The Love Bubble

Using writing as opportunities for students to grieve and grow.

Teachers are perpetual students. Each day we learn some new piece of information from a book, an article, or a podcast, but we often learn a great deal more from our students. This following story is inspired by an experience with an 11-year-old student named Josie and who helped me understand the power of love.

Josie was a typical sixth grader – full of life, enthusiasm, and bounce! Not a day went by without her bounding into the classroom asking, “What are we doing today?” Her infectious laugh, collaborative spirit, and intellect found favor with peers as she navigated her first year in a middle school. Homework assignments were never late, projects generally preceded deadlines, and volunteerism was her middle name when it came to helping others. Additionally, she was a sophisticated writer who incorporated emotion into her work.

During the December holiday break, I received an e-mail from Josie’s mom regarding the passing of the family’s matriarch – Josie’s grandmother. The note explained that the family would need to travel out of state to attend a memorial service, and the parents were requesting homework from their children’s teachers for the duration of the trip. I responded with condolences and assured her that Josie could catch up upon her return. My only request was for the family to take the time necessary to grieve and focus on the matters at hand.

School resumed in January, and I launched into a new unit on analogies, metaphors, and similes. Josie returned five days into the new semester, when her smile and the bounce in her step were gone. After school she stopped by to pick up missing assignments, and to turn in an essay she had been working on.

She explained that her friend had stayed in touch with her while she was gone and gave her updates on assignments. Since she loved writing, she decided to start on the “Analogy” task during the airplane ride home. “I wanted to write something that would honor my Gramma …”, she paused, “… but I’m having trouble with the ending,” her voice caught as she handed me the folder. I assured her that I would give it my undivided attention, and that we would work on the ending after the weekend.

On Saturday morning, I decided to pull out the draft essays turned in by my sixth graders earlier in the week. Since Josie’s was the last essay submitted, hers was the folder I grabbed first and began reading:

The Love Bubble

by Josie C., Period 5 English

Analogies are the way two things are compared to show similarities. An example would be “He walks as slow as a turtle,” this is comparing how the boy has a slow pace like the animal’s. Or, “the pillows were as fluffy as marshmallows” compares the soft, squishiness of cushions to the same treat we put in our hot chocolate. The analogy I will use for this essay is to compare my Gramma’s love to a soapy bubble.

To compare a grandmother to soap may seem unusual, but in this case it’s the perfect fit. Gramma was my best friend, my secret-keeper, my smile-maker. When we would wash dishes together she would wrap her wrinkly fingers around mine and squeeze the soapy bubbles until the white foam oozed out and made us both giggle. “Josie,” she would say, “Bubbles are like love – they are clean, limitless, and spread the more you share them.” We would make a game of looking for bubble-love in our daily lives: like washing her dog, blowing air through a straw into chocolate milk, taking a bubble bath (of course), and even when my little brother blew a snot-bubble – I thought it was a gross example, but Gramma said any bubble that makes you smile is a Love Bubble.

I once asked her what happens when a bubble pops, “Is the love gone?” Laughing she would say, “No, sweetie. When a love-bubble pops it spreads even more – think about it.” I studied her face for the answer, for the realization, for the light bulb moment (as our teachers always say). Sensing my hesitation Gramma continued, “A bubble’s job is to expand to its fullest potential by cleaning, reflecting and working together (with other bubbles) – but, its most important role is making people smile! When its job is done it is absorbed in order to continue the cycle. Do you understand, honey?” I nodded, but still wondered how true the bubble cycle really was.

The more we would look for bubble-love, the more I found similarities with Gramma’s love. If bubbles were considered clean, reflective, limitless and spread joy – then Gramma could be a HUGE Love Bubble! She was the most honest and moral person I knew, she always operated with a CLEAN heart. Gramma and I would have long conversations during meals, bedtime or even watching our favorite movie for the 20th time, each time she taught me how to REFLECT on my decisions, actions and character. Her love for family was LIMITLESS and came from a very selfless place – her heart. She told stories with details that made me feel like I was there, even if the event was decades old. No one SPREAD more unconditional love then Gramma did. And, she didn’t just love us, she taught us “how” to love by forgiving mistakes, supporting others, and always looking for the good in situations. And, for my parents, brother, aunts, uncles & cousins she was the JOY-zone anytime we needed a boost in our spirits.

Gramma’s bubble-love covered me from head to toe and oozed affection, tenderness, warmth and devotion. Even when we didn’t see each other, I could feel her bubble-love surround me, like the way whipped cream seeps into hot cocoa, she sent warm hugs from far away. Our phones calls were chatter-fests (as she called them) and could go on and on, we would spend hours in the kitchen making gourmet meals out of the most basic supplies, and our slumber parties put any of my friends’ sleepovers to shame (but don’t tell!). Gramma was a fixture in my life just like eating, sleeping and breathing.

But then my Love Bubble burst. I couldn’t feel her anymore or comprehend how she was no longer here or anywhere. I couldn’t find the cycle she spoke of, where bubbles were supposed to continue. I looked around at our family to see smiles disappear, people moving away from each other, and even some family members arguing–very unbubble-like.

And, instead of feeling safe and secure, I feel like I’m just washing down the drain…

It was at this point Josie’s essay ended. I choked back tears and reread it, her words, analogies and love-lost was so powerful I wanted to experience it again. She may have questioned her ending, but I found it to be exactly how one feels during grief. Her poetic descriptions and symbolism were spot-on and moved me, as an outsider, to connect with her emotions, and to empathize with her regarding this immeasurable loss. After offering some feedback on cosmetic corrections and mechanics, I reassure her this piece met all expectations.

The following week, Josie was somewhat back to normal, although sorrow remained in her eyes. Her BFF Rose had taken on the role of protector and sat with Josie during class, at lunch, and on the bus. Soon the duo was spotted giggling at recess and skipping through the halls: Josie’s rebound was in motion.

During our Writer’s Workshop sessions, students served as peer-editors and provided feedback and constructive criticism. Josie’s piece made it through the editing and revisions stages smoothly as she prepared the Final Draft for assessment purposes. Upon final submission Josie turned her folder into the Period 5 basket, with a renewed twinkle in her eye she simply said, “Thanks for the help,” then darted off to her next class.

Anxious to read her piece I grabbed it from the pile and began to read. The beginning stayed true to its course, so I just skimmed through, eager to see if she had revised the ending.

But then my Love Bubble burst. I couldn’t feel her anymore or comprehend how she was no longer here or anywhere. I couldn’t find the cycle she spoke of, where bubbles were supposed to continue. I looked around at our family to see smiles disappear, people moving away from each other, and even some family members arguing–very unbubble-like.

And, instead of feeling safe and secure, I felt like I had just been washed down the drain … however,

She had changed the last line from present tense to past tense, and added a conjunction:

I remember Gramma pointing out the rainbow colors seen in a bubble when the light hit it just right, and how rainbows serve as reminders and promises. She had taught me to see a simple dome of soap as an analogy for a bigger purpose. And, even though my personal Love-Bubble was no longer with us, her absence reminded me that bubble-love is contagious and can be spread by love and a smile – something I can do in her honor.

Josie’s conclusion put a smile on my face, and joy in my heart as I set the folder down, satisfied that she had successfully completed the task, while also using the writing process as the catalyst for her healing process. As I glanced across the room where a drippy faucet was pinging in the background, I noticed a bottle of liquid dish soap teetering on the edge of the sink. When I crossed the room and approached the counter I couldn’t help notice the self-inflated bubble rising from the bottle’s spout. Pausing to look closer I could see light reflecting through, and rainbow bands sparkling in the midday light. Smiling I realized although it wasn’t grandparent’s visitation day, it was pretty cool that Josie’s Gramma decided to stop by to spread some Bubble Love.