore her world is inspiring and what I love most about being a grandma (or “Gamma,” as Sofia says). At an age when it’s easy to become cynical and weary, along comes a little human to remind you to stop and see the bubbles.

“Everything else” is everything in my workaday world, like commuting to Davis, driving my mom to the doctor and collecting shower water to pour on my poor, thirsty plants. These activities aren’t as joyful as playing peek-a-boo with Sofia, but there is a spillover: Everything shines brighter with Sofia in our lives.

Example: Sofia loves songs, especially ones with gestures. So every Sunday on Skype, we sing songs together, or more exactly, we sing songs and she follows along with the movements. “Old MacDonald” was an early favorite, followed by “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Wheels on the Bus.”

Gina had to refresh our memory of Sofia’s current go-to song, “Mr. Golden Sun.”

Do you remember it? Touch your fingers together over your head to form a ball, sway lightly and sing: “Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me. Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, hiding behind a tree.” It goes on, especially because Sofia thinks the last word of the song is “again.”

It’s catchy as all get-out. And, like with tap dancing and playing a banjo, it’s impossible to frown while singing it. So one day, tensions were a little high in my four-person office at UC Davis, and my brain cells were dying beneath the fluorescent lights. Unbidden, “Mr. Golden Sun” came to my mind and out of my mouth. It didn’t spark a sing-along, but the melody did shift the mood in my office and we all got a little more work done that afternoon with a lot less grief.


When we first visited her in Zurich, Sofia was just a few weeks old and not able to do much more than sleep, eat, poop and cry. One of our fun activities was placing her face-up beneath an arc of circus animals, designed to encourage infants to reach for objects.

One afternoon, Steve was lying beside her, stacking two brightly colored blocks near her outstretched arm. She couldn’t control her arm and leg movements very well, and her eyesight was still fuzzy. But she stared intently at the blocks stacked beside her. Minutes passed, and while the adults in the room chatted, Sofia summoned the strength and focus to knock those blocks down.

Was it a lucky, random movement of her flailing arm? Maybe, I thought, until Steve restacked the blocks and 14-day-old Sofia knocked them over, time and time again.

I carry that image with me. It wasn’t easy for any of us to learn how to control our arms or tie our shoes or read a book or fall in love. From the moment we were born, we humans accomplished amazing feats when we put our minds to it. There’s no reason to stop now.

I used to get wistful for my own two kids’ childhoods, which flew by like time-lapse photography. One day they were in footed jammies, the next day in graduation gowns. I celebrated their moves to college and beyond, but sighed as I packed away their stuffed animals and Little League gloves.

But here’s what Sofia teaches me: It doesn’t end.

Gina sings the same silly songs to Sofia that I sung to her, nonsensical ditties I made up and had no idea she remembered. She laughs out loud when Sofia scrunches up her mouth to make funny faces, just like Gina did (and does). When Sofia is grumpy, she curls up in her mother’s lap, like Gina used to do, and I feel at peace.

When I was 17 years old, a doctor told me: “Honey, you better raise horses because you’re never going to have kids. When God handed out uteruses, you were the last in line.”

I proved him wrong. And every day I say a prayer of thanks for my children, the gift that keeps on giving.

Oh yeah, that reminds me: Gina called the other day. Sofia is going to be a big sister.


Diane Nelson writes for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and previously was a writer and columnist for the Modesto Bee and The Union Democrat.

By Diane Nelson September 15, 2015 08:33
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