As compelling as young success stories are, I’m far more intrigued by later-in-life success stories. Late bloomers have traveled a much longer, more circuitous journey to their passion, and it’s those twists and detours, the roadblocks, that I find most intriguing.
When I meet people, I’m fascinated by their journey. What’s their origin story? How did they find themselves here? What help or privilege did they have, what adversity, what grit?
I’ve spent years working on my mental health reconciling my past, because my present is pretty great. At nearly 45, I have my dream job as a writer and editor in higher education. I’m a mother to a hilarious and beguiling 5-year-old daughter, a pretty rad husband, and a creative passion in floral photography.
But for all of my twenties and most of my thirties, I felt stuck and unsatisfied. I lived in foggy and gray San Francisco, missing the landscape and climate of the East Coast, where I grew up. I studied writing in college, but worked in retail while I tried to break into journalism through a series of unpaid gigs and internships. At 31, I was single, not getting anywhere professionally, constantly broke, and struggling with my mental health. At 32, I met my future husband. Like me, he was working in retail, but as a means to an artistic end. At 36 we got married at San Francisco City Hall with four friends as our witnesses — I was fixated on my wedding bouquet. Soon after I was enrolled in floral arranging school, taking photos and making bouquets, floral crowns, and table settings for friends’ weddings. I started a blog, and at the end of the year committed once again to trying to write professionally.
At age 37, we started trying for a baby, with no luck. I feared I waited too long, I worried I was unable to get pregnant at all. I wanted desperately to be a mother, and felt ill-equipped to process the crushing disappointment of failing to conceive month after month.
At 38, we moved to Philadelphia. One week after moving into our new apartment, I got pregnant. It was a shock — my husband and I were both unemployed, leaving our retail gigs in San Francisco with some combined savings but no connections in Philly. I don’t believe in destiny or fate, and don’t feel a pull toward anything spiritual or preordained, but moving to Philly, getting pregnant, and having my daughter were such positive turning points — such sharp turns toward fulfillment and the peace I was searching for for so long. Not that it wasn’t a struggle, but it felt right, and was truly joyous. I gave birth just before I turned 40.
I worked for a nonprofit while I was pregnant, was laid off after giving birth, then worked from home writing web content for a communications firm part-time — finally, I was getting paid to write. Without access to the wholesale flower mart in San Francisco, I focused more on floral photography than floral arranging, along with blogging, as my creative outlets.
At 41, I was hired as an assistant editor and writer for the University of Pennsylvania Office of Communications, editing and writing stories for the daily news website. My turn to floral photography deepened — rather than creating lavish floral arrangements, I drilled down to individual blooms, macro shots, experimenting with lighting and mood. One of the staff photographers at my job encouraged me to feature my work as commercial art, so I began a website devoted just to my photography.
She’s been in daycare since I began working full-time. For the first six months of the pandemic, she stayed home with me while my husband went to work in-person every day. He works as an administrator at an abortion clinic — one of his responsibilities is to help low-income women find funding for their procedures. He’s truly a hero.
Working full-time while having a preschooler home all day nearly broke me — perhaps it did break me a bit. But I know that our experience was light-years better than a lot of people’s, including the patients my husband meets on a daily basis at the clinic. We both kept our jobs, none of us got sick, but I worried that my husband would get sick working with the public every day.
My boss is incredibly understanding, and a mother herself, so she allowed me the flexibility to work largely around having my daughter home with me. But I continually felt inadequate, like I was either being a terrible mother or a terrible worker. When I dropped the ball at work, I felt that everything I worked so hard for, to have a career, to be good at my job, just fell apart. And every day I felt like I was letting my daughter down, not being fully present, being stressed, unable to engage her while she dealt with the pandemic in her own way, trying to make sense of this world and the strange circumstances she was in.
And it’s not over for us, not until our daughter is vaccinated. My mental health dipped, my creativity suffered. As grateful as I am for my job, my daughter, our life in West Philly, I struggled to feel it. Happy endings to a long journey are never actually endings. I worked all my adult life to get to where I am, but struggled daily in the process. But the dynamics are what keep life compelling. Having been stuck in a rut for so long, I welcome the challenges and flux that this life brings. It’s easier to have this conviction in hindsight of course, and it’s important to allow yourself some grace during the struggle. I wish I had been easier on myself during that time. Thankfully, there was a safety-in-numbers salve to the wound — talking with the other moms I knew who were experiencing the exact same thing. Everyone I know struggled in 2020, and as corny as it sounds, sisterhood really is powerful.
All floral photography by Tina Rodia
When did you bloom? Share your experience in comments below.
Tina Rodia is a writer and editor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she edits the daily news site and writes articles on reproductive justice, anxiety, and cults, among other things. She lives in West Philadelphia with her husband, daughter, and kitten. She is a floral photographer and blogger at https://lesflur.squarespace.com/ and https://lesflur.blogspot.com/. When she isn’t working or taking photos, she and her husband play tennis (poorly), watch tennis (far more successfully), and delight in the mayhem, hilarity, and exhaustion of raising a five-year-old spitfire.
Follow Tina on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/les_flur/
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